This tram line project on the layout that has been holding up a lot, and one that I've procrastinated on for quite some time. It is also one of the key drivers of my decision to expand and rebuild my city/downtown...which I feel like I've been talking about on this blog for far too long!
My approach is probably a somewhat unconventional one. There are a few good solutions that I've been thinking about for quite a while. I've never had good results with spackle or plaster, although I know some folks who have done a really nice job with this, I just don't have the skills or patience for this approach. Having been exposed to the Tomix Tram system about a year ago finally got my mental gears going on this, and I've been thinking about how to use this system and still maintain flush and realistic looking streets. I've also been dragging my feet as I've been waiting to see how the Kato Unitram system was going to look and what would be available. I expect someday that I'll regret my own approach as the Unitram system has real potantial, but I can't wait on Kato to hold up my layout construction!
My method, once again, used sintra, that hard, foam-like plastic material commonly used for lightweight signage. For the 'downtown' area where the tram tracks will run, there is actually two layers of this 1/4" sintra; one for the base that sits on top of the styrofoam, and another layer of sintra that is actually the street and which will be cut to match the rail width of the Tomix Finetrack I am using for the tram section of the layout.
This is where the Tomix Tram system comes in. One of the most difficult questions I had to answer was getting precise (or nearly so) curves for the layout. The Tomix Tram sections provided a useful template.
After getting the entire outline of the tram line cut out, a process which actually went a lot better and quicker than I had been expecting, I could start to lay it out on the base sheet with the track to check my cutting and the 'fit':
The biggest challenge at this point was creating an inverted 'bevel' on the edges of the sintra that come into contact with the track/roadbed. This is critical, as I've found that if there is an even a hair of the sintra that is higher than the rails, the tram will lose contact with the rail and stop. I could just sand/gouge down the top side of the sintra, but that does look sort of crude and would not have a smooth finish that I was looking for. An Xacto knife and my Dremel tool helped me with this very time-consuming project (the below photo shows the underside of the sintra where the roadbed contacts the sintra)!
After a coat of dark grey primer, the 'street' was then placed back on the layout and more testing and fine-tuning took place.
Once the wiring (including an auto-reversing unit) was complete, the track was attached with small nails, and the street could finally be cemented to the base. At which point, gaps between the rails and the sintra were filled with either paintable caulk or Testor's putty.
As mentioned above, all of the curves are Tomix Finetrack (both 103mm and 140mm), but some of the straight sections are either Minitrix snap track or Atlas flex track. They are all code 80 so there was no problem connecting them together. I did choose to directly solder feeder wires to the bottoms of the Tomix finetrack as the defauly connectors for Tomix were too bulky to properly integrate.
Wallah! Everything works (the reverse unit, the trams!) and it looks like this major milestone on the layout redesign (what I think I've referred to as Version 3.0) is done! Well, almost. I still need to give the street a better color and cover up the gap-filling caulk, add street markings, and add in the center pieces for the curves from Tomix, and straight pieces of styrene for the straight sections.
What this means for me is exciting! I can start to add buildings to the layout and, with this sort of major (and often dirty) construction complete, I can add trains back to the layout! Yeah! Stay tuned for more updates!