Detailing Premade Tracks for Sidings and Branchlines

In addition to using a smaller rail size, the ties of this Micro Engineering Code 70 track have been reduced in number and their spacing modified to better capture the appearance of the light industrial tracks they represent. ®2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

No matter the scale, size or shape, one thing nearly all pre-made track sections have in common is the size and spacing of the ties. Railroads adjust the spacing of railroad ties proportional to the speed and weight limitations on the track. Spreading the ties a few more inches apart may not seem like a big deal, but over miles of track those inches, and dollars, add up.

Most model train tracks are modeled on mainline standards. Ties are closely spaced and evenly aligned. This is great for mainlines, but what about branch lines, sidings, industrial spurs? Creating a less-heavy look is easier than you think.

Tie Spacing

Start by turning the track over. Note that this will not work with integrated roadbed track sections. Crossties are connected by a plastic web that runs beneath the rails. On rigid sections, there will be one under each rail. On flex track sections, only one rail will have a complete web.

  1. Use a pair of plastic sprue nippers to cut the web from between the ties. The ties can now be slid back and forth.
  2. Adjust the spacing to suit your taste. For an even, but wider spacing, make a template from a piece of plastic. Or freehand it for a random appearance. Start at one end of a track section and work towards the other.
  3. You'll need to remove a tie or two completely every so often. Save these for future use under rail joiners or scatter along the right of way.
  4. Ties can also be angled slightly off of perpendicular with the rails for an even more run-down look. Be careful not to twist so hard as to affect the gauge, however.

Tie Length

Ties are usually pretty consistent in length on most railroads today. Ties are also normally well centered. In some applications, however, ties of different lengths or varying off of the centerline can be found on the same track. All you need is a pair of sprue or rail nippers to model this tie variation as well.

Simply take the nippers and snip off a small slice at one end of a tie. Vary your cuts left, right, both, or none. The final effect is a track of ties with slightly varying lengths and alignments.


Finish the effects with some painting and weathering. As you would expect, track like this should feature more weathering than the mainline. Vary the shades of grey/black/brown on the ties. A few new black ties could be thrown in to show recent maintenance.

Ballast could be stone, but use a different color than on the mainline. For really rough track, dirt may do well. Weeds between the ties are a good final touch.

With these simple techniques, a pair of nippers and a few minutes of time, your track can be as unique as the trains you'll run on it.