Is all HO track created equal?

Discussion in 'HO Scale Model Trains' started by TrainDad53, Sep 24, 2014.

  1. TrainDad53

    TrainDad53 New Member

    ...or...can't we all just get along?

    Hi everyone,

    My son and I are very new to the model train hobby (besides a couple Christmas toys years ago). We recently dug into a large collection of equipment handed down from my father in-law. It is all older Fleischmann components. I am having track issues while setting it up, particularly with the turnouts.

    Since there are many name brand tracks out there, I am hoping someone can tell me if they are all intended to be the same? Meaning, could I buy new HO track (turnouts) from someone other than Fleischmann and have them match my current track size wise. I believe what I have is from the 60's or 70's. If it helps all the part numbers are in the 1700's (1700, 1701, 1703, 1724, 1723, etc). Online I see references to track Code 83 or 100. How does that tie in?

    Thanks in advance! Love the site BTW. Lots of great info and modeling works of art going on!

  2. Lighter

    Lighter Member

    No - different brands are not necessarily interchangeable. Particularly brands intended for the European market (NEM standards) and brands made for the American market. (NMRA standards.) Different brands can work together, but it means working over the pieces by filing and using shims.

    Code refers to the height of the rail. Code 100 is 0.10" high. Code 83 is 0.083" high In H0 scale code 100 was common until the last twenty years but is pretty much obsolete except for train sets. Code 83 is closer to prototype track, although still a bit large in H0 scale. But, note, European made model equipment has historically had deeper flanges than American equipment and may or may not run on NMRA standard rail smaller than code 83 and is happier on code 100. American equipment made to NMRA standards will run on as small as code 40 rail. Other variables are the thickness of the tie strip, width of rail head and "bulk" of the rail.

    Then we get into turnouts. Particularity flange clearance at both the points and the frog. "Frog" is the "Blob" in the middle where the rails cross. "Points" are the ends of the movable rails. The number of the turnout refers to the divergence angle. It is part of a spiral, not circle. "4" is very tight, "6" will accept most equipment, 8 and larger are approaching prototype angles, but expensive and space hoggers. Turnout "radius" is only a factor in, so called, trainset (snap-track) turnouts. With that exception, turnouts will not drop into curved track.

    Then there are electrical considerations in turnouts which is a whole other topic that I'll leave for others. Except to mention that failing insulation may be an issue in old turnouts.

    Brass was common and steel occasional rail materials, but both are obsolete now. Nickle silver ("NS") is all but universal. Looks better and is easier to clean and keep clean.

    "Common advice" is to eBay old track and trash what doesn't sell. The other side to "common advice" is that someone is buying all that eBay track!!!
  3. TrainDad53

    TrainDad53 New Member

    Thanks Lighter! Great info! I'm not sure what turnout number(s) I have, based on your reference, but they seem to be close to be close to the radii of the curved track sections. I'm hitting a train show this Sunday in Greenwich, CT. Finger crossed I might find a replacement piece or two.

    Would you say the European tracks are generally Code 100 equivalent? I see Fleishman sells these offset connectors that look like they would adapt between two rail heights: 2.1mm (=.083" code 83?) to 2.5mm (=.100" code 100?).

    Might make mixing a little easier. Are they all designed for 16.5mm wide flange spacing (at least that is what I recall reading somewhere). My old track is all brass and took a while to repolish with a gum eraser to get the locos moving. My father-in-law said he had to clean the tracks all the time when he used the track Still have his eraser from the 70's. thumbsup

    The trouble I am having with the turnouts is that age has "shrunk" the track so now the throw rod (actually a flat phenolic piece) is/was binding against the nearby ties. I think the same shrink is responsible for a change in the actual rail spacing at the closure rails. Once the car gets past the points, the wheels rides up on top of the rails on the tips of the flanges, and usually derails as it drops down past the frog. I've been thinking of ways to reset the size, but I think it's not feasible and just buying some replacements would be better. I'm just in the design try stuff out phase, so I can work around a vintage/modern mix. I should see if I can find a track gage this weekend as well.

    Thanks again,

  4. Bill Nelson

    Bill Nelson Well-Known Member

    I have used handlaid track for most of the last fourty years or so. we use comercial track mostly at the club, and I am rebuilding two thirds my own layout, using flex track, as I would not make fast progress had laying my track for my new larger design (see the logging mining and industrial section.

    We have used a lot of Atlas track and switches at the club, and I am not a big fan. I am using Peco code 100 and code 83 on my rebuild. I like the Peco track because it is very flexable, and will lay out in smooth curves, and is not as prone to kinking as the Atlas, and looks better. I Love the Peco switches, as they have sprung points, and do not require a ground throw if you throw your points manually.

