Hello, and Question about Hand-laid 3-Rail O Gauge Turnouts

Discussion in 'G / O / S Scale Model Trains' started by Robindale Station, Aug 5, 2007.

  1. Robindale Station

    Robindale Station New Member

    Hello. I've been running some O-Gauge trains for about a year now after getting hooked on model railroading by my Dad who has been building a huge O-Gauge layout in his basement. I'm fortunate to have a lot of space in my own basement, and have been kicking around some plans for a layout of my own. Right now, I'm just running some simple fastrack configurations, but after some research, I think I would like to use something like the Atlas 21st Century flextrack to hand-lay my eventual layout. Every layout I come up with seems to have a large number of turnouts, and so I have been looking into building my own turnouts. I've found some very helpful information here on the Zealot forum regarding hand-laying of track, but most of it seems to come from the HO and smaller gauge discussions (2-rail). I've also been searching on the web, and the only stuff I have been able to find about hand-laid turnouts is for 2-rail layouts. The best source so far, has been at www handlaidtrack .com, where they have templates and jigs for 2-rail O gauge turnouts, but unfortunately nothing for 3-rail. ... I'm hoping someone here can help provide me with information, instructions, links to information, etc on building a 3-rail O gauge turnout. I'm looking for how-to information as well as sources for materials like rail and ties. Thanks in advance for any help you can provide. .... BTW, I have seriously considered going 2-rail myself, but I think the wiring will be much simpler in 3-rail, I like the idea of being able to run the more available 3-rail equipment, and most importantly, I want to be compatible with my Dad's equipment, so we can run trains on each other's layouts. ... Thanks again,

  2. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    Chris: speaking as one who has never done it or seen it done, I would say that it would be done the same way as 2-rail, but add an extra rail in the middle. Follow the pattern of the better commercial switches for the third rail in the turnout.
    My only point of concern would be the pickups' crossing the point rail. I think that the point rail, at the crossing place at least, should be dead, either permanently or switched, to prevent shorts. I don't know how you prevent the pickups from falling into the gaps either.
  3. Greg Elems

    Greg Elems Member

    Greetings Chris,

    Kappler sells ready cut wood for switch ties. Micro Engineering sells nickel silver rail and IIRC you will need code 172 to match the Atlas flex track. If you are going to make your own turnouts, go all the way and hand lay the track too. Then you can use a lighter rail. I have some code 138 rail which I’m using to build a 2 rail turnout and it would be tall enough to work with the flanges on your equipment. There are a couple of critical areas on the switch but those can be dealt with fairly easy. A friend of mine wants me to build some switches to match the 36” radius curves he’s planning on. I think the middle rail will have to have some bends to accommodate the middle rail roller. Kind of hard to explain. Take a close and critical look at the turnouts Atlas sells, and try to use some of the design of track placement for your turnout.

  4. Robindale Station

    Robindale Station New Member

    David and Greg - Thanks for your replies. Greg, the sizing and source information is very helpful. David, yes, I've been wondering how the voltage to the center rail gets routed through a 3-rail turnout. Maybe I'll have to purchase one switch, hook it up to a transformer, and test the different sections with a volt meter. Does anyone have information on how the power gets routed through a 3-rail turnout? I'll have to study this a bit more when I get home from work. Have a good day,

  5. Greg Elems

    Greg Elems Member

    Hi Chris,

    Well if you get an Atlas switch, it should answer several questions for you. Check how they route the power and the space of the middle rail in relation to the outside rails and the diverging route. Also you may find that the rail between the frog and switch points to be dead or isolated. If you have any more questions, feel free to ask. I just got a call to go to work so I'll be away from a computer for a couple of days. I'll check back when I get home.

    Good luck,
  6. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    I think you could isolate the point rail from the frog. After that you can let it float electrically, picking up from the stock rail when it's active. Or wire it through contacts on a switch machine.
    Or just make the tiny critical section dead for an inch.
    Probably be OK except for some small items (the handcars) that have traction tires on one side.
  7. Robindale Station

    Robindale Station New Member

    Based on some of the comments above, I was looking for code 138 rail from Micro Engineering, but the largest size I can find is code 125. Does anyone have a source for code 138 rail or a way to tell if code 125 is OK for O guage? The code # is for the height in thousandths of an inch, right? Thanks,

  8. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    Code 125 is 1/8". That's about equivalent to code 60 or 65 in HO.
    I think it might be a bit small for much 3-rail stock. Best bet would be to measure how deep the flange is on your wheels. I just measured some post-war Lionel and a recent Lionel and the flange depth is just less than 1/8". This will clear if you glue/solder the rail down but not if you spike.
  9. Triplex

    Triplex Active Member

    Isn't typical 3-rail track something like Code 245?
  10. Greg Elems

    Greg Elems Member

    Go with the code 148, it will work with Lionel wheel sets.
    Listed on the web site as new. I apolgize for the code 138 comment. I should have looked at my rail, it is code 148. The code 125 may work with some of the newer equipment that have smaller flanges.

