Best way to clean model railroad track

Cleaning model railroad track is essential for ensuring smooth operation of trains and preventing derailments. Here are some of the best ways to clean model railroad track:

  1. Use a track cleaning car: A track cleaning car is a special type of car that has cleaning pads or brushes attached to its underside. As it moves along the track, it cleans the rails and removes any dirt, dust, or other debris.

2. Use a track cleaning fluid: There are various track cleaning fluids available on the market that can be used to clean model railroad track. These fluids are applied to a cleaning pad or cloth, which is then used to wipe the rails clean.

Track Cleaning Fluids

3. Use a track cleaning block: A track cleaning block is a small block of material, such as abrasive rubber or fiberglass, that is used to clean the rails. Simply rub the block over the rails to remove any dirt or oxidation.

Track Cleaning Bright Boy

4. Use a track cleaning tool: There are various track cleaning tools available, such as brushes, scrapers, and erasers, that can be used to clean the rails. These tools are particularly useful for cleaning hard-to-reach areas, such as switches and turnouts.

Tidy Track Rail Tracker Cleaning Kit 

This Woodland Scenics Tidy Track is my preferred method to clean track

5. Use a vacuum cleaner: A vacuum cleaner can be used to remove any loose dirt or debris from the track. Make sure to use a soft brush attachment to avoid scratching the rails.

Vacuums for cleaning track and excess scenery

Regardless of the method you choose, it is important to regularly clean your model railroad track to ensure that it operates smoothly and reliably.

Developing Your First Model Train Layout

To develop your model train layout there are four major steps to take before you begin construction:

1: Select the size of your model train, that is the scale or gauge. Scales range from micro-sized Z scale for tiny layouts to giant G-scale used mostly for outdoor garden layouts.

Visit hobby shops or model train websites and see the various scales available. Staff at a hobby shop will usually be happy to point out the advantages and/or disadvantages of each scale. Your decision about scale/size will be partly based on the space available for your layout. The most popular scales are O scale which is 1/48th actual size and the smaller HO scale which is 1/87th actual size. As a result of being the two most popular scales these have the greatest variety of locomotives, cars and accessories available.

Model Train Scales an article written earlier may also help.

2: Learn about layouts for the scale you have chosen by reading magazines such as O Gauge Railroading and Classic Toy Trains (these two are for O scale). Model Railroading provides detailed information about HO and N scale. All are full of information – all the good train hobby stores carry them or you can pick them up at places like Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

Also visit websites related to your scale choice Google the term “model train layouts” for a great listing of sites with information about model train layouts. You may also wish to check out Youtube for more information on layouts.

Re-visit hobby shops you visited for information when deciding on the scale of your model train set and ask questions about layout. The good ones can provide helpful advice and they sell how-to books on wiring, scenery, detailing and other subjects.

3: You then need to decide on how you start. Do you want to start with a little layout that can later be extended? Do you want to set up a permanent layout right from the start? Do you want to develop a ‘theme’ layout say a layout depicting California logging railroads in the 1920s? The major decisions are to determine your objective and set the size parameters for your layout. Don’t forget that the size parameters for your layout will be determined largely by the space you have available a basement? the corner of a lounge room? portion of your garage? etc.

Deciding a Track Plan Before Building Your Model Railroad Layout another article written here.

4: Begin making sketches and drawings on plain paper it’s easier to make changes to your drawing than to have to physically pry up a section of track that ‘went wrong’. Refer back to magazines and websites during this planning stage just to see what others have done. Many magazines and websites will have photos of layouts appropriate to the scale you have chosen. There are even some computer programs which can help you with designing your layout – look for ads in model train magazines.

Scenery – My six steps

Part 3 Trees

In part 3 we will finally talk about trees.

I part 1 we talked about preparing the contour of the land. We got an idea for the hills and valleys, used crumpled paper for hills and covered it all with plaster cloth. Lightly sprayed to cover the white cloth, then covered it with fine turf (earth). To read part 1 go here

I part 2 we went to the green stuff, grass, (fine turf grass), then some course turf and blended turf for that weedy look. And finally clump turf for the small shrubs and bigger weeds. To read part 2 go here.

Now in part 3 we will finish the six steps with some small trees.

