Trackside Details for Your Model Railroad

Railroad rights-of-way are often filled with details that are simple to add to a model railroad. These trackside details can add both visual and operational interest and help to set your railroad in a time and place.

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    Replacement rail sits ready for installation along the right of way.

    The Spruce / Ryan C Kunkle

    New and used rail can often be found alongside the tracks. Railroads often stockpile new sections of rail close to where it will be needed. Old rails are often left along the right-of-way until it can be reclaimed for scrap.

    Rail can be found in single, short lengths, long continuous strands of welded rail, or in small clusters. This pile is placed on two old ties to make it easier for crews to pick it back up when needed. Short lengths of model rail, salvaged from old track or remnants from flex track, can be weathered and stacked or placed appropriately around your tracks.

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    New and old ties can often be found near the tracks. Ties can be stacked neatly,or strewn along the ballast.

    The Spruce / Ryan C Kunkle

    Wood railroad crossties are frequently replaced on mainlines, making both new and old ties frequent sites along the right-of-way. This is especially true from spring through early fall when track maintenance is at its peak. Railroads don't usually replace every tie at once, but perhaps 10 to 20 percent of ties on a line every year.

    New ties are often stockpiled near worksites, or if track work is about to be performed, placed along the tracks very near the ties that will be replaced. Often the out-coming ties are marked with spray paint to help workers. Replaced ties are similarly stacked until they can be gathered for disposal. It is not uncommon to find very old ties buried in the weeds a short distance from the tracks.

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    Old tie plates, clips and rail can often be found in the weeds around the railroad.

    The Spruce / Ryan C Kunkle

    Scrap and junk, both from the railroad itself and other sources, is all-too-often found near the tracks. The cost of labor involved in keeping the right of way clean is often prohibitive. When larger amounts of recyclable materials can be gathered, clean up crews are often dispatched.

    Although urban areas tend to see more public disposal and waste, a certain amount of clutter can be found even in rural areas. Some of this is railroad originated, including old spikes, tie plates and old brake shoes that have fallen off of passing equipment.

    Small details like these can be modeled using bits of styrene, wood, extra parts from model kits or other sources. Other trash can be created from plastic, wood, or even paper scraps.

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    This simple sign indicates the railroad ahead is clear for 35 mph for passenger trains, 30 mph for freight. Details like this add both visual and operating interest to your railroad.

    The Spruce / Ryan C Kunkle

    Like highways, railroads post many warnings and instructional signs for crews. These signs are simple to add to models and can add as much operational as visual interest. Clearance warnings, speed limits, whistle posts, station signs, and temporary signs to protect work areas can all be found.

    Making your operators adhere to these warnings can add more realism to your operations. Temporary signs can be made with push pins and inserted into the scenery as needed.

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
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    Spilled Loads

    What looks like weeds sprouting between the ties are actually young shafts of wheat growing from seeds spilled from a passing covered hopper.

    The Spruce / Ryan C Kunkle

    As freight cars are jostled about, it is not uncommon for some of the load to spill. This is especially true for hoppers. Coal, ore, sand and other piles can often be found. Sand deposits often come from locomotives working uphill or starting in yards.

    Agricultural and other products can also spill. Even without good soil or fertilization, corn, wheat or other crops can take root and sprout between the rails. Most don't grow too tall however and are usually killed along with other weeds that invade the right-of-way and cause drainage problems in the ballast.

    Model these sprouts with ground foam, fibers or static grass.

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    Flange Lubricator

    Flange lubricators apply a thin layer of grease to the flange of each wheel as it enters a curve. Note the black oily stain along the tracks leading away from the device.

    The Spruce / Ryan C Kunkle

    Anyone who's seen and heard a train roll through a tight curve can attest to the forces of physics working against the railroad here. Flange lubricators apply a small amount of grease to the flanges of wheels as trains enter a curve to help reduce this friction and wear.

    These details are easy to model by building a small grease hopper from wood or styrene (many different sizes and styles are used). Connecting hoses can be made from thin wire. Don't forget the heavy black stains trailing out from the lubricator. These greasy slicks are often more visible than the device itself.