Kevin’s Komments 03/11/2021

Track Color

Tuesday at the club, Matt asked me about rail color and whether the variances on our layout were appropriate. We got into a discussion about rail color, tie colors, rail and tie features, and areas where ballast and ties may become discolored. So maybe this set of pics will be boring for some, but I decided to collect some track pics that showed different features and colors in the track. Now just to qualify, most of these pics are more modern than our layout. Since we model the mid-‘50s, track crews were still being picky about ballast height and weed removal. Mainline tracks in the ‘50s were generally well cared for and ballast was kept just below the top of the ties (or so I was told!). In the last 40 years, ballast height has generally changed to just above top of tie height, and the crews aren’t as picky as they used to be.

I thought I’d start with this pic for Matt – narrow gauge in the mountains. Ballast a bit low, but track is nice and straight, and relatively well maintained. Being narrow gauge, the ties are a bit willy-nilly.

This is the L&N in Verona, KY, 1979 – close to home! Obviously modern – ballast is above the top of the ties. Looks like typical limestone ballast from our area. There’s some old ties tossed to the side of the roadbed. We mentioned how lighting can make the sides of the rails look nearly black contrasting with the shiny top of the rail. Ties look gray with a touch of roof brown. The ties are pretty consistent, but even so, they show more variety of color than our layout track.

It seems to me that a lot of members of the club talk about how consistent our color and roadbed look – that we need more variety. But, I find that most pics I see show extremely consistent color and roadbed. This is southbound CSX coming from Cincinnati, the tunnel at Hazel Patch, near Livingston, KY, 2016 (again, close to home!). We need mile markers! With the shadow on the sides of the rail less prevalent, you catch the dark-grayish roof brown color of the sides of the rail.

Going west, this is the BN, Leavenworth, WA, 1983. Ballast is just a touch darker than our Midwest limestone. Again, pretty consistent. There’s a dark stain stripe going down the center of the track that you often see. I’ve never been quite sure exactly what leaves that stripe. Roof brown sides of the rail show well with a touch of orange rust collecting on the bottom flange. Here the ties look much closer to the track ties on our layout – very consistent in color.

This is BNSF in Tacoma, WA, 2017. Again, the ballast is a bit darker than our limestone. A couple items caught my eye: The ties on the left appear to be new ties, stacked neatly (well – sort of neatly), ready to be placed. The ties to the right appear to be thrown over the drainage ditch like discarded ties, except that the discarded ties look to be in decent shape. As we discussed, new ties would be stacked; old ties tossed to the side. Kurt can give me an “I told you so!” – the stacked ties are between the tracks. I told him they would avoid putting them between tracks and would likely stack them to the side. Consistency in the ballast and track – you still pick up occasional color variations in the ties.

This pic gives a close up of track and the transition to a bridge. This is CSX at Speers Ferry, VA, 2012. You see a bit of the detail that makes up the roof brown look to the sides of the rail – its mostly darker rust scale with a dark gray dust build-up. It’s interesting how consistent the ties are with an occasional subtle streak of color. The ballast rolls off right where the trestle begins I don’t see a guardrail on the trestle portion of the bridge. I like this pick because it show a wood trestle leading to a plate girder bridge all on a slight curve – like our show layout bridge!. And the steel bridge above/behind is impressive!

And I finally found a pic where the trackwork is not so consistent! Again, this is modern. This is the UP and BNSF sandwiching a Kansas City Terminal (KCT) at Kansas City Terminal, Kansas City, Missouri, 2010. Starting with the UP’s track, there is a pinkish ballast meeting with a gray ballast to the right. The pinkish ballast appears to have gone down earlier and is pretty much top of ties. The gray ballast was heaped over the ties with a missed spot. Both the pink and gray ballast go just beyond the loco where grass and weeds have almost completely swallowed the ballast. There’s a bit of the pink ballast beyond the grass area. The KCT train is on rough rail that is overgrown with grass and weeds. And, The BNSF train is on track that is pretty free of growth, but has a little inconsistency in ballast color. Note the slight difference in appearance around the turnout points.

Another pic I had to throw in – steam! The loco is UP #4014, 4-8-8-4. It’s crawling towards the tightest curve on it’s trip at Winter Street, Superior, Wisconsin, 2019. The guy in the foreground is hand lubricating the rail – we talked about rail-greasers on the outside rail of sharper turns. In this pic, you can see the grain and inconsistencies of the ties – but the color is very consistent!

This is the Bessemer and Lake Erie at Proctor Minnesota, 2014. Ballast color is a bit different than our limestone. Outside the rails, the ballast has almost a maroon look, while between the rails, it looks like a fine dark gray powder covers the ties and ballast. The train is caring taconite – an ore often used to extract steel. So, I assume the gray dust comes from the many taconite trains running down these tracks. Note how the center track has the gray color until after the turnout where the train switches back to the right track. Nice switch stands!

We’ll finish up with this pic of the UP’s Atlanta Olympic train, St. Paul Minnesota, 1996. Yes – that’s an Olympic flame car coupled to the rear! Getting to the track, you see some spills and spots about the ballast. Ballast looks mostly above the ties. You can see the difference in care between the mainline tracks and the siding. There’s not a lot of difference in the actual ballast, but there’s a lot of colors added to the top of the ballast through load spills and drips.

Again, I find most trackwork to be for consistent for as far as the eye can see.  You have to look for the pics that have inconsistencies.  Yet when you’re driving near tracks, you see consistent trackwork, and then suddenly a change in the ballast. Examples like these photos of track and ballast go on forever – use Pinterest to search, but look for the photos for info on the pics.  As I tell most that ask about scenery and colors, download a few dozen pics similar to the scene you’re modeling – the prototype is the best model for our modeling!


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