Z scale track

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Manufacturers of Z scale track (at a glance):

JHM Track:

Looks like some beautiful stuff, Aspenmodels carries it.

Märklin track:

The original one and only. They make sectional and "flex" track. Basically it's old technology now, with taller rails, and a poorer cross section. The switches are not very reliable as compared to more modern products.

Micro-Trains track:

They have sectional track, "flex track", and a "quick track" that has grey plastic roadbed, ties and rails as a unit.

The flex track comes in a pack of 10 sections 12.5" long each. Interestingly, the last 4 ties at each end "have a gradually tapered height to allow them to bend downward when the rail joiner is installed".  Great idea, and you don't get "humps" in the rails when joining sections.

Their switches are an improvement over Marklin, but not as good as Rokuhan.

Peco track:

Peco makes flex track only. A full box contains (12) two foot flex track pieces.

It will bend all the way down to a 5 inch radius (and hold the gauge) and still straighten back out without kinks. Yuron rail cutters work well on it.

Rokuhan Track:

A newcomer, makes track with integral roadbed. Their switches are very smooth, although early versions can make a temporary short as they are thrown (the points move before the power polarity is changed by an internal switch. Newer versions are supposed to correct this.

They have quite a system, including modular power supplies, etc.


Comments on Z scale Track

My page on track cleaning - manual and electronic

My page showing Marklin track (and related) part numbers (updated 20 Jan 02) (I have updated a file originally from Brian Dormer and added more information and the components of the Marklin track sets. I removed the track plan pictures)

I'll be adding some pages with drawings of track configurations, i.e. how to lay out concentric curves, configurations for yard tracks, etc. (again originally from pix from Brian, but cleaned up with PhotoShop for readability), plus I'll link in the extension drawings, and DigiSteve is scanning some track plans from older Marklin catalogs. (updated 24 Aug 01)

here is a link to Garth & Dora's NN3 web site with a comparision of rail heights and other data for Marklin, MT, and Peco track

Comparing track:

Z track tie spacing

Picture courtesy Mark Markham


Märklin and MTL are code 55, same as Miller Engineering rail.  BUT, the rail head is MUCH more prototypical on MTL flex / rail. You can see MTL rail in a macro shot whereas Marklin/Peco track is huge.

Nice visual comparison of Märklin, Micro-Trains,and Peco track: (from Svein-Martin Holt's web site)


Note:  The rail base width of all three is basically the same.

The tie spacing on Märklin and Peco track pretty wide, whereas the Micro-Trains looks more prototype for US mainline / standard gauge.

Peco flex can be freely bent in both directions (and freely returned to straight) while Märklin flex must have the ties cut on the backside prior to bending (maybe every 4th tie).  MTL flex can bend both ways but is stiff and will hold it's position.

Here is a link to RocoUSA where you can find a pictorial catalog of Marklin Z, but no descriptions, just part numbers and jpg files.

From Bill Kronenberger:

By the way, Peco and Marklin model Euro ties and tie spacing. MT models US tie and tie spacing. However, Z is so small, no one ever seems to notice the Euro spacing.
On the other hand, when you use MT track on a bridge, with Peco or Marklin on either side, it makes for a very convincing "bridge track" appearance (bridges always have more ties per 100 feet than regular track does).

Rokuhan track notes:

I bought the new A002 Re-railer. Besides being quite a bit cheaper than others, it cures a fault that the MT rerailer has. I always disliked the MT rerailer because of the extreme angle to the track, and if you have ever tried to load a SD40-2 with a snowplow, you will see this angle at work, usually you rip the plow off because of the angle.

Also long cars with 3 axle trucks don't load well.

The new Rokuhan rerailer, being much lower profile looked promising. Unfortunately, when I first used it, it did not rail the cars properly. Looking closely, it was "turned up" at the ends, so the "business end" did not nestle in between the rails properly. I boiled a cup of water in the microwave and put the rerailer in it for a while, then took out, bent in the opposite direction and then hit with cold water. When you are through, when it lays upside down on a flat surface with no "bow" you have done your job.

After that, it worked perfectly with a 3 axle streamliner, and my snow plow stayed on my SD40!


Use 0.026 steel guitar string right underneath outside rail - approximates 5-6 inches
For easments, use .008 or .013 under the ends of the ties, working to under the rail, then .026 under the ends of the ties, working towards directly under the rail.

Laying track:

Note: Most of this will be slanted towards laying track on modules.

Strive for perfection. At this small scale, small misalignments, or irregular curves will just cause endless derailments.

Preparing the roadbed:

Cork roadbed is what most people use.

(are there alternatives?)

You can buy yours pre-cut (itty bitty lines?) or cut your own pieces from a sheet.

