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Learning how to hand lay track in N scale -1


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The N-scale Japanese commuter trains I'm modeling are 1:150 scale. 

U.S. prototype N scale is 1:160. The Japanese commuter trains are a slightly larger scale because, with the exception of the Shinkansen (bullet train), most heavy rail Japanese trains run on Cape Gauge (1067 mm, or 3-foot, 6-inch) track. 

In the miniature world of Japanese commuter trains, 9 mm N scale track is used. As I found out at the Pacific Coast Region convention last month, the 9 mm track is not exact. Oh, well. (Sigh!)

The Takadanobaba in Alameda is envisioned as a shelf layout with roughly six square feet of scenic area. There will be a high ratio of railroad to other scenic features.  For that reason, the raised right of way will be the layout's dominant feature. It needs to be properly represented. 

When I first cooked up this layout concept, Atlas Code 55 flex track was considered. That's what I have on hand.

But, the prototype track needed to be studied. In the selected era, the second decade of the 21st century, JR East's Tokyo commuter trains run on track with concrete ties. That's shown in the photo below taken near the Takadanobaba Station. The photo also shows that in a very short stretch of track, there's a lot of variation. 


What about Atlas flex track? Nope. Compare the prototype photo above with the model photo below. JR East's track has different tie spacing and tie width. 

Atlas flex track glued to cork.


How about Kato Unitrack? It's widely used by Japanese hobbyists (also by U.S. modelers).


No again. The tie spacing is all wrong and the ties are black. Another solution is needed.  


How about hand laying the track? Wha?? Who hand lays N scale track?!? 


Crazy people!!! I'm not nutty . . .  Just open to the idea of hand laying track.


Perhaps this is one of those personal growth moments. Indeed, I'm moving in a different direction as a hobbyist. Instead of trying to get something running quickly, I want to take time to learn about the prototype and, within my constraints, represent it as best as possible. 


Japanese track -- google screen capture.png

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^^ others have used peco concrete tracks

or you can convert to 6.5mm/7.1mm (similar to Nn3) if handlaying

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I started down the hand-laying path a couple of years ago building FastTracks switches. It's an enjoyable pursuit. It was not that big of a step to move to hand laying tangent or curved track. A switch is much more complex. 


For the past couple of weeks, I've been practicing hand laying code-55 N scale track. 


The ingredients:

cork roadbed

yellow glue

Evergreen strip styrene - cut to length to be ties

HO Scale Narrow Gauge PC Board Ties - 1/32" thick


Medium thickness CA glue

CA glue accelerator


The process:


1. glue cork to sub-roadbed using yellow glue

2. Glue strip styrene and PC board ties to the cork

3. Glue/solder rail to the ties. The below photo on the left shows the process of gluing rail to the styrene strip ties using medium thickness CA. The lower right photo shows ties soldered to PC board ties as well as another installation of ties glued with CA. 


Unpainted track. Testing using PC board ties and styrene on top track and only styrene ties on the lower track.

Installing guard rails went pretty well. (see below)

Installing guard rails. Not as hard to do as expected.




Soldering the rail to PC board ties works well. 


A couple of other processes to explore:

    A. solder ties and in between the PC board ties -- tack down the rail with Pliobond. This will use two methods to hold the rail in place. 

    B. rough up the top surface of the ties and underside of the rail and try the CA


4. Paint ties - Using Golden acrylics diluted for airbrushing. See below. 

Painted track. The top track is styrene and PC ties. The bottom track is only styrene ties.


5. Paint rail - still to be done. Using Golden Acrylics hand painted straight from the bottle. I'd prefer to spray. 

6. Ballast track -- still to be done. Arizona Rock and Ballast will be the ballast of choice.. It will be secured with 50-50 white glue and water mix. 

7. Weather roadbed - this is complicated. The Golden acrylics paint was not well-suited for airbrushing. I need to find another paint.  (Let me know if you have any suggestions.) See the above picture of the broken ties. You can see test painting of the rail color on the side. 

That's it for this installment. Hope to have an update in a couple of weeks. 

                                                                       # # #

ties glued down.jpeg

painted ties.jpg

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Then, there's the lesson learned. The CA held the rails pretty well, but the glue joint had no shear strength.


No shear strength gluing rails with CA. 



The idea of securing rail with CA exclusively needs to be re-thought.

broken rail.jpg

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Guard rails were easier to install than I expected. I like the end result. This is the CA glued version. I'll solder in the future.



guard rails.jpg

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Also, does anyone have any thoughts about how to model slab track? Looking for slab dimensions. How it works. I read sumidacrossing.org's explanation. I'm looking for a little more. 



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Andrew Nummelin

It may be a good idea to have a look at:

“Track - How it works and how to model it” from the 2mm Scale Association http://www.2mm.org.uk/products/nms/index.html

Not Japanese standards of course, but the principles will apply and you’ll see the clear visual superiority of hand built track over commercial products.

And for layout planning to get things looking like the prototype rather than a toy train set, have a look at Templot https://85a.uk/templot/companion/companion.php

But be prepared for learning to do things very differently from design systems you may be used to.


Have fun!

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6 hours ago, Linton12 said:

Thanks for the referrals.


I'll check them out. 

have you tried soldering the rails to a PC board?

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Hi @Linton12 This sounds like an great project, Takadanobaba is one of my favourite station names to say!

The track in the picture you shared is JR Easts 'TC Type Low Maintenance Sleeper' it the same used in the area I am modelling. There is some good information about it here:



It gives you the dimensions and spacing for these sleepers on the second page. It also goes over the E-type Paved sleeper, there are still small test patches of this found on the Yamanote Line, I know some can be found around Harajuku but I am not sure if there is any near Takadanobaba. 


I am making my own track, using these sleeper dimensions, at 7.1mm. I have gone through several iterations, my first attempt used 3D printed sleepers (it did not go well!). I am now making them using laser cut HIPS plastic. I found a small company, in the UK, that makes N-gauge point kits, they use separate track ties and managed to convince the owner to sell me just the ties. While they look amazing, it was a very expensive way to do it and they have proven to be a little fragile over long lengths of track. I am currently working on my own etched track ties as an alternative. Once I have something that I feel is up to an acceptable standard I am more than happy to share it with you.

In the mean time here is an image of the some the tracks I have laid so far:



A view down the line with two 9mm track for the Shinkansen on the left:



I hope this helps, I am looking forward to seeing how your plans progress.



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