Track Preferences

Discussion in 'G / O / S Scale Model Trains' started by gfmucci, Jan 14, 2007.

  1. gfmucci

    gfmucci Member

    I'm debating with myself about track selection. My installation will be permanant - it does not have to be portable - and I would like the improved realism of track with separate roadbed instead of integrated. However, I understand that integrated track/roadbed systems (FastTrack and RealTrax) can have gravel imposed over it to enhance realism.

    It appears the choices are between MTH ScaleTrax, Gargraves, and Atlas, and possibly Ross (although when I've done a search on Ross trackage, I found nothing) for realistic trackage.

    Does anyone have pictures or sketches of cross-sections of these different tracks that can be shown side by side for comparison purposes?

    I know they all have their pros and cons? What are they?

    They probably fall into these categories:

    Material: Tin plated vs. nickel. Nickel makes magnetraction useless. But it looks good and wears well. Other issues?

    Variety of pieces available: For example, I want to be able to have curves as small as O-31, whereas FastTracks' tightest curve is O-36.

    Tie spacing: MTH's are further apart compared to Gargraves? Where does Atlas fall in this mix?

    Performance: It sounds like they are equally reliable, including switches

    Tubular vs. solid rails: MTH is solid. What are the others. What are the pros and cons?

    Center rail: Are they all thin to make it less prominent? I know MTH ScaleTrax is. How much of a concern is more rapid wear of the pickup rollers?.

    Overall appearance/realism: Matter of preference?

    Availability: Depends on where you are? How about internet availability? Atlas seems most available, followed by Gargraves.

    Price: ? About equal?
  2. Geno

    Geno Member

    All of the track systems you mentioned share the following:
    1. work with either scale or semi-scale trains (unless min. curve is specified)
    2. proven performers when properly mounted to a subtop (switches are another matter)
    3. readily available new or used (MTH scaletrax has somewhat limited availabilty)

    Realism- a tie btween MTH Scaletrax and Atlas 3-rail. The scaletrax has a lower profile (approx. code 150-160) and has a thinner center rail, but has wider tie spaing. Atlas 3-rail (code 172) has more prototypical tie spacing and connectors, but is taller.

    Cost- Lionel 027 is the least expensive, followed by Gargraves, Lionel O, and Ross. Both Altas and MTH Scaletrax are the most costly, but popular due to appearance.

    Switch performance:
    Lionel 027- mixed, depending on age of swtich, model, and power used to power it
    Lionel O-same as above
    Gargraves- early models were poorly designed, causing derailments; later models improved
    Ross- better design, more costly but a solid performer.
    Atlas- early models had continuity issues, later models better; excellent choice of sizes and configurations
    Scaletrax- good performers, but limited choices

    The key to picking the track system that siuts your needs is to decide what look you want on your layout, and select the type of track that compliments that look. If you're into Postwar or classic Lionel, O or 027 is the obvious choice. Want a little more realism without a lot of cost? Use Gargraves and Ross. Accuracy and realism in 3-rail- your choice is either Atlas or Scaletrax.

  3. Greg Elems

    Greg Elems Member

    Well that’s a loaded post. :D From my point of view and preference I’d use the MTH Scale Track. That being said, you have to understand that I was planning on scale wheels and Kadee couplers. Since I’ve bought the Scale Track I decided to go scale 2-Rail all the way. I haven’t tried my older O27 engines on it but my MTH SD9 preformed well on it pulling my scale wheeled cars. So another option would be to use Atlas 2-Rail track with a center rail added. The Atlas track has better tie spacing and better looking rail attachments to the ties. The Atlas 3-Rail track has larger rail than the 2-Rail and better tie spacing than MTH, IMHO. The Scale Track and Atlas 2-Rail track are very close in height for ties and rail. If you are modeling main line track use Atlas. If you are doing a branch line or short line use the Scale Track.

    For improvement of looks, ballasting to any of the tracks goes a long way. Not sure if these opinions will help and I’m not trying to do a hard sell on any one track system. If you have any questions about adding the third rail I’d be happy to convey my tests and research along with the ideas.

  4. Geno

    Geno Member


    I'm doing exactly what you're talking about- using Atlas 2-rail track with a stud rail, similar to Marklin's HO design. It requires using a slider shoe over the center roller, but the main advantage here is that the stud rail can be almost totally concealled. And it also has the best of both worlds, 2-rail appearance with the convenience of 3-rail wiring and trains.

