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On my 2r RR the scale distance from my ear to any train is between 200 feet and 3,000 feet.  I expect the sound effect to make it's self known proportionate to that distance.

With that being said I am at a ballast dilemma. 

Situation: I now have about 30' of Scenic Express 0 scale ballast installed between  and around the ties (no fastening brads) over Homabed over Homasote over 3/4" 11 ply Birch with rigid cross  members glued in every 16".   No Delrin, all NWSL wheels.

When I pull a train over the glued in place ballast, comparatively, there is a hollow tin can like sound.  Not major, just not welcome.

The rest of the layout has no ballast but is pleasantly subdued in operating sound at this point.

As far as the absence of ballast goes, model RR police are NOT allowed on the property so the only person that needs to be satisfied is me.

What am I missing?  Are my expectations unrealistic?  I am ready to leave the mainline unballasted, and only do the sidings and yards.

I would appreciate comments from 2 rail folks who have installed ballasted flex track.


Last edited by Tom Tee
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I'm not sensitive to sounds generated by vibrations of the table when the trains run. To me, they sound like the rumbling heard when standing beside the track and a real train passes by. However, my layouts have cork roadbed beneath the Atlas O track, and that probably helps to subdue the noise. Also, I ballast over the cork roadbed only outside the rails (see photo) with no ballast between the rails. I do this to simplify removal of any piece of track that may get damaged which, over many years, has been very few. It doesn't look perfect or entirely realistic but neither does 3-rail track. Ballast or not, 2-rail or 3-rail, I think cork roadbed is essential...




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Last edited by MELGAR

I would suggest two experiments to help identify the problem:

  a)  A section of track where the ballast between the rails is not glued, but the shoulder ballast is.

  b)  Another section where the ballast is not glued at all.

Which particular S. Express ballast are you using [ part number ] ?

Edited to add:  What brand of flex track are you using on the ballasted section ?


SZ       [ 2R'er w/ ballasted flex track, but who has hearing issues, even w/ two h. aids ]

Last edited by Steinzeit
@Steinzeit posted
Thank you for your thoughts SZ.  

I would suggest two experiments to help identify the problem:

  a)  A section of track where the ballast between the rails is not glued, but the shoulder ballast is.  There would be considerable wicking thereby failing to yield a consistent result.  Sounds simpler then reality.

  b)  Another section where the ballast is not glued at all.  That would be potentially to messy, easily predictable and not desired.

Which particular S. Express ballast are you using [ part number ] ? #20 premier blend.  How would grade selection affect sound level?

Edited to add:  What brand of flex track are you using on the ballasted section ?  Atlas and Micro Eng same sound both.  How would different track would impact sound levels??

Again: anyone conquer running noise after switching to all metal wheels?  Plastic wheels are quieter but attract dirt buildup and have higher rolling resistance.  Anyone want 300 plastic wheel sets, they are going out with the trash today?

SZ       [ 2R'er w/ ballasted flex track, but who has hearing issues, even w/ two h. aids ]


Last edited by Tom Tee
@Tom Tee posted:
Thank you for your thoughts SZ. 


A.  I have done sections of track where I 'glued' only the shoulders, rather than between the rails, and the adhesive did not seem to penetrate much into the center section.  However,

  -  I may use less adhesive than you;  I put it on a few drops at a time.

  -  The track that I used [ on visible, ballasted sections ] is either the old Atlas, Roco, or Old Pullman concrete.  All of these have a piece of plastic under the rails between alternate ties, which may act as a dam on the adhesive.  This is one reason I was asking about the track mfg.;  I'm not familiar w/ the current Atlas or ME.  The other reason was wondering if the ties are hollow or solid.

  -  I later switched to gluing the center area because I found table vibration from a sabre saw or similar for a layout mod would bounce the loose ballast up -- reminded me of a Lionel coal conveyor from 60+ years ago......

B.  I was thinking of the no-adhesive section only as a test to see if the gluing was helping xmit the sound.

C.  I thought a coarser grade with more voids might be a factor.  I think you are using 'the right stuff' though, certainly visually.

Good luck.   Be thankful you have good hearing !


Every thing is glued on mine. I've pictured my ready made 3 foot lengths of probably 1/48 atlas track with a tiny 3rd rail down the middle. This is laid on a homasote base screwed to 3/4 inch shelving. I think  your're hearing table noise, kind of like a guitar. Perhaps sound deadening foam glued under the table might help.



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Hi Tom.

What's the glue mix you're using. We use a thinner water/glue mix (2 or 3 parts water to 1 part glue) instead of the normal 50/50 mix, plus we wet everything down with "wet water" before applying the glue so it flows into the ballast quickly. You can pick the ballast off if you try, but it remains stable under normal operation. The glue is less dense and doesn't seem to transmit as much noise, though the sections with Gargraves track make noise because of the hollow rails. At home, it will all be solid rail (just haven't decided which track to use).