  11. Geno

    Geno Member

    Some of the new Lionel equipment has flanges that are too tall for code 148 track- the dummy Rio Grande SD-40T-2 is one of them. I would suspect there is other equipment that has the same issue as well.

  12. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    Some, but not all 3 rail equipment, will run on code 148. Code 172 rail used to readily available (it was standard for 2 rail O in the '50s, though oversize). Atlas 3 rail O track measures out at code 215 or 225 (my memory is failing me) - need to take calipers to it. You might be able to buy matching raw rail from Atlas.

    As to laying your own turnouts - it would be very difficult to beat Ross turnouts for smooth operation. It might be worth purchasing one to get a handle on things like flangeway dimensions and the like. Remember there are no "standards" for 3 rail O like the NMRA for HO or 2 rail O. And questions as to whether you are running Marx or pre-war or have operating cars with sliding shoes all have to be answered when engineering the turnouts. Pre-war flanges are considerably deeper. Marx has gears on the inside of the locomotive wheels that are actually deeper than the wheel tread. And getting sliding shoe cars to go through switches without snagging and/or shorting can be difficult.

    Although I am a proponent of handlaid track in other scales/gauges, 3 rail O is one I won't try. I would much rather buy a switch at a time and gradually expand my layout over the years than tear what little hair I have left making my own. If you don't have (and won't have) sliding shoes, pre-war, or Marx equipment to deal with, building your own is a little more practical.

    Ross switches have the best reputation, and match Gar-Graves track perfectly. The smaller Atlas switches (O36 and O54) also have good reputations. Larger Atlas switches (O72 and numbered frogs) have stalling and other issues. Atlas switches match the Atlas flex track very well, of course.

    Just my thoughts, your choices
  13. Greg Elems

    Greg Elems Member

    Very interesting Geno. The last few O scale cars I bought from Lionel had flanges that worked on my flex 2-Rail track from Atlas. I'm surprised that the SD40T-2 has bigger flanges, although Lionel has been changing things here of late. I also have a couple of MTH Premier diesels which would work on the same flex, if I'd add a third rail. :D That being said, I'm glad to hear about these differences. Since I'm concentrating on S now, my O scale purchases have dropped to nil. I could run a fair sized railroad with what I have already.

  14. nkp174

    nkp174 Active Member

    It seems rather odd to be hand laying with O-gauge...I think of that as something for O-scale, Proto:48, or similar. It is rather odd to attempt to salvage the appearance of O-gauge track. As an On3er whom as built my own turnouts, I can probably give some advice.

    The key difference between two rail and 2+1 systems is that on one the frogs for your trains' rails are a different polarity and on the other the different polarity goes through separate "frogs" with the real rails. I say different systems as O-gauge three rail isn't the only way...Marklin has their own stud system and some old O-scale layouts used a system similar to 3rd rail electric railroads...the Delta Lines and Duke Energy/CG&E's Christmas train display.

    If I was you, I'd examine dual gauge turnouts as well as the O-gauge ones. From looking at an online picture of an atlas 3-rail turnout...I think you'll just need to build a 2-rail turnout...not worrying about shorts...and then add the 3rd rail after the fact as it doesn't look like you need to build frogs for the 3rd rail...you just set up a break in the 3rd rail.

    Chris, I have a comparable issue of compatibility between the HO portion of my future empire and my dad's as well. I've decided that ultimately, I'm just going to try to go Proto:87 and not worry about running his HO trains on my layout. I don't really need to do so. You could always consider doing a little of both.

    With my bias towards finescale track (more important to me than super detailed equipment)...I would recommend considering some of both 2-rail scale and 3-rail gauge. My opinion from looking at many O layouts of both gauges is that I have huge preference for the 2-rail. By having a little of both, you can see which you really like better. There really isn't too much of a difference in the price of 2-rail and 3-rail. Beautiful brass 2-rail engines can be cheaper than the expensive MTH & Lionel trains...I'll always choose brass if I have the option. Why not try a little bit of both?

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