Thursday, 17 July 2014

The First Track:

Once the frame was installed it was time to make the track base for the lowest section of the layout. This was the staging area and reversing track. As mentioned earlier my professional consultants convinced me to have staging and in consultation we agreed a good idea would be to have this "hidden" at the front of the layout where it was most accessible. Staging is an area to store trains once they reach a destination, or to hold them until a next use on the layout. When you are operating hidden staging can be an area where visitors believe the train is actually out of site but in another area. A lot of this reversing section is hidden and travels along a back section of the frame. Hence this section was installed first. I also wanted to make sure it was as good an area and reliable as possible before proceeding as this area would be the most difficult to work on once the final layout was in place. 
The staging section travels from a mid level to the lowest level at the back of the layout before joining the layout at the front for a very long 4 track staging area. On returning to the mid level the train is reversed. All the track is accessible by using my low mobile chair to slide under the layout.
At this stage of construction I made my first risers. Risers are 50mm wide plywood with a section (50mm x 20mm) on the top of the riser that gives a larger base to support the track base. Prior to installing I make the riser and drill a 2mm hole though the additional section attached to the riser so that later I can screw the track base to the riser from underneath.
Here is the first section with risers.
The base for the staging area is all 12mm top grade plywood, either 50mm wide for single track, 80mm wide for double, or 120mm wide for the 4 track section. Once installed we then focused on the roadbed. My choice is cork which when purchased from bulk suppliers is very cheap. A 100mm x 60mm sheet of 3mm cork is A$5.50. It is easy to cut into strips to suit the track width. On the 4 track section I made the section 110mm wide. For the corners and curved track we split the single sections so they bent around the minimum radius of 18 inches. The cork was attached with white glue (PVA) spread to cover the area of the cork roadbed and then pinned down with punch pins. The PVA glue was spread with a cheap paint brush. Here is a section just glued and pinned down to dry.

The next phase after the cork dried was to sand the cork to ensure a smooth base for the track. 
I needed to get the staging track installed and working first before adding the next and major level of the layout. So this meant installing the power and control elements of the layout. I moved to Digital Control (DCC) in 1997 with a System One unit. This has evolved into an NCE system. I plan to use just one power unit with 4 isolated sections each with each own section controller. The staging area will be one section and run off the second control of the NCE power controller which enables automatic reversing of the section. DCC buffs will understand, but I apologise to non model railroad technical readers. On connecting up my DCC Controls I had a short circuit. I approached Gary Spencer - Salt from Model railroad Craftsman ( the local NCE and SystemOne supplier) and he sold me an EPROM upgrade. Unfortunately this did not work and after several iterations his repair person said my Command Station was dead. Gee, 17 years of service and dead!!.  Gary advised he had possibly one last SystemOne Command Station board and he gave it to me. It worked. Thank you Gary and Model Railroad Craftsman at Blacktown in Sydney.
One lesson I learnt many years ago was to wire every section of track and not rely on rail joiners for power. I also prefer to wire the track underneath before installing it. Here is an example of a section of track wired prior to installing. As we install the track we identify where the connecting power leads are and drill holes through the cork and baseboard for those wires to attach to the bus power leads below.

One area to also address is the power bus leads and wire selection. I use household power cable and shred the outside white plastic to expose three 15amp+ cables in black, red and green. The red and black are the power bus cables. I use the green and some separately purchased 15amp white to be my main staging area bus wires.
Then it was time to lay the tracks. My approach is to use coloured caulk to hold down the track. 
So now we have the track roughly in place and the feeder wires through the holes to connect to the bus bars below. I spread the caulk and spread it so that it does not rise up above the sleepers of the track. See the photos below.

Laying the track on the caulk and using the wire leads through holes to the bus bars below will roughly align the track. Then I use a meter long metal rule to ensure it is straight. It is key to get the track straight or as good as you can using eye sight and then a roller to impress the track into the caulk.
Where I have already laid track I use a guide built from 40mm plastic to get he tracks parallel. See the photos below.

I would like to say every bit of track went down perfectly. But it didn't. I discovered bad solder joints, and some of the track that I had recycled from a previous layout proved hard to use. Also I had some different brands and this was difficult to get level and perfectly connected.
My advice would be not to cut corners by trying to save a few dollars on old track. Code 80 track is a different height to code 55. The sleepers are different height. I cut out the bad sections of track and installed new track and now am reasonably satisfied with the staging tracks and the first tracks laid. 
All the new track laid will be the latest Peco concrete or wood sleeper code 55.
Here is the first train being tested on the staging tracks. I will run long trains and back them up over all tracks prior to being satisfied and progressing to the next level - the key layout tracks. But here we are in Mid July 2014 after 3 months work.

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