Tuesday, 21 June 2022

Building a rail track to budget.

For my WWII mid war Pocket Armies project in 1/72, the time had come to build a railway. It has been started twice before and then momentum was lost, though I did get the engine shed built, but this time, with all of the parts assembled, the mini project was completed in just over a long weekend.

The good thing about doing railway terrain is there is an easy supply of purpose made items from the model railway hobby, but for our purposes, none of it needs to actually work, so buying up old track and trains that need repair, helps keep the price down.

Also, model rail outlets typically get involved with second hand items, importantly a range of buildings, so again, we begin the project with a slightly cheaper avenue of approach than might otherwise be the case.

This post covers a brief outline of the stages that the rail project took Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post.

The aims of the project were to get six foot of straight track, a signal box, an engine shed and a piece of junction track to allow the track to branch off into the engine shed.

The shopping list to get all of this done was as follows (all in HO/OO scale for 1/72 models);

6 lengths of long track

1 branch junction track

1 short straight track to fit into the engine shed

1 short curved track to connect the branch to the engine shed

1 engine shed

1 signals box

Balsa wood to lay the track onto

Model ballast to lay onto the track between the sleepers

Watered down PVA

A pipette to apply the PVA

1 locomotive (steam engine)

Some rail wagons of different styles.

Notes re the shopping list.

Track is relatively cheap with the exception being the short branch junction length that has points, so getting a broken or aged one is ideal.

The engine shed was a plastic kit from Nightwing. Alternatively there are cardboard commercial builds, plus the option of making one form cardboard and foam core. There are also pre-paint resins available, but they are expensive unless you can get lucky with a good second hand price.

The signal box I used was a pre-paint resin, which was second hand at an unusually good price at a rail model shop (now sadly gone!), but as an alternative, like the engine shed, there are cardboard builds and the option of self building in cardboard and foam etc.

For model ballast, I used ballast from Woodland Scenics, a small bag is more than enough. An alternative could be chinchilla sand from the pet shop, which is grey in colour. I find this a little fine for this scale, probably better for N gauge. It might cost the same, but you get a load of it, which is then handy for adding texture to basing paste.

For a locomotive, finding a broken one really is the answer. Within my time constraints, I ended up buying new, but got the cheapest that was on offer in a model shop, which cost £30 and was more than I wanted to pay (certainly not budget!). It looked too new and had to be duffed up a bit! The wagons were from e-bay and typically cost £4 - £5 each, which seems a fair going rate.


Track - Balsa wood was cut into strips one and a half inches wide and as long as each track section. Tracks have a connector pin at each end, so that the tracks can be connected, remove these with strong pliers, so that the track has a flat end.

Chamfer the edge of the long sides on the balsa wood and paint brown on all faces.

Glue the rail to the balsa wood, making sure that every section is positioned centrally to match other track sections.

Once dry sprinkle the ballast over the track centres and between the ends of the sleepers, then with a brush, gently brush down the track, so that the only ballast left is that which sits between the sleepers, keep the top of the sleeps clean.

With a pipette, drop thinned PVA onto the ballast. Do this slowly so that ballast doesn’t ‘jump’ back out of its resting position. Let this properly dry (24 hours) and then repeat.

The edges of the track can then be dressed with the lightest of fine flocking (I used Woodland Scenics fine turf). I didn’t add weeds or scrub, so that I could store the track stacked, but adding some extra vegetation would have looked better. This is just one of those decisions of looks Vs functionality (click to enlarge the pic).

Above - The section of track that contained the branch junction track became an odd shape, which required two sheets of balsa wood to be glued together, side-by-side. This had a short length of curved track added, so that the piece could connect directly to the track at the engine shed. Using a razor saw, the excess balsa wood was cut, so that the engine shed could nestle up to the piece - shown below.


The engine shed should be based and this base should be the same depth (I think mine was 2mm deep) as the balsa used on the track, so that the track can marry up properly with the track that runs out of the engine shed.

Above - Ideally, the engine shed doors should be open, which will allow a locomotive to be place half in and half out, for good visual effect. If you are building your own shed, the dimensions of my kit are 180mm long, 80mm wide and 90mm up to the roof apex.

If the signals box is based, it should be able to sit quite closely to the track.


To make them usable in any theatre, you may prefer to remove any words that are in English. My large container had the ‘ESSO’ words and colours emblazoned down both sides. I covered them up and then added some transfer numbers, but these also got covered up in the subsequent round of ‘dirtying up’. 

To reduce the plastic look of the wagons, I used heavy dirty washes and on two of the wagons, used spray paint and then built the colour back up with acrylics. 

Above - In one of the cargo wagons, stone chippings were added and to the other a tarpaulin covered a crate.

For the chippings, part fill the bulk of the wagon with balls of Kitchen tissue soaked in PVA and then sprinkle some stone / coal / ballast on top. For the covered crate, I used an old die, glued it down and then put a piece of linen soaked in PVA and draped it over the die, this was then painted up to look like an old oiled canvas blanket.

Below - I am still in two minds about the basing of my WWII infantry, but here, the test bases, each to represent a rifle section, have 5 figures on a 60mm base.

A fair amount of effort went into all this, but it is the ‘home-made’ aspect of much of it that helps keep the price down and the end result is a bit of versatile terrain that can visit the table often.

Resource Section.

My sister webspace COMMANDERS is being re-configured to showcase various figure and boardgame systems that I am enjoying and give a flavour of where current ongoing projects are up to. Link.



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