Track/Permanent Way


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Frog Types


Basically this is what its all about. All the time spent designing the layout and constructing the baseboards is simply to produce a foundation for the track or permanent way as it is frequently known. With the preliminaries completed correctly - choice of scale/gauge, layout design and baseboard construction; the track installation should be a relatively simple task.

Also on this page: Uncoupling, Turntables and Baseboard Joins. Remember to visit our BALLASTING, TRACK WEATHERING & PLATFORM sections.

 Permanent way has three basic components:

bulletTrack. Track is the straight or curved sections of permanent way that connect turnouts and crossings.

bulletTurnouts, points or switches. Turnouts or switches allow the permanent way to divide into two or more routes. They include standard straight turnouts, curved turnouts, three way turnouts, double and single slips. Standard and curved turnouts are handed - for example on a standard turnout if the curve branches to the right it is 'right handed' as the image below shows for both straight and curved.

bulletCrossings. Crossings allow track to cross without changing direction. They are sometimes referred to as 'diamond crossings'.


For information on track scales and gauges click here for more information.

The most difficult decision for most enthusiasts when using track manufactured by companies such as Peco, is the option between 'insulfrog' and 'electrofrog' turnouts. When this option is available the simple solution is that electrofrog turnouts should be used as they improve the running quality of the layout. Many railway modellers are miss-informed over the benefits of electrofog turnouts. When constructing a layout for a client, Professional Layout Services will always use where available electrofrog turnouts and slips. We will usually alter them to live-frog to ensure optimum performance from the track.

For information on insulfrog, electrofrog and livefrog turnouts click here for more information.



A full description of the types of track available to the model railway enthusiast is shown below. Track type is determined by the type of stock together with the age of the stock, and the type of layout required. Four basic track types are available as follows:

bulletSet Track. Set track uses pre-formed track sections for straights and curves available in gauges Z to G. All track sections are produced to a specific geometry based upon the manufacturer selected. The most popular types include Peco, Hornby, Fleischmann and Marklin with LGB in G scale. Set track is ideal for layouts where space is restricted and standard ready to run stock is to be used. It is however not suitable for use with kit built locomotives and some ready to run stock does not perform on the inside radius. Stock of most ages is suitable except for the very early stock where wheel flanges may be very deep. The standard rail profile for most UK set track is code 100 for 00 gauge, and code 83 for N gauge.
bulletFlexible Track - Universal. Usually manufactured from code 100 rail in 00 gauge, and code 83 rail in N gauge, flexible track shares the benefits of set track in that it is suitable for most ready to run models. It is however more realistic than setrack as the normal minimum radius for bending flexible track is twenty four inches in 00 gauge, and twelve inches in N gauge. This allows more realistic appearing track as due to the reduced radius, the track can be set at the standard six foot spacing between tracks, unlike set track which has to be set wider to allow trains to pass in the sharp corners. The track spacing is set when turnouts are combined to form a crossover. The most popular ranges of flexible track include Peco. Generally more turnout types are available allowing for more realistic track formations. Flexible track can however be used in conjunction with the same code set track.

bulletFlexible Track - Finescale.
Finescale track is the result of enthusiasts demanding a more realistic rail profile as wheel standards have improved. Finescale track is generally suitable for kit built models and most modern ready to run stock, but is troublesome with older stock. The rail profile is reduced by Peco to code 55 in N gauge, and code 75 in 00 gauge. Peco manufacture a similar range of turnouts in code 75 and code 100. Peco have manufactured code 83 for the American market.
bulletHand Constructed Finescale Track.
When 'off the shelf' track by manufacturers such as Peco, Hornby, Fleischmann and Marklin is deemed to be unacceptable or un-prototypical by the modeller, the option is to manufacture track by hand, or purchase pre-constructed hand made track. Hand constructed track is usually made to specific gauges where scale is critical e.g. 2mm scale (2mm to the foot scale option to N gauge), EM gauge and S4/P4 (4mm to the foot scale options to OO gauge) the majority of stock running on this track is kit built or re-wheeled ready to run, and S7 (7mm to the foot scale option for O gauge). The majority of stock running on this track is kit built or re-wheeled ready to run. Exact track formations can be reproduced to scale using scale turnout drawings. Originally track was produced using wooden sleepers with copper or brass rivets placed at the rail location to allow the rail to be soldered to the rivet. This in more recent times has been often replaced by 'copper clad' paxolin board e.g. SMP and Marcway; or the extensive range of all plastic sleepers and chairs as produced by C&L Finescale. In recent years the P4 Track Company has emerged with some of the best track available for S4. Some manufacturers of components offer a construction service.

