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  • Construction of a Rail Crossing

    By Jim Mansfield illustrations by LaViolette A. Martin

    This third in a series of hand-laid track articles covers the description of crossing components, and the construction of rail frogs and guardrails.

    A nice piece of track work is the rail crossing. Whether the crossing is used in an industrial area or on the mainline, it can be the center of a scene. This article concerns a double-crossing of the Jersey Western Railroad across the Southern Pacific at Corn Junction near Carrizozo, New Mexico. I chose the crossing during track planning, because a bridge over the SP would have spoiled a view of a super-elevated double track curve. Also, I did not have the vertical clearance to go under the SP.

    This article is a photo and illustration essay of the step-by-step procedure used to construct a crossing. Though I built a double crossing, I have related the captions to constructing a single crossing.

    Plate 1: The first step is to lay the crossing ties. The length of the crossing ties results from the crossing angle. The longest ties start where the ties of the crossing tracks end. These long ties are two and one quarter inches (for HO) in length. Some short fill ties were necessary to transition from the tie strips to the crossing. The other tie lengths were determined by making equal steps. Ties were cut, stained, and then glued to the roadbed using Elmer’s Glue-All.

    Plate 2: The first rails I formed were the four “stock rail” pairs. Note that I was building two crossings for this article. For a single crossing, only two pairs are required. To make the sharp bend, I notched (using a small triangle file) the rail base inside the bend and cut (using a razor saw) the outside of the base. Pliers were used to hold the rail next to notch while bending. This notching ensures a sharp and flat bend in the rail.

    Plate 3: With the stock rails formed, I constructed the “intersecting rails.” These are the rails that form the arrow point in the center of this photo. The two pieces of rail were filed as for a switch frog in last month’s On TRACK column (see MRG, July 1990). Two sets are needed per crossing. Double crossings require some of the stock rails to end in intersections. I cut these stocks somewhat longer than the final length. This resulted in some final fitting at assembly.

    Plate 4: I started the crossing assembly by laying a set of intersecting rails, using the track centering technique shown in the first article of this series (see MRG, April 1990). I took care at this point to ensure the rails approached the crossing at the proper angle and curvature. I used just enough spikes to hold the rails in place. While these intersecting rails set the position of the crossing, it is good practice not to drive permanent spiking in, until the crossing is finished.

    Plate 5: Once these rails were in place, I laid a stock rail pair. I used an NMRA track gauge to spike the stock rail that runs parallel with the intersecting rail. I used only four spikes, so the rail could slide for any final adjustment. I then used the edge of the NMRA gauge to align the second stock rail to the other intersecting rail. I made final adjustments to the stock rails by sighting down the laid rails, adding spikes as required.

    Plate 6: The next step for the double crossing was to cut a short intersecting rail for the second crossing. I then cut to length the intersecting, new stock rail, of the first crossing. The length of this intersection/stock rail was determined from locating (once again using the centering technique) the intersecting rail of this second crossing. These rails were also filed to a frog arrow point as in Plate 3. I then gauged and spiked these rail pieces.

    Plate 7: The next stock rail was aligned and spiked using a drafting triangle. Fine adjustments were made to the intersecting assembly of Plate 6. The inside (relative to the track) of the stock and wing rails was cleaned prior to spiking for soldering later. I used an abrasive block for this cleaning.

    Plate 8: Whether building a single or double crossing, the next step is to gauge and install the next intersecting rail assembly. Once again, I used the track gauge to align the assembly. As a confidence check, I used additional gauging tools (made from strip balsa). Like tools can be used when building double (or triple) track for keeping the tracks equidistant.

    Plate 9: Once the remaining “exterior” rails were laid, I formed the “interior” rails. The first of these were the closure rails. These four rails form the “diamond”. The frog wing rail is also part of each closure rail. The bend on the rail is notched and formed as with the stock rail assemblies. I cut these pieces slightly longer than required, as assembly is cut ‘n’ fit.

    Plate 10: The frog wings were shaped as described in last month’s On TRACK. The other end of the closure was cut to end at the base of the stock rail. The cut was made, so the end of the closure rail is at an angle and parallel to the stock rail. The wing rails were positioned using the NMRA track gauge.

    Plate 11: After the fitting of all the closure-frog wing rail pieces, I spiked them into place using a few spikes and the NMRA gauge. I then formed and spiked the crossing guardrails and stock guards. The stock guardrail length was determined by the frog toe spread as in the second article of the series (see MRG, June 1990). 

    Plate 12: For mainline trackage, I prefer all guard rail flangeways to be “solder filled”. I do this for strength, appearance, and to support the wheel flange through the frog and crossing. The tools and materials required are medium soldering iron, solder and liquid flux, and isopropyl alcohol, along with an acid brush for cleaning. I filled the flange ways with flux and solder and cleaned. I then filled the way to flange depth, using jewelers’ files. A car is the best gauge for this.

    Plate 13: I spiked all rail at every tie location – a standard I use for special track work (turnouts, etc.). I then ran a few drops of liquid ACC along the base of all rails. I did this to add strength (for cutting electrical rail gaps. The artwork shows where the gaps are located. I used a razor saw to cut the gaps. The gaps were then filled with .010-inch plastic sheet glued in place with Walthers Goo and ACC. The fillers were then contoured to the rail.

    Plate 14: And finally, a photo of the completed crossings. Note that all rail surfaces (except the running surfaces) and guardrails have been painted with typical rail colors. I prefer to operate trains for a while, before I add ballast, final details, weathering and scenery. For the rail color in this case, I used a 6-2-1 ratio mix of Floquil Bark Gray, Maroon and Reefer Yellow. This mix matches a Southern Pacific line in New Mexico.

    Once the crossing was completed, I replaced the ties that were damaged during construction and touched them up with tie stain and a small brush. I then sprayed the entire crossing area with Testors Dullcote. This covered any sheen resulting from the use of the ACC during the electrical rail gapping. I then used an abrasive block to clean the top of all running rails.

    The final step of construction is to add electrical feeders. I added these to all stock rails, wing rails, and the closure rails (see Plate 13). By tying all the feeders for a rail together, the crossing is an insulated frog type. This results in a crossing that needs no additional control for power routing. The short length of the frogs poses no electrical contact problems for locomotives. This greatly simplifies layout wiring and electrical controls, as no power routing is required during train operation. See the Model Rail roader article referenced in the first installment of this series for attaching electrical feeders (MRG, April 1990).

    After some “testing” operation, the crossings will be ballasted and scenery done in the general area. As stated in the referenced Model Railroader article, en sure your crossing operates reliably before doing the ballasting.

    In this series of articles, Mr. Tinturin and I have given you enough of the basics and techniques to do some hand-laid track. We hope you give it a try. There is a lot of satisfaction in watching your trains running on your own track!

    Article Details

    • Original Author Jim Mansfield
    • Source Model Railroading

    Article Album (13 photos)

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