Always a contentious one that modellers can’t agree on. The theory says that covering a layout baseboard in cork reduces the rattle and running noise of trains.
However in N Gauge it is felt that the benefits to this are limited. Undeniably in OO gauge and other larger scales you should. The trains are heavier in these larger scales, and are also prone to running at faster speeds across the layout, all of which generates more noise.
There is also an argument that the need to Cork or not depends on baseboard material. From previous experiments and practical experience I have found a pine and mdf construction to have a quieter operating experience. Whereas a plywood framed and top board set out has more noise and echo due to the nature of the material. This however is hardly the end of the world considering the significant saving in weight and improved ease of transport. A compromise worth making in my eyes for sure.
Having previously used a cork base layer on other layouts, I’ll not be repeating on North Wroxham. The challenge I found it presented was that it made landscaping harder, and for the minimal reduction in operating noise this is a compromise I don’t feel worth making.
An alternative option
One option that is popular in N Scale modelling is to compromise and lay strips under the trackbed. This it has to be said does undeniably improve the look of the ballast shoulder.
Here you have a couple of choices, cork as discussed which can often be purchased already cut to the right size. Or, for the ultimate in noise reduction you can buy foam inserts to do the same job for all your track and pointwork, all pre formed to the right size.
The challenge with foam is that some people have found that the inserts have degraded over time. Once laid it is probably worth sealing with a dilute PVA mixture. This should have the effect of reducing any impact from damp. That is something that is very important to consider depending on where your layout is kept. But that is quite an extensive topic to cover and one for another day.