The white area next to the roadbed is plaster cloth that needs to be covered.

In this photo I have applied ballast, only from the rail to the grass. This area is in fron of the passenger station and I will apply ballast, brick or concrete at a later time.

In the photo to the right the tree now looks fuller, you can’t see thru it.

I repeated this process with all the trees to be placed in this area.

In this photo you can see that some of the trees are thin and you can see thru.

to fix this I sprayed the leafy area with Elmers adhesive spray. The sprinkled fine turf over the area just sprayed. Then resprayed and sprinkled a second time to fill out the tree.

Now place a couple of drops of white glue, I use Elmers. On top of the hole, this will hold the tree in place and the snug hole will keep it near straight.

Now the trees will be planted (placed) on the layout. This is random. Take a look at the scene and place the trees where you think they will fit best.

Use an auger or something similar that will create a hole about the size of the tree trunk. You want it to be snug.

You have just planted a tree on your Layout in this scene. The first of many. Repeat this for as many or as few as you feel necessary to complete the scene.

In this short area I placed three trees. Just to appear to be a separator and not to hide what is behind it.

Trees can be used for many purposes one I will discuss in a future article will be to use them to separate scenes. Also I will discuss the various types and brands of trees available.

I hope that you found my six steps of scenery informative, they are quick and easy to complete. At the same time go a long way in bringing your model railroad to life. As you can see from some of the photos I use figures and vehicles and other items that also help bring a layout to life. We will discuss as many as you like in the future.

Thank you for reading. Till the next time.

Scenery – Six steps

Part 1

Many people’s first introduction to model railroading is with a simple circle or oval on a sheet of plywood. No scenery, no landscaping and maybe not even any buildings or vehicles

It doesn’t take long, however, to get the urge to start adding accessories to the railroad to make it more realistic. For many people, this become a lifelong endeavor, and can grow to very large proportions

There are many options for landscaping a railroad. You can add things like grass, trees, lakes or rivers alongside the track. Or you can get a little more in depth and add hills and valleys for your train to travel through, and tunnels through the mountains.

There are many methods and articles for scenery. I have read many articles, attended a few seminars (classes) and and discussed these methods at our club meetings. We have come up with our own methods for scenery. The six steps that work best for us. These steps are not hard and fast rules, merely a suggestion that will help you get to the point where you are not looking at a train running on plywood.

Step 1 The base, for this example, will be a 4 x 8 sheet of Fiberboard. A reasonable starting point. The track plan can be what ever you wish, an oval or something a little different from the internet or magazine. Our emphasis here will be scenery.

If you drive through the neighborhood or around town the main point you will see is that it is not level. Some grade changes are everywhere. (Work in small areas in the beginning, this will help you get experience and the learning process will be easier.) The first thing to do is plan what you you would like to have and where you want it. Then map a small area and begin. This is very easily done by clumping newspaper in piles and draping paper towels dipped in a plaster of paris mix and draping the wet towels over the clumped newspaper. A second method would be to use extruded Styrofoam stacked and carved to form the hills, then use the plaster cloth to form the terrain use Woodland Scenics Plaster Cloth. It’s not very messy. Using the plaster cloth can be used for small grades or larger hills. As the plaster is drying you can smooth the hill by using wet fingers and rubbing lightly for the smooth surface. You will find if you experiment you can have the terrain you desire.

The picture to the above shows two levels, the engine sits about 1.5 inch above the lower level. The blue Styrofoam hides the elevation. As you can see it does not need to be neatly cut. Rolled up newspaper also works well. Its only function is to support the plaster cloth. The styrofoam was glued in place with Elmers white glue

Plaster cloth can be cut to fit any size and location.

Here you see a cut piece of plaster cloth in place. I place the cut plaster cloth in a plastic dish to soak for several minutes then put it in place.

Here another sheet of plaster cloth has been put in place to complete the coverage of the Styrofoam. Use as many sheets as necessary to cover the area.

I like to place two layers of plaster cloth for strength. Then using wet fingers smooth the plaster as you can see in the picture the holes have disappeared by smoothing the plaster adding to the strength. The Styrofoam allows for smooth surface and smooth finish.

