MILL CREEK CENTRAL RAILROAD
Track Building & Track Laying
From notes published by Brian Keim in August, 2003
Initially published on website 1/07/2006, last updated
The golden age of prototype railroading was a result of
engineering collaboration through the American
Association of Railroads. Their efforts helped standardize railroad
construction to eliminate problems at
connecting railroad interchanges. Standards were developed for railroad
construction and materials selection to reduce maintenance costs and to
improve safety. Our model Live Steam hobby strives to accomplish these
same goals: to eliminate problems with interchanging equipment during
open meets, to reduce amount of seasonal maintenance, and to improve
Since our model Live Steam hobby is not governed by an
overseeing body such as the A.A.R., it is up to
clubs and private track owners to develop and implement their own set of
standards. Fortunately, the
International Brotherhood of Live Steamers has adopted numerous wheel
and track gauge standards that are accepted worldwide. The actual
right-of-way design, materials selection, and construction are still
left up to the individual club or private track owner. Many articles,
speeches, and debates have occurred over the past 30+ years concerning
these topics. This is a good thing for it promotes critical thought by
numerous persons about a single problem or set of problems. Much
information is shared through magazine and newsletter publications and
the Internet. Hands-on experience is also shared at open meets, hosted
by nearby clubs and owners, where information about what 'has worked for
them' is provided. Each club or private layout finds success
with varying construction techniques and materials due to their own
unique environmental and traffic conditions. For example, a right-of way
that is laid entirely within wooded areas and that only sees service for
a few weekends per year will likely require very little seasonal
maintenance for the construction method employed. However, the same
construction method applied to an active club layout that has open field trackage, will likely suffer from constant maintenance requirements
throughout the year. With developments in new materials and actual
testing of these materials, the standards agreed upon today can be
revised in the future. After all, adopted standards are always the
evolution and continuous improvement of ideas and practices.
The following standards for building components and
assembly technique, are as a result of experience
obtained from 30 years of track right-of-way building and maintenance at
the North Eastern Ohio Live Steamers layout, formerly located in Copley,
Ohio. A substantial amount of information and practices have been
introduced to the N.E.O.L.S.. from member experience who themselves are
also track owners and operators. This collection of
standards is the result of the most current and successful materials
selection and assembly techniques for heavily operated right-of-ways and
diverse environmental conditions.
The following list of private track owners have been
instrumental in supplying experience and insight toward the development
of these standards contained within.
||PA & W Railroad
||Sharon Center, Ohio
||Michigan Central Railroad
||Great Northern Ohio & Massillon
||Walden & Lakeshore Railroad
||Mill Creek Central Railroad
Track Work Philosophy
It is the goal of everyone involved in our miniature railroad hobby to
build a right-of-way on which to operate our model locomotive creations.
A successfully designed and built right-of-way must be:
1. Simple to construct.
2. Require very little maintenance.
3. Simple to maintain.
4. Resilient to seasonal. climate changes.
5. Able to accommodate a broad range of locomotive wheel
bases, starting with 0-4-0 up through 4-8-4 types.
7. Manufactured from readily available and proven
Before any railroad can be built, a determination of the
type or service the railroad will be required to provide must be
considered. Decisions about the grades and curvatures must take into
account the types of motive power and train lengths that will operate
over it. A short wheelbase locomotive can easily negotiate very tight
curves and somewhat uneven track.. However short wheelbase locomotives
tend to lack power and tractive effort, therefore limiting the length of
train and maximum grade that they can traverse. A large wheelbase
locomotive, such as a 4-8-4 type, is considerably more sensitive to
sharp curves and poorly leveled track. The larger size and weight of a
4-8-4 class locomotive make it suitable for hauling longer trains as
well as negotiating grades. The logical action to take in designing a
right-of-way is to therefore limit the curvature and mean gradients such
that all types of locomotives will be able to operate safely.
