Track Details: Ties are going down!

first ties down

Much has been written about detailing track on your layout to replicate the prototype. The one thing that I have not seen too often is that there is a basic pattern to the ties. Railroads developed standards for track gangs to build to or maintain the track. The standards established consistency for the railroad. I have only seen a few different railroad standards books. You can access the Northern Pacific standards online and the Pennsylvania Railroad as well.

This drawing is out of the NP standards for track maintenance.

This drawing is out of the NP standards for track maintenance.

In reviewing both the NP and SP books, I found that they are nearly identical. They specified tie spacing based upon the purpose of the track. Mainline track had closely spaced ties while yard or industrial leads would be more widely spaced. Another detail to consider is the fact that steam era track had tightly spaced ties where the joints occurred. Rail in the steam era was made in 30′, 33′ and 39′ lengths. It appears that the larger rail was made in 39′ lengths and the shorter lengths for lighter rail.

I built my tie jig for branchline main with 33′ rail length.  The tie spacing is 25.5″ between ties except at the rail joints.  The ties are spaced at 18″ under the joints.   I used plastic to build my jig.  It was quick to build and flexible if the ties need to be coaxed out of the slots.   I marked the centerline of the ties with a pencil and straight edge.  It is easy to align the tie centers and the roadbed centerline.

My first tie strip is ready for installation.

My first tie strip is ready for installation.

My railroad will use three different rail sizes (Code 125, Code 100 and Code 82). The Code 82 was sourced from England and was made for Karlgarin. It represents #56 rail. The other sizes were made by Right O’ Way of Chowchilla, CA.

Building your own track is very enjoyable.  It allows you to create a unique statement of prototype accuracy.

14 thoughts on “Track Details: Ties are going down!

  1. Gene:
    I am a member of an electric railway museum and when we installed our track structure, we used secondary specks. as our equipment only averages 38 tons. Straight track, ties on 24 inch centers, curves and switches 19 inch centers. Bridge ties are usually on 12 inch centers. After twenty four years, this method has worked for us. However, it was laid to class four specks.


    • Charley
      You bring up an interesting point about tie spacing on curves. I need to do some research on this. All of the specification sheets I have seen show only spacing on tangents. I seems logical that they would be more closely spaced on curves given the dynamics of the train entering the curve.
      It is interesting to note that steam road specifications show widely spaced ties given that their equipment weights were much higher than your museum. An average small steam loco or diesel would be over 100 tons but distributed over a number of axles in the case of steam power.


  2. Gene,
    I have discovered those Pennsy specs, too, and very interesting reading they make – 14 ties per 33′ rail, with 20″ spacing at joints, for spurs and sidings laid with 70# rail, and 16 ties (same spacing at joints) per 33′ length for 100# rail on main lines. What I didn’t find, and maybe Charley has answered this point already with his comment, was what happened in turnouts: was the same spacing adopted as open line, or was the spacing tighter?

    Any insight on this will be much appreciated, as I am getting close to laying down ties.


  3. It’s looking great, Gene! Do you have a layout plan you’re willing to share here? It would be nice to see what you’re doing – and on behalf of everybody else I promise to not offer “suggestions”

  4. Gene,
    You appear to be several months ahead of me at this point, but I hope to catch up after the move. Have you given any thought to distressing the ties before or after the rail goes down?

    • Ben
      You should have no trouble catching up to me. I have to slow down to get a few other things done.
      I will try distressing the ties once they are sanded.


      • Gene,
        Several questions; tie material? in the past I have used both basswood and balsa. This time I am using Lou Cross’ sugar pine, a new experience.
        Did you weight or clamp the ties, and what was your choice of glue?
        I would be interested in your thoughts on a sanding technique. I have seen others use a large block and sand in the direction of the track. This sometimes leaves scratches perpendicular to the grain of the ties. Sanding in the direction of the grain can leave a lot of unprototypical fuzz at the tie ends, a challenge either way..

      • Ben
        The ties are sugar pine. I am using 7″x9″x8’6″ Kappler and Right ‘O Way. I have cut them to a length of 8’ to more closely match prototype standards for branchline service.
        I do clamp the ties to the roadbed. I have been using Titebond glue. It seems to work ok.

        You bring up some interesting questions about scaring as a result of sanding. I will have to look at that issue. The conventional wisdom is to sand the heck out of the ties and then stain. I have been careful with making sure the roadbed was very smooth. I will check my ties to see if they are level. The Kappler ties seem to be very consistent in size. Many years ago I used Camino ties and had all sorts of problems with height. The wood was not at all consistent in thickness.


  5. I preferred to stain the ties in bulk before gluing down to the roadbed (cork & homasote in my case). When sanding the top of the ties with an 18″ long sanding block, any low spots showed easily. The Kappler ties seemed to be pretty consistant in thickness. My problem was the thickness variability in the sheet homasote and crappy plywood I used.


  6. Charlie – Lorel Joiner had the same problem because he used commercial Homasote from a lumber yard, not the Homabed product that is planed to a uniform thickness. He glued down all the ties on the entire layout. Then he stapled a long sheet of sandpaper with double-sided tape on back to a flat board about 4″ wide X 6′ long. Using this, he lightly sanded the tops of the ties linearly down the track. The “hand holds” attached to the board were wood decorative feet intended for a chair! This solved the tie thickness problem, but the tops then had to be stained.

    A.T. Kott

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