Another reader writes:
Always wanted to have a garden train. We live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Is 5 feet of snow a problem with trains?
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The track doesn't mind being buried in snow all winter. The rails may discolor, but you can still clean the top and inside edge quickly with a very fine gauge sanding sponge in the spring. The ties suffer more from UV than water or ice damage, so you're in better shape than I am here in relatively tropical Ohio.
The BIG problem is frost heave. Also, that the frost heave is uneven from one part of your RR to another.
I like raised RRs. Here in SW Ohio, the frost line is 24". So I can create a nice raised railroad simply by burying pressure-treated 4x4s two foot into the ground. You'd probably have to put them 4' into the ground, which is not as easy.
A Canadian friend, Fred Mills takes another tack for his ground-level railroad. He builds a very solid "roadbed" (linear support) from pressure-treated 2x6's, and just lays them on the ground, maybe using stones or concrete pavers to shim the low places up and make them level. In the winter, the WHOLE Railroad rises and falls, and because the 2x6s are joined together very solidly, the whole railroad tends to rise and fall about the same distances throughout. In the spring, Fred checks the level of each section, shims it as necessary, and runs trains.
Fred also uses battery-powered trains, but that's in part because he often has several folks running trains at the same time on his RR, and it's easier to operate with a big crowd that way. Fred would recommend battery operation for any cold-climate railroad, but it's not necessary, especially if you're only running a train or two at a time to start. You can always change your mind later of course.
Hope this helps. Best of luck, and please let me know if you have any followup questions.