Once the plan of the right-of-way is established, an
understanding of how each component interacts and reacts, as a complete
section of track is necessary. A typical track section is composed of
ballast, cross ties, cross tie screws, rail, rail joiners, and rail
joiner bolts. Improper selection and assembly of anyone or combination
of components will have a definite and measurable effect upon the
stability of an entire track section. It is essential that one does not
misinterpret track-building practices utilized by our 1: 1 cousins. The
physics of mass, thermal .expansion, static, and dynamic loading as well
as environmental effects upon full size railroads are far different from
those experienced upon our miniature railroads. Remember that there are
no 48' tall giant beings walking all over prototype trackage. A 39' long
prototype track section weights about 7700 lbs yet a 1/8 scale section
of our model trackage weights less than 15 lbs. Also consider that the
rate of thermal expansion of aluminum rail is nearly twice that
experienced by steel rail. A properly constructed and installed track
section is known to be able to carry a maximum axle loading of 500 lbs.
Understanding the considerations outlined above, we can
now identify the functions of each component
utilized in our model track building.
Definitions of Track Building
Rail joiner bolts and nuts
Cross tie screws
Holds rail to cross tie surface, while permitting
movement of rail along its axis.
Keeps rails in gauge on cross tie.
Rail Drilling Jig
Standards For Track Building
a) To be made from 6063-T6 extruded aluminum or steel.
b) Dimensions of 'T' head profile areas follows, 1" high, 7/8" wide
foot, ~" wide head, 5/32" thick web, supplied in 10' or 12' lengths,
reference drawing #2000. See Figure 1.
c) Each end of aluminum rail is to be punched with oblong holes to
satisfy thermal expansion requirement.
2) Rail Joiners
For aluminum rail
a) To be made from 6061-T6 extruded aluminum.
b) Dimensions to be 1/8" thick, 1/2" wide, and 4" long, reference drawing
#2001. See Figure 2.
c) Must be punched with 4 oblong holes to accept two rail ends.
For steel rail
a) A preformed slip joiner can be .used
3) Rail joiner screws
a) Stainless steel hex head #10-32 x 3/4" long..
4) Rail joiner nuts
a) Stainless steel hex #10-32 Nyloc nut..
5) Cross ties
a) Minimum 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 x 16" long. (Actual measurement
of cross tie as sawed from a standard 2 x 4
would be 1 1/2" x 1 5/8").
b) To be cut from pressure treated lumber, rated for ground contact.
(Note: the CCA arsenic based treated lumber is preferable to the
ACQ treated lumber since it doesn't react with plated steel screws or
aluminum or steel rail.)
6) Cross Tie Screws
a) #10 x l " washer head plated self-drilling
sheet metal screw for CCA treated wood or stainless steel screws for ACQ
7) Rail Gauge
a) To be made out of solid steel or stainless
steel bar stock.
b) Minimum gauge between rail heads to be set at 7 5/8", reference
drawing #2002. See Figure 3.
a) Limestone 617'sor equivalent (57's with fines, etc.).
This is a mixture of 3/4" size rock with fines.
9) Tamping Bar
a) Should be a 1" to 1 1/2" wide x 1/16" to 1/8" thick
piece of steel attached to a handle.
b) Air tamper with 4" wide blade from Harbor Freight
long reach scraper.
The preparation of a right-of-way roadbed is essential
to maintaining the integrity of the finished trackage.
Trees, tree roots, rocks, ditches, and creeks are some of the common
obstacles that are often in the way of a desired roadbed. Each obstacle
will require its own solution for being dealt with. At times, specific
obstacles cannot be easily altered therefore requiring revisions to
right-of-way plans. The following rules are to be applied
when planning, constructing, and maintaining a right-of-way.
1. A minimum of 48" shall be cleared and graded for a
single track right-of-way. See Figure 4.
2. A right-of-way which will contain parallel running
tracks shall have a width of 24" measured from both
outside track centers plus the separation spacing of each adjacent track
section. See Figure 5.
3. Open drainage ditches shall not run parallel along
trackage at a distance less than 24" from track center. See Figure 5.
Track Assembly Standards
1) Straight track
a) Track sections are to be constructed in a track jig.
