Track Templates

Discussion in 'HO Scale Model Trains' started by Xiong, Jun 24, 2008.

  1. Xiong

    Xiong Member

    I'm confused. I have a lot of expectations but as far as these templates go, none whatsoever about points -- only about stock rails. Even there, I'm much less concerned with the internal geometry than in making sure that all three tracks, as they exit the turnout, are oriented properly with respect to one another. These are layout planning templates, not tracklaying templates.

    I realize that a turnout might be drawn simply as a triangle; I've seen it done. I thought I could do a little better than that without trying to reproduce every detail. My main concern is the track centerline; that *must* coincide from one section to another. Another issue is locating curved portions accurately so that clearance can be maintained as well as possible. Car body overhang will cause train-to-train interference any time tracks are too close together and trucks are not aligned -- I don't see how these rules can be suspended through turnouts. (I'm speaking of clearance between a turnout and an adjacent track. Fouling between diverging and straight routes is another issue.)

    Difficulty: Drawing the centerline accurately enough to ensure the eyeball doesn't lead me astray. It's not enough to lay one section on top of another and fiddle around by eye and say, "Yeh, that looks tangent." I rotate and displace sections arithmetically.

    Only a portion of the diverging route is curved; the question is *what* portion. I've made most of the diverging route straight (everything from the end to about an inch pointsward of the frog). If I make another portion straight, that will do nothing to justify the Fast Tracks data; the remaining portion will have to have an even smaller radius.

    Meanwhile, sorry, but you seem to be contradicting yourself. I'm sure I just fail to understand. But if the turnout flexes the points (they're not hinged), then surely they'll be curved? It is clear that there is no such thing as "a" #8 turnout. Every prototype, every model manufacturer, is different.

    I'm not a fan of slavish imitation of prototype. The model should look realistic but I will generally trade faithful reproduction for reliable operation. I'm definitely building HO, not Proto87.

    As I said, I can't criticize Fast Tracks turnout in operation; I lack experience. It's the documentation that's driving me up the wall.

    Does anybody *use* Fast Tracks? If so, could you make a physical measurement of gauge at several locations throughout the built turnout and see if there's some explanation of the stated 0.66"?

    I guess the criticism I would find most helpful at this time is of the practicality of my current set of templates. If I design a layout around them, will it be buildable?
  2. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    I guess I don't understand the problem. I admit I don't currently use Fast Tracks products. I may invest in some of their tools when I start construction of my layout and/or Free-mo modules, but that would be it.

    For track planning, I use commercial turnouts in the library of the software I am using. I use XtrkCad or RTS as my choice of software. I prefer RTS for plans where curve radius is within the Atlas sectional track range and Atlas turnouts are acceptable. For larger radius curves or curved turnouts (Walters is my typical choice), I switch to XtrkCad. I know that by planning with either software package, I can build it with the chosen commercial track, or I can handlay and have sufficient space. My choice at construction time.

    Users of XtrkCad state that using the NMRA turnout library gave them the right dimensions to substitute Fast Tracks turnouts when construction started.

    I suppose I could use the shorter NMRA turnouts myself, and fit more track into the plan. But by using longer commercial turnouts in planning, I am forced to space things more, and I prefer the less-crowded results.

    When I handlay I simply draw the paths I desire on the Homasote, and build in place to the lines I drew. I may use a constant radius, an easement template, or some flex track bent to the path I want to lay out the lines on Homasote. Frogs are built curved as necessary. I have used hingeless points in the past, and will likely stay with them in the future. Hinged points are tempting, but I then start running into more difficulty with designing and laying out the turnout paths. I have no idea what my final frog angle is, and I really don't care. My concern is that I exceed my minimum radius and that unless necessary to do otherwise, all curves have an easement in front of them.

