Sunday, 26 July 2015

Hand painting Peco track

A lot of people tried to talk me out of using PECO code 100 rail on my HO scale layout. But whether you choose HO code 100, 83 or 70 rail, plastic model track will still look like plastic model track if you fail to pay any attention to it. Not being a master model railroader who is capable of hand-laying my own track, I chose PECO simply because of its affordability and the reliability it has given me over the years while working on my past N scale layouts. But the tricks I learned working in 160:1 scale, when transferred over to 87:1 scale are even more impressive.

After mixing up some acrylic paint, start by painting the sides of the shiny nickel rails.

Using the same piece of scrap MDF board that has become my model railway artists palette, I add a few blobs of black, white and burnt umber (brown) acrylic artists paint, dip my No 2 brush into some water, and then play around until I get a few different streaks of dirty brown-black paint on the palette. I then paint the sides of the rails to get rid of the shiny nickel appearance in something that resembles years of built up rust and grime, making sure I also cover the moulded plastic rail plates that hold the rail to the sleepers or ties.

After painting the sleepers a mixture of 50 shades of grey, wipe the rail surface clean with a tissue before the paint dries.

I next turn my attention to the railway sleepers, or railroad ties as they are known in North American lingo. Apart from the concrete sleeper flextrack I have used on the No 1 road, the rest of my track has that dull black, plastic toy train set look about it. In Australia, most railway sleepers I've seen, either weather into a light ash-grey look on seldom used branch lines, or a grimy brown-black from years of built up brake dust on main lines. But on most sidings and long established branch lines, sleepers often weather in different shades depending on when the railway sleepers are replaced during their regular maintenance cycle. A period of track-work can result in 1 in every 4, 5, 6 or whatever sleepers being replaced. Often, railway sleepers appear as 50 shades of grey. So I hand paint each individual sleeper in an assortment of grey, grime and brown, making sure I capture the look of no two sleepers appearing the same. A No 2 artists brush works best in painting the surface and sides of each sleeper, and be careful no to paint over the moulded plate holders for the rails that we just painted a dirty brown-black. The end contrast will look magic. Work on a small section at a time, and then use a facial tissue held over your finger to simply wipe the paint from the surface and inside edge of the rails before the paint dries.

My hand painted siding on the left, compared with the original PECO track on the right.

The end result, though a little tedious, can turn commercially produced track into a hand painted masterpiece. While you may not choose to use this method in a large room-size or club layout, even singling out a short siding or passing loop for this type of treatment may provide an interesting contrast to the rest of your track. But for a small layout like mine that is going to be scrutinized at close range, I'm very happy with the results above. I can now give my siding a very shallow coverage of ballast and have the sleepers really stand out.


  1. very well done there Phil. I like how the sleepers have come out.

    1. Thanks Shelton, it is very time consuming, but just wait to you see the end result.


Thanks for taking the time to visit Philden. I hope you'll book a return ticket soon. Cheers, Phil