This maintains even spacing between ties as well. as provides a flat
foundation on which to work.
b) Cross ties are to be spaced at no less than 3 ties per 12" of track
c) Cross ties should be orientated with the smooth mill cut side to be
against bottom foot of rail.
d) Rails are to be gauged using rail gauges. Three or more gauges should
be used to ensure parallelism between adjacent railheads. See Figure 6.
e) Rail gauges should not be positioned such that they are more than 2
cross ties apart. See Figure 6.
f) Rails are to be secured to a cross tie, using two cross tie screws
per rail, or a total of 4 cross tie screws
per tie. See Figure 6.
g) Cross tie screws are to be located in line to each other on opposite
sides of the rail foot. See Figure 6.
h) Cross tie screws are to be driven into the cross tie at a slight
angle, matching the angle of the rail foot. See Figure 7.
i) Cross tie screws are to be driven into the tie only until the screw
makes contact with the rail foot. The screw should never deform or cut
into the rail foot, otherwise movement due to thermal expansion of rail
will be impeded.
j) When possible, it is good practice to locate a tie directly under a
joint. This helps to support both joining rail ends and prevent sags.
k) Track sections or 'panels', to be transported to a remote location
for-final assembly to right-of-way, should be assembled with all cross
tie screws along one rail properly secured. The adjacent rail is to be
secured in four places, (at the ends and two places in the middle). Once
the panel is transported to the needed area, the adjacent rail is then
loosened and slid into proper position to match the existing rail joint
offset. Once the panel is connected to the existing line with rail
joiners, the adjacent rail can then be secured to the cross ties.
l) Rail joints, between adjacent rail heads, should be a minimum of
16" apart. This is to help prevent kinks and sags at the joints.
m) Rail joints are to be loose enough to allow for rail movement due to
temperature changes. A common rule of thumb is to tighten bolt and nut
by hand, then back off by 1/2 turn.
n) A gap between joining rail ends must be maintained. A gap of 1/8" for
a 65° F to 85° F rail temperature is recommended. This will allow for
sufficient expansion or contraction of the joint for the typical
temperature extremes typical of our climate. See Table 1.
o) When required, a section of rail may have bolt holes drilled through
web rather than punched. When this is required, holes must be drilled
using the rail drilling jig.
p) Ballast should be applied only to sections of joined and secured
track. If both rails are not attached to cross ties, then that section
should not be ballasted.
q) Ballast should be tamped under the ties at each rail. Ballast should
not be excessively tamped at the center of the tie as this will reduce
stability of the tie.
r) Track should be checked with a level, ensuring that one rail head is
not higher than the other. Straight track should always be level.
s) Track should be checked for sudden rises and falls within each 10'
section. Any low spots must be brought up to create a smooth and level
t) If the section is part of a gradient, then any low spots within a 10'
section should be brought up to create a uniform transition between the
ends of the section.
u) Ballast should be swept level with top of ties.
v) Sections of track that are properly ballasted and leveled will tend
to have become several inches above the grade level. These areas of
track need to have the edge of the ballast reinforced with earth fill to
prevent erosion from weather and foot traffic. See Figure 8.
2) Curved Track
The treatment of curved track sections, as far as the assembly is
concerned, follows the same set of rules as outlined in rule 1, a)
through v). However, there are specific conditions and considerations
unique to curved trackage. These rules are outlined as follows:
a) The minimum radius for mainline right-of-way and passing sidings
shall not be less than 60 feet (minimum radius for a 4-8-4).
b) When a curved section of right-of-way must be less than 60 feet, then
track gauge must be increased.
c) Rail must be rolled to follow the planned curvature of the
right-of-way. A section of curved track should never be 'sprung' into
position since the section will tend to work itself back to its original
state of curvature.
d) Assembly of a curved track panel should be done on a track jig
specifically designed and adjusted to suit the intended rate of
curvature along right-of-way.
e) Transitions between straight and curved sections along mainline
right-of-way should be planned for and implemented. (A transition is a
gradual increase in curvature radius at the intersection of straight and
f) Directly connected reverse curves should be avoided. A pair of
reverse curves should be separated by a straight section of track no
less than 10 feet. The addition of the straight section allows for long
wheel base locomotives or truck assemblies to negotiate the change in
curvature without binding. The addition of the straight section also
prevents coupler swing between two connected cars from being used up,
binding, and causing a derailment.
g) Maximum value for super elevation shall be 1/8". The outside rail
along a curve should never be below the height of the inside rail.
