Remote Track Laying

Things have gradually coming together on the skyrail and I must admit to being very happy with the progress I’ve made on getting the track laid. I’ve been putting some thought into a couple of ways of allowing easy access for track cleaning and possibly re-railing wagons and locos. The way I’ve come to see this problem is that if there’s a derailment on the track in an inaccessible location I’ll have to climb a ladder to get at it no matter what else I’ve done on the layout. So in this sense it doesn’t matter whether the track is open to the air with low walls (say about 50mm or 2″) protecting the edges of the track base or whether it’s completely enclosed with some sort of high walls (about 11cm or 3 1/2″). If there’s a problem I’m going to have to get up there and fix whatever’s wrong. Having the track completely enclosed, even with removable lids over it, felt like it was going to make things way too complicated when I’m 2 or 3 meters up a ladder, unable to see the wheels properly and more than likely on my own. So the tube concept where the track was entirely enclosed never made it off the drawing board. I’m going with low walls and little gates at each end that will keep the critters out.

The main hurdle that I needed to address before I could install this length of track was that I wanted the whole section laid and wired up prior to it being lifted into position and permanently installed. As a secondary consideration I wanted to be able to get the whole shebang back down again as one unit so I could fix a major problem if one emerged at some point in the future and there was no other way to address it. The basic structure was to be my standard 12mm ply (1/2″) with 50mm high, 3mm thick ply “walls” running the entire length of the unit with the track bus running on top of the track bed, not hanging down below it where it might get snagged or damaged.

After a bit of fiddling and thinking I mocked up a cross-section of the track base to check that there was enough clearance to allow rolling stock to pass my standard terminal blocks that would allow the track bus to pass along on top of the road bed. There’s plenty of clearance. The side walls are 3mm thick and 62mm high which allows 50mm to sit above the 12mm play base.

I’d assembled the track base into position a few days ago and it sat there while I laid some track and did some work to the track which approaches the skyrail near the entry door. I manhandled the full length of track base down the stairs and set it up on a work table downstairs to allow the track to be laid, wired up and the protective walls to be installed along its edges. I cut up some off-cuts of 3mm ply into 62mm wide strips then laid some track underlay and secured Peco flex track on top of this.

My bus wire is 14 AWG dual strand, black and red cable. I use this around the layout and make sure that each and every length of track has a connection to this. To allow this to happen on the suspended length of track I ran bus down the outer edge of the track bed and ran connections to the rail from this every 900mm or so by terminating the wires into the plastic terminal blocks I’d tested earlier.

I decided to place the wiring above the track bed to protect it and make installation of the length of track bed easier as this would mean nothing would be external to the plywood thus presenting a neat, self-contained cross-section.

After laying the track and wiring this up I commenced installing the side walls along the outer and inner edges of the track base. Unlike my usual practice of avoiding the use of glue I decided to glue and screw these into position. I ran a bead of glue along the bottom edge of the ply and then used every large clamp I owned to hold these in position. I then went along the edges and screwed in small 9mm pan head screws to provide additional support.

I used glue in addition to screws every 200mm or so to make the whole structure as rigid as possible. I’m relying on the 3mm ply to provide some vertical rigidity to the track bed so that drooping and flexing is at a minimum. The brackets I’ve installed will be more than sufficient to hold the track bed and trains as they pass by in place but I want to ensure that there is virtually no sagging and these lengths of 3mm ply should make the whole structure extremely rigid.

This shot shows the walls in place and the wiring running down the edge of the base. There’s a little waviness to the 3mm ply but I’ve already checked and there’s ample clearance for trains to pass by.

All that’s left to do now is lift it into position and hook it up to the rest of the layout 🙂