Tracks in Concrete

Tracks in Concrete

A quick project with tempered fiberboard

By Ernest H. Robl

In many industrial areas and even at some railroad facilities, tracks are embedded in concrete, much like streetcar tracks are set into various types of pavement.

This has both advantages and disadvantages for prototype railroads and industries. The advantage, particularly in crowded industrial facilities, is that both rail and road vehicles can share the same space. Having the tracks in pavement also easily allows people to walk and work around railroad equipment on the tracks. The main disadvantage is that for major track repairs, the concrete has to be torn up.

I tried a variety of ways of replicating this on my previous layout – and found one method of doing this that worked reasonably well, particularly where you have tracks running into a building, such as a shop or warehouse. That method involves the use of two layers of tempered fiberboard.

You can get fiberboard at most home improvement and hardware stores. It is both strong and flexible. Typically, it has one smooth side and one rough side.

It can easily be glued with white glue and can also be screwed to wood components.

I’ve used fiberboard for a number of projects, not all of them train related. On my previous layout, I used it to make control panels.

Background

On my planned layout one of the two large industries will be a maintenance base for Bahnbau Robl (BBR), a fictitious railroad construction contractor. In addition to having a variety of track machines and some small switchers (for moving equipment within the maintenance base and for powering work trains), BBR also owns a small steam locomotive! That’s because the owner of the company is also a railroad enthusiast.

The steam locomotive is used for special promotional events – but, it can, of course, also be used as a switcher in emergencies. In this case the locomotive is a Roco BR 80. (These were also used in Austria – and since the owner of BBR purchased this loco, it could actually have come from any of several countries.)

In general, you don’t want steam locomotives in the same shop building as other railroad equipment, as other equipment, because maintenance requirements are quite different. (BBR will have a three-stall main shop, a large Kibri kit.)

So, I began looking through the structures I had available for a home for this locomotive. I had a Kibri kit 39808 (old number 9808, pre-Viessmann), that I had used as the paint shop of a previous incarnation of a BBR facility, with quite a different track arrangement.

This structure kit is designated by Kibri as a small spinning mill, but can be used as almost any kind of small industrial facility. It has doors large enough to fit a railcar – or a locomotive.

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The building that needed a base. (Yes, I built this kit long ago, before I began painting most structure kits prior to assembly.)

I just made a few minor (recent) modifications to the building, adding a smoke hood inside and a stack to vent smoke when the locomotive is being fired up inside. Then it was a matter of building the base with the tracks. The smoke hood and stack are actually drilled out so that if the BR 80 sits inside the building with its smoke generator on, there should be smoke exiting from the top of the stack.

I will probably add some guy wires to the stack, as such a tall metal stack would not be stable in strong winds.

The building is large enough, so that if BBR later acquires a larger tank steam locomotive, it will also fit.

Building the base

Some quick measurements gave me an idea of about how big the base should be. This building is going in a tight space, so the base had to be only slightly larger than the building. It can always be further cut to size just before it is installed on the layout.

Those dimensions were used to cut the bottom sheet of fiberboard. Then, placing the building on that sheet, I marked the location of the door opening. That gave me the dimensions for two additional pieces of fiberboard, which would form the channel for the track.

I cut a piece of Roco Line code 83 track (without roadbed) to fit inside the building – slightly shorter than the length of the base, as there is no door on the other end of the building. The top of the track is just about the same height as one sheet of fiberboard.

To establish the width of the channel, I first glued the narrow strip on the left to the lower sheet. Then with the track (and side covers) in place, I glued the other wider strip on the right. A small scrap piece of fiberboard was cut to close off the channel in the back, so that the back wall of the building would not have a gap under it.

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The base without track.

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The base with the track with the side borders (see below) .

Track borders and inserts

Walthers makes a complete system for modeling paved streets – and for embedding tracks in them. That gave me some of the components for the borders of the track and the inserts that establish the flangeways. I used parts of this system, as shown in the following photos

The reason I didn’t use the Walthers street system for the entire project were

  • I still needed a solid (and flat) base for the structure.
  • Using the Walthers system (which I am doing elsewhere on the layout) can get complicated and expensive and I wanted to work with what I already had.

But, I had some of the Walthers track borders and inserts left over from my previous layout, so there wasn’t any reason not to use them.

You can also either make the inserts and borders yourself with sheet styrene or purchase them from a variety of other manufacturers. Usually, these inserts are sold as parts of kits for making grade crossings.

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The base with the track, after painting the side borders.

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And finally, some views of what the building would look like on the base. Notice that the rail in the channel of the base is at almost exactly the same height as rail of the adjoining Roco Line track with roadbed.

When I painted the components, I deliberately painted the borders of the track a slightly different shade of gray than the surrounding surface. This helps emphasize the track “set in concrete” and could be the result of the concrete having been torn up to replace the track.

Important notes

In these photos, neither the track nor the side borders and inserts are glued in place. Therefore they may look somewhat uneven. When I do glue these elements, I will put weights on top to make sure that the various pieces are flat and fit properly.

It is important that the outside borders of the track be slightly below the actual top of the rails. That’s because – if the borders are above the tops of the rails – the treads of the locomotive wheels may end up riding on the borders, with the wheels losing electrical contact with the rails.

It’s also important to glue everything in place to keep the inserts from shifting and obstructing the flangeways. But, glue the inserts only after checking the flangeways with several pieces of rolling stock to make sure the flangeways are wide enough. (You can always file or sand the inserts to make them slightly narrower.)

When finally installed, both the building and base will get some weathering and additional detailing. And, the building will be glued to the base with rubber glue that will allow the building to be removed if necessary.

And, the base will be blended into the surrounding terrain with other scenic material.  I also plan to do some additional work on the BR 80 to spruce it up a little.

An alternate technique

Another way of doing this is to have the tops of the rails slightly above the top of the top sheet of fiberboard. This would work with most brands of HO code 100 track, for example. Then cut sheets of styrene – painted an appropriate color – so that these sheets butt against the outside of the rails. In this case, cut the channel for the track just wide enough to fit the ties.

Other scales

This project was done in HO, but the same technique should also work for other scales or even narrow gauge track. All you need to do, once you have established the channel for the track, is to shim the track up (using sheet styrene or thin cardboard) so that the tops of the rails are even with or slightly above the level of the surrounding surface.

I hope this is useful or at least generates some ideas for your layouts.

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As always, comments are welcome.

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One Response to Tracks in Concrete

  1. Gordon Preller says:

    Good one, Ernest!

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