Weathering Your Track for Realism

Tracks are arguably the most important component of your scenery. Without them, your trains would have nowhere to go! When attempting a realistic scene however, adding detail to track can easily be overlooked. This is forgivable, as most commercially available track does come molded in generally correct color tones, however when placed into a highly detailed scene, even the best track can stand out as looking too clean or “plasticky”. In this post, we’ll show you a couple of quick and easy tips for detailing and weathering your track to match the detail in your scenery.

Step One

Using Cork Roadbed is a great method to both raise your track to a realistic height off of the ground and minimize noise while running trains.

Your first step will be to fix the track to your layout. One of the most common methods for doing this is to nail your track directly into your baseboard. However we usually go for a different technique, as we find that among other issues, nailing your track can lead to unwanted nail heads being visible even when the scenery is completed. For our method, we start by deciding what purpose the track will serve. If it’s a siding or branch line track, we’ll leave it at baseboard height, however if it is to be a mainline stretch, we’ll first add a layer of cork roadbed. This is a multi-purpose component. Not only will it raise the track to a prototypical “ballasted” height for a mainline, but it will also serve to dampen the sound of any movement over the rails (which will be a blessing to any other residents in your home!).

Once the roadbed has been installed, it’s time to add your track. We’re using clear silicone caulk to fix both the roadbed to the baseboard, and the track to the roadbed. This is readily available at most hardware stores. While it has the consistency and strength of glue, it will easily come up when force is applied. This is handy if you want to change your track plan at the last minute, or if you ever find yourself needing to remove the track for reuse. Drying fully will take about 24 hours, but it will usually be dry enough to work around within an hour.

Step Two

Using Paint Pens, going back over the same spot a couple of times might be necessary to achieve the best effect. 

Once the silicone caulk has dried, you can now come back and start applying your details. We’re starting with Woodland Scenics Track Painter Pens. These are specially designed for applying correct color tones to rails and ties, coming in three appropriate variations; steel rail, rusty rail, and weathered tie. Again, the type you use will depend on your track. If it’s a mainline, steel rail will have the most authentic appearance. If it’s a branch line or siding, rusty rail will give it that lightly maintained, more weathered look. Applying this is a time consuming step, but it will absolutely be worth the effort.

Even with just the these steps complete, you should already be able to see a noticeable difference when compared with unweathered track. 

You can now apply the Woodland Scenics Wooden Tie color to your ties. Once you have fully painted your tracks, it’s important to go back over them with a track eraser to remove any stray paint from the tops of the rails. Paint left on the railheads could impact electrical connectivity with your locomotives.

Step Three

Use light PanPastel tones to bring out the wood grain and create variation between ties.

After leaving the paint to dry for about 30 minutes, your track should be looking noticeably more realistic. We’re now going to come back to apply one more effect using one of our favorite weathering tools; PanPastel Artist Pastels. Using a small artist’s paint brush, choose a light tone such as a white or light gray, and gently apply this to single ties, one at a time, at random. Many consumer track models come with a wood grain effect molded into their ties. The PanPastel will help bring this out nicely, and applying it at random will help create the impression of having different ties at different stages in their life. This effect can be applied more heavily on sidings and branch lines, where ties are usually replaced as needed, rather than in bulk.

With just a few easy tricks, your track can be transformed to appear weathered and more realistic. 

Once this is done, you can add more weathering as needed, including oil or dirt strips down the center of the track, or more color variations if you really want to emphasize varying tie conditions.

Once your scenery is complete, variations between mainline and lesser-used track should become more evident, creating additional realism and interest in your scene. 

And that’s it! Now you can start to add your ballast and scenery, with the confidence that your track will look just as realistic when the scene is complete. Check out this earlier blog post to find out which type of ballast you should use, depending on your track’s purpose!