Piedmont Division Blog

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Track Replacement Surgery

December 30th, 2008 · No Comments

Turnout Track Replacement ProjectNot quite as long a recovery as hip or knee replacement, but getting myself prepared for the task took a little longer than expected. You see, the doctors at the Piedmont Division (PD) first identified the ailment and planned some time ago, as I recall about fourteen months ago (10/2007) that the layout track scheme needed a pair of turnouts to aid in a more direct path between the freight/staging/fiddle yard and the classification yard. The answer to the illness was to add a pair of turnouts, but it also meant that two sections of existing track would have to be replaced. At that time the PD intern was not quite up for doing the delicate operation.

More than a year later, after much consternation, and some kidding aside, I got up the courage and tackled the task at hand with vim and vigor and completing 95% of the project operation in two days this past weekend. The only remaining items on the punch list is to add some ties and then wire the two turnouts to the DCC buss. Ballasting and weathering are considered a whole other project outside the realm of this particular endeavor. (Click on thumbnail images for a larger view.)

Alignment means rising to the occasion

With the two Atlas #4 turnouts and a short 3-inch connecting piece of flex track between them I measured the area of the two separated tracks for the optimum location. This area was chosen as a prime candidate because the two existing track segments are located between the two desired connection points and at nearly the same elevation. Actually, only about a ½ inch height differential between the two would be easy to fix.  So I removed a few drywall screws from chocks located under the benchwork and then connected the two existing cookie-cutter sub-roadbed pieces that support the existing track segments with a 5-inch long piece of 1"X3" and used a set of 8 1¼" dry wall screws to complete the elevation leveling. I wanted to ensure that the turnouts would be level at this section of the track work.

Measure twice then cut once

Lifting out the old existing trackMaking the rail cuts

Always live by this rule, as I've been burned way too many times when I don't, and I wanted to make sure that this time it was done right, as making a wrong cut here would complicate the operation. With the turnouts in hand I placed them over the top of the existing track and then marked with a pencil onto the cork roadbed to make sure all cuts would be near perfect, or close enough and still allow a bit of expansion space, or about 1/16th of an inch .

Then using a pair of rail nippers I made the 8 individual rail cuts ensuring all the turnout sections were in accurate positions. After cutting the track rail sections and supporting tie plastic pieces I pulled up the track with a large putty knife. I could not salvage the track but did keep the rail for trackside details. Some of the old ties were salvaged as well for detailing track in exposed locations, another project for another day. I also removed one existing tie from each of the four exposed existing track segments so that rail connectors would easily slide completely under the existing rails, this step ensures a smooth and quick "drop-in" place of the new turnouts.

Make your bed

Applying the latex caulkCleaned up roadbed

Then lay the baby to rest! Once the track and ties were removed I decided to remove the cork roadbed and replace it with a fresh new bedding. So with my razor blade cutter I made 4 strategic straight line cuts at the edge of the existing track segments and then with the putty knife I pulled up the existing and exposed cork roadbed sections. Next I sanded down any loose remaining dried caulk and cork pieces to ensure a smooth surface on the plywood sub-roadbed. Then I ran the wet-dry vacuum over this area to remove any loose pieces of sanded material. Cork roadbed in place with push pins I then took fresh cork halves and measured and cut four pieces and temporarily placed them in their respective locations. Then the transition pieces were measured and cut. Next came the gray latex caulk which I piped out in long sections and smoothed out with a putty knife to a thin layer. Like a puzzle I dropped in each new cork section, first the straight sections and then the transition pieces. After pressing in the cork roadbed pieces I placed push pins every 2 to 3 inches or so to firmly set and adhere the cork roadbed to the plywood sub-roadbed. I let this set up overnight.

Day two and after a good nights sleep...

Cork roadbed sealed with Kilz primer

Now that the cork roadbed and latex caulk adhesive had set up overnight it was time to proceed with the next steps. First, I gently removed the push pins by twisting them as I slowly pulled them out of the cork, then I hand smoothed out the roadbed with a coarse grit sandpaper. A light hand sanding removes any burrs or unevenness that might have resulted from imperfections in the cork alignment. This step ensures a smooth and level roadbed, my experience tells me that a smooth cork roadbed foundation makes for a smooth track placement.  After running the wet-dry vacuum over the area to pick up the cork dust I test fit the turnouts and made a few minor rail cuts on one side of the existing track segments so that they would fit snuggly with just enough gap for expansion area. Then I pulled out the gray Kilz primer paint and applied a coat on all the new cork. This has a two-fold effect, first it gives the cork a similar background color as the future ballast and helps to blend in with the ballast, and second, it seals the cork which helps preserve it for years of worry free use.

Taking a NO from NASA

Taking a NO from NASA

Marking the caulk locationsWhen was the last time you liked the word No? Once the paint was dry (about 3 hours) I gathered up 8 rail connectors and gingerly slid them onto the 8 existing rail segments and pushed them flush with the end of the rails. Next I dropped in the turnouts to test fit them one more time before applying the adhesive. But before I lifted them up I took a pencil and marked on the cork roadbed the areas where the gray latex caulk would be applied and the areas to avoid. The areas in and around the points and any moving parts need to be free of any adhesive for obvious reasons. I then pulled up the turnouts from the final test fit and then wrote with the pencil a simple "NO" in between the two lines for both turnouts were the caulk was not to be applied. As simple as it might seem this step greatly aided my ability to proceed with caution when piping out the caulk and then later spreading it on the cork roadbed. The inspiration comes from an important step as depicted in the movie "Apollo 13" where in the scene when Jack Swigert played by Kevin Bacon is in the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) and he writes a simple note and tapes it on an important switch with the letters "NO" so that he wont accidentally un-dock from the command capsule before the power is transferred. That simple warning note that Jack wrote ensured a critical step in the elaborate procedure was saved until the right time.

Final placement

Final turnout placement

Latex caulk spread in placeWith the thin layer of latex caulk in place the turnouts are dropped in and the rails aligned with the rail connectors which are then gently glided into place using a set of curved needle nose pliers. Then the final seating and positioning of the turnouts are completed and allowed to set up in place. Within 10 minutes or so I power up the DCC system and test run a few locos and a consist with success.

First test runs on the new track

The operation was a success, and after 14 months of waiting the layout now has a more direct route between two important Layout Design Elements (LDE's), also reflecting a more prototypical track arrangement as well. The Piedmont Division will not be getting and Explanation of Benefits or EOB letter, as this type of operation is not covered on their health insurance policy! And now the intern can move onto more challenging tasks.

Such as the next project, building the upper deck benchwork ....a model railroaders task is never done!

Tags: Model Railroading

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