Monday, September 24, 2012

Ballasting garden railway track

Garden Railway Track

Winter is approaching and so it's time to do a little work on the garden railway to ensure it survives the poor weather - at least in a state where it won't take too much effort to get things running again in the spring.

This year hasn't been kind to outdoor railway fans. While we model boaters might have appreciated all the rain filling up our sailing pool, I'm not playing trains in the wet. Therefore the railway has seen very infrequent trains during the year and even less maintenance. To be fair, the LGB track has stood up well to being ignored but the ballast it sits on has been less impressive.

I spent a lot of time looking at ballasting options when we built this line and liked none of them. Brought up on indoor lines, I don't want to spend hours getting the railway ready before playing trains. In desperation, I did what we do indoors - fine gravel held in place with  watered down PVA.

In theory this shouldn't work. PVA, especially the craft stuff, isn't intended for outdoor use and even the stuff that is, should live between two bits of wood, not in gravel. You know what though ? It actually works pretty well. The track itself is still, after 2 years, firmly held in most places. The shoulder around the edges has suffered a bit but that's probably because the glue didn't concentrate in this area.

Anyway, I've re-packed the ballast and given it another dose of the glue. I didn't find getting a smooth mix difficult and ended up with some pure PVA blobs in places. Then I realised everyone was out and there was an electric hand mixer hanging up in the kitchen. A quick buzz with this and my mix was perfect. The glue washes off easily enough, after all, it's a weak water-soluble liquid, so all is well.

After 24 hours, the gravel seems to be pretty solid. I suspect another session in the spring will be required but hopefully this will be cosmetic and take little time. For the moment, at least the line looks nice from the warmth of the house.


Andy Callaway said...

PVA, once dry, doesn't dissolve into water again like, for example, sugar would. It goes soft when wet, but doesn't return to its liquid state easily. Plus, it needs to be totally immersed. Just the occasional wetting like you'd get from rain would only make it go white. For the most part it would continue to hang on.

Phil Parker said...

That sounds about right based on our ballast experience. I have a feeling that it's less happy about freezing, more of a problem outside. I suspect this just means that the PVA needs a top-up every spring and autumn.

Martin said...

Built an outdoor 00 in Norfolk back in 99. Had a bit of seasonal experience and decided that a combination of sub zero temperatures and UV does most damage so when I rebuilt it after 5 years and relayed it on roofing felt I got enough to cut sections to use as covers. As a result the railway looks and runs as well now as it did back in 04. There is no sign of ageing and 8 years have passed. Now, satisfied that an adequate test period has elapsed it is time to ballast, or at least begin experiments so thanks for the info. M