Brass or Steel?

Discussion in 'FAQs' started by CSX, Sep 29, 2005.

  1. CSX

    CSX Member

    What is better, brass or steel? Is steel worth the extra money? What are the advantages and disadvantages with either of them? Does Ariso-Craft track do alright outdoors? Thanks in advance!
  2. jim currie

    jim currie Active Member

    where you are i'd go with steel, brass outside tends to get a blue green coating the best track would be stainless but for the cost.
  3. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way

    There's a discussion here about the use of brass rails...
  4. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    A couple of details make all the difference in the recommendations.

    Are you planning to use the rails to power the train, or batteries in the train?

    Will the track be left out through the winter? Where in Virginia do you live?

    How important is it to you that the rail have the silvery look of the prototype?

    Is the extra cost for steel or stainless steel track important enough to go with cheaper alternative at the price of less realism and/or extra maintenance?

    What is the nature of the steel track you are looking at? Is it plated to reduce rusting, similar to the tin-plating of 3 rail O tubular track?

    All the rail metals have advantages and disadvantages for outdoor use in your climate. The above questions are aimed at drawing out which disadvantages can be lived with in return for that material's superior set of advantages.

    One requirement that to me would be non-negotiable: the track ties must be UV resistant.
  5. CSX

    CSX Member

    #1: The train will be powered from the tracks.
    #2: The track will be left out year round. I am in central Virginia.
    #3: Not way too important.
    #4: Cost doesn't matter that much, as long as it isn't too harsh.
    #5: I have no idea what nature of track it is.
  6. KCS

    KCS Member

    Well, One thing I can say although I'm not running G scale but steel rail as any steel product (if I'm correct) expands and contracts a lot more than any other metal. Key bit of advice is to make sure you leave room for the rail to expand other wise the track will buckle and cause problems. I've learned this in HO so I'm sure it's even more important to the larger scales. I seen some pictures of a 1/8 scale layout with some new laid track and I don't think they thought about it and it before it was laid and on a summer run the track buckled and derailed the train. With 5 car's laying on their side's and at a cost between $1,000- 1,500 a car with a weight of 200lbs I don't think that was any laughing matter and probably took a few hours to get cleaned up. That's what scare's me about getting into 1/8 scale. The slightest mishap could cost some serious cash. Personally I wouldn't go with brass in any scale because you pretty much have to clean track before every run because it oxidizes pretty fast. It has better electrical conductivity but constant maintenance. I've never used steel track in any scale because of rust. Being the layout is outside I'm not sure what would be best to use but to me I would think nickel silver track would be the best way to go.
  7. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    Disclosure: I am not an outdoor G modeler - my recommendations are based on extensive reading, and inside use of brass, steel, nickel silver, and stainless steel rail (mosty in HO and 3 rail O gauge). is a web site discussing various types of G track.

    Brass rail is used by Aristo-Craft and LGB, both of which have UV-stabilized ties. The mass of G scale trains, especially with metal wheels, does a pretty good job of breaking down brass oxide at the inside corner of the rails (where the electrical connection is made). Brass oxide is a non-conductive film that occurs naturally (eventually becomes tarnish if left alone). However, getting that first train to run consistently in the Spring, or after a week of non-use in your area usually means having to clean the track manually to remove the oxide. Wahl's Clipper oil is used by some on indoor track to retard the formation of brass oxide. There used to be a product in the '50s and '60s called No-Ox that did the same thing, but I haven't heard of it in years. Brass oxide is very slow at breaking down the material itself; the surface oxidation forms a protective barrier that makes it hard for the oxidation to penetrate deep into the brass. Except for the oxidation problem, and the gold color when the running surface is clean, brass rail is probably the best all-around.

    The oxide of steel is rust - also non-conductive. The big problem with rust if left in place is that it generally expands the metal with fastening-breaking force over time, and penetrates deep into the metal by continually exposing new layers of metal to the air. Rust can be inhibited with use of materials such as WD-40, or plating with tin. The use of WD-40 or other oil films on the track may cause dirt to accumulate on the wheels. Overall, I see the only advantage of steel rail is that it looks like steel rail. I think it would be more maintenance-intensive than brass in your humid and wet climate. Once the rail base starts to rust, the track will be difficult to keep smooth, and will likely have to be replaced.

    Stainless steel appears to have a 25-30% cost premium compared to brass, but appears to be the most maintenace-free rail material. Stainless steel surface oxide is clear, protects the metal underneath, and conducts moderately well. The only drawbacks I see to stainless steel are cost, having to paint the outside and lower surfaces of the rail for realism, and depending on size of railway, may need track feeders more frequently than brass. Soldering stainless steel is difficult. It is my personal choice in G, because it is cheaper than nickel silver.

    The oxide of nickel silver is clear, and moderately conductive just like stainless steel. However, it is the most expensive track and doesn't appear to have the wide range of sizes that brass and stainless steel do. Conducts almost as well as clean brass, and solders as well as brass. If cost was no object, this would be my choice of rail material. It is the material of choice in smaller scales indoors.

    I would not touch aluminum rail outdoors personally. Although clean aluminum has the highest conductivity of the rail materials, the oxide is an ugly color, powdery, and non-conductive. Aluminum oxidizes very easily, and the oxidation destroys the base metal like rust to iron and steel. Because of this, most aluminum is anodized, painted, or alloyed to increase corrosion resistance. Only a relatively non-corrosive alloy should be used. Soldering is very difficult, and making electrical connections to aluminum is usually a point of corrosion entry unless a weather barrier is applied afterwards. Aluminum track is not as resistant to damage from being stepped on as are the other materials. Aluminum track appears to be the cheapest.

    The brands I have seen most recommended for outside track are LGB and Aristo-Craft. Aristo-Craft has both stainless steel and brass rail track, LGB has brass.

    Hope this helps.
  8. CSX

    CSX Member

    Thanks pgandw. I'll try brass and see what happens, since it is cheaper and probably the best for my area.

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