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Modeling Gaffe 6- Poorly Modeled Derailments

March 1, 2009


For many modelers there is a morbid interest in modeling a derailment. Twisted metal, splintered wood, trucks, wheels and couplers strewn about makes for an engaging and attention getting scene on a model railroad. However so few modelers actually attempt to make it look realistic…why?

At best, you’ll have a rusty boxcar down an embankment, too inaccessible for scrappers to recover it economically. This is acceptable as there are a couple places in Canada, Alaska, Washington State, and other places where this has occured.

At worst, you’ll find some cliche, cheap tyco car in dayglo-red lying on it’s side with a few figures around it, if that.

Accurately modeling a derailment will undoubtedly take a lot of effort and time, but the results will be worth it. Even suggesting a that a derailment once occured somewhere adds interest too. You could have a broken coupler, perhaps a few bit of handrails, roofwalks, or brake rigging lying in the weeds. Sculpting the slide marks in the earth where the cars and locomotives slid into the dirt would be interesting. Perhaps a severed telephone pole or a damaged signal bridge lying trackside for a stronger suggestion of what might have happened.  

 DVL derailment

A couple of things to realize when planning to model a derailment would include:

-In real life, the trucks support the cars only by their bolsters and gravity. There isn’t a giant 2-56 screw holding the trucks on, so they’d rarely be attached to the car if the car tipped over.

-Metal has a tendency to bend when put under stress. While this would be somewhat hard to model, modeling dented metal would pay dividends in realism when modeling a derailment.

-Wood loves to bend, then splinter. Wood freight cars aren’t too durable in a derailment and are prone to telescoping in on each other or just ripping apart. cutting away a portion of a wooden car and replacing the damaged area with damaged scale lumber would enhance realism.

-Weathering is a MUST when dealing with derailments. From mud to scratch/gouge marks and dents to missing handrails or ladders. Chipped and rusty paint, sooty and rusty roofs and other details bring it to life.

-Wrecked Locomotives almost always show signs of damage in even the most minor derailments. It’ll take some serious modeling skill to accurately model a wrecked locomotive. Although it has been done quite nicely by Jerome. Here’s an example of a Wrecked SD40-2   in HO scale. 

This Selection from is a good break down of different types of derailments.

Cornfield Meet (Head-On collision)

Rear-End Collision

Spectacularly destroyed Conrail SD40-2

NS Sd70 bashes coal gondolas aside

High Speed Derailment

Ever wonder why there’s a cross at the tehachapi loop? This is why.

Conrail Pile-Up, spectacular results!

Twisted mess of hoppers and coal

Deadly PRR passenger train wreck in 1951

PRR Steam tender ripped apart in derailment

LMX GE in dug itself a grave


Fishing covered hoppers out of the Mississippi!

Jackknifed coal hoppers create a twisty mess

L&N SD40’s in the mud

Completely Decimated CV Geeps with punctured grain hopper


UP AC4400 loses half of its cab enroute

Down an embankment

UP frieght turned into crumpled mess after rolling down embankment.

Into a River

What happens when a wooden trestle decides to give way?

DME Sd40 slides into the Mississippi River

Big derailment with modern cars in a photogenic location.

CSX SD70 slides into a river for a drink

Trucks vs. Trains

What happens when a locomotive and an inflammable tanker truck meet.

MP-UP Caboose poking a hole in a woodchip truck trailer

BNSF freight hits frozen pizza truck, local teenagers flock to help cleanup.

Conrail freight hits gravel truck

Switching Accident

Splitting a switch with an SW 1500

Shoving Empty Cars is a no-no.

More Hopper Carnage

Tank Car shoved off the end of a switchback

Bad Track

NS hopper with spread rails in a yard

Tank cars on the Ground in a siding

UP Coal Hoppers derail, almost undamaged

Spilling Woodchips

Jacknifed Ethanol Cars burn.

Coal Gondolas flop on their side and take out a building!

Finally, a really modelgenic scene:

N&W Caboose shoved off the end of a spur, then just abandoned, with the siding repaired.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 1, 2009 2:50 am

    Is the photo with the steam engine on the side of a hill from the Walnut Creek Model Railroad?

  2. March 1, 2009 5:00 am

    Yes Indeed. They have some pretty interesting scenery, I honestly wonder why they were so lazy when creating such a scene?

  3. Rob in Maine permalink
    March 1, 2009 1:57 pm

    Why model a derailment, mine happen naturally all the time 😉

  4. Rob in Maine permalink
    March 1, 2009 2:05 pm

    Here is a famous derailment in Maine:

    It’s the derailment that brought the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington to an end in 1933. The crew walked back and that was the end of the WW&F.

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