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Best N scale track

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Best N scale track
Posted by tayz555 on Saturday, April 24, 2010 1:21 PM

I am new to (serious) model railroading and want to create a fun, reliable, and realistic looking N scale layout (about 40"x84"). I first thought Kato Unitrack would be great for me because it seems to reduce the complexity of assembly and wiring and so on. I have found quite a few people though who have had problems with the #4 turnouts as well as with adding more realistic ballast. I had planned on using #4s and ballasting. Opinions?

Could I, as a newcomer, lay Atlas Code 55 track well enough to run smoothly; is there a lot of soldering involved? I dont know how to glue this track down either, but it seems like it might not be too time consuming in comparison to how great it looks.  These are my two current options because I think code 55 looks so great but kato seems to be much easier, but is it that much easier?

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Posted by cowman on Saturday, April 24, 2010 7:00 PM

Welcome to the forums.

I'm in HO, but I can relate some of the previous comments about sectional vs. flex track.  I am assuming when you say using code 55, you will are concidering flex track.

Kato Unitrack has gotten some good reviews here, as far as sectional track goes.  The two major complaints about sectional track is the number of possible places you can have electrical contact problems.  I do think there are fewer with the track that has a pre attached trackbed, as it moves a little less than regular sectional track.  The second is that sectional track limits your track planning to the available radii curves.  You have already noted that ballasting can be a problem, however, have been several posts in HO that they have done a good job of adding more realistic ballast to the pre-ballasted track.

As for attaching track to the benchwork, cheap latex caulk works well for holding pre-ballasted track, cork to benchwork and track to cork.  (Also attaching other things too, it is foam compatable.)   A very thin bead, spread with a putty knife, place the track on, press slightly, let it set up.  On curves I used T-pins to hold the track in place until the caulk dried.

Hope this gets you started.

Good luck,

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Posted by wm3798 on Saturday, April 24, 2010 8:46 PM

 Cowman offers some good general track advice that applies to any scale. 

But you asked about N Scale, which has some very specific issues, so I'll try to share some of my experiences with N Scale track, since that's what you asked about.

First, since you emphasized the word "serious" and went on to mention ballasting, I'm assuming that you are interested in creating a model railroad that not only runs reliably, but also looks very realistic.  It is possible to have both, even as a beginner, but there is a learning curve, and there is a bit of work to be done, regardless of the track system you choose.

If you choose Kato Unitrak, you won't have to work as hard to get it run reliably, but to get it to look less toy-like, you'll have quite a burden to bear.  Painting the rails is the first step, which is difficult because you'll pretty much have to do that by hand to avoid getting your rail color all over the plastic ballast.  If you plan to add more realistic ballast, this is less of a problem, but the new problem is spreading the ballast and securing it, especially around turnouts.  Unitrak mechanisms are built into the roadbed, and impossible to clean up if you accidentally let glue run into the hole where the actuator is.

If you choose Atlas code 55, the track looks fantastic right off the bat, but it is a bit more delicate to work with.  If you've used regular Atlas c80 track, you'll be able to figure out the 55 pretty quickly, though.  You'll need to be able to trim back excess rail, solder joints that will be used on curves, and all the other tricks of the trade...  You'll also have to provide for turnout control, as the Atlas points are not designed to work without an external control of some sort.

 

Peco offers a code 55 track, which looks pretty good, and has a good variety of turnouts available.  The track looks a little clunkier than Atlas, because the ties are larger than US N scale, and the spacing is a little off.  However, if all of the track is consistent, you don't really notice it, as shown below.

Obviously the track still needs to be painted and ballasted, but it looks pretty good nonetheless.

At the end of the day, the best track is the one that works best for you.  If you're looking for better appearance, then invest the time in Atlas track.  If you want quick installation and solid operation, then invest the money (big heaping gobs of it) in Kato Unitrak.

Lee

 

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Posted by tayz555 on Saturday, April 24, 2010 10:06 PM

thank you both, that is helpful information.. if I may take advantage of your knowledge some more... when you say I'd have to be careful about getting glue in the turnouts while adding ballast..how do you glue the ballast?

