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Ask MR: Can roadbed material reduce track noise?

By Steven Otte associate editor | November 26, 2021

Lots of materials have been tried, and a few materials might actually help

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A shiny black material is attached to model railroad benchwork under future track locations
A shiny black material is attached to model railroad benchwork under future track locations
Model Railroader contributing editor Pelle Søeborg used a 4mm thick, self-adhesive, asphalt-based sound-deadening mat used in automotive construction to reduce track noise on his HO scale Daneville & Donner River layout. Pelle Søeborg photo

Q: Would a subroadbed made of foam board be quieter than plywood? My previous HO scale layout used ½” plywood, and the noise coming from the wheels was so high it interfered with my enjoyment of the sound decoders. Would foam board make that wheel noise less intrusive or is there something else I should use? – Mike McBride

A: While there are modelers who swear that foam is quieter than plywood, there are others who insist that foam board acts like a drumhead and amplifies track noise. Personally, I think the roadbed material and how the track is attached to it is more important. The more rigidly your track is attached to the subroadbed, the more easily vibration will be transmitted to it. Cork roadbed will dampen sound more than Homasote. A flexible roadbed material like Woodland Scenics Track-Bed will be even quieter. And MR contributing editor Pelle Søeborg uses an asphalt-based sound-deadening layer between his roadbed and the subroadbed.

No matter what roadbed you use, track nails can transmit vibration through it and directly to the subroadbed. Using foam-safe adhesive caulk, like Liquid Nails for Projects or Loctite PL 300, to glue your roadbed to your subroadbed and your track to your roadbed will transmit less sound than track nails. Self-adhesive foam tape, sold as “camper tape” or “topper tape,” is another roadbed material noise-conscious modelers have tried. Good luck in your hunt for a quieter roadbed.

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