I have been operating toy trains, mostly standard gauge, on various layouts since 1980. I have operated at home and in shows for the public. The racket can be noisy enough that your ears are happy when the trains are turned off. My first large standard gauge layout at home was so noisy with just 2 trains running that conversation was difficult. As I prepared to build my permanent layout I worked on various ideas for deadening some of the sound. The system I eventually chose allows me to run 4 or 5 standard gauge trains and carry on a reasonable conversation as well. Several others have now used the system as well, and they seem to be pleased with it.
I made some personal decisions that are different from those of some of you. Your choices are equally as valid as mine. I chose not to use Homosote or cork as a sound barrier between the track and the plywood tabletop. I have many allergies, and the process of cutting the Homosote or cork, and the possible flaking off of edges over time, led me to eliminate those materials. I also wanted something that would keep my layout looking blatantly like a toy train layout.
I like the look of indoor/outdoor carpet, and until this layout always used green. I was on a deadline this time and Home Depot was out of green, so I bought gray. Turns out it shows off the trains even better than green to my eye. A friend and I experimented on the old layout, slitting gas line and sliding it onto tie bottoms, lots of work and still too noisy. We tried the Moondog ties, but they are dense enough to transmit too much sound. I priced the foam they use for recording studio ceilings but it’s way too expensive. I’d rather buy trains.
I settled on buying 10’ rolls of insulating foam from the hardware store. See the package in Figure 1. For standard gauge I bought foam that was ½” wide by ¼” deep. For 0 and 027 I recommend 3/8” wide by ¼” deep. The foam is softer than Moondog ties, but dense enough that it has stood up well since 1999.
Experimenting on the old layout we found that the foam worked so well that from downstairs I could clearly hear the racket of the train on the undeadened track, and virtual silence when the weather-stripping was used. Here’s how it’s done.
I glued my indoor/outdoor carpet to my plywood top, which is supported by T girders. It took almost a gallon of white glue! Then the track was laid as usual, according to the track plan. The foam was cut into pieces the length of a tie, and for standard gauge two pieces were stuck together. In Figure 2 you can see a single piece and a pair stuck together. Make as many of these pieces as you have ties.
In Figure 3 I have a piece of the double foam lying on a tie on standard gauge track,
...and in Figure 4 there is a piece lying in an 027 tie.
Your track will not be upside down like this, this is just so you can see how
it fits, and that the foam is thicker than the tie is high. That is important.
Take a piece of the foam (a double one for standard gauge) and peel off the white cover to expose the adhesive. Pick up the track and slide the foam, adhesive side DOWN, under the tie. Place the track down on the layout and press, to adhere the adhesive to the layout. Do that under every tie and you are done. I was surprised to find that it does not take long, if you prepare all your foam pieces ahead of time.
Figure 5 shows a piece of foam in place under the nearest tie and a piece partially under the next tie. The piece partially under is just a demo, as I had not yet removed the white strip that covers the adhesive. Since the foam is black and the ties are black, no one notices them when they look at a layout. And yes, you do want the track to float on the foam. That eliminates all the annoying growling noises we usually hear, leaving just the noise of the wheels on the track and the motor. It is QUIET!
Further benefits were discovered as we went along. Being in a hurry to run a train or two, I did not attach the track to the layout in any way. I still have not attached it, since the adhesive sticks to the layout and the ties are held in place quite nicely by the foam. Without screws holding the track down there are no screws to transmit the sound to the plywood, legs, and floor of the room.
When I decided to add a through siding just last year it was easy to pull up track and foam pieces in the area of the siding, lay the siding, and replace the foam with new foam. Where the old foam pieces were removed it was a bit sticky on the carpet, but the adhesive soon dried and is no longer sticky. Changes in track plan are easy, at least on the indoor/outdoor carpet. In addition, this soundproofing can be done to any existing layout.
Whatever method you decide to use to cut down on tinplate noise, remember that the object is to find a way to insulate the track from your wood base, as the wood is what acts as an amplifier. When you screw track down to wood the sound is transmitted from the track through the screw to the wood, and that is to be avoided.
I hope you find this article of use in your future layout plans.
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