Rolled up newspaper will allow for a more hilly finish as the plaster cloth will follow the contours easily.

Here another sheet of plaster cloth has been put in place to complete the coverage of the Styrofoam. Use as many sheets as necessary to cover the area.

Once you are satisfied with the area you are working, paint with an earth color spray or brush whichever you desire. I find spray cans are faster and easier.

If you are working in an area where track has been placed you will want to mask the track as I did.

For this example I used a black spray paint to lightly cover the area.

At this point I walk away to let the paint and plaster dry. Doesn’t take very long.

Step 2 is spreading earth or sifted dirt onto to the wet paint. If you have let the paint dry fear not, you can use a spray on glue. 3M and Elmer’s both make a great product, I have used both. Spray the area with the glue and use a tea strainer to cover the area with earth, gently tap the strainer as you cover the area. You can use the Fine Turf or sifted dirt. The dirt can come from your back yard. Let it dry then put it through a tea strainer. let it sit for a day or two then use it on your scene. If it gets a little thick in areas don’t be concerned, you can smooth it out with a small brush or let it go. At this point you can spray the area with an inexpensive hair spray. That will hold everything in place.

At this point the two levels are connected by a rolling hill, covered in dirt.

In the next installment we will add grass, weeds bushes and shrubs to make the area appear to be ready for trees, people and vehicles. Bringing the railroad to life.

Continue to Part 2.

Scenery – Six steps

Part 2

There are many methods and articles for scenery. I have read many articles, attended a few seminars (classes) and and discussed these methods at our club meetings. We have come up with our own methods for scenery. The six steps that work best for us. These steps are not hard and fast rules, merely a suggestion that will help you get to the point where you are not looking at a train running on plywood.

In part 1 I demonstrated how I use the plaster cloth over the styrofoam or the crumpled paper to create a contour on the land. Then I used the fine turf after lightly painting the surface to simulate the earth. At this point I am ready to start with the addition of the grass. Return to read Part 1.

Since the area has been idle for several days to allow it to dry I sprayed spray adhesive on the area to be covered with grass.

Step 3 is fine green Grass, Woodland Scenics and Scenic Express make several shades of green and burnt grass. Again sprinkle lightly covering all or most of the area. Again if this appears too thick is some area you can work a brush to lightly smooth or let it go.


In the photo above you will see more grass on the top and bottom (flat surfaces). Grass isn’t very thick on the slope we’ll fix this shortly. The white areas will be covered with ballast as will the cork roadbed. I’ll cover track and ballast in a later post. I have used several methods and I will demonstrate what I do. I believe in easy.

Step 4 is coarse foam. Again this product is available from both companies. Sprinkle SPARRINGLY. LIGHTLY.

At this point I want to introduce wet water. I prefer water with several drops of dish soap (Dawn or something similar). This is applied with an eye dropper or a spray bottle. This is applied to the area prior to applying a 50/50 mix of water and white glue (Elmers). The wet water helps the glue saturate the the material and hold it to the painted base. You can see this work by first placing a drop of the 50/50 mix on you grass, it will sit there. Put a drop of wet water on the glue and it will penetrate the material.

Cover the area you just completed with wet water followed by the 50/50 glue mix and let it dry.

Step 5 Clump foliage. This clump foliage can be placed or not, it resembled small shrubs. If you do use it, place a small circle of white glue where it will be placed and place the clump there. The glue should be about the same size as the clump and dries clear. Again this step is a personal touch, use it or not.

Above you will see a scene I have on my layout where all the products I have mentioned in part 1 & 2 have been used. In addition to the use of small rocks/pebbles the various trees will be discussed in part three.

Step 6 Trees to be covered in a future article (Part 3 )

Till the next post on trees.


A Train Set For Christmas

I received my first model train set when I was just 11 years old. It came at Christmas and was set up around the tree like a silver train track wreath. There were two engines (although if I remember correctly one was just for show), five boxcars, two flatbeds and a caboose. The engines were old black CN locomotives with that bold red CN logo on the sides, while the boxcars were nondescript brown and black. The Caboose, now that was a deep rich red, as they should, be and was my favorite car of them all. To me, that Christmas will always be remembered for that red caboose.

