Discussion in 'FAQs' started by Cactus, Sep 18, 2001.

  1. Cactus

    Cactus Member

    I'm new to the hobby. Beginning an n-scale layout based on the WM/B&O combination. I teach at Western Maryland College, the only college in the country named after a railroad. (Guess which one!) We have a WM caboose on our campus. I also had family associated with the B&O, and as a child I rode in the cab (and worked the controls) of B&O steam and diesel locomotives. One might wonder why I haven't been in the hobby my whole life, who knows?

    Anyway, my question has to do with the Peco insulfrog and electrofrog turnouts. I have a sample of each, and I understand their wiring and general behavior. My question is: under what circumstances would a person choose the electrofrog version over the insulfrog one? All the layout situations I can think of would seem to favor the insulfrog version.

    Be prepared, I'll have lots more questions... and thanks.
  2. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    Hello Cactus, and welcome to the gauge. I am not terribly familiar with Peco and their terminology "electro frog" and "insulfrog". Shamus will no doubt answer this question. These terms are used by peco and I am think relate to the terms "power routing" and "non power routing" used in general discussions of turnouts. Power routing turnouts (I will guess "electrofrog") route power for the route the turnout is thrown for. Power must be fed to these turnouts from the point side of the turnout. Typically, gaps must be cut beyond the frogs of these turnouts to prevent shorts caused by feeds further long the diverging route. An exception to this is a dead end spur, which can have its power disconnected by throwing a turnout against it. "non power routing" turnouts allow power to travel down both routes of a turnout a t all times. Particularly with DCC, use of this turnout is a good idea. For cab conrol or block control, where sections of track are connected to swithes to control the cab which powers a section of track. people often use power routing turnouts.

    Another possibility is that insulfrog means that the frog is not powered (to prevent shorts[no gaps required in this case]) The problem with this is short wheelbase locos (typically steam, picking up power from only one side of the loco)may stall on the unpowered section. Electrofrog turnouts won't have this problem. They will need to be gapped, assuming they are power routing. Hope this isn't confusing, I am sure Shamus will clear it up, he uses Peco and recommends them highly.

  3. shamus

    shamus Registered Member

    Hi Cactus,
    The difference between insulfrog and electrofrog is simply this, the insulfrog had a plastic insulating frog and the electrofrog has metal and is LIVE. If you use insulfrogs on your layout, you wouldn't need any plastic railjoiners and two wires would in fact power up the whole railroad, but, leaving no room for block control. That is why the electrofrogs were brought out around 1970's to make block control work for you. Every time you have two facing electrofrog points, there needs to be a pair of plastic railjoiners fitted as power cannot be fed into any facing point.


    This diagram shows the use of electrofrogs and the place to fit plastic railjoiners. (Blue dash) the (RED circles) are where to fit a Double pole double throw (centre off) switch.

    Hope this is okay to understand, any further information can in fact be read in the Academy/Archive in an article I wrote on wire your railroad.

  4. Cactus

    Cactus Member

    Yes, I understand. Thank you.

    I bought two Peco turnouts in the middle '70's for a tiny layout I made back then (one loop and one passing siding). The store owner recommended them because they were "power routing" turnouts. I liked them for their realistic appearance (don't like Atlas switch machines) and because, as you said, one electrical connection would power the entire layout. I could even deactivate power to the passing siding by throwing both turnouts properly. They were also the only version Peco made at the time, so I had no idea of other arrangements.

    Well, upon my recent return to model railroading in what I think will be a much larger effort. I ran right out to the local store and bought two Peco turnouts. These had fancier boxes than I remembered. They were labeled "electrofrog", a term Peco wasn't using decades ago. I'd kept the original two (and their boxes, which have no "electrofrog/insulfrog" designation) turnouts, so I was up to four. I made a loop with a passing siding using the new electrofrogs and immediately found a short circuit -- as you'd expect, Shamus, but I didn't.

    Well, the discovery got me to wondering why Peco would have made such a deprovement (to coin a term, the reverse of improvement) in their equipment. I've since gotten myself up to 16 turnouts (14 insulfrog) with the two mistakenly-bought electrofrogs used on dead-end sidings.

    I've never fooled with block control, so I have a bit to learn there. Wouldn't it be just as easy to set up block control with insulfrog turnouts, simply by adding plastic rail joiners as needed?

    Thanks again.

