Ground preparation and track laying

One of the main things that attracted us to buying our house was its acre of almost flat land which included a 92 metre by 21 metre paddock and large 14 metre long stable - soon to be engine shed! The first phase is basically a 95 metre run down one side of the paddock from the engine shed. Since I had built the track in panels, I decided that rather than bother to survey the ground, I would just lay the track straight on the grass and see what the gradients were like by running a train up and down.
Luckily my hunch that the land was almost flat proved correct. There is a slight gradient of around 1 in 50 down from the shed end and the Ruston with its 120W motor was able to pull 3 adults (or an adult and 3 children) up this satisfactorily. If you find you need to do a proper survey, there is a description of how do do this at the balloon loop extension and ground surveying page. I wanted the track bed to be 50cm wide, and marked this out in white gloss paint on either side of the track using wooden offcuts as a guide. With one last ride for a few months, I then lifted the temporary track.
I did not fancy digging out a 90 metre long trench 20cm deep by hand, and so hired a mini digger which did the whole job in a day. This produced a lot of soil - 6 large trailer loads - which I was able to get rid of as I didn't want it.
The trench was lined with terram. This is a very tough semi porous membrane designed to keep the underlying soil and track bed separate. It should also help supress the weeds.
Another mini digger was hired to fill the trench with 5 tons of road core to a depth of 5-10cm. This goes very hard when compacted and forms both a firm track bed as well as being able to hold the lining paving edges in place. It is also very cheap.
The sides of the trench were lined with 9 pallets of concrete paving edges from a garden centre that I found on special offer. These not only serve to keep the track bed and rest of the paddock separate, but also allow the small dips and bumps in the land to be smoothed out. Using a spirit level and lengths of timber, I kept the gradient almost constant. This meant at some places the top of the paving was level with the grass, and in others it was up to 10cm above it where the land dipped slightly. This was a long job!
I used 7 tons of 14mm grey limestone as ballast filled to the top of the paving edges. This has good sharp edges to grip the sleepers. I laid the track panels as I ballasted. Over the course of the next month I regularly ran loaded trains up and down to bed in the sleepers and compact the ballast, adjusting this as necessary.
Over a year later the track bed has proved very stable through summer sun and winter frosts and rain. The ballast packed down well, causing the track level to fall by 2-3cm below the top of the edging. A big advantage of the aluminium sleeped track is that it is very easy to lift off several panels at a time, add more ballast, and then replace the track to deal with this.
The Ruston is on the reballasted track showing how well it is possible to bed in the aluminium sleepers. The laser cut steel trackside speed sign came from from Ride on Railways.