Building a Train Platform – Finishing Touches

If you followed along with the steps we outlined in part one, you now have a very functional train platform. Many modelers stop here, focusing all of their attention on what goes on top of it. With a little more work however, you can dress up the benchwork itself. Not only will this make the platform and the rest of the room look much better, it also improves the look of the trains themselves. If a model railroad is a work of art, then think of these steps as building the frame.

The photos here show a new testing layout in our North Carolina facility. Even though this is not a public display, we felt the added comfort and visual improvement (we’ll certainly be taking pictures here from time to time) more than justified the small cost in materials and time.

Support Walls

drywall

Basic drywall closes in the support walls. There is plenty of room here for storage shelves if desired.

Begin by sheathing the support walls with drywall. We used 1/2″ drywall, but you could easily get away with 3/8″ here to save a little money and a lot of weight. Install this just like you would on a wall in your home. Eventually these walls will receive some display shelves, perhaps even with some lighting tucked up behind the fascia.

On our layout, we left one wall open. The wall can’t be seen from a normal vantage point and this allows easy access under the layout. For a completely enclosed look, consider building a small access hatch.

Adding a Fascia

support

Support the fascia with blocks flush with the edge of the layout. If your braces aren’t flush, you can add these blocks right to them for a perfect fit.

A fascia is simply a thin panel running around the perimeter of the layout. Nothing does more to finish a platform than installing one. You can also go further and use the fascia to install your control panels, push-buttons for accessories, and anything else you choose (like cup holders to keep drinks off the layout!)

We used 1/8″ Masonite for our fascia. It comes in 4×8 sheets. To save time and a tremendous amount of dust, we had the home center rip the sheets into 8 inch wide strips for us. Since they only have to set up for one cut and can cut several sheets at once, most will make these cuts for just a few dollars – or even less. The savings in time and clean up are well worth it here even if you have the tools to do this at home.

The fascia will be attached to the ends of the 2×4 braces under the platform. Particularly on the corners, you’ll want even more support to keep the Masonite from bowing. Chances are, you have a bunch of small scraps left over from cutting the 2x4s for all of the benchwork. These will make great supports for the fascia.

fascia

Once installed, the screws are covered with putty and sanded. Even before paint the improvement is dramatic. Where possible, avoid putting a seem between strips on a curve.

Mount blocks around the perimeter of the platform, flush with the edge. The blocks don’t need to be very big – about 6″ length on a 2×4 will give you plenty to work with without splitting. These can be screwed to the platform itself. On curves, you’ll want the blocks only a few inches apart. On straight sections you can go much further – all the way out to 24 inches if desired.

Next screw the Masonite to the blocks. Keep the tempered side on the outside. We put about a 1/8″ lip above the top of the platform. This helps keep small parts from rolling off the table but more importantly it prevents people from leaning on the layout. By using 8″ wide strips, enough fascia hangs below the 2×4’s that you won’t see the top of the support walls or any other wiring, lighting, etc. that may hang down under the layout.

Another option would be to keep that bottom edge straight but contour the top of the fascia to match the profile of your scenery on the layout. (See our display diorama project.) Of course this means you’ll have to cut all of the Masonite by yourself without the help of the lumber yard.

Keep the fascia level as you work around the platform. When screwing into the supports, just like with drywall you don’t want to go too far with the screw. That tempered surface gives the Masonite most of its strength. You want to have just a slight divot in that surface, not tear all the way through. Also just like with drywall, a little plaster and some sanding will hide those screws when you’re done.

Painting

fascia

With the top and fascia painted, the railroad has a nice finish that pulls your attention to the trains.

Here is another one of those perpetual topics without an answer. What color should I paint my platform, fascia, etc? Just like the height of the layout, there is no single “right” answer.

If you are going to add scenery to your platform, then painting the tabletop is not really an issue. We weren’t so we went the traditional toy-train platform route and painted the MDF a light green.

For the fascia, we went with good old black. At first we used the same wall color used for the room itself. This looked good enough and we will also use it for the support walls below. Changing the color to black however offers a bit more contrast and helps define the layout itself. Also, it should show dirt a lot less than the light gray.

In the end, the perfect fascia color is really up to you. Whichever color you choose, simply having this finished edge is one of the biggest improvements you can make to any train layout.

That’s it!  We’re ready to install the track, connect our feeders and power supplies and start testing trains. You don’t need to build a 14×40 foot layout to enjoy the hobby. These techniques will work just as well on a 4×8. We hope this gives you the courage to go out and get some lumber and get started for yourself. Building the platform takes only a few days. Finishing and enjoying the model railroad can last a lifetime.

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