Working with roadbed-type track
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Roadbed-type track has and integrated roadbed, usually made of plastic or a rubber-like material. The roadbed normally has moulded ballast detail, some brands have the ballast already coloured. When used on a permanent layout or module, you can achieve almost the same results in realism as with flexible-type track with a little extra effort. Popular makes are Kato Unitrack and Tomix FineTrack in N-scale and Kato Unitrack, Roco-Line, Märklin C-Track and Piko A-Gleis in HO-scale. The techniques described work for both HO and N scales and with all makes of track.
Working with roadbed-type track
Setting up a layout with Tomix (or Kato Unitrack) is very easy, just slide the track pieces together. Electrical feeders can be clipped on the track, the same applies to sensors that can operate signals or crossing gates. Catenary supports make the picture complete. But, your layout can look a lot better if are prepared to do some extra work. This extra work works only on a permanent layout or module and is not suitable for temporary setups, apart from painting the sides of the rails. The tips given here also work with Kato Unitrack in both HO and N scales and with Märklin / Trix C-Type track in HO scale (AC, central stud-contact rail) and other roadbed-type track (Roco-Line, Bachmann EZ-Track etc.)
Improving the looks of roadbed type track
With a little effort you can make roadbed type track (like Kato Unitrack and Tomix FineTrack) look a lot better. The hints also apply to conventional track (like Peco) and the new roadbed style of trackwork with a wide roadbed as offered by Tomix, Kato and Micro Ace.
The rails are normally not blackened or weathered, so if you want rusty sides on your track you should paint them in an appropiate colour. Several model paint manufacturers offer a suitable colour. I used Humbrol track colour on all my projects until now, but Tamiya Gunze Sangyo (GSI, Mr. Hobby) and Vallejo make suitable acrylic paints which are friendlier to the environment. Paint the sides of the rails with the 'rusty' paint, use a small brush. Excess paint can be removed later, with a track rubber and a sheet of paper for the last touch. Be very careful at the pointwork, I recommend to paint only the outside of the rails in the area where the point blades touch the rails. Most N-scale points rely on blade contact to power the frog area. Excess paint can be removed here with a 'Microbrush' dipped into a thinner, usually water or alcohol for acrylic paint. Be careful with solvents and thinners, many attack plastics. Another part that can be disguised with paint is the metal tab on which the point blades pivot. With a little rust-coloured paint it will be far less visible.
You can impove the looks of the roadbed in two steps: only the colour or you can improve the whole roadbed. If you choose to do the latter, the colour should be applied in the final stage of improvement.
All roadbed type track has too steep slopes of the roadbed, you can improve this by adding ballast and fixing this with diluted PVA or latex glue. This is a lot of work but the results are really worth the effort. With double, triple and more track sections, you can fill in the space between the tracks with sand, sculpting material or something similar to save expensive ballast. Sand can be fixed with diluted glue add some plaster to make it set better, sculpting material (I use ER-Decor) sets on its own. When the filler material has set you can spread the ballast on the sides and between the tracks. Then spray on water to wet the ballast, add a little washing-up liquid to break the surface-tension of the water, otherwise small drops will wash away the ballast. I use a small spray bottle for wetting ballast etc. Then soak the ballast with diluted glue. You can use diluted PVA, which sets rock-hard or use a latex-type glue which stays flexible. Personally, I prefer the latex type. Use an eye-dripper or pipette to apply the diluted glue. The diluted glue should have the consistency of full-fat milk or a little thicker. Don't forget a drop of washing-up liquid when using PVA (white wood glue) to break the surface tension of the water.
The finishing is done with paint, this can be applied when the ballast has dried completely (takes at least 24 hours). For the best results you should have an airbrush, a simple airbrush available for about 20 Euro / US$ or 15 UK Pounds will do the job. Use a rusty brown colour and thin it at about 1 part paint to 3 parts thinner (it is best to use water-based acrylic paint for easy cleaning of the airbrush), but it depends on the paint used and your airbrushing skills. Practice first if you're not familiar with the technique. Some modellers like to use dry pigments to add colour to the ballasting. This technique requires a little more care, but the results can be very convincing.
Note: Parts of this article have been published ealier in the club magazine of the Japanese Railway Society 'Bullet-In'.
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