NO QUARTER #24 had a great article about railroads in the Iron Kingdom. The cover was great, but my eyes were immediately drawn to the tracks themselves.

I noticed that the cross tie sleepers were not embedded in the ballast of any kind. I then noticed the obvious pollution and wreckage along the tracks.

How odd.

I asked about this in the Privateer Press forums… and waited.

Quixotic: I noticed that the artwork showed the railroad lacking ballast and the ties being layed directly on the ground rather than half buried in the ground. I was wondering if this was on purpose. IK railroads lacking ballast would make terrain making a bit easier. Plus, it would bring up interesting problems that would occur on the railroads in the long term.Thanks in advance for your thoughts!

PPS-Mod: Simon: As much as I’d like to say that it was intentional and give you a lengthy explanation about why train tracks in the IK do not require ballast, I’ll have to admit that it wasn’t intentional.

So I guess we can chalk that up to artistic license. However, let’s consider the ramifications of the Iron Kingdoms not using ballast.

Would it really matter?

Ballast is gravel or broken stone laid on the ground to provide support for the track. It is the bed of the railroad. It is crushed material that is packed between, below, and around the ties. It serves several purposes necessary for the safe and reliable operation of the train. The bed is laid on a series of earthworks called the track formation. Materials most commonly used as ballast are trap rock, granite, blast furnace slag, limestone, and graded gravel.


First, the ballast facilitates drainage. To allow water to build up on the tracks would slowly erode the earthworks on which the rail system rests. If the ground under the tracks becomes worn away by water, or even softened and boggy, the train will suffer deadly consequences as the ground literally gives way underneath its heavy load. Imagine a full steam engine roaring down the tracks loaded with soldiers and ‘jacks. All the sudden the earthworks under the rails give way, and the tracks collapse into a large ditch, or swamp. The train is derailed, passangers die, and the ‘jacks are damaged. Ballast maintains drainage and allows for the stability of the bed and formation of the tracks. Cygnar needs reinforcements? Too bad … the train is all mashed up and laying in a pile. Let’s get some gobbers out there with big wrenches, huh?!

Secondly, the ballast serves to distribute the load of the track and train to prevent overstressing the subgrade. If the ballast is not present or is badly maintained, several things could happen to the tracks. The tracks could become dislodged and begin to move laterally. It literally keeps the track from moving under the weight of the trains. This movement effects fishplates and bolts that hold the tracks together. Even better, the tracks could sink, causing a dip. Either way, the track ends up becoming unsound and the train ends up jumping the track. Once again we have a full steam train launching off of a railroad and smashing wildly into the wilderness.  How can Nemo ride the rails if the trains keep crashing?


Ballast also helps to reduce vibrations from the train. Reducing the vibrations helps to delay damage to the ground that the railroad is built upon. It also serves to stop vibrational damage to nearby structures and telegraph systems that are usually present along the railroads. Without ballast the trains would literally shake and rattle itself into a wreck.


Next, the ballast serves to deter the growth of vegetation on the railway. Weeds, trees, bushes, and other vegetation growing within the tracks  en masse can disrupt the system and lead to malfunctions that can cause derailment. This is specifically true with bends and turns within the railway. Ballast helps to hinder the growth of these plants that can destroy and envelop the railroad tracks without due maintenance.

Lastly, ballast serves to stabilize the entire rail system. Without it the the tracks may become uneven causing swaying, rough riding and possibly derailments. If the tracks start to sway, the train will ultimately end up tipping over and crashing. That usually is not productive in getting people and things from one place to another in short order.

So is it a big deal that the Iron Kingdoms apparently do not use ballast?


You decide.

And I know, Simon, it was an oversight.

Keep rollin’ sixes.

I’m headed back to the Autopsy Table.




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