Track & Switches Main Page

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Overview

If had a nickel for every time I have said this, I'd be a rich man!

Your track is the FOUNDATION of your layout, nothing will ever work right if you don't have this good foundation.

I always get a nodding of the head, but MANY people still shortcut the process. Do this RIGHT the first time!

You will need to decide track or battery power, and if track power, the type of system you will use.

The type of power and control is closely connected to your type of track, rail, and switches.

My advice is resist buying transformers, track, etc. in large quantities until you have made this decision. You really need to decide a number of things first. Track will be your largest single investment, and the least fun to change later.

The following is repeated in my beginner section under layout planning: Use the broadest curves, and the "gentlest" turnouts you can, so many people pack too much in. Work hard to broaden your curves, and try to get #6 (or greater) turnouts in as many places as possible.

First question - track vs. battery power:

It's important to make this decision, although if you set up for track power, battery power is no problem. Basically if you are going track power, the rail material is more important since it directly affects maintenance, and also rail joiners and to a certain degree, turnout/switch chioces are affected.

If you are a newcomer to the hobby, you really need to decide this. It's an important decision. Battery is not always the cheapest and easiest way to go, although the battery people are much more vocal about it. (everyone starts off with track power, and many battery people are converts because they had trouble with track power. Track power people started in track power and never got disgruntled)

If you know your answer, then read the Track and Rail Material section. This might help you decide on what rail material is appropriate for your use.

I'm using Aristo stainless steel track. I use DCC and track power. I'm happy.

Sectional or flex track and designing/planning:

The best idea is to use flex track, you can make nice gradual curves to any requirement, and you have fewer rail joints. Unfortunately, it's more difficult for a newcomer to lay this out and bending and cutting track.

In my case, I had a very constrained area for the trains, and needed to make the curves as broad as possible since I wanted long trains and big locos. I used sectional track and a track planning program. That allowed me to get the broadest curves and most gentle switches in my tight area. (Track planning software with flex track is tough when you are trying to hold to a minimum radius). To make up for the larger number of track joints, I used top quality rail clamps instead of the stock rail joiners.

Turnouts

99% of all derailments are at switches, so this is a very important decision, more important than minimum radius in most cases.

Different brands have different issues, and there is a lot of distracting and well, just plain misleading information about turnouts.

The first thing is the "frog number", which is the angle that the diverging track takes. The higher the number, the "gentler" the turnout, and the easier it is for your trains not to derail.

Read the section on turnouts (click here) to get more technical information.

Try to get to a #6 or better, and going under a #4 will severely restrict your rolling stock. A crossover between parallel tracks with #4 turnouts will normally cause issues with full length passenger cars, just for reference.

Take especial care to keep them level across (cross level), and while they can work on a grade, they work better dead flat.

I've already got track or decided, but I need help on getting things to run right:

If you have derailments or have never looked at Track standards, I'd strongly suggest the Track Standards section. Following these standards, and also gauging your wheels properly will make the most significant improvement in the operation of your layout (after leveling track).

My gauge and level are good, but I still have problems. 

Turnouts are where over 90% of derailments occur. I have specific sections on Aristo turnouts, both from my own work, and Ted Doskaris' "vignettes", check the menu on the left.

Notes on radius and diameter:

Most people from smaller scales will naturally express themselves in radius.

Well, LGB, who basically "started" Large Scale, used Diameter, for what reason, people can only speculate. (Probably to know what space a simple loop would occupy, since space is ALWAYS an issue)

LGB also expressed it's Diameters as "R" curves (could it be more confusing?

To make it worse, competitors have often adopted a "R" number for their curves, but COMPLETELY DIFFERENT sizes.

Go to this page to read up on the R numbers and get the accurate diameters/radii of popular track: G scale sectional track

Table of prototype track radius and degrees:

Prototype railroads express curvature in degrees. It's interesting to see what our typical curves turn out to be in "real life" (hint REALLY SHARP!).

 