Of course you’d think that at that moment I began to love trains and became a model train enthusiast. Well not exactly. I played with that oval track and those model trains for a good while, but as all thing in childhood, I moved on to, to me, bigger and better thing: my new bike, the pogo stick, girls, and of course cars.

It wasn’t until I had my own kids that the memories of that HO train set came flooding back to me. How I would sit there and watch it go round that oval click track! How my father seemed to always be there, sitting and watching my fun! How I felt as I pretended to be the engineer lugging a load to the next town on the route! I even imagined how my father must have felt as he picked out what he hoped was the perfect model train set to go around the tree that year.

It was these memories that prompted me to get my own kids their first HO model train kit for Christmas this year. To see their faces light up as they see that train going round the tree will be priceless and to watch them pretend to be engineers is going to lighten my heart.

Of course, this is the moment that made me a true model train enthusiast. So as I buy my children their first model train set, I will be looking for my second. The basement corner is looking to me more and more like that train yard near my old home out west. I really cant wait to get to work on my new HO model train layout and conscript the boys into helping. Maybe they will become model train enthusiasts like me. I certainly hope so.

If you are reading this article and thinking that you and your children might want a model train set for Christmas, then I recommend you follow my lead. The HO model trains are the most popular scale with model railroad enthusiasts. This 1:87 scale allows you to fit a good sized track into an average size space. There is also lots of accessories and scenery available for this model. If you have limited space you may want to consider an N scale layout. This 1:160 scale is small enough that you put a fairly complex layout in a small space. Of course your focus will be more on the layout and not the locomotive and cars themselves. However if you have lots of space, you may want to use the larger O scale. At a 1:48 scale your focus will definitely be on the engine and rolling stock and not the layout. However you really need a large space for these train sets. Whatever you decide, I hope you and your family soon discover the joys of model railroading!

Inexpensive Ways to Make Trees and Ground Cover For Your Model Railroad Layout

One of the most exciting aspects of model railroading is creating the scenery to enhance the landscape of a layout. The scenery is what adds the personality and interest to a layout to make it truly unique.

There are all sorts of scenery accessories you can purchase from online model train stores, but many things can be made from everyday items around the home. You do not always need to spend money when there are things around you for free.

Twigs from your back yard are a good example. They can be used for making small trees and shrubs, or be cut to resemble logs. There is no need to paint them, because they are already the right color. Small wooden meat skewers (from the supermarket) can also be used to make logs and they are very inexpensive to buy.

The same goes for adding grass to your layout. You can purchase some very good products such as “Static Grass Flock” to provide ground cover, or you can make your own. Some model railroaders use a mix of ready-to-use grasses from the hobby store, and combine this, with there own home made grass recipe.

Gather some fresh mulberry leaves and dry them in a microwave oven. After they are dried out, drop them in a kitchen blender and you have instant ground cover. The best thing is; it costs you virtually nothing to make. Store it in a plastic bag for when you need it.

The only disadvantage with making your own ground cover is you will not necessarily know how long it will last when compared to the bought stuff. Many of the ground cover products from a hobby store will have been treated to help them maintain their color and withstand temperature and humidity variances over time. Some of them are non-flammable and nontoxic, so you need to decide what is important to you.

A lot of model railroaders use dried kitchen herbs for leaves and ground cover. They mix different herbs (eg. thyme, oregano and parsley) for different effects. When doing this it is best to lay some newspaper underneath, as it can be a messy process. That way you can catch and reuse any herbs that do not stick the first time.

Sea Foam (also called “Forest in a Box”) is a popular material for making small inexpensive trees. You can bend it to look like trees and then spray on some adhesive and sieve on some flock. It is usually best to mix a few little pieces together rather than use just one piece for an entire tree.

Click here for lots more clever model train layout ideas. 

Fine brass wire can be used to strengthen the trunks and branches. Torn up pieces of masking tape can be wound around the tree trunk to add some width. This can then be sealed with a mixture of wall filler and PVA white glue.

You can even add sprinklings of kitchen herbs as mentioned earlier. You can then spray the trees all over with matt varnish, or spray them (upside down) with a mix of white glue and water. You then leave them to dry overnight.

