I had an interesting question come in: Can you paint American Flyer train track? You can, if you’re careful about it. There could be a couple of reasons to want do that. Here’s what you need to know about painting electric train track and why you might want to do such a thing.
Ironically, the main reasons to do it are to make old track look less rusty than it is, or to make new track look old and rusty.
Keep the tops clean
Although older paints often conducted electricity, modern paints usually don’t. So always assume new paint doesn’t conduct, or at the very least, doesn’t conduct as well as metal. So when you paint your track, either mask off the top, cover it up, put grease on it, or go over it with an abrasive to remove the paint afterward. If you go with the grease method, you can wipe it off with alcohol after you finish painting and the grease, along with any paint that got on it, will come right off.
Some people try to keep the inner rail clean as well, to give electricity as much of a path as possible. That may be overkill, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
Painting electric train track to make it look newer
Vintage track often is dull or even rusty. If you want it to look new, or at least less old, a shortcut is to clean the tops of the rails, then paint the rest. This makes it look nicer and helps keep rust from recurring or spreading.
I normally apply Testors steel paint with a small brush to touch up my track. It makes it look newer, without making it look artificial. I want track to look clean and somewhat shiny. If it gleams with the light of a thousand suns, that doesn’t look right either.
Of course, if your track is a bit old and dirty and rusty, you could just clean the tops and leave the rest alone. Some people go to a lot of effort to make their track look like the picture above. But nothing looks more like rust than real rust. The rust is a bit oversized, but hey, so is Lionel and American Flyer track.
Painting new electric train track to make it look old and rusty
Some people want new track for its reliability, but want it to look old and rusty. Everyone has their own technique for doing this, but it basically involves putting down a base coat of rusty red or brown. Rustoleum Weathered Wood is a popular color to start with. Some hobbyists follow it up with light coats of other shades of red and brown to give it a little bit of texture and break the monotony, but many find that unnecessary.
The key when doing this is to keep paint off the top of the rails. But if your goal is realism, this is realistic. When you look at real track, the tops are shiny because the trains running over the track polish the tops.