Self adhesive backing makes it mush easier than gluing, and easier to correct. Applying with heat (see iron Don has) seems to help make it stick better.

You could use contact cement if you are really good, but would recommend regular glue if you must glue, then you can fine position it.

What is best width?

Laying the roadbed to a centerline is tough, would be better to draw lines that it goes between.

Preparing / joining sections of track:

Don't cut through track and ties, cut the ties out of the way first, or you may separate the rails from the ties.

Use a good set of flush cutting dykes and cut the top and bottom of the rail.

DO NOT HOLD ONTO THE TRACK WHILE CUTTING. Get the track in the dykes and let go of it. Otherwise holding it might bend it. The track may move a bit while the dykes are doing their job. Trying to restrain it often puts bends in the track.

I trim the ends flush with the flat side of a very fine grinding wheel spinning slowly. Don't let the rails heat up or you will soften the "spikes" and the rails will come loose. Take a little cut, look at it make sure it has cooled and grind a bit more. The best tool I have found is a diamond cutoff wheel for the Dremel. Recently Dremel has come out with "EZ Lock" mandrels that are a quick release mandrel and cutoff blades and other accessories to match. The new diamond cutoff wheel is much larger in diameter, makes cutting track in place much better, because the increased diameter allows you to get the blade perpendicular to the rails (the body of the Dremel will now clear the rails thanks to the increased diameter). The part number is EZ545.

To see when the ends are square, I use 2 techniques: one is using Rodney's rail tool (the long one) slid up to the end of the rail to check square.

The other method is to stand it on end on a flat surface. It will be straight up if the ends are square.

After final trimming, I hold an x-acto parallel to the rails, and use it to deburr the rail ends. Scrap it on the sides and bottom. If you grind the rail from the top down, the rail head will have no burr. 

Note: On Micro-Trains flex track, the last 3 ties are thinner and not connected to the rails. This gives clearance to the thickness of the rail joiner. When using cut sections of MT flex track, be sure to look for this and also on the cut ends, you may want to use an X-Acto to release the last 3 ties. I have no idea (yet!) on how to thin the ties, but I guess you could do it from underneath, the tie strips are pretty flexible.

The MT joiners are easier to use than the Marklin, and have a rounded "tongue" that does not cut your fingers. The important thing is to add the joiner without bending the rail. If you have track tools, that will be an easy way to hold the track. I put the joiner on at an angle, and once the rail has entered it, then line it up.

How not to bend/damage

Use of Rodney's tools to straighten/protect/hold

Add track guide. Track is 1/2" across, so the centerline is easy to set. I use a set of large calipers to measure where my track laying guides go. If you are laying the track 9" from the center, then you can set the edge of the guide 8-3/4" from the centerline for example. This method worked best for me.

Securing the track to the roadbed:

Gluing the track to the roadbed seems the best. Don Fedjur turned me on to "Aleen's Original Tacky glue", available at Michaels and other craft stores. (There's other Aleen's glues, but this one is the best.) Tip: store the tube pointing down so it's near the tip when you want use it. I found a small metal jar to do this with.

I use an "acid brush", trimmed short so the bristles don't wander off the roadbed. It takes a medium size bead down the center and brush it out to the edges of the roadbed.

You should have already prepared the track segments so you can gently lift them into place. Having them straightened out and lying close by and already test fitted means there is little chance of you bending or kinking it when placing it.

Now I move the track up against my guide (from the previous step)


I used the fine ballast from Arizona Rock & Muineral: http://www.rrscenery.com/ very nice stuff, get the smallest size ballast (N scale). The next smaller size is powder, that won't work.

  • First, I masked next to the roadbed. For straight track, 1" blue painters tape worked fine.
  • For curved track, I slit the 1" tape in half, so I could follow the curves.
  • I took a "acid brush", the cheap metal handle ones, and trimmed the bristles to 1/4" long.
  • I painted white glue on the sides of the roadbed.
  • Remove the tape
  • Now just pour the ballast on.
  • I poke my finger into the ballast to push it into the glue, just work your way all along perpendicular to the sloped edge of the roadbed.
  • Let it set up for a day.
  • Then I used my small 12vcar vac with a small rectangular nozzle. (I ran it from a variable 12v supply and slowed it down a bit)  This vacuum is small with a fine cloth filter.

So I was able to pick the unglued ballast back up and reuse it. This certainly is quick and easy

Now poured ballast in the middle of the track and used a fairly stiff brush, about the width of the rails to spread the ballast and knock it outside the rails. Then follow up on the ends of the ties. The ballast you glued before will keep it from sliding down the sides of the cork.

I got a quart sprayer from Home Depot, put in about 2 cups of water, and 4 drops of liquid diswashing soap (breaks surface tension).

Set to the finest mist you can get and mist over the ballast to wet it.