Lichen is also ideal for making shrubs and trees. It is very versatile and looks good as mass foliage and undergrowth on a train layout. It is also inexpensive and easy to work with. You can purchase it in a range of colors that can be used separately or mixed together.

So, there are many, many ways to make ground cover and trees for your model railroad layout. It is a lot of fun and you might want to try some different options to see what works best for you. The point I am really making here; is that things on your train layout do not always need to be expensive. You just need to be a little creative in your approach. Have fun!

Join Robert Anderson’s popular online Model Train Club to get lots of clever model railroad ideas to help you build the model train layout of your dreams! 


Robert Anderson is the author of Model Railroad Scenery & Layout Construction Ideas. CLICK HERE to learn more.



The destination for the most extensive collection of model railroad how-to videos, techniques, insight and inspiration. Your guide is Allen Keller — master model railroad builder and industry pioneer. Begin your adventure today

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How to Add Excitement to Model Railroad Scenery on Your Model Train Layout

Creating realistic scenery is the part that pulls your model railroad layout together and brings it to life. Little details can make a big difference, as many spectators will spend a lot of time watching the trains operate, so they will get to notice the little things that add to the overall effect. Your visitors will get see the vegetation that grows alongside the track and notice the signs on the buildings and the weathering techniques used on the trains.

Check the article Scenery – Six Steps.


Tunnels and a bridge will add interest to a model train layout. You will need a rail station too. Put operating signals at crossings. Use either a set of crossing flashers or a flasher and drop-arm combo. Kids (and adults too) are mesmerized by these ‘lights and action’ items.

Other ideas like a working grain elevator, water tower, coal loaders, or a control towers help complete a scene. Be creative, but specific, when making scenery for your model railroad layout.

Make sure any vehicles and rail crossings are from the right era. One idea is black washing the grilles and hubcaps to add depth and realism to the scene. Using a small brush you can also paint taillights, parking lights and door handles if needed. Then consider taking the cars apart and install drivers and passengers. Nothing looks more unreal on a layout than vehicles seemingly driven by invisible ghosts!

Click here for lots more clever model train layout ideas. 

You can purchase miniature figures in male, female and child variations all molded in ‘flesh’ color. The arms must be attached by gluing. Then the figures can be painted. Sometimes, the figures will not fit between the steering wheel and the seat. It sounds a bit cruel but you simply cut the legs off with pliers and they fit just fine. Use flat (rather than glossy) model paint to make painted clothing and hair look real.

When buying adhesives for joining scenery, there are several choices in hardware stores and hobby shops. They are not all suitable for the same job.

When building scenery try using an acrylic matte medium or white glue as both of these modeling adhesives are water soluble. However, a contact-cement may be more suitable in some applications.

If you are going to use white glue, you may want to dilute it with water using 2 parts glue to 1 part water, or a 1 to 1 ratio, depending on its application. Try adding a few drops of liquid dish-washing detergent as this will help break up the surface tension of the water. Another thought is to add a small dab of latex paint to tint the glue and help hide any bare spots.

Always keep scenery, buildings, people and structures to the right scale relative to the trains.

Join Robert Anderson’s popular online Model Train Club to get lots of clever model railroad ideas to help you build the model train layout of your dreams! 


Robert Anderson is the author of Model Railroad Scenery & Layout Construction Ideas

Deciding a Track Plan Before Building Your Model Railroad Layout

When planning construction of a model railroad there are all sorts of possible track configurations and plans to consider. It really depends on the space you have at your disposal and what type of train operation you would most enjoy.

Real railroads (prototype) run from one destination to another rather than go around in a circle. In reality, real railroads usually have hundreds, if not thousands, of miles of track to work with. Even in a scaled down form, most model railroads lack the space to fully replicate this, so a degree of adaptation and compromise is usually required.


Full size trains often run for long stretches over monotonous landscape, which if reconstructed on a model layout, would be rather boring. To give you an example, the Ghan Train in Australia, runs 1,880 miles across mostly barren desert. Imagine replicating that on a scaled down model railroad – it would probably stretch from one end of town to the other!

The main line begins at one point, and travels to another point, and stops, hence the term – a point to point railroad.