    Because I see my software or scale track plan on paper as a guide, and not an absolute build-to plan, I don't need perfection in the plan, nor do I expect it. Changes during actual construction/implementation are part and parcel of both my hobby and professional life. I've yet to hear a good reason for designing on paper or in software an entire layout to .01" or even .1". Paper/software to real world tolerances just aren't that good, regardless of how accurate the plan is. I don't know about you, but constructing benchwork to the nearest 1/16" is about the best I can accomplish on a good day - and it gets nearly an order of magnitude worse on a not so great day.

    Fast Tracks jigs, tools, and system are known for enabling a beginner to handlay track that is reliable (no derailments) and repeatable. Repeating myself, I am sure the Fast Tracks templates are plenty accurate for layout planning, provided paper to reality discrepancies of as much as 1/2" are acceptable. And when you get to construction, Fast Tracks turnouts can be easily curved slightly (or more) to better fit the situation.

    Laying out parallel tracks and the like is done by drawing the parallel tracks and then flexing a piece of rail, flex track, or similar to link the end of the turnout to the parallel track. Parallel track spacing comes from NMRA RPs or personal choice. In RTS and XtrkCad, the software will tell you the radius of that link, but again, I don't worry about it in actual construction. Just make it look good.

    hope this helps
  3. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    I've been following this thread with interest even if much of the calculation info is "way over my head." Every siding, whether a passing siding or an industrial spur will have a "fouling point." I think the prototype posts a sign at the fouling point of every siding or spur track to let train crews know where to safely stop a train to keep the mainline clear. You will always be fouling both routes within the confines of the turnout, unless you make it much longer than needed. You just need to make sure that the diverging route diverges enough to not foul the main before you turn the track to parallel the other route. To emulate the prototype, you would then model a "fouling point" sign to mark the location of the fouling point on the siding.
  4. Xiong

    Xiong Member

    Fred, you've got some excellent points. Perhaps it seems a little weird to plan a railroad as if I were building a piece of industrial automation for a client. Maybe it doesn't even really matter if a track is here or 1/4" to the left. And I'm pretty sure that an experienced modeller can make a lot of decisions on the spot, in the physical act of laying track, and get excellent results.

    My point of view is a little different and driven by my background and experience. I don't have much practice in railroad modelling; I've dabbled is all. It's been a lifetime interest but it's only recently that I made the commitment to learn it in detail and start building stuff. Since then, I've been studying like mad. I have 30 RR-related sites bookmarked and I've spent days poring over them. I've been buying old MRC, MR, and Trains and reading them cover-to-cover, ads included. And of course I've been talking trains here on Zealot and anywhere else possible, including face-to-face. I've assembled a flatcar, built some benchwork, laid a little track, and made a mess of some scenery. It's very clear that I have a lot to learn. Besides study, there's practice. I know I have a long way to go.

    On the other hand, I've been an engineer for 30 years. My skill set is broad; I've constantly added new fields, rather than going straight up in one thing. That may not have been good for my career but it does make me rather flexible, at least within engineering. And that set of skills is really all I have in this world. It's rather like a very big sledgehammer; I can use it to demolish any problem that will sit still, waiting for the blow to fall.

    In another thread, a poster wondered why I would attempt the novelty of aluminum benchwork when modellers have been using wood for so long, with good results. Basically, I know how to work aluminum -- to a thousandth of an inch, if necessary. Wood is harder to control.

    I know how to draw a plan of any device or machine and verify that it is correct; I know how to build to that plan within required tolerances. I know how to handle the issue of getting a plan off the computer and printed out correct actual size, if I need an accurate template; I know how to make measurements on a piece of work and compare it to the plan. I have invested considerably, over the years, in learning how to design things that work and how to build them the way they're designed.

    But quite honestly, I don't think I can bend a piece of flextrack against my ample belly to produce a good easement. So, I'm trying to build on my strengths.

    I don't doubt that all my efforts to produce track templates in FreeHand will seem silly once I get hold of XtrkCAD. But for now, this is the tool I have.

