Painting rails?

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Section Hand
I like Willie, paint most of the rails a "Light Earth" color from rattle cans and paint the rails after testing the track and after when I'm positive that all feeders have been installed. I'll spray three feet at a time and then as soon as possible I'll use a piece of cork roadbed covered with a terry cloth that's been soaked in paint thinner to wipe the tops of the rails to remove the paint.

Take care when spraying turnouts and protect the points using bits of masking tape that been cut into narrow strips.

Watch for over-spray if there's anything near by that shouldn't be painted.

In some cases, I'll use a bright boy to clean the rails after using the thinner. Then, I'll do the ballasting of the rails and again clean the rails as soon as possible to remove white glue on the rail heads. This entire process is fast.

When the ballast glue has dried, I'll run down the center of the rails with diluted flat black to simulate grease and other droppings from the passing trains. This does not have to be neat!

Do the track painting and ballasting before any scenery or detailing.

I still have unopened cans of "Light Earth" from Testor's original runs.

Have fun and enjoy the results.


PS: Cork roadbed makes a great track cleaning tool that's not too harsh.


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Staff member
Greg, thanks for the tips and what you suggest is what I was planning was almost as you suggested. The only difference is that I will do my scenery (ground cover) and ballasting before I paint the rails. The way I see it, the grass and stuff was there before the rails so it just makes sense to ballast after the ground cover.

Anyway, this is what the rails and track looks like that passes us:

Shaded side:

Sunny Side:

Up the guts:

Just want to try to match the "shade side" color.

Also, I'm not going to use a rattle can or air brush I intend to hand paint them as Selector suggested. That will reduce the mess/over spray (as there will be none) and it doesn't take that much time to do, not as long as I thought it would.
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I also painted the track, then did the scenery near the track before ballasting, as the Earth in the area was there 4.5 billion years before the track, so painting before scenery, before the ballast on my layout!


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Staff member
Horseman, what you are seeing is all new ballast, not more then 6 months old. Also, this section of track is regularly poisoned with weed killer, you rarely see any weeds in it. The rails are bout 4' - 5' above ground level as well so the track is pretty built up, I don't think too much would grow through it if it even tried.

Why they (NS) keeps it so well is beyond me, but a good thing.

Iron Horseman

Well-Known Member
Why they (NS) keeps it so well is beyond me, but a good thing.
Well maintained track keeps the trains rolling, the company's "velocity" measure up, and unit cost per car down. All of which in the end mean higher profit.

You should see the BNSF double track main through Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Last time I saw it, it looked good enough to use for a food preparation surface.
That is really my question I guess - before or after ballasting. The majority say it should be done prior to ballasting; however, there are also some who say after ballasting and let the rail color "bleed" with the ballast at the bottom of the rail foot. Personally, I think doing it before the ballast would make it easier, not to be confused with making it better.

So, regardless of when the painting is done, what color/s do you guys suggest or use? Willie has said what he does and that sounds great; but, as I have never done this before (with any seriousness) I think I'd prefer to keep it a little bit simplistic and use just one color to start with. On that, rail sides get rusty and there is rust colored paint; however, there is rust color and there is rust color.
I use Restore flat rust and hand brush it.


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Color wise, from Wombat457's photos, I would say my Floquil Roof Brown color matches very well. Problem is Floquil paints are no longer available. Some type of flat brownish red is needed to get close. Does anyone have any suggestions on the right color match? is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to - An online railroad bookstore featuring a curated selection of new and used railroad books. Railroad pictorials, railroad history, steam locomotives, passenger trains, modern railroading. Hundreds of titles available, most at discount prices! We also have a video and children's book section. - An online model railroad bookstore featuring a curated selection of new and used books. Layout design, track plans, scenery and structure building, wiring, DCC, Tinplate, Toy Trains, Price Guides and more.