 My thoughts so far on which track to use: I still need to look at an accurate cost comparison for the layout I am planning, but I am a little intimidated by the soldering and such that I'd have to do with flextrack; I had cheap stuff growing up and now I want smooth running trains very badly.. yes, I was refering to flextrack when I said Atlas code 55, BUT i did just think about a third option since I am intimidated by the soldering and all that is involved.

Is the sectional code 55 track worth using integrated with the flextrack? (Flextrack being utilized in non-symetrical areas of the track plan but never strung out together and therefore not requiring soldering). Am I too worried about soldering? I know cowman said sectional track without roadbed is harder to deal with for the contact issues but this seems like a solution for me because planning with fixed radii isnt a problem, just getting everything to match up with kato unitrack is impossible with my ambitious non-symetric track plan (without using a bunch of those 'telescoping' adjustable expensive pieces they offer.. are those ok to use at all?)

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Posted by cuyama on Saturday, April 24, 2010 10:41 PM

As Lee pointed out, smooth-running layouts can be built with Atlas Code 55, PECO C55, or KATO Unitrack.

But unless you use KATO Unitrack or one of the other "click" tracks, you will need to solder for reliability. The Code 55 sectional track will not maintain reliable electrical contact over months and years without some soldering.

That's the bad news. The good news is that soldering is not a hard skill to learn, but it does require some practice.

The adjustable-length straight tracks work fine in KATO N scale. I wish they were available in HO as well, it would be handy for my HO clients who choose KATO.

Byron

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Posted by cowman on Sunday, April 25, 2010 7:10 AM

tayz555
Is the sectional code 55 track worth using integrated with the flextrack?

 

Yes, you can mix sectional and flex track, BUT you end up with more joints, thus more points that may need soldering.  Many folks seem to solder two pieces of flex track together, so they work with a 6' piece.  They solder one set of feed wires to that section of track.  That way you only have to solder one joint and one set of feed wires per 6'.  All that can be done on the workbench.   One trim after you have the track in place to square the ends.  Obviously there will be places where shorter sections will be needed, but using the long pieces saves a lot of time and headaches looking for loose joints and solder connections.  Go to the search function to the right and search for soldering track, you will find many suggestions on what has worked for others.  Try a couple of different methods and you will find one that you will feel comfortable with.

As best I can recall most folks use the same formula to attach ballast as on regular layouts, white glue and water or matte medium and water in a 1:1, 2:1 or 3:1 ratio.  Different folks use different mixes, some even up to 5:1.  Experiment a little and see what works.  On the slope at the side, some have used straight glue as it is thicker and holds in place better.

Good luck,

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Posted by wm3798 on Sunday, April 25, 2010 9:17 AM

 I avoid getting glue in the Kato mechanism by using Atlas track!Big Smile

I'll have to do a tutorial page on how I ballast, but it's really not that complex.  I believe there's a ballasting article in MR at least once a year.  Basically, put your ballast in a dixie cup, the crimp one end of it to make a little spout.  Then pour a mound of it between the rails, and just a little taller than the rail head.  I then use a 1/2" paint brush to sweep it between the rails and over the shoulder of the cork.  Continue sweeping it until it's just the way you want it.  Keep ballast from settling on top of the ties, or stuck in the web of the rail.  Once done, mist some 70% Isopropyl rubbing alcohol over the area, letting it fall into the ballast like rain, not shot directly into it.

Once the area is well wetted, go back over it with your glue solution.  I mix about 1/5 white glue, 1/10 alcohol, and the rest warm water (to dissolve the glue).  I then dribble this mix carefully so as not to dislodge the ballast.  Sometimes you'll get a small washout, but it's easy to go back and touch up after the first coat dries (about 24 hours).

Don't try to move the ballast when it's wet.  That only leads to disaster.

As for soldering the track, if you have some old track laying around, c-80, HO, or whatever, just sit down at the work bench and fool around with it until you discover your technique.  The important thing to remember is that solder flows better when the surfaces of the rail and joiner are clean.  Use a bit of 220 sandpaper or a small file to remove any crap from the area to be joined.

I like to flow a blob of paste flux into the joint, followed by a flow of small diameter solder.  99 times out of 100, I'll get a good joint that is smooth, and once painted, is imperceptible. 

There's a joint just ahead of the locomotive.  I used some scrap ties to fill in under the joiners.

The other one time I get a blob that invariably is in one of my favorite photo locations!