    * * *

    Russ, fouling points don't worry me too much. It's a great idea to post them right on the layout and they can be determined easily enough when the plan is complete. In the case of a siding, well, the track spacing should be 2" or more, so that shouldn't be an issue.

    I'm a bit more concerned about trains on adjacent, unconnected, curved tracks. Trains that consist of long cars *will* hit one another if the centerline spacing is not increased over the minimum for straight track. It seems to me that I need to watch the case of one train going through a turnout while another train is passing it on an adjacent track, too.

    * * *

    Planning is all well and good but in the end, if it doesn't work, it's junk. I've seen a couple references to various gauge and clearance tools. One thing that cropped up a few days ago is a flatcar made with a transparent body -- just a flat sheet of plastic with trucks. No matter what I manage in plan, I figure to build a couple items like this and roll them around the layout -- before dragging it to a meet.
  5. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    The NMRA has a lot of information on its web site. They have information about spacing on curves which was developed many years ago.
    If you look at old track plans you'll see that turnouts were defined by 3 points: the intersection of the centerlines of the tracks (projected through the straight bits at the frog), the frog location and the points. It was then assumed that you could fit the points in place.
    British track technology defines points (their term for turnouts) with a letter and number. The number is something like the frog number while the letter indicates the sharpness of the point end. I'm not expert on that myself.
    There's also a track designing program called Templot that you could check out. I'll post a link if you need it.
  6. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    Perhaps the difference in our philosophies comes from being just a few years ahead of you. I learned engineering when extra accuracy and precision was very expensive, and only to be used when absolutely needed. When slide rules were the normal engineering calculator, going to more than 3 significant digits was a very expensive undertaking. When I learned helicopter maintenance in the early '80s, a class 5 or 6 bearing was reserved for turbine engines only. Only an automatic transmission in a car would have better than a class 0 bearing, everything else would be negative if such a classification existed. Electronic circuits using discrete components had to be designed around componnent values that were often +/- 20%. Precision components were too expensive, so you got to redo your design using the cheap stuff.

    Got some more education in a project to install pods on an aircraft wing. Learned that our French-built aircraft would have horrified US manufacturing. One airplane (exact same model and production run) would be 6 inches longer than another. A pod that would fit one wing would not fit another wing. We had to design an adapter system to mount the pods. But despite each airplane in the class being different, nobody could tell which was which in the air by the way they flew.

    In model railroading, many great layouts have built by non-engineers. Without the advantage of calculations or planning software to back them up, some of them even used actual track pieces on butcher paper taped to each other and the floor. I don't think our model engines or track know the difference or care whether they were planned to the ultimate detail in Templot, or just installed by eye. Does the stuff planned in Templot have a great chance of functioning correctly? Yes, but not by nearly the margins you might think.

    NMRA track and wheel standards and recommendations, despite their flaws and imperfections, were built around the idea of the ordinary guy being able to build a functioning layout with hand tools and minimal effort.

    I have no issues with an aluminum frame for a layout; it's probably a slight improvement on the better wood construction techniques in terms of weight and precision and stability, and perhaps rigidity, too. Aluminum frames and foam is a relatively common module construction method in Austrailia. But is the precise aluminum frame going to make any difference in the functionality of the module? Is it going to level any better on the uneven floors in most setup locations? Is it going to be any easier to mate with other modules? Since most model railroaders are more familiar with wood products and have access to wood-working tools, wood construction is generally chosen (even when it shouldn't be).

    My rambling way of saying that extreme precision has limited application in model railroading. It just isn't needed most of the time. And using extra precision where it exceeds natural process or material variabilty tends to tie one into knots, as you seem to be doing to yourself.

