Super-elevating the Curves

Here I describe how I super-elevate visible curves on the layout (hidden curves aren't super-elevated). For other topics, click on the text links below.

The Roadbed Factory

Finding the layout's "Zero," or starting, elevation

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This is the basic technique I use for building super-elevation into curves. I found it described in the Yahoo! Layout Design SIG Group. Paul Dolkos was one of those who pioneered this method, and I borrowed his method.

On the two curves I've built so far, I laid out strips of 1/2" masking tape, one on top of another, with each additional layer starting 1 1/2 inches from the end of the previous one (the lines across the tape in this photo were added to show where each layer of tape ends). This provides a gentle ramp into the tilt of the track. I would have used 1/4" tape, which wrinkles less on tighter curves (this one is 34" radius, and I still had trouble keeping the 1/2"-wide tape from wrinkling on the inner edge), but I couldn't find any locally. I found 1/4" tape at an auto bodyshop supply house, and ordered several rolls. I'll be using that form now on.

The roadbed under the outer rail in the curve is built up. I used five to six layers of tape. Depending on the brand of tape, each layer is about .005" thick. Six layers gives roughly .030" rise in the outer rail, which equates to about 2 5/8 scale inches. Prototype super-elevation was somewhat more than this, I believe, but for me that offset captures the look of useful super-elevation while avoiding potential problems with long-wheelbase locos twisting up too fast on our far-too-sharp model curves and derailing.

This is a five-layer super-elevated curve on the NP Mainline in my under-construction town of Laurel, MT. The leaning of the locomotive is subtle, but it adds a great deal to the appearance of the moving train, and super-elevating the curve wasn't at all difficult. I may add an additional layer or two to the stack-up, depending upon how dramatic an effect I want at the particular location.

I'll flesh this topic out a little more in future site updates.


Construction Methods