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Track Design




Setup Checklist

Appendix 1 Planning

Appendix 2 End Plates

Appendix 3 Track

Appendix 4 Shandin

Appendix 5 Vertical Curves

Appendix 6 Roadbed Sections

Appendix 7 DCC Reversing

Appendix 8 Detection and Signaling


NTS 2011

May, 2010

San Bernardino
February, 2010

San Bernardino
August, 2010

Aptos BBQ
September, 2010

San Bernardino
March, 2011

Aptos BarnBQ
September, 2012

Aptos BarnBQ
Aug/Sep, 2013

Aptos BarnBQ
Aug/Sep, 2014

Aptos BarnBQ
May, 2015

Colfax RR Days
September, 2015



Semi-Lightweight Baggage Colors

Trackwork Handbook:  Subroadbed

The subroadbed of Free-mo modules is typically the module top, either extending across the full width of the module or following some form of a “cookie cutter” approach. The module framework and subroadbed are the foundations upon which good trackwork depends. While invisible in the finished module, finished trackwork will inevitably expose the framework’s and sub-roadbed’s faults. Whether made of foam, plywood, splines or other material, the framework and sub-roadbed must satisfy the following:


1.   Use module frame materials that are strong, stable, warp free and resistant to expansion or contraction with humidity and temperature.

This is extremely important and will cause continual problems if ignored. Avoid use of MDF.  MDF is very heavy, not particularly strong, and is affected by humidity. A material you can’t go wrong with is high ply-count Baltic or Finn birch plywood. It’s important to use material of sufficient thickness for the frame member involved.


2.    The subroadbed must be flat, level and perpendicular to the end plates of the module.

This 3-dimensional requirement is absolutely fundamental to successful module creation.

1st dimension: End plates must be exactly perpendicular to the subroadbed. It’s essential to read and follow Gregg Fuhriman’s advice in Appendix 2.

2nd dimension: The subroadbed (usually the module top) must be level from side-to-side with the endplate. At a setup either the track or the end plate will be used to determine if a module is level. Out-of-level subroadbed will force a twist in the track at the bridge rails or make it impossible to match up the endplates nicely with adjoining modules.

3rd dimension: The subroadbed must not slope down or rise up at the module end. The most common module design has the top of the module extending to, but not over, the top of the endplate. Any mismatch of the module top and the top of the endplate will likely result in a  problem. A better approach is to run the top of the subroadbed over the top of the end plate.

If the top edge of the endplate is high relative to the module top, the only solution is to reduce the top edge of the endplate. Failing to do so will result in an upward rise in the track at the end of the module.

If the top edge of the endplate is low relative to the module top, there simply isn’t a good solution. Sanding the module top to match the endplate will result in a downward dip in the track at the module end.

Example: The distance from the pilot and the front truck kingpin of an Alco PA-1 and super-detailed plastic engine is long enough that the pilot and snowplow move up and down quite a lot as the locomotives travel through dips and rises in trackwork. At a “V” shaped dip at a module joint, metal pilots or plows contact the track and cause a short.

Example: The use of prototypical size couplers on long cars can result in uncoupling as the couplers rise and fall relative to each other on track that isn’t level through the bridge rails.


3.    The subroadbed at each end of the module must be level with the roadbed at the other end.

Any twist of the subroadbed from one end of a module to the other will result in twist in the track at the bridge rails at one or the other end of the module or will force twisting of the whole module at the setup.

Example: At a recent setup, a twist at the bridge rails resulted from a difference in side-to-side leveling of the subroadbed even though the endplates of the adjoining modules were level with each other. The result was that some C-C locomotives would derail since the twist across the bridge rails was so short and pronounced. The only solution would be to level the track at the module ends which would result in an unsightly mismatch of the endplates.


4.   Unless there is a grade included in the module, the sub-roadbed should be flat and level across the length of the module.

This means truly flat and truly level. Use a straight edge and sight along the module to make sure that the sub-roadbed is truly flat. Support the subroadbed well and securely along its length to make sure that it will stay flat and level over time. There are Free-mo modules that are 15 years or more old and have been subjected to a lot of handling and transportation. Some have held up well; others haven’t lasted so well.


5.    If there is a transition to a grade included in the module, employ vertical curves that are extremely gradual (very large radius) between the level and the inclined track.

Too abrupt a transition will result in derailments, mismatched couplers, and will look un-prototypical. The steeper the grade, the longer the vertical curve needs to be. If in doubt at all, make vertical curves of extremely large radius. The Northern California Free-mo recommendation for vertical curves is described in Appendix 5.

Remember that transitions in track level (e.g., from HO roadbed to N roadbed or to the subroadbed) are grades and must be long and gradual. See item 4 in the  handbook section on roadbed.