Lee

 

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Posted by tayz555 on Sunday, April 25, 2010 1:13 PM

Thanks for all the advice! I'm sure I will have more questions as I make more decisions. Just from the picture though, I have another question.. what do you use to weather your rails?

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Posted by tayz555 on Sunday, April 25, 2010 1:58 PM

I was working on a track plan using the kato unitrack just to see if i could do it (i liked the challenge) and they provide very good geometry for everything they offer. Now that I would like to see how my track plan works with atlas code 55 turnouts I cannot find any geometry on them. I see some people say the track spacing in a ladder configuration is 1.25" with #5 turnouts (like the #4 unitrack spacing) but is that at a 15degree angle off parallel (in other words, if u have a lefthand turnout leading to a series of righthand turnouts to form your ladder, are they at a 15degree angle or is it different), if I knew the lenght of the straight part of the turnout and the track spacing it yields on the divergent point (classification tracks) then i would know the angle, any geometry would help atlas!

same for #7's

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Posted by wm3798 on Sunday, April 25, 2010 6:45 PM

tayz555

Thanks for all the advice! I'm sure I will have more questions as I make more decisions. Just from the picture though, I have another question.. what do you use to weather your rails?

 

Long story short, spray paint.  But I built that section of the layout outside in the garage, and did all the nasty smelly stuff out there.  If you use an airbrush and water based paint, you can get pretty good results indoors.

Basically, I spray the rusty rail color from a low angle, then a darker grimy tie color from above.  Make sure you mask the points of any turnouts, then when everything is dry, use a bright boy pad to rub the paint off the tops of the rails.

Lee

Route of the Alpha Jets  www.wmrywesternlines.net

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Posted by jcook01 on Thursday, May 13, 2010 12:02 PM

 

The last time I check my LHS he stated that Atlas manufacturing in China was still trying to recover from an N Scale Code 55 manufacturing issue with their molds and that no Code 55 was en-route to the US. Last month at a train show here in Omaha I'd heard that the same story was still in affect.

Over the winter I tore down our first single table layout and have been working on expanding the layout to a three table U shape. Tables are about complete and I'll be looking for Code 55 soon. My older Code 80 flex track I plan to use in hidden tunnels and along the back wall where it'll be harder to discern a difference.

Back to the main point, anyone know the current Code 55 status from Atlas?

 Regards, John

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Posted by fredswain on Thursday, May 13, 2010 2:45 PM

I wasted nearly a thousand dollars on Kato Unitrack only to pull it all up and literally throw lots of it away in the trash. I had horrible issues with their #4 turnouts and half of them required me to do some work to fix them. I wanted a more realistic look. I spent too many hours hand painting each tie one by one and then sprinkling ballast between each tie one by one after running a little but of white glue between each tie one by one. Hopefully I've gotten the point across about what it takes to finely detail it. Then the issue of glue in the turnouts happened to me too. Sadly this happens long after you've spend hours detailing all of the track up to it after it is glued down. Removing the turnout means tearing track out around it.

If you try to take a turnout apart to fix it, you'll see how very poorly designed they are. It's a wonder they ever work! I've tried and tried to clean them out to make them work again but I've only had success with one and even then it was intermittent. I ruined 4 turnouts this way before I figured out how to detail them without ruining them.

The layout I had before that and since I was a kid had old reliable Atlas Code 80 track. It's not the most realistic out there but it is probably about as reliable as it gets. With a bit of detailing it can look quite nice. Check out the current issue of N Scale Magazine. My friend Gordon Bliss has his layout featured and he has all Atlas code 80. He does have a variety of turnouts complete with groundthrows and tortoise machines too though but it shows what potential code 80 has.

In the last issue of N Scale Magazine was another friend of mines layout. That was Jason Smith's UP Overland Route. He has all Atlas Code 55 and it is about as realistic as it gets. He has had to modify lots of rolling stock to get the proper wheel flange height though so it took a bit of effort. Not everything runs on it straight out of the box.

