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Advice on Whether or not to fix track down before ballasting

Clive Tucker

Clive Tucker

Registered
#1
Hi all, I am almost at the point of dropping some ballast onto some sections of my line, but I am wondering whether or not I should consider fixing the track down first. I see some people e.g. @ge_rik have done so, but I wonder did you find any issues with doing so?

Thanks in advance for any pointers.
 
BakerJohn

BakerJohn

Model Railroader, Farmer, Pastry Cook
#2
Hi Clive. I am not fixing my track down where I am laying ballast. I am screwing it to the bridge supports when it is raised off the ground, however.
I feel like I read somewhere that the track should not be fixed and ballasted so it has some movement between the seasons, but I could be wrong and have no personal experience in that area. Having said that, I don't know what your climate range is like and how much of a temperature swing you see through the year.
 
wandgrudd

wandgrudd

Registered
24 Oct 2009
191
10
Robin Hood Country
#3
if you have a solid base then yes fix before as the ballast is only cosmetic. i have fixed to blocks then ballasted been fine for 10+ years.
 
Rhinochugger

Rhinochugger

Retired Oik
27 Oct 2009
21,419
2,481
North West Norfolk
#4
My track is fixed only where alignment is crucial, but otherwie generally floats on anything, ballast, blocks, timber.

Over time, ballast will settle down and hold the sleepers - apart from my depot area, I tend to use 6 - 9mm stone for ballast as this doesn't disappear up the garden vac during leaf clearance, but even this clamps around the sleepers over the passage of time - and some heavyweight trains :nod::nod::nod:
 
Zerogee

Zerogee

Clencher's Bogleman
25 Oct 2009
15,607
1,395
North Essex
#5
I am using fine white limestone chippings for the trackbed and ballast (they are small and sharp, and "knit" together well) - despite the term "white", they are actually an attractive light grey - and all the track just free-floats.

Jon.
 
idlemarvel

idlemarvel

Registered
13 Jul 2015
1,137
449
Ascot
#6
I had my track just resting on decking planks and covered it with ballast but in no time the ballast crept under the sleepers and lifted the track. That may not matter on open sections but it might near points or crossings. Eventually I had to remove all the ballast, relay the track and nail it down before reapplying the ballast.
 
stockers

stockers

Trains, aircraft, models, walking, beer, travel
Staff member
GSC Moderator
24 Oct 2009
25,069
3,368
60
Nr. Ashford, Kent. England.
#7
I agree with 'Marvel above. Stones will get under loose track. Either let it float on a few stones or pin it down securely. A 'halfway house' will not work too well, especially on pointwork.
 
Greg Elmassian

Greg Elmassian

Registered
8 Mar 2014
1,399
305
San Diego
www.elmassian.com
#8
Hoo boy, this is like battery vs. track power.

I've spent 20 years posting and reading on forums, and in general, COMPLETELY fixing track to a SOLID base does not work.

Free-floating track in ballast is the most successful in terms of not making kinks and track misalignments from heat and cold, but the natural movement of the track will make you re-ballast every so often.

Fixing the track "every so often" has worked for many people, basically fixing the track in a few places to keep it from moving a lot, seems to work for many people, and seems to provide a balance between large migrations of track and the other extreme, ripping the rails from the sleepers when the sleepers are not given the ability to move with the rails.

Another issue is what happens with ballast. If you try to just lay track on a hard surface, ballast will work it's way underneath and raise the track with the natural expansion and contraction every day.

No hard surface and this is no problem. Trying to stop the ballast getting between a board and the track forces you to try to fix the track down firmly everywhere, and now you have expansion problems with the rails.

Something that works for people is a little glue or cement in the ballast, so extreme forces can move the rails but small movements are constrained. This is good for people who want to free float their track, but too much rain washes the ballast away.

My personal method is using coarse ballast (unaffected by rain) and free floating. This has worked well for about 20 years, I can spray with a hose and not disturb things, and the track stays in alignment for years at a time.

Greg
 
JimmyB

JimmyB

Old and broken (motorbike accident)
23 Feb 2018
368
193
64
Weston-super-Mare
#9
Where my track is "floating on ballast" I put pegs every 2 - 3 feet to align height, and loosely screwed )i.e. oversize hole, countersunk screw not fully home to allow movement) every other peg. Now where my track is on thermolite blocks, currently I am considering one loose screw every other piece of track, however not wanting to "glue" my ballast I am still considering how to ensure it remains in place.
 
BakerJohn

BakerJohn

Model Railroader, Farmer, Pastry Cook
#10
... My personal method is using coarse ballast (unaffected by rain) and free floating. This has worked well for about 20 years, I can spray with a hose and not disturb things, and the track stays in alignment for years at a time.
Greg
Good to know that my chosen method will (hypothetically) last for years to come. I assume you have to reballast every now and again, Greg?
 
