When you can see the track in situ you may well feel that it would look better if you move things about a bit to improve the aesthetic flow of the line or improve operability even if this means adjusting your roadbed.
With this plan as your guide start to lay out your sectional track on the prepared roadbed – you don’t have to connect it all up – this is more of a scoping exercise to make sure that you are happy with your layout design and that it will all fit in the designated area.
Nothing is set in stone at this stage. It can be far harder to change the plan later on so, once again, don’t rush things. Take your time to ‘play around’ with various designs before making up your mind. You don’t even need to join the track together at this stage, just lay it temporarily in position and see if it looks right. The main aim is to see that everything fits the available space (allowing for any buildings or scenic features) and that your trains will look good travelling along the intended route. Will they behave in a prototypical manner if this is what you are after and fulfil your chosen theme or concept discussed in Module 5.
If you intend to use flexible track this provisional ‘scoping’ exercise will prove more challenging but probably still worth the effort.
Some modellers prefer to ‘loose lay’ the track for the entire layout to gain an overall impression of how it will look whilst others address each section in turn before moving on to the next one. If you are building a large layout the latter approach may be unavoidable, especially if there is a sudden change in the weather. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way so just experiment and adopt whichever method suits you personally.
Also remember where the main scenic features are going and check whether the space is adequate without compromising the actual tracks and railway ‘furniture’.
Take special care to position points (turnouts, switches), preferably on a level surface, and make certain that they can be operated successfully either manually or using some form of remote control. Also check whether there will be adequate clearances in all directions to eliminate the chance of collisions or damage – especially under bridges and through tunnels.
Apart from the different approaches in laying flexible track as compared with pre-formed sections there is little difference in the treatment of different types of track whatever the code, rail or sleeper arrangement.
Finer scales need more careful handling at every stage but generally the methods are much the same.
Once you have provisionally laid out your track to your satisfaction
(and moved any relevant foundations or track-bed if the route has
changed) start connecting the pieces together. Ensure that each
piece of track is carefully positioned next to its neighbour and that
the track is as straight and level as you can possibly make it. Use
a spirit level to check the surfaces are perfectly level and correctly
aligned in all directions.
On inclines (grades) or when installing banked curves this is not
always easy but time spent now will save frustration and much
Frequently look along the track from a low angle to see if there
are any bends or kinks which will be clearly visible, however slight,
and spoil the appearance of your layout if not attended to.
Sectional tracks are designed for indoor and outdoor use and simply push together using slide-in rail joiners. Some different brands will also connect with each other provided they have the same rail profile e.g. Code 332.
Makes such as Aristo-craft, USA Trains, and Bachmann Brass also have additional lateral "locking" screws in their joiners to hold the track together more firmly in alignment. These minute hexagonal 2mm screws are normally located beneath the track in a blob of "goo" but Bachmann fit them to the actual rail end which means that you have to remove them before joining adjacent track sections together. You can also buy plastic track clips which grip the underside of the ties / sleepers and help to prevent the track from pulling apart, but these are rarely used outdoors.
Incidentally, I have found that Piko Brass Rail Joiners provide a very snug and secure joint – much more tight than any other brand I have used. I would be interested to learn whether other garden railway builders also find this to be the case.
Some proprietary brands, such as Bachmann Rolled Steel track are entirely proprietary and will not join with any other track being only compatible with each other. As the Bachmann range is decidedly limited and unsuitable for use in the garden it should be avoided in the majority of cases.
Apart from the fact that they lack flexibility, sectional track is little different to flexible track, which is often manufactured using identical components.
In fact, it is possible to induce a little ‘flex’ into the track by cutting through some of the plastic links on the sleeper strip. This can be useful if you need You cannot easily reverse this process so be careful before you attempt any physical modifications.