Foam board and flex-track questions

This Christmas, I built an N-scale layout on a 4'x4'x3/4" plywood sheet. It's a sort of a folded-over figure 8, using the Atlas pier set to get the
proper elevation for the crossover. So I have (sort of) two concentric circles of track, with plenty of space in the center for my Christmas tree. I added some mountains and tunnels made from ordinary storm window screen material and some plaster cloth, and wired some little bulbs inside the tunnels, and the finished product is pretty impressive, given the relatively small effort and cost.
I never had much interest in model trains before, and I took on the project mostly to impress my four (going-on-five) year old daughter. I'd hoped that she might get involved in the construction phase a little with me - maybe glue on some lichens and smear some paint on the scenery - but I apparently over-estimated the fine motor skills of five year olds, and that didn't exactly work out. But we had some fun anyway.
Now, of course, I'm full of ideas for next year's layout. I'd like to keep the 4x4 footprint, with the tree in the center. But I'd like to run two trains and I'd like to assemble my next layout with flex track, instead of soldering together all those little 5" pieces. I'll also probably implement the tunnel lights in sockets, instead of hard-wiring those little grain-of-wheat bulbs, so that they're more easily replaced when they burn out.
I have some questions, and I suspect you are the guys to ask :)
I got a dozen pieces of Atlas code 80 flex track, and I've been putzing around with the stuff. I notice that one rail sort of "floats" on the ties, while the other appears to be "captive." Is there a right way to use this feature? Should I be planning to have the floating rail on the inside side of a turn or the outside? Should I plan to solder floaters to floaters and captives to captives or should I stagger them? Or does this not matter at all?
Also, I'd like to implement multiple elevations with the 2" foam board material I've seen used in a Model Railroad magazine. I've never seen or worked with the stuff before, but it's implied that it's a common building material, and I assume I can get it at a builder's supply. Is there any specific type or grade of this material that's the "right" stuff? How would I attach something such as the Atlas bridge piers to this material? Will it take a nail, or should I plan on using adhesives? Is it paintable? Will it deform very easily if I solder too near to it?
TIA!
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Good Evening,
Let me address some of your questions about flex track. You are correct about the "floating" and "captive" rails. I call the one the sliding rail and the other the fixed. Words here are not important. I try to keep the sliding rail to the inside. Also.....the first piece I put down, I try to start at least six inches on a straight section. I delibertly(sp?) slide the one rail out about 2 or three inches. When the next piece of track is postioned I slide its sliding rail into the nubs on the ties until it makes contact with the first rail. Take a razor knife and cut off enough of the nubs, not the ties, the nubs to allow the postioning of a rail joiner. The reason for the off set is, so when you get into the curves you will have a solid rail opposite each railjoiner and that will help to prevent kinks. If you keep the railjoiners side by side as they are with snap track, it will be much more difficult to prevent the kinking. Another point about flex track. Only cut your track when you absolutely must cut it. This would be when you come up against a turnout(switch), a crossover, or at the end of a stub siding. Soldering railjoiners is personal choice. If you are running with DCC, then some rail joiners really should be soldered, but not everyone.
Hope this helps,
Bob Rule, Jr.
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Sounds like you caught the model railroad disease! But then again, according to most of us here, once you "catch it," you are actually cured!!! It's those who have no interest in model trains that most of us think are really the sick ones... : )

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EBTBOB has given you some suggestions in handling flex track. I'd also keep the moving rail on the inside for a very practical reason... if you bend the track so that the moving rail is on the outside, it all of a sudden becomes too short! It's easier in my opinion to cut off a little extending rail than it is to cut ties and all...
Another way to deal with laying flex track is to solder as you go. So, as you attach your track around a curve, just keep adding pieces. But, when you are half way into a curve and see that you'll need another piese, stop shaping the track about six inches from the end. Square it up, attach the new section of flex track, then continue around the curve. This is another way to avoid kinks at joints.

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The two inch foam board is available at places like Lowes, Home Depot, minards, etc. Make sure that you don't get "bead board." It is usually easy to spot as the surface of it looks kind of pebbled like the leather on a basketball or football. And the edges seem to crumble into wee little tiny beads that are a pain in the butt to keep tabs on. The blue or pink foam board is extruded I think... made in a continuous piece that isn't made up of individual beads.
Model Railroader may also be making mention of different components of the Woodland Scenics subroadbes system. You can get more ideas about this from their website. It is a bit on the expensive side, but the pre-formed pieces, especially the inclines make for very easy grades.
You'll need to glue most everything that you put on the foam board. You can use long wire nails to help, but they won't hold over long periods. I usually nail and glue, then remove the nails at a later time.
You might also want to consider looking at cork roadbed for something to lay under your track. It is cork strips that pull apart to form a beveled base for your track. I usually spraypaint mine with some gray paint to get it to look a little more realistic. It will make your track look a little nicer... in my opinion...
The foam board is covered with a very thin sheet of plastic. For best results, peel this plasitc away. Otherwise, you will be gluing & painting on plastic, not the foam. The foam will hold latex paints, but don't use the oil based ones... a nasty mess for sure!
It is heat sensitive, but I've not soldered directly above the foam... I've always had the cork roadbed in place. As always, a little 30-second experiment will tell you more than fifty posts here will.
Hope all of this helps......
dlm ---------------------------
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Hi- In addition to all the good suggestions that Dan made, which I totally agree with, also consider foamcore as a construction material. This is a thin layer of foam (0.25") covered with paper on each side. It is available at art supply stores, or you might snag a piece from a local reatailer, as it is often used for signs, and now Christmas is over, they may have some surplus signs for you. It is very easy to work with, cuts easily with an exactoknife. Good for superstructure through quick buildings. Cheers, David
Dan Merkel wrote:

...
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Start with the larger scenery projects like painting and spackling for rocks/mountains.

Use LEDs ... you'll die before they do.

The floating rail goes on the INSIDE of the curve. Also, pre-solder all track that will make up the curve because soldering track on a curve after it's laid is a pain.

Use either the blue or pink, extruded insulation styrofoam. Do not use the beaded kind found in craft stores or packaging material. However, the beaded foam does work well for scenery (and it's a nice way to recycle packaging) and all you need is low-temperature glue and a glue gun to fix it in place. Cut clean, painted and then weathered with a dark wash, it makes a decent, quick and dirty stone wall.

Latex Liquid Nails is your best friend. Also, DAP silicone adhesive is great because it has a long set-up time.

I always pre-paint the foam with some scenic base color appropriate to the scene (earth brown, sand, dark grey, etc). If you want some instant scenery, get some of the spray paint that already includes a texture.
Foam is easily cut with a hot wire cutter, so soldering can be very damaging. However, spackling compound patches up holes, quickly. If you need to solder track on the foam, use 2 copper heat sinks on the rails on either side of the joint and place a small piece of aluminum foil under the joint (shiny side up) to act as a reflector. If you solder quickly, you will have no problems.
-- Moderator of: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/n_scale
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