    And by over-engineering things and displaying your higher education, you are throwing off those of a non-eningeering bent who are earnestly trying to help you.

    my thoughts, your choices
  7. Xiong

    Xiong Member

    Well, Fred, I don't have much of a higher education; I'm mostly self-taught. I realize there are guys with great running layouts who shudder when they see a computer but I can't be responsible for that. They may have a great deal to teach but if they can't formalize that knowledge, I can't make use of it.

    Near as I can tell, nickel-silver rail is a predictable material. Especially when soldered strategically to PC ties, it should admit of precise laying. I wouldn't worry about 0.65" vs NMRA standard 0.649" but I don't see any excuse for 0.66". If you want to help, please find me an explanation for this -- or for the strange value given for diverging route radius in the #6. There's a difference between useless precision for precision's sake and obviously wrong values.

    Don't worry, I'm not tying myself into any knots. I love what I do. I can't imagine doing anything any other way. That may limit me in a lot of ways but I think I'll be able to turn out decently functioning track, so long as I continue to study, experiment, and ask questions.
  8. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    Take a look at The closure rail radius specified for a #6 is 43", as is the radius of the curved point. I believe Fast Tracks follows the NMRA RP geometry very closely. I would not trust any "substitution" radius because a numbered frog turnout is so different from a constant curve.

    Gauge widening is commonly used and needed for sharp curves - typically 18" and #4 turnouts in HO. Or if large rolling stock is used, gauge widening may be needed on 22-24" radius and #5 turnouts. Note that gauge widening varies among commercial track manufacturers, with Atlas generally having the most, and MicroEngineering having the least. A few reports indicate a slightly smaller successful minimum radius with Atlas flex track (sliding rail outside) than with ME.

    Steve Hatch (Railway Engineering, measures a difference of 1.5 scale inches between wheel gauge and minimum track gauge using the NMRA gauge. Therefore, minimum gauge is suitable for all situations until one gets down to 18" radius or so in HO.

    Since I don't use Fast Tracks templates, I intend to use minimum track gauge of .649" and .040" flangeways in my turnouts, even with a minimum 18" radius. If subsequent use proves the gauge needs to widened slightly I will do the necessary rework. I want to stay at minimum because I want to be able to use code 88 wheels.

    On my previous layout with handlaid track (built in the '70s and '80s), I just used the 3 point gauges and the NMRA gauge, and kept the turnouts within the allowable tolerances. I couldn't tell you what the exact gauge or flangeway was. Interestingly, one of my 3 point gauges was off from the other by about 1/2 the width of a rail head - they couldn't be used together. I think I finally favored the narrower one, but without any good reason at the time. Flangeway was created with a hacksaw blade carving out frogs filled with solder. This created a very slightly narrow flangeway (according to the NMRA gauge) that was gently widened to spec with a needle file.

    Finally, has a great section on gauge widening for Proto modeling (and applicable to other modeling). OO-SF (see is a group about narrowing the gauge below minimum for appearance and operation with commercial wheel sets.

    Good luck with your planning, and maybe we'll meet at a Free-mo meet someday with our modules.
  9. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    Thought about your question some more. Although I am firmly in the keep track gauge to the minimum camp, there is a serious drawback to my position. The minimum radius required will be higher than with other approaches.

    I'm speculating, but IIRC correctly from the Fast Tracks video on check gauge, track gauge, and flangeway width (well worth a watch) Fast Tracks favors the wider flangeway and track gauge. Tim, designer of Fast Tracks, apparently views a very sharp frog point as the key to a smooth running turnout. Using a slightly wider track gauge (but still well within NMRA tolerances) allows Tim to move the sharp frog point a little closer to the frog throat. Wider flangeways work in concert with the wider track gauge to keep the check gauge correct. In any case, the result is reported to be very smooth running and reliable, and does not affect the minimum radius the way my favored geometry does.

    Most commercial turnouts fail to meet NMRA specs at at least one place or another. Typically, track gauge through the frog is on the order of .66", but the frog point is not sharp like Fast Tracks, and the guard rail is not close enough to the stock rail to give the proper check gauge. So wheels climb the frog point or drop at the frog. Another common area of problems at commercial turnouts is the track gauge being too narrow at the points or point hinges because not enough curve is put in the curved closure rail or points.