    The stud rail setup will also allow me to run 2-rail at home and 3-rail at my train club (AGHR).

    I would go 2-rail if I didn't already have so many 3-rail engines and cars, but for me it's more cost effective to convert most of it over to 2-rail as much as possbile (excluding engines). I plan to convert all of my rolling stock to 2-rail, and fit my 3-rail engines with Atlas electrocouplers, hybrid wheelsets, and fixed pilots. Alot of work, but cheaper than trying to replace my 3-rail diesel fleet engine-for-engine with a 2rail TMCC equivalent.

    2-railers Lisa marie and Hugo on the OGR forum both used this stud rail design with success in the past before going to 2-rail, and I plan to try it as well. I've even purchased a quantity of studrail from Hugo, but will need to get more fabricated. I've already stockpiled about 250' of new Atlas code 148 track- I'm looking forward to laying it on the benchwork once I'm done with that.

  5. Greg Elems

    Greg Elems Member


    I just kept my 3-Rail stuff and started buying some select pieces of 2-Rail. My layout will be small and I have access to larger 2-Rail layouts so I didn’t worry about what 3-Rail I had. That was my original reason for getting the ScaleTrax so I could run my scale equipment on either layout. I was impressed with Hugo’s system. Lisa Marie has been an inspiration too.

    I’m just a train nut I guess, since I didn’t worry about having too much in one system and changing to another. I also model in S scale and work for the RR if that gives you any idea of where I’m coming from. :D

  6. gfmucci

    gfmucci Member


    I'm in a similar, boat, career-wise. Except my profession is City Planning and I'll be modeling a city around the trains.

    I'm leaning toward MTH ScaleTrax at the moment. Can you recommend any MTH dealers that carry a good variety of ScaleTrax? The MTH dealers I've searched so far only carry RealTrax. Gargraves would be my second choice. I really would like to see comparisons between Atlas, Gargraves and ScaleTrax (and Ross?) - it might be worthwhile just to buy one section of each brand - from one dealer. Do you know one dealer that carries these three models?

    I do like the FastTrack switch lever "retro" look. And the track has a good reputation - but I would like the O31 curve capability which it doesn't have.

  7. Greg Elems

    Greg Elems Member

    Well I know this gentleman has ScaleTrax and some switches. He also carries 2 & 3 rail Atlas plus MTH track.
    I have some ScaleTrax, Atlas 2-Rail and MTH RealTrax. I can shoot an end on of the three together to show the height difference.

    While a lot of people like GarGraves and it has its good points and is priced reasonably I did not like using it. I was using it on a modular layout and the track didn't meet the edge at 90degrees so matching it up proved to be a hassle and IMO it had a tendency to kink. It might be wise as you say to get a piece and see how you like it. You can run scale wheels on it and if carefully bent before installing it kinking shouldn't be an issue.

    What will you be running on this layout? Steam, diesel or both. Long cars or short. No matter what track system you choose the foundation will need to be the best you can afford.

    As an aside I use the Atlas sectional rail on my small or temporary layouts. When I get to the point of doing a bigger semi-permanent layout I'll use flex. For switches, I'll make my own where needed rather than trying to fit in RTR switches.

  8. gfmucci

    gfmucci Member

    I plan to theme my layout in the 1950's, using both steam and diesel, passenger and freight. I don't want to take up the entire rec room, so I will want some fairly tight (O31) curves. I probably won't have (can't afford) more than 3 or 4 switches. The layout may be something like this:

    View attachment 34207

    The portion along the wall is about 18" wide. The overall dimension is about 20 X 7 feet.


    Attached Files:

  9. Greg Elems

    Greg Elems Member

    Looks like a nice layout for running trains. Remember ScaleTrax is sold in 3' length as flex track. Maybe you will be able to add switches as time goes on.

  10. gfmucci

    gfmucci Member

    Yes, I understand some money can be saved by purchasing the longer lengths. Don't the other brands under consideration also sell 3' lengths - either fixed or flex? Thanks for the link to renorails. I wrote them an e-mail to see if they can help with the brand comparison order - and their further suggestions.

  11. Greg Elems

    Greg Elems Member

    Yes they all sell flex, which is good for your O31 curves you plan on using. :) I noticed I left part of the sentence out. It should have read " I remembered ScaleTrax....." should have proof read it. Reno Rails doesn't carry Gargraves but he has the rest.


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