by: Andras [ ]
As far as diorama accessories go, MiniArt has been covering a lot of ground over the last decade or so using both plastic and vacuform kits. They have been adding to their line of product two quite versatile items: railway tracks and railway tracks with dead end (essentially a railway end with a bumper stop). They are typical ballasted tracks of European gauge, so can be used in Western and Central European settings, but not on the Eastern Front.
A very important point: you only get the railway tracks; the ballast is not included. This is actually a good thing, as most ballasted railway tracks look oddly regular due to the repeating grain pattern on the injection moulded ballast. This way you can create your own using readily available products for railroad modellers, AND you can use the tracks in a different context as well. (Outskirts of cities or in a station, for example.)
When I started to think about the context I could use these sets I did not come up with many options at first; after all most rail-related models (railway guns, armored trains, locomotives) already come with their rails. However, railroads are not just bases for railway models. They are everywhere in Europe. Railway embankments can be used to depict soldiers (partisans) placing charges, or just walking alongside. (As can be used with marching POWs or fleeing civilians.) They can form a central piece by depicting a railroad crossing where military police is stopping civilians or military personnel. The “dead end” set could be used in a diorama with simply some personal items, toys scattered around to convey a message about the civilian costs of war. It could be a focus of a fighting, as railway stations were always important strategic targets.
All in all, there is actually a lot you can do with a pair of rails.
The sets come in sturdy boxes, with several identical sprues for the railroad. In the case of the railway tracks set, we get 8 identical rail sprues. Each rail section is 17cm long- which brings the total length of the whole set to 70cm. The wooden ties have a really nice wood texture; you get four per sprue, and all four are different the way the texture and cracks in the wood are depicted. This is a very nice touch so that the ties will not look uniform once finished. It would have been even better if they could be turned 180 degrees so the patterns could be varied even more, but the way the rails are attached makes it impossible. One side has all the tie plate pads are moulded onto the ties, and the rails slide under them. You will have to glue the pads to the other side yourself- two per tie… Overall the detail is worth it; both sets look great even if the assembly is a bit tedious. One advantage of getting the rails and ties separately is the option to show them stacked up (on a station, for example), or damaged.
In the case of the railways with a dead end set, we get 4 rail sprues and some extra sprues for the simple bumper stop included. This is a very simple contraption: a bolted metal structure with bumper attached. This limits the use of the set to a rural environment, and to a pre-war to early Cold War timeframe. (Most modern bumper stops have hydraulic dampers and buffers built in that would cushion the impact of the hit in case a train fails to stop before the tracks end.) The definition of bolt heads is excellent, and the whole structure will look great once properly weathered. The track sections are identical to the other set.