The local N scale club here runs all Atlas Code 80 track but with Peco Code 80 turnouts. This is a great compromise. They wanted to run any engine or rolling stock on it whether old or new and didn't want to worry about any potential wheel issues. My personal N scale layout uses Peco Code 55. I like it and am quite happy with my choice. It's profile is a bit different than Atlas Code 55 and I don't have a problem with wheel flange issues. Only Atlas Code 55 gets tie spacing correct but with track detailing the rest don't stand out. A downside of Peco is that not everyone carries it. Atlas is pretty easy to find anywhere. Peco is also a bit expensive but I think worth it. If I were doing another N scale I would consider Atlas Code 55 but would have no issues with again using the Peco Code 55. I use all flextrack and wouldn't have it any other way. It is very easy to work with. The fewer track joints you have, the less likely you are to have electrical issues. I haven't had to solder anything. I use Atlas track joiners that come with wires soldered onto them. It makes things simple. It is easy to melt plastic ties when soldering so if you can avoid it, do it.

Of course track like Kato, Bachmann, etc that all have integrated roadbed are going to be literally plug and play. That's fine for the beginner who just wants to watch trains run around or to have something set up for kids. It just doesn't cut it for serious modelling though. I know MR has their Salt Lake route layout using Kato track but for me when I see those pictures I see a great layout that could have been much more but was limited by the choice of track. That's just an opinion of course and I'm sure many disagree with it. The whole point of that article though is probably to show what is possible with that style of track so at least from an education standpoint it was quite useful. I'm sure many would be happy with a layout like that. Using Peco or Atlas track will require a bit more effort up front to initially get it running but ballasting and detailing more than make up for it in both overall looks and time to detail.

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Posted by WP&P on Thursday, May 13, 2010 9:24 PM

 Well, nobody has mentioned it yet, so I get to.  Micro Engineering makes the hands-down best looking flex track you can find, and you can get it with weathered rails to boot!  Installation is similar to the Atlas Code 55, with the exception that the ME track is more stiff, and when you bend it to a given curve it will hold that shape.  This can make gluing it down a bit easier, since you can "dry-fit" it, then pick it up, spread the glue/caulk, and put it back in the same shape.

I'm using ME code 55 on my layout's visible sections.  But the staging yards are Atlas code 80 with Peco switches.  I've also used code 80 on my N-trak module.  I did the trick that Lee mentioned, using spray paint to color the rails and ties (brown primer from low angle, then bronze/dark brown from right above to hit ties only), and the oversized code 80 ended up looking rather good, really.

If you want to get some practice, try joining a modular club and build a module first! You could even try different manufacturers or code sizes on the same module, like making an industry spur out of code 55, just to get a taste.  Try painting the track and compare to unpainted track, even when ballasted you'll see the difference.  A module or even diorama could help you figure out the technique that works best for you.

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Posted by Marc_Magnus on Friday, May 14, 2010 4:29 PM

WP&P
Well, nobody has mentioned it yet, so I get to.  Micro Engineering makes the hands-down best looking flex track you can find, and you can get it with weathered rails to boot!  Installation is similar to the Atlas Code 55, with the exception that the ME track is more stiff, and when you bend it to a given curve it will hold that shape.  This can make gluing it down a bit easier, since you can "dry-fit" it, then pick it up, spread the glue/caulk, and put it back in the same shape

Hi from Belgium,

Yes I agree whith you, ME code 55 is far the best looking track I have find in Nscale.

I agree also whith Lee about the Peco code 55 track which is good looking when ballasted and weathered, even if the turnout look a bit oversized because of the plates for the Peco motors.

The Atlas track is fine looking also and  is in the same range of price as Peco.

Try to use code 55 for Nscale is so much better looking.

If you want to do a great layout, better of all is use flextrack and certainly not sectionnal track, first because of his price second for electrical future problems.

Using  Flextrack from Peco, ME or Atlas is not very difficult but need the more important rule for any scale whith any type of track: lay smooth track, take your time, check it recheck and recheck it, you will have so much fun whith fine running track.

Make as mentionned a small diorama whith a few pieces of flextrack and turnouts, ballast it and I am sure you will be hooked whith flextrack, like us.

Don't be afraid about soldering, You just need to try it and redo it a few times, like many other things in this hobby it's not out of reach.

Many hobbiyst solder all the flextrack togheter, even if I have do it in the past, I didn't do it now, I just solder two piece of track which need to be curved, but I solder feeders on each piece of track.

About turnout , use live frog turnout even if they need some electrical device, in N scale a engine stall very quickly and this type of turnout is a kind of warranty for non stalling loco's.

