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Model Railway Track Inclines

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There is not a modeller out there that doesn't love the idea of putting an incline on there layout. Hills, bridges and viaducts are some of the most interesting and challenging structures to model. It also increase the challenge of operating your layout with your trains having to powered up the incline and brought back down again in a controlled manner so not to get a runaway train.

The challenge of building such features are immense. In the simplest form you can buy for example Hornby track supports along with Hornby's kit bridges but these don't give a realistic look and are mainly produced for children. To produce a first class incline you need to have the sides filled in and the bridges need to be realistic.

Inclines are not suitable for part time railways. They can't be used if you layout is hinged to a wall (unless you give clearance) or if you have to pack it away after use. No matter how strong you make the incline it will always be the first thing that gets damaged not to mention the increase in weight to the base board. Consider this before you start building.

Things to think about:

1.  Clearance

If you plan to run trains (or anything else for that matter) under the bridges you create consider how high they need to be. The tallest loco I have is a class 90 with working pantograph which is 8cm (3.2 inches) tall. Your locomotive will may not be this high but if you are planning or think you might run a Hornby locomotive with pantograph you will need to take account of its high.

Add the height of you locomotive on to the height of your track (in my case 6mm) and then you have your minimum clearance. I forgot to do this once resulting in a loco shed with doors not high enough for my locos. If you are using foam underlay this will greatly increase the height of the track and thus your locomotives.

2.  Incline

Realistic scale inclines may not be possible on your layout as you don't have the room. The steeper the incline the harder it is for you locomotive to pull its carriages/wagons up to the top. Also the faster the train will descend if you don't reduce its speed. The last thing you want is a runaway train.

My advise is to get all your current locos together along with the maximum number of carriages or wagons they will be pulling and test them out on a test track that you build. Adjust the steepness of the track until the incline fits in the space you require and still allows all your trains to get to the top comfortably. do this on your layout possible with the aid or Hornby's track supports. Position them at different spacing until you get the desired effect. If your trains cant make it or struggle to make it, you may be forced not to build an incline or to modify your layout or locomotives.

If traction is a problem then double heading may be an option if you have two identical locomotives. This will double the traction, but at the same time half the overall speed. I don't think this is possible with DCC.

3. Construction / Decoration

From all the magazines I have read, the method of construction I like the best is to build the track bed out of thin plywood, supported by thicker plywood vertical supports. Once that is completed you simply fill in the side gaps in with model rock stretching from the incline down to your base board (or a flat stone wall depending on what you have decided). This should produce a strong flexible and light structure. you are then free to decorate it with grass scatter, trees and bushes etc. For advice on the use of grass scatter click here

Another methods include the use of polystyrene foam to build up the incline in layers. This is done in a similar method as how to build a hill out of polystyrene except will a flat top. This is a better method if you are no good with wood work or if lightness is of a very high priority. Its main down side is you cant hide siding tunnels inside the incline and it can be susceptible to damage. Click here to see how polystyrene is used to make hills.



4. The Easy Way - Is to buy track rises such as the ones pictured below by Hornby (R909 left, R658 right)

Hornby incline piers R909        Hornby incline piers R658


These items have a simple and effective clip system to hold the track in place. Be warned!! The amount of track you need to rise and then descend is too big for most layouts. Below is a picture of these Hornby incline piers in use.

Hornby Model Railway Incline Supports R909


As you can see most of this large layout is used to get the track up to the level and back down again. Hornby recommend the following minimum and preferred spacing:


"The minimum track running length to a height of 80mm with supports at 24
sleeper intervals is approximately 1344mm. However for a more gradual
incline with the supports at 30 sleeper intervals the overall running length
increases to approximately 1680mm."


The person who's layout this is had this to say about the Hornby incline piers:

"They are very easy to use in that they clip on to the track like pegs. My opinion is they do not look very effective, and if I were to use them I would cover them up. Having said that, on reflection I was not taking the overall picture into account.  If the layout was completed with accompanying scenery, maybe I would have a different perspective."


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