    When working on your track, I recoment you use an NMRA standards gauge, and nothing else. those three point gauges I used to use will set the gauge at the narrow end of the tolearance range. Handlaying I like to but my track in the middle of the tolerance rande so if it is slightly narrower or wider, it is still in tolerance, an nmra standards gauge shows you that tolerance rance with a go/ no go gauge, and no other track gauge I have ever seen will do that
  5. zathros

    zathros -----SENIOR---- Administrator

    I've seen people solder the joints, then sand them to get perfect transitions and no derailments :)
  6. Bill Nelson

    Bill Nelson Well-Known Member

    Soldering your rail joints is good for electrical conductivity; but can lead to serious problems if the temperature of your railroad room is not relatively stable. If your RR room temperatures has extremes as mine ( in an attic space) does; your rail will expand and shrink with temperature. If all your solder joints are soldered you can have electrical gaps close up in the summer and solder joints break in the winter.

    Good practice for DC, and almost necessary for DCC, is to have a separate electrical feed for each length of rail. rail alignment at the rail joint is, or at least should be controlled by the rail joiner. Just as all track is not created equal, neither are all rail joiners equally capable. the rail joiner has at least two functions, the primary function is to align two sections of rail together accurately, and the secondary is to provide an electrical path between the rails. Should one have enough rail feeds (I seldom do), the secondary function is not critical.

    There are many brands of rail joiners, and they are available to match various sizes of rail (measured in code). The rail joiners have two basic designs though. All have a flat base that the bottom of the rail sets on. The Atlas design has curved sides that curl back together to pinch the rail between them. This is likely done for electrical conductivity, and is not necessary if we wire our rails properly. the biggest issue with this is aesthetic , the curled sides don't look anything like a fish plate on the prototype. Other rail joiners have a more aesthetically pleasing shape having a flat bottom, and the rail joiner is bent at angles to follow the top of the rail's base and side. The Peco rail joiners are made like this, and some of them even have bumps pressed into the side that sugest the bolts on a fish plate.

    I mentioned rail height earlier. rail height is referred to as code. The most common rail used in HO has been Code 100. code 100 rail is 100 thousandths of an inch tall. That scales out as some pretty big rail. There is some rail in the US that is that heavy. Real railroad rail is measured by weight per foot. I'm pulling numbers out my *** right now, but I'm thinking code 100 represents something like 150 lbs rail, in the US there is some rail that heavy, mainly in the NE corridor , but most rail in the states is considerably smaller. Because of this code 83 rail is getting more popular. Code 83 rail is 83 thousandths tall, and is a close representative for 100 lbs rail, which is closer to the common size rail for modern American mainline track.

    The next smaller rail size is code 70 , 70 thousandths tall. it is a close representation for 70 lb rail which would be found in modern times on branch lines, short lines, sidings and yards; and historically on the main lines of railways back when the equipment was lighter. I use code 70 on my narrow gauge, it is probably too heavy, but AI get better reliability with it than with the smaller rail sizes. After code 70 comes code 55 On My current railroad I have some code 55 on sidings where the main is done in code 70. When hand laying track with code 55, one must be very careful to have spikes with tiny heads, or the spike heads will interfere with the flange ways. I had some serious problems with that in my old Harlow. The smallest rail I know of is code 40, code 40 is tiny. I had some code 40 on a railroad I had when I was in High school in Atlanta, back in the dark ages. I had some HOn3 with code 40, and I had a standard gauge yard with stub switches built with code 40 rail . Every fourth tie was made out of printed circuit board, with a cut across the center so the rails would not short out. The code 40 rail was soldered to the pcb ties, as the rails were so small there was no room for spikes and flanges. My friend Peter Sander, visiting from Ohio got bored one day, and put weeds in the yard. it was awesome, the track disappeared. when you switched that yard the locomotive and cars would be wandering through the weeds.

    A word about rail profile. the standardization of rail from manufacturer to manufacturer does not extend past the code (ie rail height in thousandths ). so if you had two pieces of code 100 rail from different manufacturers the height would be the same, but the rail head might be wider on one brand than the other. likewise the base of one rail wight be wider on one , and the center of the rail might have differ thickness. because of that, a rail joiner wight be a perfect fit for one section of code 100 trail, and a sloppy fit on another. in that case, soldering the rail joint would be a good idea. So getting rail joiners made by the manufacturer of your track wold make sense in all cases but Atlas.

    when I have track down I like to run my finger across the rail joints to feel for variances in track alignment. I run into that all the time at the train club where he have a lot of Atlas rail joiners. I will use them at home, if I'm out of any other brand, and desperate, but otherwise you couldn't run fast enough to give be a bag full of them.

    I will try to come back and back up this tome with some photographs when I have time to take some, and edit them.

    Bill Nelson
  7. zathros

    zathros -----SENIOR---- Administrator

    The tracks I have seen were only in climate controlled rooms. Seeing how this is a major problem with electronics, I can imagine with the extremes you speak of, it could be a night mare. I guess a piece of wire, a bit slack is better, or the connectors you mention. :)

Share This Page