Tom, without me having to go back and look at your old posts,  Are you using cookie cutter or flat top type sub-roadbed?   I use cookie cutter in most parts of the layout and that seems to have less effect on the sound than the flat top portions in larger towns.  I think I might put a saw slit between the mainline and sidings in the town areas to lessen the amount of sub-roadbed there is to vibrate.

Jim, There are 9 towns or RR facilities roughly  30" X 10' - 16' long over Homasote screwed to flat decking glued and screwed or shot onto 3 1/2" X 3/4" cross members on 15" centers. 

Sample of benchwork prior to decking:

IMG_6696Before decking

IMG_9010After decking

All deck areas are  connected with one another using 20' - 60' of  ribbon/cookie cutter roadbed.

IMG_7576Pic #2



I used cork on this area over Homasote over plywood.  The Homasote is well fastened with screws then vacuum sanded and screeded with leveler to even the Homasote surface. Photos out of sequence.

It may well be that I am too sensitive to noise and would not be at all pleased with the sound of ballast.

I was running several different cars (plastic/metal wheel) over the transition area today and will put a decible meter on each tomorrow.  

When fine art (ballasted track) is criticised  it may well be a problem with the critic.




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In a +10 year old special issue of MR Magazine, How To Build Realistic Reliable Track, one chapter addresses quiet roadbed and the author provides a chart with sound evaluations of eighteen roadbed configurations.  Cork over camper tape over a sub-roadbed of plywood ranked the quietest.  

Some modelers use diluted matte medium as a ballast adhesive as it does not cure as hard as white glue.


Old Goat

@Tom Tee posted:

Sample of benchwork prior to decking...

Exceptional work, Tom.

I used cork on this area over Homasote over plywood.  The Homasote is well fastened with screws.....


Just screws?  Mine was glued and screwed into place, and afterwards all the screws were backed out since they were not longer needed, were a bit of a hazard, and everything was a solid unit now.

Simon, thank you for your post.

You might be onto something there.   Agreed, sound is very subjective.

Here's a radical suggestion: Finish the layout. Then see if you still have a problem/problems, and if so, trouble shoot that.  Finish the layout??  With the little time I have for layout work and considering my age, that will be a quite awhile.   At this point most of my RR time is now spent operating peddler freights and running commuter service hence my annoyance with the sound difference introduced with the initial ballasting. 

After a long time to get to this point I am going to enjoy the trains.  I am the only person that I need to please.


 Old Goat,  Thank you,  I appreciate your great memory.    I will try that adhesive on a stretch.  The running sound over cork as it is, is fine.

Martin, thank you.

Last edited by Tom Tee

I used Mianne benchwork with 1/2" plywood on top.  Mianne supplies 90 degree clamps to hold the plywood to their framework, but I feel that tripling the number of clamps would help with some noise reduction.

I used 3/8" thick anti-fatigue matting between the plywood and the track for roadbed, stapled to the plywood.  I secured the track in place by using small zip-ties, trying not to get them too tight.  I got the matting at Lowes, they used to have it on a roll you could get cut to however many feet you wanted, but last time they only have pre-cut 5 foot lengths.  When I first started using this matting, I calculated it was cheaper than buying the cork roadbed, not sure if that still holds true.

I then sprayed some Rust-Oleum Stone textured paint onto the edges of the matting (should have done the whole thing BEFORE I put down track).  I have found once you put ballast on the noise is there to stay, this "spray on ballast" I thought would be a fair alternative.

Once some ground foam was added I thought it looked presentable and after a while I don't even notice there's no ballast between the ties.  Spraying the entire matting before laying down track would have helped that illusion.

I still have noise but if I would add some more 90 degree clamps underneath the plywood I think it would help. All my engines are battery powered without sounds,  I can hear the train "noise" over the generated, vibration noise as they go around the layout so that tells me the noise level is acceptable.  I've added cloth skirting around the edges of the layout, but that hasn't seemed to lower the noise level.

I'm also positive the unwanted noise is coming from underneath the layout, being I don't have any wiring I may try some noise reducing batting/insulation to see if that helps.




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I ran for around a decade with no ballast. As soon as I ballasted, I hated the sound change.

I believe the only way to help mine would be to apply a spray expanding foam product directly under the rail area of the plywood? I have not tried it.

 After around a year now, the sound has changed to my ears. I believe I got over the initial shock! 

I was shocked to hear the difference between my hand-laid track on wood ties and the dirtbag Atlas plastic ties.  I hate plastic, but it is way quieter!

Milt Sorenson used outdoor carpeting under his TruScale roadbed, and it was dead-quiet!  I don't think the product is still available - it was like a 1/4" sheet of porous rubber, with simulated grass on one side.  No nails - just glue.

Ballast is definitely a noise transmitter - but maybe if you isolate it the noise stops?  Some folks tried rubber ballast, but it never caught on.

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