    Again, good luck with your planning and study of model railroading.
  10. Xiong

    Xiong Member

    Well, one certain thing falls out of this discussion. Lack of experience or no, I will have to handlay track. My first couple of turnouts may be inferior to one boughten, but I'll eventually find answers to all these nagging details through practice. I foresee a small test layout.

    I do think Fast Tracks makes an excellent presentation. I'm dying to get my hands on their actual jigs, so I can make accurate measurements of them and answer all the dimension issues once and for all. It would certainly be silly to say the jig is wrong when people seem to be getting good results. But I'm pretty well convinced their printed data is off -- at least on their #6. The radius in question is the diverging route radius, which should have real meaning -- not the meaningless substitution radius.
  11. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    Xiong, I do not have the fast rack jigs so can not make a fair statement of opinion of them, I believe they are most likely very good at enabling beginners to build a plethora of # 6 0r 8 turnouts, whichever jig they buy. For the life of me, I can't see why someone willing to handlay wants to tie themselves to fixed frog #'s. The beauty of handlaying lies in the ability to build to suit. Fred has written a bit about how he goes about handlaying turnouts, I do the same. Couldn't tell you a frog # on most of my turnouts. I did start by laying # 6's, using tie templates from BK, who make a nice kit for your first try. Then you'll be ready to work from scratch, drawings be damned!

    I'm not one of the better hand layers, there are many who can do better. So please know the attached photos are not meant to show how great hand layed turnouts can look, just that perfectly reliable turnouts are within almost everyones grasp. When I started handlaying, the commercial turnouts available looked pretty bad. There are now many very nice looking turnouts available, if you choose to live within the constraints of frog sizes available. More detailed than handlaid, at least handlaid without added detailing, such as mine. The first few photos show the same turnout from various angles, note I have not filled the frog with solder, tho I have always intended to get around to it. It is not needed for reliable operation. Search for an article by Tony Koester on handlaying turnouts, that is what I used when I started.




  12. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    Note that I built these to fit a curve, prototype switches are built with straight frogs, at least in the US, which is what I model. However, I take liberties like this to ensure good operation and, when needed, to lengthen a siding, or keep a turnout within reach of an aisle.

    Here is a photo showing the nmra gauge, like Fred mentioned, keep tolerances at the tight side for turnouts. Also a pic of my small yard, I never attempred to make a scale drawing of this, I knew what I wanted and from experience knew what I could expect to fit my space. When handlaying as opposed to using commercial turnouts, you can make sets of points closer to another turnouts frog. Note in the yard pic that the rail coming from one turnouts frog is the same rail filed to house the next turnouts points. I just laid out full size where I wanted the tracks, and used a thin wood strip to layout the curves to connect them. I glued the ties down and laid the track, never measured any radii. Things work very smoothly, even tho I intentionally kinked things a bit here and there, like you see in small prototype yards.


  13. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    Very nice work, Gary. I'd be proud to have your track.
  14. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    Thanks Fred!
  15. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    For anyone interested in handlaying turnouts, there is a new clinic on this topic at a Yahoo group called RPM clinics-Rick Bell. Looks like it will be interesting, the man writing it is modeling prototype switches. I get emails from the group so can't link to it, but a search for the Yahoo group should get you there.
  16. ScratchyAngel

    ScratchyAngel Member

  17. nkp174

    nkp174 Active Member

    Xiong, hand laying can be a very rewarding experience.
    Here are a few basics:
    -the roadbed is important. You want stability...but still be able to drive spikes (unless you are solding with PC board ties). I prefer cork.
    -don't drive the spikes too far can create vertical curves with tight spikes

    Try your hand at laying a few small sections so you can build up some experience.

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