The photograph above shows hand constructed S4 track constructed using wooden sleepers and rivets to locate the rail being installed by Professional Layout Services. A cosmetic chair is added to give a totally realistic appearance to this track.

Professional Layout Services offer the supply and installation of most set track and flexible track systems including underlay. Underlay is the material used beneath the track to give the raised ballast profile. This is usually either sheet or sliced cork which requires ballasting as a separate process (see our section on scenics), or foam underlay which is designed to represent the ballast infill. Underlay if used correctly also evens out the level of the track and reduces the noise created when trains move on the layout.

Professional Layout Services offer a full track installation service. We will install track onto client constructed baseboards or baseboards constructed by ourselves. We specialise in the installation of both proprietary track and hand constructed finescale track in a variety of gauges.


Probably the most difficult area in modern UK model railways is uncoupling. Unlike America where a standard has been agreed between the NMRA and manufacturers we have no such agreement and as such couplings can vary within a manufacturers range. Most tension lock uncouplers - both manual and mechanical do not work properly unless the train consists of the same coupling types. They may also foul modern locomotives and stock as their ground clearance is much lower than older models. If you resort to changing couplings then we can add uncouplers at the requested locations - see image below of MSE uncoupling magnets set at sleeper height in Woodland Scenics medium grade ballast.


Turntables can be included within the track section of model railways as they form an important additional track feature to most steam era layouts particularly those that contain a Motive Power Depot (MPD). A variety of turntables are available in pre-constructed form e.g. Heljan, Fleischmann and Hornby, or as kits in a variety of formats e.g. Peco, South Eastern Finecast and Dapol.

Some turntables require a hole to be cut into the baseboard to locate the turntable well keeping the rim at track level as shown in the above image of a Heljan turntable. The Hornby turntable locates on top of the baseboard without the need to cut a hole for the well. The ready to run turntables feature motors and an indexing system to align the turntable deck with the feeder rails. When constructing a turntable kit, motor and indexing are left to the constructor.


Baseboard track joins can be a problem on non permanent model railway layouts, lifting or removable sections for access, or on traversers. The tracks needs to be fixed in a way that maintains track alignment - if the layout is dismantled regularly pattern makers/engineers dowels are recommended to maintain track alignment.. Several methods have been used over the years, are couple of the most popular are listed below: 

  1. Strips of copper clad PCB board cut at sleeper width with the rails soldered to the copper surface and an insulating cut between rails. This can be fragile unless a thicker strip of PCB board is used.
  2. Brass screws fitted below the bottom of the rails with the rail soldered to the head of the brass screw - images below.

1). Remove the sleepers and mark the position of the rails on the baseboard. Drill pilot holes for the brass screws and fix to a height just below the bottom of the rail.

2). Check the fit of the sleepers over the screws. If laying the track without ballast fix the track in place. If laying ballast mark the outside limit of the ballast.

If ballasting the track into a PVA adhesive bed add the adhesive between the marks. Place the track in the correct position with infill sleepers and fix in place with track pins or drawing pins. Solder the rails to the screw heads.


Pour ballast into the PVA and leave to dry overnight. When dry cut the track on the baseboard join preferably with a carborundum disc. Use a scalpel to carefully cut down the baseboard join to make a clean break in the ballast. If multiple tracks cross a baseboard join use a steel rule to mark the cut line on the rails to ensure all the cuts are in line. This is particularly important on a sliding traverser. Image above is shown before excess ballast is removed.


The image above shows the finished join after the boards have been parted. A neat finish is easily achieved which is protected by a timber strip fixed to the edge of the baseboard when the layout is not in use. This is essential to stop the vulnerable track ends from damage.



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