    PS -- I'm using the 16 turnouts in what has turned into the beginnings of a rather nice yard for my layout. I found the "Design Primer" website to be a marvelous source of information, and the logical source of inspiration for my nice yard. I've got to save my dough so I can expand from there (the yard operation has to make up trains that go SOMEWHERE). At 10 bucks apiece for the turnouts, I think my railroad progress has been slowed considerably.

    PPS -- Shamus, I also have used your material from the academy on "scratchbuilding a simple structure." For economic reasons (I want more of those expensive turnouts), I'm using cardboard rather than stripwood, but your techniques are an inspiration to me. What a beautiful layout you have created!
  5. JeffGerow

    JeffGerow Member

    Besides what's already been said -- the electro-frog turnouts have no un-powered gap at the frog, ie. all wheels always have power. The Insul-frog has a gap at the points (of plastic), thus there is a point where a wheel crossing will not be powered. Admittedly, on the Peco Insul-frog, the unpowered part is very small; but my 0-6-0 with minimal (wheel) pickup manages to find it almost every time. Also, because the insulated section is so small, there is the chance that the wheel will short across the frog. I use TTX fast circuit breakers (with DCC) and I had several shorts due to #4 insulfrog turnouts on the main. I had to increase the thickness of the guard rails to keep the wheels from shorting on the frog (after trying coating/enlarging the "insu"-portion with epoxy)
    So, powering the "electro-frog" with a relay to correspond to the chosen route is electrically superior, but it does involve more work (and stuff). In most instances, the standard "Insul-frog" will work fine with no further modification.
  6. Cactus

    Cactus Member

    I noticed that two replies (Shamus and Jeff) indicated that electrofrogs are brass all along, while the insulfrogs have a plastic frog.

    You guys must be using HO scale. In N-scale, both electrofrogs and insulfrogs have plastic frogs. And I agree with you Jeff, it is a "pesky" piece of plastic. The difference between the two in N-scale is how the rails are wired beneath the piece of plastic.

    If the electrofrogs eliminated that pesky piece of plastic, I'd switch (no pun intended) to them in a heartbeat.

    Perhaps I should move to HO?

    Thanks, Bill
  7. shamus

    shamus Registered Member

    Code 55 finescale in N is metal at the frog not plastic. and to my knowledge all other electrofrogs HO or N are the same unless they have changed them.

  8. billk

    billk Active Member

    Would it help if you painted the pesty plastic with conductive paint? (Just brainstorming.)
    Bill K
  9. Cactus

    Cactus Member

    Shamus -- They've changed them. I have one of each (electro/insul) in my hand (code 70, not code 55), both purchased a month ago. Both have plastic frogs.

    Bill K -- What a fine idea! Maybe it would help out a bit.

  10. Woodie

    Woodie Active Member


    To assist all, (including me!) does anyone have a diagram/pic of a turnout with description/pointers to each of the parts of a turnout? ie which bit is the frog, lead-in rail, throw bar insul bit electro bit etc?

    I was of the belief you could turn an electrofrog into insulfrog by snipping one of the the connecting wires underneath it?
  11. shamus

    shamus Registered Member



  12. Cactus

    Cactus Member

    Not for the first time in my life, I've been completely wrong!

    Shamu, I apologize. My posting from several days ago that the n-scale electrofrog Peco turnouts had plastic frogs was quite in error. I had put two turnouts in my briefcase, intending to examine their details at lunch. I read your statement about the electrofrogs having brass frogs, pulled out the two I had with me and found that both had plastic frogs. Hence, my post that Peco had changed its turnout construction.

    Of course, today I finally got around to looking at the two from my briefcase. I had accidentally picked up two insulfrog turnouts. Of course, they both had plastic turnouts.

    The electrofrog ones are exactly as you said, brass frogs and all. And of course, their advantage is exactly what you specified, and all my future purchases will be of the electrofrog variety. (Anyone want to buy a load of insulfrog turnouts cheap?).

    Thanks much. I'll still have plenty of questions as a newbie, but I'll be less likely to leap in with my sage advice until I've been at this much longer.

    My best to you all, and especially to you Shamus.

  13. shamus

    shamus Registered Member

    Hi Bill,
    No need to apologize friend, just a mistaken ident. If you need help wiring up, I will be glad to do my best for you.
    By the way, it's not Brass but Nic.Silver.


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