Trackwork Handbook


[Track]     [Contents]     [Appendix 1: Planning]

All the effort devoted to sound module construction and the building of great trackwork can be defeated by a failure to observe care in joining modules together at setups. Here is a short list of things to check when aligning and leveling modules and installing bridge rails.

Caution: If repair or adjustment is required on a module, let the module owner know and have him/her take the necessary action. Don't do it yourself unless you are specifically asked to do so.

Caution: As always, be extremely careful not to disturb details on modules as a setup is being assembled. Take time to notice what's close by before doing anything.

Note: An important prerequisite for successful setup planning is being able to provide an accurate drawing of your module. Gregg Fuhriman has provided advice on how to accurately measure a module.

1.       Take the time to make sure that adjoining modules are aligned vertically. Set the height and level modules before working on any of the following checklist items.

Nothing will work well if adjoining modules are not level with each other (rail tops in the same plane). Care taken at this step will make the following checks much easier. Some of us on the West Coast use a laser level to level all modules in a setup. We use either a track height tool made by Prawn Designs or a white painted 1” x 2” stick held vertically with a line drawn at the level of the laser beam.

2.     Check to make sure track on adjoining modules is aligned horizontally (from side-to-side).

Sight down the track from one direction and the other to see that the rails at module joints are in alignment with each other. Avoid any misalignment that will create a jog to one side or the other. Alternatively, a straight edge can be used along the outside of the rail, but take great care not to dislodge the rails at module ends. Here's a good example of what to avoid. Happily, these two offsets were corrected before operations began.

3.      Check to make sure track on adjoining modules is exactly aligned vertically (up and down).

This is a final check to make after leveling modules, especially since it's all too common for track to rise up or fall off a bit at module ends. Use a straight edge held against the rail tops if it is safe to do so. I use a flat block of high quality ¾” birch plywood that is 1-1/2" wide and 5-1/2" long that is cut very cleanly on the ends with a fine bladed saw. Sliding this block gently back and forth along the track at a module joint will immediately indicate which track high or low relative to the other. I make adjustments in height until the sound made when sliding the block back and forth is either silent or sounds the same.

4.       Check to make sure that the rails of the track on adjoining modules are level.

If the rails of the track at module ends aren't level, a twist at the bridge rails will occur. Oneway to check for this is to sight across the rail ends and the bridge rails after they are installed. Another is to use a minature digital level. Because track at module ends occasionally drops off to one side or the other, a module endplate might have to be tilted one way or the other to compensate for any twist in the track at the module end.

5.      Clamp modules together tightly.

It's not unusual for modules to be bumped or jostled while setting up or during a setup. This is especially true for multi-track modules or  modules that provide an duck-under from one side of the setup to the other. Clamping the module joints tightly will help. If in doubt, use more than one clamp.

6.      Make sure that there is room for the track joiners.

If a module fails to provide room for track joiners underneath the rails at module ends, the bridge rails will bump up and the rail on the module will be placed under stress. This is especially important if thicker, insulating joiners are used for the occupancy detection and signaling system.

7.      Use bridge rails and rail joiners that match the size of the rail on the adjoining modules.

This sounds too obvious to mention, but I have replaced mis-matched bridge rails many times. This is a common problem when Micro Engineering track adjoins Walthers track on adjacent modules. Consider my recommendations for bridge rail and rail joiner selection.

Example: At a recent setup, I found a Micro Engineering insulated rail joiner used on Walthers track at a module end. I have no idea how it was installed without damaging the module track. I couldn't remove it without carving it off with a razor blade.

8.      Use bridge rails of the proper length.

By this I don't mean exactly 2" long bridge rails. Rather I mean bridge rails that leave only a small gap at either end, being neither too long nor too short. Cut custom lengths if necessary. Smoother running will be the result.

9.       Install MSS jumpers before installing throttle bus jumpers.

Throttle bus connectors will snap into the MSS sockets, but the MSS connectors will not snap into the throttle bus sockets. Installing the MSS jumpers first will avoid mis-connections.

[Track]     [Contents]     [Appendix 1: Planning]

Gary M. Green