Tuesday 20 July 2021

Painting Rails

Is there something more tedious than hand spiking model railway track? Yes, painting rails! Despite the trouble, the work is well rewarded with track that looks much more like the real thing. Most railway modellers take every precaution to make their trains look realistic despite having them move in and out of view, sometimes only presenting them for less than a minute at a time. The track is there all the time, and still most railway modellers simply buy a length of track and pour ballast randomly around it. Remember it's called railway modelling.

First layer of rust paint is drying on the Peco rails. The track already looks much better.

For painting the rails I decided to use Humbrol enamel paint. My experience from the 1/35 Nystrup Gravel is that acrylic paint over time looses grip on the metal's surface and consequently chose to use enamels for this project. I used Humbrol 133 sometimes mixed with 62 for tonal variety. The rails were painted by brush taking care to cover the rail completely. Around the spikes' heads it takes a lot of care getting paint around spike head and the rail's foot - and at the same time avoiding getting too much rust paint on the sleeper. I considered using my airbrush for the task, but an experiment showed that I had difficulty in controlling the amount of overspray on the sleepers. Not wanting a lot of corrective work on the sleepers I chose to work with the brush.

The two turnouts were given an initial layer of paint with airbrush. The Peco turnouts are partially rebuilt with wooden sleepers and as the remaining black plastic sleepers need grey paint to blend in with the rest of the sleepers the overspray caused by airbrushing isn't a problem.

I airbrushed the point as the black plastic sleepers have to be painted grey anyway. A little rust overspray is easily fixed in that process.

I'm now going over the painted rails checking for faults and spots missing paint. Then I will be adding irregular spots with lighter and darker rust paint here and there. Once ballasted I will be adding a layer of dust to the completed track with a combination of airbrushed paint and weathering powders..

And just when you think the job is done, it turns out that the other side of the rails needs painting too!

While my small layout is usually viewed from one side only, both sides of the rails have to be painted. On a quiet day in my vacation the two modules are in for an outdoor painting session in the shade. Until then there is work to be done on both loading ramp and a vehicle.


  1. Hello Claus,
    Enjoy your posts and following your move up to 1/19th scale.
    You're track looks great, and I agree when it comes to the tedious job of making it look "real". Have you considered spray painting (I use a rattler can) the rail prior to installing? Once done, only a little touch up and weathering are required after spiking to the pre installed wood ties..sleepers.

  2. That's a fine idea, Pete. I'll be keeping that in mind when I'm extending the line in the future. Hope all is well in Canada?