best over-all track?

Discussion in 'N / Z Scale Model Trains' started by Dave R., Jul 11, 2007.

  1. Dave R.

    Dave R. Member

    What is the best over-all "N" track?
    My trains will be a mixed bag of product lines
    as I'm sure most of y'all's are but I'm thinking
    the track should all be the same? :confused:
    Dave R.
  2. tillsbury

    tillsbury Member

    Best for what? The best for ease of use, good running, and reusability would have to be Kato Unitrak, but it's hard to get it to look good. The best for RTR replication of US prototype is Atlas 55, but it has weaknesses particularly with its turnouts and running older wheels over it. The best for ease of laying, reliability, RTR replication of UK prototype and range of parts is Peco 55, but it doesn't look like US track. The best looking would be well-made hand-laid track of the appropriate code for your prototype -- somewhere between 40 and 55 depending on the importance of your line, but it's a pain in the **** to do and will be rough if you're not careful...

    On the other hand, you'd have to ask yourself why you weren't using one of these four options...

  3. Dave R.

    Dave R. Member

    I purposely keep the question simple, knowing the answer would be complicated. I'm using about $30 worth of Bachmann E-Z track that came with the sets I've purchased. I've been lucky, so far, all my Bachmanns have been exemplar and the E-Z track has been trouble free.
    BUT, before I start spending hundreds of dollars on track, I thought it would be expedient to ask for a few experienced opinions and I certainly appreciate your's, Charles.
    I don't expect a "silver bullet" but perhaps a good starting point. Obviously, my question was Americentric, as I didn't consider an international response. For now, let's presume I will be doing a North American lay-out (although I did see a 80 cm German N scale rail gun recently).
    I'll put the Kato Unitrak at the top of my list as there are few of my acquaintances who will know it doesn't look good. Why is it hard to make it look "good" and what does "RTR" mean?
    Dave R.
    Sanford Fl.
  4. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    Dave: RTR means "ready-to-run" or "ready-to-roll". It originally referred to trains that could be used straight out of the box and didn't need assembling and painting.
  5. tillsbury

    tillsbury Member

    Sorry Dave, my fault entirely for using a model-railroad term without explaining it. I used to get furious about people doing that when I started! :)) RTR in this instance means track you get in a packet and put on your layout, as opposed to hand-laid track which is getting a lot of tiny bits of wood, long lengths of rail, and setting to with a soldering iron and magnifying glass...

    Kato Unitrak is like Bachmann EZ-trak, in that it comes with the roadbed and mock stones moulded all in one, and has nice clips at each end so it goes together and comes apart easily. Kato is quite expensive, but universally thought to be well worth it by those who stumped up the cash. It's very well-made and reliable.

    Atlas and Peco both make track that is on its own (i.e. just the rails and the ties/sleepers). You push-fit it together or much more preferably solder it, on top of a roadbed made of cork or foam or something else. It looks much more like real track, and since there are many more types of turnouts and flexible track you can make pretty much any layout you like with it. Atlas is inexpensive but not particularly well made and can cause headaches with turnouts, whereas Peco is better but more expensive. For you guys in the US, the demise of the dollar has pushed Peco prices even further up so you would probably have to be quite keen on quality and unconcerned about price to go with it.

    Even if you start with EZ track and/or Unitrak, and later decide to build your basement empire with another form of track, you can still use the old stuff in tunnels or hidden staging areas -- it's not particularly difficult to fudge a one-off join between types. Although with Unitrak you wouldn't have any difficulty selling it on ebay, whereas you are unlikely to get much if anything for Bachmann track.

    Hope this helps...

  6. Dave R.

    Dave R. Member

    Thanks Charles. I don't think I want my track to be limited to premolded curves, so the unitrak and E-Z track are out. I think I'd rather spend the "money" than the "time" re-railing my trains BUT I haven't checked out the price difference between Atlas and Peco yet. I think I'd shorten my layout for quality track rather than suffer poor performance. Perhaps, I could use the Atlas track on the long open stretches and save the more expensive Peco for my more complicated and less accessible runs?
    Thanks again for the help, Charles.
    Any other opinions?
  7. tillsbury

    tillsbury Member

    Mixing up the track types on a regular basis might be a bit strange, though... And mixing those two particular track types is not as easy as it looks. Code 55 is the nice-looking rail, as opposed to code 80. The code refers to the rail height in thousandths of an inch -- 0.055" or 0.080". In correct scale, rail should be between about 40 and 55 (smaller for branch and yard track, over 50 for big main lines). That's why code 55 looks good whereas by comparison code 80 looks very oversized. Again, depends on how picky you are...

    The trouble comes with the two types... Atlas code 55 rail is 0.055" high, and has plastic moulded bits in the ties that hold the rail on (of course). By necessity these are quite high, and can interfere with cheaper and older wheels that have large flanges intended for use on code 80 track.

    Peco code 55 uses a special type of rail, actually 0.080 high but set into the plastic by 0.025", so only 0.055 of it is above the ties and visible. This makes it not only stronger, but also the 'chairs' (or whatever you want to call the bits that connect the rails to the ties in real life) are not actually holding the rail to the ties -- they're just for show and are therefore much smaller. For this reason even well-oversized flanges as found on old and cheaper locos and rollling stock will work happily on Peco track. It is quite handy if you also have Peco code 80 track for inside tunnels and staging yards, because it connects without trouble to code 80 track and the rails are at the same height. The same applies to Peco 55 or Peco 80 and Atlas 80.