Degree of Curve  Radius, actual feet  Radius for 1:20.3, feet Radius for 1:29, feet 1:29 Radius feet & inches
1 5729.65 281.97 197.57 197 ' 6.9 "
2 2864.93 140.99 98.79 98 ' 9.5 "
3 1910.08 94.00 65.86 65 ' 10.4 "
4 1432.69 70.51 49.40 49 ' 4.8 "
5 1146.28 56.41 39.53 39 ' 6.3 "
6 955.37 47.02 32.94 32 ' 11.3 "
7 819.02 40.31 28.24 28 ' 2.9 "
8 716.78 35.27 24.72 24 ' 8.6 "
9 637.28 31.36 21.98 21 ' 11.7 "
10 573.69 28.23 19.78 19 ' 9.4 "
11 521.67 25.67 17.99 17 ' 11.9 "
12 478.34 23.54 16.49 16 ' 5.9 "
13 441.68 21.74 15.23 15 ' 2.8 "
14 410.28 20.19 14.15 14 ' 1.8 "
15 383.07 18.85 13.21 13 ' 2.5 "
16 359.27 17.68 12.39 12 ' 4.7 "
17 338.27 16.65 11.66 11 ' 8.0 "
18 319.62 15.73 11.02 11 ' 0.3 "
19 302.94 14.91 10.45 10 ' 5.4 "
20 287.94 14.17 9.93 9 ' 11.1 "
21 274.37 13.50 9.46 9 ' 5.5 "
22 262.04 12.90 9.04 9 ' 0.4 "
23 250.79 12.34 8.65 8 ' 7.8 "
24 240.49 11.83 8.29 8 ' 3.5 "
25 231.01 11.37 7.97 7 ' 11.6 "
26 222.27 10.94 7.66 7 ' 8.0 "
27 214.18 10.54 7.39 7 ' 4.6 "
28 206.68 10.17 7.13 7 ' 1.5 "
29 199.70 9.83 6.89 6 ' 10.6 "
30 193.19 9.51 6.66 6 ' 7.9 "
31 187.10 9.21 6.45 6 ' 5.4 "
32 181.40 8.93 6.26 6 ' 3.1 "
33 176.05 8.66 6.07 6 ' 0.8 "
34 171.02 8.42 5.90 5 ' 10.8 "
35 166.28 8.18 5.73 5 ' 8.8 "
36 161.80 7.96 5.58 5 ' 7.0 "
37 157.58 7.75 5.43 5 ' 5.2 "
38 153.58 7.56 5.30 5 ' 3.5 "
39 149.79 7.37 5.17 5 ' 2.0 "
40 146.19 7.19 5.04 5 ' 0.5 "
41 142.77 7.03 4.92 4 ' 11.1 "
42 139.52 6.87 4.81 4 ' 9.7 "
43 136.43 6.71 4.70 4 ' 8.5 "
44 133.47 6.57 4.60 4 ' 7.2 "
45 130.66 6.43 4.51 4 ' 6.1 "
46 127.97 6.30 4.41 4 ' 5.0 "
47 125.39 6.17 4.32 4 ' 3.9 "
48 122.93 6.05 4.24 4 ' 2.9 "
49 120.57 5.93 4.16 4 ' 1.9 "
50 118.31 5.82 4.08 4 ' 1.0 "
51 116.14 5.72 4.00 4 ' 0.1 "
52 114.06 5.61 3.93 3 ' 11.2 "
53 112.06 5.51 3.86 3 ' 10.4 "
54 110.13 5.42 3.80 3 ' 9.6 "
55 108.28 5.33 3.73 3 ' 8.8 "
56 106.50 5.24 3.67 3 ' 8.1 "
57 104.79 5.16 3.61 3 ' 7.4 "
58 103.13 5.08 3.56 3 ' 6.7 "
59 101.54 5.00 3.50 3 ' 6.0 "
60 100.00 4.92 3.45 3 ' 5.4 "
61 98.52 4.85 3.40 3 ' 4.8 "
62 97.08 4.78 3.35 3 ' 4.2 "
63 95.69 4.71 3.30 3 ' 3.6 "
64 94.35 4.64 3.25 3 ' 3.0 "
65 93.06 4.58 3.21 3 ' 2.5 "
66 91.80 4.52 3.17 3 ' 2.0 "
67 90.59 4.46 3.12 3 ' 1.5 "
68 89.42 4.40 3.08 3 ' 1.0 "
69 88.28 4.34 3.04 3 ' 0.5 "
70 87.17 4.29 3.01 3 ' 0.1 "
71 86.10 4.24 2.97 2 ' 11.6 "
72 85.07 4.19 2.93 2 ' 11.2 "
73 84.06 4.14 2.90 2 ' 10.8 "
74 83.08 4.09 2.86 2 ' 10.4 "
75 82.13 4.04 2.83 2 ' 10.0 "
76 81.21 4.00 2.80 2 ' 9.6 "
77 80.32 3.95 2.77 2 ' 9.2 "
78 79.45 3.91 2.74 2 ' 8.9 "
79 78.61 3.87 2.71 2 ' 8.5 "
80 77.79 3.83 2.68 2 ' 8.2 "
81 76.99 3.79 2.65 2 ' 7.9 "
82 76.21 3.75 2.63 2 ' 7.5 "
83 75.46 3.71 2.60 2 ' 7.2 "
84 74.72 3.68 2.58 2 ' 6.9 "
85 74.01 3.64 2.55 2 ' 6.6 "
86 73.31 3.61 2.53 2 ' 6.3 "
87 72.64 3.57 2.50 2 ' 6.1 "
88 71.98 3.54 2.48 2 ' 5.8 "
89 71.34 3.51 2.46 2 ' 5.5 "
90 70.71 3.48 2.44 2 ' 5.3 "

 

 

Sub-Pages

Click the links below to go "deeper" into details on indivudual motive power by manufacturer

  Track & rail material    Aristo-Craft track & switches    Flex track & rail benders    Turnouts in general 
  Train-Li    Track & wheel cleaning    Track power & wiring    Prototype & model turnouts 
  Trackwork tips    Air operated switches       Roadbed & track construction     Track & wheel standards 
  LGB track & switches    Build your own turnouts    USA Trains track & switches  G scale Sectional Track
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