How to Lay Model Railroad Track
to Avoid Derailments and Erratic Stops

The first thing to do is have your model railroad track plan in front of you.

One of the most common mistakes is laying track too late in the building process, only to be disappointed when your model trains derail, stop moving and cannot turn curves.

You have a couple different options for putting the track down on your layout.

Use a product like DAP Dynoflex 230 sealant, which can be found at most home centers and hardware stores.

Step 1

First, you put down a thin layer of the dynoflex caulking and then you press your track into place and let it dry.

how to lay down model railroad track

Pros: Effective technique that saves time and is easy to do.
Cons: It is difficult to remove the track once you have laid it down or if you want to change your track arrangement.

If you don’t want to use sealant, another time tested option is to use track nails.

The most important things to remember are to put the holes in for the track nails on the track itself and then hammer the nails into place


The most important things to remember are to put the holes in for the track nails on the track itself and then hammer the nails into place.

On tracks such as the Atlas Flex Track, the ties are smooth on the top but when you flip it over there are tiny little dimples in the back of the track. We need to drill those out before we can install the spikes. In order to drill the holes, the best item to use is a pin vise with a number 65 bit installed.

Setting our track on a piece of wood such as bench work provides a nice surface to do the drilling and ensures your holes are being drilled on a stable area.


First off, take the bit put it into the dimples of the flipped over the track and drill the holes. Once the holes are drilled you can flip over your track and place it on the layout, where you have drawn the scales to be placed. Once you have placed it down, insert your track nails into the holes and use a nail set and a tack hammer to drive the nails in and secure it into place.

Then just go on down the lines and insert your track nails into the rest of the track and secure you’re the track to the bottom of your model train layout.

Useful Advice:

  • Pin vises and track nails can be found at most all hobby shops
  • You don’t want to drive the nail so far that it bends the tie
  • For a faster way to insert track nails use Dremel tools instead of a pin vise and tack hammer
  • If you ever want to change the arrangement of your track, you can simply use some needle nose pliers and pull out the nails from the track ties and you are free to move the tracks around.

This was sure and quick way to lay down trackwork but there’s still 10 other things you must know to be able to run your trains smoothly.

Top 10 Track Laying Must Know How’s

  • Stagger all of the joints in the track, roadbed, and sub roadbed
  • Avoid humps or dips in the track, especially near curves, turnouts, and places where grades begin or end
  • Drive spikes gently, using just enough pressure to seat them without putting a vertical kink in the rail
  • If you’re using track nails, drive them gently until they’re snug without distorting the plastic ties
  • Carefully align every rail joint and make sure both rails are fully seated in the rail joiners
  • Eliminate any potential bump by removing the ties beneath a rail joint, sanding them thinner, and then replacing them
  • Smooth the top inside corner of all rail joints with a small file until you can slide a fingernail over the joint without feeling any snagging
  • Use a small file to sharpen all switch points to obtain a smooth path for the wheels to follow
  • During installation, solder the wires to the underside of the rails so they’ll be hidden by the ballast
  • Use a National Model Railroad Association gauge to check and adjust the spacing of the rails and guardrails in turnouts

5 Rules for Laying Track

A well laid track is imperative to ensure problem free operation of your dream model train layout. Here are the rules to laying track:

  1. The tighter the bend the shorter cars and locomotive you can run. Long cars will jump the track on a tight bend.
  2. Make sure you have a good firm connection on all rail joiners. Crimp them with a pair of long nose pliers if you have to. Sloppy connections will be a major source of frustration if you don’t crimp them.
  3. Check the top of your track joins by running your finger nail across the top feeling for a smooth and level transition.
  4. Nail down your track to your base using small tacks through the holes in the track tie sections. This will avoid rail joiners moving and coming loose when the trains run across them.
  5. Never force the sections. When you start creating different layouts you may need small sections to fill in the sections that don’t join naturally. Forcing them will stress the track which will result in a broken rail or a break in electrical connectivity on a rail joiner.

Ascents and Descents

Most people are limited to the space they have available for their model trains so building different levels is a great idea to get more track in the same space.

But remember that your locomotive with its freight or passenger cars needs to be able to climb the incline.

A good rule of thumb is a 3% climb or 3 inches up for every 100 inches along. This provides a natural looking climb that most locomotives with a reasonable train can handle.

I have heard of a 8% climb on a 4’x 8’ board, but only some locomotives made it to the top with their short trains.


In real railroads the roadbed is what the rail and ties sit on. This provides a solid bed of material for the railroad to sit on. It also raises the level of the rail.

In model trains we use roadbed for various reasons:

  • To create a smooth surface to lay the track on. Often the plywood table top we build on is not smooth.
  • To deaden the sound of the train.
  • To raise the track.
  • To make it look like the real thing.

Readymade cork roadbed is the easiest to use and is available from any hobby shop or Amazon. Wood, foam and vinyl can also be used and in some cases you can use a self-adhering asphalt type of

They are easily installed by marking out the center line of your track on your main board. The cork roadbed comes in 2 pieces which are laid either side of the center line with a water based white glue.

Around bends you can hold the cork roadbed in place by using some temporarily placed pins. You will need to trim the road bed where it meets on curves and turnouts. Keep the pieces as they are always handy to fill in small places.

The track can then be installed on the roadbed and tacked down being careful not to compress the roadbed by tacking the track down too far. Using tacks in every 2nd hole will be enough to hold the track in place.

Check the turnouts for correct operation as the sliding mechanism could grab on the roadbed. Trimming out the culprit will solve this problem.
Check your track for level by looking along the length of track. Any dips or bumps can be leveled out by using some card stock.

Do not be concerned about how the roadbed looks when you start using card stock to level your track, as it will all be hidden with the fine sand (ballast). The fine sand represents the gravel on real railroads.

Next, learn detailed step by step directions on the following:

learn how to lay model railroad track

  • Cleaning track
  • Grade crossings
  • Manual switch controls
  • From track plan to benchwork
  • Laying road bed
  • Easy easements
  • Grades
  • Laying flextrack on curves
  • Sectional track
  • Track terminology

The most important part to running smoothly operating model trains is planning trackwork ahead of time. To avoid endless frustration due to derailment issues, dirty tracks and trains that stop moving, understanding the trackwork is crucial. The best feeling in the world as a model railroader is enjoying a fully operation layout with all the bells and whistles.

To master trackwork will take countless hours trying to figure out the exact process for each.

You must know each of the bullet points above to ensure your locomotives do not have erratic stops, derailments or lack of speed on gradients.

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