    Atlas 55, however, is lower overall than these three, and as such connecting Atlas code 55 to Peco code 55 is a little tricky -- you can't just slide on a joiner. You can file off the lower flange from the Peco and join the two together, or you can put a joiner on the Peco track and then just sit the Atlas on top of the joiner and solder it there, so it's possible although not ideal.

    I still think the biggest problem will be that the junction from Atlas to Peco will look daft, as the ties are different. I would suggest either sticking to Atlas 55 on its own, or going with Peco code 55 and then you can use Peco 80 (sometimes cheaper, and available secondhand on ebay) for tunnels and hidden areas if you want to save a few quid.

    Mind you, it's nothing in the scheme of how much you're going to end up spending on the whole layout so you might just want to bite the bullet and then forget the bill. That's what I did! :)))

  8. tillsbury

    tillsbury Member

    Well, actually, I made a rather dumb mistake to be accurate. I designed my layout in CAD and it provided a parts listing. I ordered off the parts listing, so many right-hand turnouts, so many left-hand turnouts, so many right-hand-curved turnouts, etc etc. I thought it came to a lot, but there you go -- give 'em the card number and we're away. A long time after I started laying track I realised what I'd done -- the CAD system told me I needed 69 pieces of flextrack, but that's it. I ordered 69 pieces of flextrack, but I only needed 69 PIECES, not 69 YARDS. Most of the pieces were little tiny bits in yards and so on... I now have lots and lots of spare track, but I have at least forgotten the bill.

    So... I already have the track to extend into the next room and most of the way to my 'stage 2'! Look ma, free track! :))

  9. Dave R.

    Dave R. Member

    Good morning, Charles.
    I've done some research: Atlas flex track comes in 30" lengths and Peco in 36. So the easiest comparison is by inch's.
    Peco 80; $0.119 per inch
    " 55; .143 " "
    Atlas 80; .960 " "
    55; .910 " "
    I'm a little confused by these prices BUT the bottom line is: the Peco 55 is more than half again the price of Atlas 55. Ergo, 100ft of Atlas flex track will cost $110, the same amount of Peco is $171. This is no small deference and certainly requires some thought.
    It seems counterintuitive that the Peco 80 is cheaper than the 55 but at $143 per hundred feet it seems a reasonable compromise.
    Just how bad (out of scale) does code 80 look? Model railroading is not extensive here in Cent. Fl. and the only chance that my dioramas might be criticized would be if I post some pic's here.
    Have you told your wife yet that you need to cut a hole through the wall to start 'stage 2' ? ;0)
  10. tillsbury

    tillsbury Member

    Code 80 will be no problem to you if you've never used code 55. But once you have got some code 55 on your layout your opinion will likely change and the 80 will stick out like a sore thumb. I suppose it will depend on your tolerance... personally I hate the look of the big stuff but I'm sure some people are quite happy regardless. I shouldn't concern yourself with what someone else thinks, wife or not, model railroad expert or otherwise. It's all about whether you are happy in yourself with your choice. I have to say I thought Peco was more than that -- since the US$ went from £1.50 to £2.00 you'd expect at least a 33% increase in price to start with. 100 feet of track is a great big lot and $60 isn't much money in scheme of your railroad.

    Code 80 is cheaper because there's less difficulty in making it, and they have been making it much longer on the same old machinery. Code 55 is for people who want a better looking model and those kind of people are generally more tolerant of paying more to get the best result. I'm a little surprised that Atlas 55 is cheaper than 80, but it may be a marketing ploy to encourage it. The price isn't necessarily anything to do with the cost of making it.

    I don't need to cut a hole as there is a big opening I made a couple of years ago. Also part of the planning, I have four hobby rooms of which only one has trains in it at the moment... :)

  11. Dave R.

    Dave R. Member

    OK then, it's Peco 55.
    You've been a great help, Charles.
    I'll tell my wife you said it's OK for me
    to cut a hole in the wall.
  12. tillsbury

    tillsbury Member

    Yeah, blame me. I said it was a good idea... Always handy to have someone several thousand miles away to be the scapegoat! :)
  13. fifer

    fifer Active Member

    Dave , do not be affraid to mix in Atlas code 80 with the Peco code 55 (where it will not be seen , ie tunnels , stageing and such). This is possible because Peco 55 is actually code 80 height but has 2 rail bases. You can join Atlas 80 and Peco 55 directly. This may save some $$$$$ and is what I have done. :wave:


  14. Dave R.

    Dave R. Member

    Hey Guys, I can't thank y'all enough for all the help.
    I'm pretty sure I've got it worked out. I hope for now
    I'm good.
  15. billgraf

    billgraf New Member

    Select code 55 for main line and schedule 40 for yards. I have pre-painted flex track and the ties with a water based ruct color. I wipe the top and a little sides of the rails to remove the paint. I apply a layer of white glue, lay the track, add ballast, pressing firmly. Then when dry, wipe with a damp cloth to remove the excess ballast. This will also remove some of the paint from the ties exposing some of the black on the ties. I think this resembles the prototype rails as realistic as possible.
  16. billgraf

    billgraf New Member

    Also use code 80 in tunnels. Add rail joiner to the code 80, then flatten, solder code 55 on top. use a file to smooth junction if required. same applies to the code 55 to the code 40.
  17. billgraf

    billgraf New Member

    Sorry ruct color = rust color

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