Then I got a very small bottle with a stainless steel tube for a tip. Half water, half white glue. The tip is so small, it can ride on the side of the rail as you squeeze. I do it on the outside of each rail, and it wicked very nicely to the center.

From Don Avila, another source of ballast:

Harley or Dale Smith
Smith & Sons
13630 G.A.R. Highway
Route #6
Chardon OH 44024
440-286-4890 between 6pm - 10pm Eastern time
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Be SURE to put the word *BALLAST* in the subject line.

Ask for some samples. I think it is about 25 cents per small package. If
you can not make a hookup, I will drive to their "office" / Home [about 40
miles away] and see what's up. NOTE: They usually will not take cash in
advance, but will invoice you from what you order. In about 20 odd years no
one has deadbeated them. At this time of year you do NOT just jump in the
car though as they may have 2 feet of snow on the ground. It is a local
joke they disappear until spring.

More NOTES: If you have a SCENIC EXPRESS catalog, I think you will find a
lot of photo samples in N & HO, but not in Z. I made a deal with a long
time ago, with Smith and they got the screens for Z.

Arizona Rock & Mineral

Special stuff just for modules:

Tips on using and preparing/modifying the Marklin 8592 adjustable track sections:

Cut off the last tie on each end of the 8592. I cut the connecting "web" back to the next tie. This gives room for the rail joiners and helps the rails slide independently of each other. Lay the section rails down on a hard surface. Now use a sharp X-acto to cut through the plastic. The blade will stop when it hits the rail. A nice chisel blade is best so you can push straight down. (blade is flat across and perpendicular to the handle).

Next you will remove the last tie on each end. Now it's really easy to take the "cut" tie off, just twist off the tie from the side that does not have the joiner.

Now all you have to do is remove the joiner. Don't try pulling it. If you look carefully you will see that is crimped around the rail. I take a small set of dykes, lay one blade in the slot of the joiner. Squeeze, it will open the joiner. Then twist along the the axis of the rail and it will twist right off.

Most people stop here. I have a few more tips to make it work better.

One rail at each end is still "captive". While you can squeeze the section shorter, it will eventually go back to the length it wants. Take a pair of needle nose pliers, and while holding the section flat on the edge of the table, push that rail back into the ties. It will break loose, and you can work it back and forth. Now both rails will slide independently of the plastic ties.

To go even further, slide both rails out of one end. Now, take a fine file/sandpaper (I use a diamond fingernail file) and bevel the ends of the center "channel" the rails slide into. This will reduce the "bump" that the wheels hit as they transit from the movable rails to the fixed center.

Put Micro-Trains rail joiners on both rails of the track at the ends of the module. Since the 8592 uses telescopic rail at both ends, its rails are just a fraction of a millimeter smaller in profile than "standard" rail. Rail joiners will "bite" into the module end's standard rail much better than the telescopic rail and not pull off during disassembly. (not sure about this yet, need to test for myself)

Track setback at module ends:

The ends of the track must be 2-1/8 inch back from the end of the module. That leaves a 4 and 1/4 inch "gap" for the 8592 to span when 2 modules are joined

If you make the "gap" longer, then the natural "springiness" of the 8592 will not ensure the rail ends stay together. Vibration will cause gaps to form between the ends of the 8592 and the module rails very quickly.

If you make the "gap" shorter, the 8592 will be compressed so much that the ties will cause variations in track gauge.

If the ends of the rails are "cut" ends, then you need to slice off the "spikes" AND "tie plates" on all both sides of both rails on the last 2 ties. Now, work a piece of 220 grit sandpaper gently between the rail and the tie and "saw" back and forth. This will thin the tie and give clearance for the joiner in a manner similar to the uncut ends of MT flex track.

Roadbed treatment at module ends:

The "height" of the roadbed must be 1/16 to 1/8 of an inch less where the 8592 spans between modules.

The overall height of the 8592 is taller than "standard" track (Peco, Marklin, MT). If you fail to sand down the roadbed, the 8592 will form a "hump" with its ends matching the module's rails and the middle much higher in the air.

Not done well, it can give a pronounced "bobble" to cars as the hit the hump or dip. Over time, the 8592's will deform and go out of gauge from the stress.

Checking your trackwork:

Lay a straight edge on your finished connection, and make sure the tops of all rails are level. If not, sand the roadbed down some more.

Use Rodney's tools to check and align straightaways.

Use Rodney's tools or a caliper to measure track to track spacing



Marklin was about the only game in town, i.e. readily available.

Micro-Trains are good.

There is another manufacturer, Halwea, I found their web site once, but now it is gone, I'll keep looking, the site was entirely in German.

Here's a link to an NN3 site (they use Z scale track) with some good info: nn3.org




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