Whith just these small examples you could obtain a fine running layout even it's the first time you build it.

Good luck.........and choice.

Marc 

 

 

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Posted by misterconsister on Saturday, May 15, 2010 2:59 AM

 I'm wortking on my first layout, in NScale,  I just restarted my old passion from 40 years ago  It was never much to begin with and I didn't do any soldering when I was a kid. 

So after reading a number of posts on this site and thinking about what I wanted, I went with ME code 55 weathered flex. I really wanted realism and relaibility.  You have to put some effort into learning to build track, and there's some trial and error, but its been one of the most satifying things I've done so far, getting the track into a fine-tuned machine.  And its well worth it. I'm having very few derailments at this point. 

Now I'm thinking of building track as nickel-steel art.  Like jewelry being laid through a landscape. I'm waxing a bit there but there's a lot of artistry to making a workable railroad, like in the real world. 

Soldering was challenging at first but I got a good 35 Watt iron and a 100/140 watt gun, using the gun for track joint and power-lead soldering.  Now, it's no problem to take on a little track soldering.

Some soldering supplies I recommend for track soldering: 100/140 watt gun, sponge or brass brush (there's some other brass cleaning tool I can't recall), shrink-wrap tubing of various sizes, grabbers on a little stand - I bought the block of four stiff wires with alligator clip ends and although its flimsy, it sure can handle tricky holds well.   

Techniques: Clean the tip of the iron all the time, get the iron hot before you apply it to the track or wire, use flux liquid (I use H&N Electronics Flux Gel - it tends to stay where you put it), .Don't file your track too much, just where its needed.

I would have tried the ME turnouts but they were never available from the time I got into it in March 2008.  So I have Atlas code 55 #5, #7 and #10 turnouts.  I also have a couple of Fastracks #10s from eBay.  The last ones, built on a fastracks jig are great, smooth turnouts but mine are a little floppy from poor tie-gluing.

I power the frog of about half my turnouts with Tortoises, the other half with Caboose manual throws. On the Tortoise, there are two auxillary switched circuits, one of which you can use to power the Atlas turnout isolated frogs.  For the Caboose version I'm using there's some electrical switch contacts built-in so you can run power from the main to it, and switch the frog polarity.

I have no issues where the ME track meets the Atlas.  I do however use Atlas joiners for those joints because the ME joiners are too frustratingly-tight.

I painted my track and ties too, all part of the art project as I see it.  Looks very good and since your eyes spend a lotta time on the rails when watching trains, makes the whole experience more real. 

Lastly, I tried gleaming and I'm convinced it's the way to go.  I haven't fully tested it but things sure run more consistently with it.

And what's the deal with the Atlas curved turnouts?  I want some juicy details on the China production run that went awry.  Good thing its taking me so long to just get the basic framework together, or I'd be dead in the water, two crucial mainline sections need them on my layout.

Long post, hope that helps,

Eric  

 

 

I'm kinda likin this stuff

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Posted by STANLEY O MONTGOMERY on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 5:28 AM
this is a question I was wondering about, is there much difference between unitrack and C80 atlas flex track as derailments go, I know you have to be pretty good on curves other than that is reliability the same in both tracks not counting one has built in roadbed.
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Posted by Drew4950 on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 3:51 PM

On my layout that I just tore apart I used both Atlas code 80 and Kato Unitrack. I rarely soder the rails. Only if there is a conductivity problem. I use a didgitrax DCC system and fed power about every 5 or 6 feet from the bus.

I had used 2, number 4 turnouts by Kato and I did have a problem with one of them. I found that my E8s would scrape the frogs and derail. A track rework eliminated the turnout. The other #4 worked fine. With the exception of a double crossover all the rest of my turnouts were #4 Atlas Code 80 snap-track. And several of these were from the 70s.

Derail problems were intermitent and involved only certain pieces of equipment. SOme were because of sloppy sodering and in a couple of places I needed a paper shim the bolster the track up so the locomatives stopped plowing off the track in a certain corner. Part of this may have come from a benchwork issue.  

I like the code 80 as some of my rolling stock still has the 1970s pizza cutter wheels. If the car still rolls good why replace the wheels? And I like flex track too.

Modeling a railroad hypothetically set in time.

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