As I stated earlier this year, I wanted to step up my game in terms of painting tracks in Villeneuve. After many years of hitting the rails with a good old can of Krylon Camouflage Brown, few randoms washes of cheap acrylic paint, a dab of weathering powder and calling it a day, it was time to be more serious.
Let's face it, it doesn't look right to me. Many trusted modellers got great results with this trick over quality flextrack, but I found out over time their prototype generally implied relatively well maintained mainline track. Such wasn't the case over the CN Murray Bay sub. As a kid, we used to walk the track for a few feet and I certainly recall the ties weren't that dark but rather silvery and lightly brownish from weathered away creosote.
To get that look, one must thing about track the same way car weathering is done: in layers. Since I'm using recent PECO North American style tracks I know they have enough crisp details to be correctly weathered without looking out of place. That said, I have also another limitation due to our club meeting structure. Once per week, often less, we gather together one evening. It means time is limited and we must go right to the point quickly if we want a decent amount of progress. Also, since painting tracks involves a fairly large amount of spray painting, we thought it would be best to do that on the same day to minimize exposition to harmful fume (even if wearing approved respirators).
Here is the procedure, which can be adapted to suit your need and prototype as you see fit. While the foundation color steps remain true, the finer weathering job should reflect the effect you want to achieve. Remember, these are guidelines, not a creed to be followed. I certainly recommend readers to take a look at Mike Cougill's articles about track weathering on OST Publications. While Mike goes further than most would do, I suspect some people could discover an area of interest they never expected to be so interesting.
First, the track is entirely painted with white primer (or flat white) which will be our foundation color for weathering.
Second, when the primer is dry, mask the ties with tape.
Third, paint the rails with Krylon camouflage brown (or a similar color). This will be the rusted steel foundation color.
Fourth, remove masking tape on all the trackwork and touch up any white primer that could have lifted during the process. Use any acrylic or oil based paint you like and apply with a small brush.
Fifth, prepare an oil wash made of oil paint and odourless turpentine. Recommended color is Burnt Umber which can be mixed with some black to get a grayish color according to your prototype. Before applying this oil wash, make sure the spray paint is dry.
Sixth, add more wash where needed to get the right look according to prototype pictures. Some track work such as turnouts are generally darker in some area due to grease and oil spills.
Seventh, using full strength oil paint you can add small details like creosote seeping or drybrush some features. It is the time to darken some ties to make them like new replacement ones.
Eight, ballast the track with suitable material.
Ninth, using Dark Earth weathering powder, weather the rails and steel component to give them a realistic rusted powdery look. If you use details such as fishplates, it's a good time to hit them with lighter weathering powder so they pop up a little bit.
Tenth, using washes and/or PanPastel and/or weathering powder, add any oil dripping, spillage, dust and weathering required on the track center and ballast. This vary from prototype to prototype and era depending on locomotive used, fuel and other factors.
And now for a time accessment, it took us about 8 hours of work at a leasure pace to paint about 18 feet long of mainline, including a 5 tracks yard with associated turnouts. This represents about a quarter of the entire layout and I expect another 5 hours to completely weather the track. Given it will take about two work sessions, I consider this is quite a good investment in time. Particularly in a layout area where one can operate for a hour at slow speed and having the time to appreciate a higher quality track work.