Although a point-to-point layout is necessary on real railroads, the format is not generally practical for the average home (or club) model train layout. Replicating the scale mileage of a true point-to-point railroad does not generally work that well.

To make things a little more practical (and interesting), prototype railroads have branch lines, sidings and other subsidiary systems. Adding these to a model layout can be a good idea.

Before departure, the trains are turned around at terminals using yards, loops, wyes, and turntables. A single or double-track main line usually stretches from point to point.

When planning your point-to-point layout, you might want to include switches and yards at one end of the layout, and a turnaround at the other.

Click here for lots of clever model train layout ideas 

Most small layouts would not have enough space for two terminals, so use an “out-and-home” track configuration. An out-and-home layout accommodates only one terminal and is like a point-to-point layout double backing. The train journey would start at the terminal and it would pass through various landscapes, possibly a small town, and eventually arrive back at the same terminal.

Some might say it is cheating, but unless you have unlimited space (and money) for your layout, a little compromise is usually required.

Constructing an out-and-home layout usually enables a little more mileage between terminals. The train will still arrive back at the terminal in a reasonably short space of time.

You could add more realism and interest by combining an out-and-home, and point-to-point, format with continuous pikes. You would need a fair amount of space though.

Many model railroaders prefer a continuous layout because it allows for varied train movements which make operation more interesting.

Whatever track plan you decide, the important thing is to have fun.

Robert Anderson is the author of Model Railroad Scenery & Layout Construction Ideas. 

The destination for the most extensive collection of model railroad how-to videos, techniques, insight and inspiration. Your guide is Allen Keller — master model railroad builder and industry pioneer. Begin your adventure today

Discover Model Trains

Model train manufacturers have done a great job of recreating life size trains as realistic models. And theyve been doing it since the late 19th century when electric model trains first appeared. Take a moment to discover the magic of model trains.

Germany is where it all began when Marklin introduced their full line of model trains back in 1891. Their first trains were based on earlier toy models and were available in three scales. They were made from tin and were very crude, but they were a great success.

Then, in 1901, Joshua Cowen entered the market with Lionel trains. Lionel would soon come to dominate the model train market in America.

Of course there were other companies that came on board with their own lines of model trains. Ives, American Flyer, and Marx all introduced model trains.

Because model trains are so interactive they are a great choice for children and adults. Even the youngest children can enjoy them. Its not uncommon for adults to recall their first train when talking about their fondest childhood memories.

Lionel was quick to recognize the importance of starting train collectors at a young age and thats why theyve got wooden train sets for ages 4 to 6. By the age of 8, kids are ready to be introduced to S scale, G scale, and the ever popular HO scale electric trains. And the hobby continues into adult life. Of course expanding on your model trains is just a matter of time, money, creativity, and space.

There are several different scales of model trains to choose from to fit your space, budget, and personal preferences. For example, if you are limited by space you can choose one of the smaller scales. Here are some of the most popular scale choices you have.

1. Z Scale is a 1:220 ratio. It is tiny and highly detailed, and is an excellent choice if you have limited space.

2. N Scale is a 1:160 ratio. It is the second smallest scale available and its a great choice for the hobbyist that want to be able to incorporate scenery and longer trains.

3. HO Scale is a 1:87 ratio. It is probably the most popular scale of model train. There is an endless supply of trains, cars, tracks, buildings, and scenery. The detail on HO is good and a fabulous setup can be put together in a reasonable amount of space.

4. S Scale is a 1:64 ratio. It is larger than the HO and is popular among those with plenty of room. It is the scale of American Flyer products.

5. O Scale is a 1:48 ratio. It is a popular choice for young children because they are able to easily handle them. Lionel carries a full line of O scale for the young ones.

6. G Scale is a 1:22.5 ratio. It is the perfect choice for the garden set up. Bachmann, L.G.B, and Aristo-Craft all make G scale trains.

To put together your model train you will need at least one engine along with some train cars. You can decide whether you want passenger cars or freight cars. And of course you will need train track. The type of track and how much track youll need is a personal choice.

Youll also need a transformer to provide the electricity to your train. Then all thats left is the scenery you want. Choose trees, tunnels, people, signals, or a host of other items.

If you are looking for a fun and rewarding hobby, why not discover the magic of model trains?