Modelling the right-of-way

Working on the rails myself, I’ve always been interested in accurate modelling of the right-of-way.  I’ve seen many model layouts with almost vertical scenery and poor rendition of the right-of-way.  I can and want to do better.


Instructions for levelling track using a long trowel. This tool was most often used for levelling track in the vicinity of rail joints.

Lines out of Lindsay on CN were not well-photographed, and the area around Santiago Yard even less so.  But we’re very fortunate to have this photo courtesy Ian Wilson that shows what I want to model.

The pole line has two six-pin crossarms of differing lengths.  I may use an Atlas line pole with a second shorter Pikestuff crossarm mounted on the pole below the longer atlas crossarm.  The line passes through slightly undulating topography, yet with a defined ditch to drain water away quickly from the roadbed.  This is especially important during spring run-off.  The right-of-way is a hundred feet wide, its boundary defined by a “Page Wire” fence.  I’m going to use a lot of static grass here as well…..


CN 2580 operating on Train 726’s schedule, is one mile east of Santiago Yard.  Jack Rehor photo from Ian Wilson’s “Steam Memories of Lindsay”, used here for discussion purposes only.   Notice that the ballast level at the tie ends is lower than it is in today’s track.  Notice also that there is NO deflection of the rail under the locomotive.  

The rail joint has always been the weakest part of railway track.  In the days of jointed rail instead of today’s welded rail, joint areas were the subject of constant maintenance by the section forces.  Various factors would cause the rails at the joints to sink along with the ties supporting them.  This would result in the rails’ running surface becoming lower near the rail joints than the rest of the rail length.   At speed, this would result in a rough ride.  Once track was pounded down at the rail joints, it was more susceptible to further damage with the passage of more trains.

The section forces would dig out the ballast around and under the joint ties, jack up the rail, and add ballast under the ties using a trowel.  That ballast came from material taken from the tie ends.  Sometimes the section may have brought some on a lorry behind the hand- or motor-car.  The rail was then lowered onto the fresh ballast, and the track’s surface checked for level.  When the track was levelled, ballast was packed around the ties to keep them from shifting with rail expansion/contraction.  This was done one joint at a time by the sectionmen, and a major part of their work.

Taking ballast from the tie ends resulted in the area around the joint ties having a slightly lower ballast level around those ties.  The photo above shows how this looked, and is a feature that I want to model.  Today’s track using continuous welded rail has much heavier ballast to counteract the forces of long strips of rail continually expanding and contracting.  Jointed track did not need such heavy ballasting as the rail joints took up the expansion/contraction of each rail.

But how to model this?

To be continued…..




2 thoughts on “Modelling the right-of-way

    • Thank you, Rene. The work of the section I’ll touch upon from time to time. It’s so important to accurate railway modelling in my book. Eventually, the section crew would add ballast near these low spots to replace what had been used in surfacing the track. A small amount was kept near the section toolhouse, and the forces would load some onto a dumping platform on the motorcar trailer (also called a “lorry”), towing the trailer to where needed and shovelling out small amounts at each joint. With 33′ rails, that meant that they had to lay down ballast every rod (16′-6″) along their section of six to nine miles from time to to time.

      The section forces were very busy people!


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