Building a Test Track is easy. I am putting scenery on mine to give myself a quick realistic place to take pictures of my cars as the main layout is being built. Also this gives me a great place to experiment with building hills, roads, and track without messing up the real layout. Finally, the test track gives you an "obstacle course" to run your newly made cars over before introducing them to the real layout.
For a power source I am currently using a small Tyco power pack that I got in a train set years ago. It works fine for now, as I am looking into which DCC system to purchase. Once the DCC system purchase is made, the conversion of the test track to DCC will be easy.
1. Start with a piece of wood no more than a foot wide. This doesn't need to be incredibly complex. My piece is approximately 6 inches by 5 feet.
2. Buy one piece of 3 foot Atlas code 100 track and one 3 foot piece of Atlas code 83 track. Also buy one Atlas #4 turnout (either left or right, it doesn't really matter which). I had an Atlas rerailer already, but you may need to buy one. I use all nickel-silver track, as brass track corrodes easily and requires more cleaning.
3. I used a Tyco power pack and curved rerailer with power connectors. I could have easily soldered the wires directly to the track, but the rerailer with the power conntectors was available so I used it.
4. Lay the pieces of track (see picture below) on the wood. You don't need to use the exact layout I did, but mine has the main features you want.
5. Draw an outline of the tracks on the wood. Using liquid nails, glue down some road bed material. I used Woodland Scenics road bed which is a black foamy substance. Make a groove on the bottom of the wood where the wires can run from the power pack, under the piece of wood, to the track on the front.
6. Place the track on the road bed and nail it down with track nails. The Code 83 track does not have holes in the middle of the ties like the Code 100 track, so you will need to nail it down by driving nails right next to the rails. Note: Do not put the nails on the inside of the track as it may interfere with the wheels.
7. Spray the entire track with Railroad Tie Brown paint. This makes for instantly weathered rails. Sand the tops of the rails to remove the paint. Whalla, you now have weathered rails with tops that look like they are worn shiny by passing trains.
8. To add a road simply apply spackling compound available from Home Depot. I use the same stuff you use on your walls to patch small holes. It works great and dries rock hard.
9. Wad up some newspaper and form it roughly for the hill shapes. I found out that cardboard cut outs along the back of the hills give it strength. Take plaster gauze and wet it. When wet apply the strips over the newspaper. When dry you will have a rock hard hill. Apply some spackling compound over the holes in the gauze for a solid looking hill.
10. Attach the power pack to the test track with liquid nails. Paint the road black.
11. Cover the hills and area between the tracks with latex paint (I use a light tan color, but any earth color will work)
12. Sprinkle on Woodland Scenics "blended turf" and "medium turf". It will stick to the wet paint and there will be no need for glue.
13. Spread on the Woodland Scenics ballast. Pour matt medium or Woodland Scenics glue on it. When it dries the ballast will be rock hard.
14. You can add trees and other small details if you want, but since this really is a test track and not the real layout, I am leaving mine without these small details.
15. You are done. Enjoy testing your cars.
Below is a pic of my test track with steps 1-5 done.
The turnout is placed on the layout and I am about ready to start with
Below is a pic of the hills and road in work (steps 1-10
done). The hill on the right is to hide the power pack, the hill
on the left is just for looks. I had an extra piece of plaster gauze
and made the small knoll in the front left of this picture. The power
pack is completely attached at this stage and ready to run trains.
The road is just spackling compound.
Below are the hills in close up and the rest of the test
track after steps 1-12.
Below are pics of the track ballasted.