How to Lay HO Scale Track

By Mark P. Cussen
2006 Tennessee State Fair Model Train Exhibit

There is nothing more attractive on a model train table than well-laid trackwork, with sweeping curves and properly positioned switches. Laying good track in HO scale can be more of a challenge than laying track in larger scales, such as O or G. Smaller trains are much less forgiving when it comes to bad trackwork, so you must pay much more attention to detail.

Decide upon a track plan using the equipment you have. Use a computer program that allows you to design a complete plan with buildings and scenery. Consider Atlas tool company (see "Resources" below), 3rd Plan It or RR-track software. Print out a diagram of your track plan and keep it close at hand.

Mark the path of the track on the plywood or homasote bed with a pencil. Lay the cork roadbed, beveled sides out, centered on top of the line you drew. Use liquid nails adhesive to cement the roadbed down onto the table. This adhesive comes in caulklike tubes and requires a caulker to apply. Simply squeeze a stream of the adhesive over the line drawn on the table and press the cork roadbed down on top of it, following the path.

Lay the HO scale track on top of the roadbed. Spike the track down with brads or track nails available from your local hobby store. Center the track on the roadbed. Be sure that each rail slides into the rail joiner and does not ride on top of it. Check that the ends of the rails are flush without any space between them.

Run a train over the newly laid track and make sure that it does not derail anywhere along the line. Drill a hole through the roadbed and table to accommodate any under-the-table switch machines that you will install. Some types of switch tracks should float, meaning they should not be nailed directly to the roadbed. Instead, they are held in place by adjoining tracks.

Ballast the track with hobby store ballast. Spread the ballast evenly between the ties with a brush or ballasting tool and then use an eyedropper to apply a mix of water, glue and matte medium onto the ballast. Carefully clean the tops of the rails when you're done and run a train over the track to make sure that there is no loss of electrical contact.