Martino

Martino

Kit bashing, The UK narrow gauge, The GWR, Aviatio
#11
I guess it all depends on your railway’s style. I can only speak for mine. I run at pretty much ground level following natural bends and grades. The track is laid loose mostly on stone or concrete blocks laid into the soil (on paver base material, sometimes concreted down, to establish level track). In many areas I use ballast of chicken grit (crushed granite) which is set using a diluted concrete glue.

We have summer temperatures in the upper 90s F and it can drop to well below freezing in the winter. We have an irrigation system that runs during the spring/summer/autumn and of course tropical storms and torrential rain from time to time. The brass track is exposed to the sun directly in most areas.

I never worry much about expansion or contraction, but it happens. The track seems to sort itself out ok and I’ve not had issues with track getting buckled. It does move a bit in places of course.

Ballast tends to vanish in time. I’ve had some down for years, and other bits wash away yearly.

The track is only screwed down in a couple of places, mostly to stop movement by by Dogs!

I have no sharp curves and only two loops, which are very big, something like 20’ radius.

In some areas, Moss has grown and that tends to act as a flexible anchor.

So, no advice, that’s just my experience.
 
Greg Elmassian

Greg Elmassian

Registered
8 Mar 2014
1,399
305
San Diego
www.elmassian.com
#12
Yes, I reballast every so often, but it's less than once a year, usually 3-5 years... and it's a 5-10 minute job in maybe a 4-5 foot stretch.... There are areas that have never been reballasted.

I traded the size of the ballast for ultra low maintenance. I enjoy running trains, and am not a rivet counter, so I accept my larger ballast with my overscale Kadee couplers, too shiny stainless steel track that is too tall and my curves way tighter than prototype.

In exchange, I have almost zero maintenance, recently had not run for 6 months (house painting and fumigation) and wiped the rails with a Swiffer (5 minutes) and trains ran fine. Last weekend pulled a loco out of storage that had not been run for 2 years, placed on track and away it went (DCC and stainless wheels)...

That was satisfying and worth the costs associated with it.

Greg
 
Clive Tucker

Clive Tucker

Registered
#13
Thanks everyone for your very interesting responses. As I've covered on my 'resurrection' thread I am ultimately going to have my track on a solid cemented block base. I think I might pick a couple of places where I can try ballasting both with and without a fixed track, and see how each place fares. I will be honest and say I would be reluctant to do rigid fixing all round, given the crazy hot weather we're experiencing right now.

Thanks again all for your thoughts, much appreciated.
 
Rhinochugger

Rhinochugger

Retired Oik
27 Oct 2009
21,419
2,481
North West Norfolk
#14
Thanks everyone for your very interesting responses. As I've covered on my 'resurrection' thread I am ultimately going to have my track on a solid cemented block base. I think I might pick a couple of places where I can try ballasting both with and without a fixed track, and see how each place fares. I will be honest and say I would be reluctant to do rigid fixing all round, given the crazy hot weather we're experiencing right now.

Thanks again all for your thoughts, much appreciated.
Hang loose mother goose :cool::cool::cool::cool::cool::cool:
 
P

Paul M

Registered
25 Oct 2016
1,618
566
55
Royston
#15
If you use flexible track, there must be some sort of fixing especially on the curves, otherwise won't it straighten out again?
 
P

phils2um

Registered
11 Sep 2015
118
112
Ann Arbor, Michigan
#16
My track is all loose at the moment. A rail bender was used on the flex track curves so they stay curved. I'm glad I didn't fix it in place as it shifts quite a bit with the Summer - Winter temperature swings here. Some of my track is laid on compacted slag sand (paver base) with slag sand as ballast. The rest is currently un-ballasted on concrete block.

Phil S.
 
Clive Tucker

Clive Tucker

Registered
#18
If you use flexible track, there must be some sort of fixing especially on the curves, otherwise won't it straighten out again?
Hi Paul, my line is made up of almost entirely fixed curves (some are cut to size but still fixed radius) - to the best of my memory I have one bit where I bent it 'manually' (using the infamous 'belly bender :) ' ), and it seems to have stayed that way for all the 14 years it's been down.
 
PhilP

PhilP

G Scale, 7/8th's, Electronics
5 Jun 2013
19,960
1,947
Tamworth, Staffs.
#19
Could someone confirm my thoughts that if track is 'floating' in ballast, you *really* need to clamp your joints, else it will open-up the joints enough to give problems?
TIA
PhilP.
 
Zerogee

Zerogee

Clencher's Bogleman
25 Oct 2009
15,607
1,395
North Essex
#20
Could someone confirm my thoughts that if track is 'floating' in ballast, you *really* need to clamp your joints, else it will open-up the joints enough to give problems?
TIA
PhilP.
That is something I had in my mind with my recent free-floating tracklaying - decided to clamp all joints to be on the safe side, both electrically and mechanically. Seems to have worked so far! :)

Jon.