(Super elevation is defined as the condition where the outside rail of a
curve is higher than the inside rail).
a) The maximum mean grade shall be no more than 3% on mainline and 5% on
4) Bridges, Trestles, and Steaming Bays
a) The primary load bearing beams or stringers shall always be made from
steel (Channel, tubing, or 'I'
beams, etc.). The size of selected steel shape should be determined
based upon a distributed load of
4000 lbs + additional weight of decking and girders per a 10' section of
b) Vertical supports or trestle bents can be made from steel, concrete,
or treated wood.
c) Spacing of vertical supports must be in accordance to the size of
beam selected. Smaller beam sections
will require closer spacing of supports. Conversely, larger or thicker
beam sections will permit greater
separation between supports.
d) Vertical supports shall be set in place below frost line (for Ohio,
minimum of 36" deep).
a) Points shall be milled from 1" high x 1/2" wide steel 'c' channel.
b) Stock rails shall have the foot and a portion of the head milled out
to accommodate the point.
c) The minimum frog size for all mainline switches shall be a #8.
d) Switches shall be of a spring throw type.
e) Cross tie screws may be drilled through the foot of the rail. This is
often necessary due to physical
limitations (opposite foot milled away for rail point, two rails
converging at a frog or end of a point, or where the guard rails
interfere with the outside rail).
f) Right-of-way should be designed, when possible, such that the
mainline track is to be the straight track
through the switch.
a) Construction should incorporate steel materials as
much as possible, primarily at the frog where severe
impact loading takes place.
b) Cross tie screws may be drilled through the foot of the rail. This is
often necessary due to physical
limitations (opposite foot milled away for assembly of frog or two rails
converging at a frog).
7) Parallel Running Tracks.
a) Mainlines, passing sidings, and yard tracks shall be
separated by a distance greater than 40" between
b) Ballast should be maintained at a constant level between adjacent
tracks. This reduces tripping hazards
as well as reduces erosion from foot traffic and weather. Another
benefit is obtained when re-railing is
necessary. Blocking-up of equipment is easier and safer when ballast
level is maintained between
adjacent tracks. In the case where a derailment occurs, especially with
passengers, a level shoulder helps
prevent tipping of equipment.
.8) Road Crossings.
a) Where possible road crossings will be of steel rail
set in reinforced concrete of sufficient depth to handle
traffic. The area between the rails should be lower to allow for easy
b ) Crossings for mowers and lightweight vehicles can be
constructed of longer ties with wood between and
outside the rails. The wood between the rails should be no higher than
the rail height.
a) Tunnels will be constructed preferably out of steel
with a minimum height of 6'.
b) Long tunnels should provide for adequate ventilation.
a) Signals will be provided for operation of bi-directional
b) Signals will be of a color position design similar to that used on
the B&O. This allows for colorblind
operators to see the aspect of the signal.
c) Signals will be activated by a limit switch, button, or track
11) Passing sidings.
a) Passing sidings for bi-directional operations will be
located approximately every 500'.
b) Sidings should be of sufficient length to handle the longest normal
Determination of Rail Joint Gap.
An assembled rail joint section utilizing punched rail ends and punched
rail joiners will allow for a
considerable gap opening. We would .like to assemble rail joints with a
gap wide enough to accommodate an
increase in rail length due to a temperature increase. However, we do
not want to have a gap opening too wide
for this promotes damage or a 'beating down' of rail ends. Instead, we
want to find the smallest gap opening for
a typical rail temperature that one would encounter during track
assembly. The average air temperature in Ohio
can vary from -20° F to 100° F. However we want to know what. the rail
temperature range that can occur
Since rail is heated by conduction from the earth, convection from the
air, and radiation from the sun, rail
temperatures can vary from -20° F to 140° F. This gives us a mean rail
temperature of 80° F. (Extreme
temperatures of 180°F have been encountered on particularly hot and
sunny afternoons). With this average rail
temperature established, now we need to look at how our aluminum rail
expands and contracts with temperature
to determine a minimum joint gap opening.
A metal bar will change in length due to a change in temperature. This
change in length, or thermal expansion,
is determined by the following equation: