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What is difference between Code 55, 80, etc. track?

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  • Member since
    October, 2012
  • 17 posts
What is difference between Code 55, 80, etc. track?
Posted by Don1942 on Thursday, November 01, 2012 11:23 AM

Thought maybe I would start a new thread with this question. As I am a newbie to the hobby and plan to start building my layout soon. I have been reading for months now and hope I have the 10,000 foot view of things, I now want to drill down on a couple of things.

I plan on building an N gauage layout but I doubt it makes any difference between HO and N gauge regarding this question. I read that the code number was the heigth of the track. Okay, what difference does it make and which is better?

  • Member since
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  • From: Southwest US
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Posted by tomikawaTT on Thursday, November 01, 2012 4:46 PM

The Code number is the height of the rail in thousandths of an inch.  Multiplying by 160 (in American N scale) will give you the height of the prototype rail being represented.  Commercially available rail measures from Code 40 (1/25 inch high) up.

There is a tradeoff between using small, prototypically accurate, rail and larger rail - so easily-laid track looks heavy and oversize (Code 80 is over a scale foot high in N scale!) while smaller rail calls for a lot more care in tracklaying and can raise issues with flanges on some rolling stock.  At that, Code 55 is actually larger than the heaviest rail ever used on an American railroad (close to nine N-scale inches.  PRR's heaviest was eight inches high.)  Code 40 scales to something over six inches - which puts it in the ballpark for 110-115 pound prototype rail typical of lighter prototypes today or mainlines during WWI.

Take a look at your local 1:1 scale railroad's track.  Even track laid with 131# rail (rolled in 2000) looks light and fragile compared to model flex track.

Chuck (Modeling Central Japan in September, 1964 - in twice-N 1:80 scale, aka HOj)

  • Member since
    October, 2012
  • 17 posts
Posted by Don1942 on Thursday, November 01, 2012 7:13 PM

Domo. I did just see an ad where it indicated that the code 55 would work better with the older rolling stock due to wheel size.

Does DCC make any difference in which track you use?

  • Member since
    December, 2001
  • From: Northern CA Bay Area
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Posted by cuyama on Thursday, November 01, 2012 8:55 PM

Don1942
I did just see an ad where it indicated that the code 55 would work better with the older rolling stock due to wheel size.

Actually, it's sort of the opposite. Code 80, being higher, generally works better with older wheels, some of which had overly deep flanges. The exception is PECO Code 55, which has an unusual construction and works well with all wheels.

Don1942
Does DCC make any difference in which track you use?

Not really, although you will hear a lot of noise on this. The key issue is the way that the turnouts (track switches) must be wired with DCC. Some types require more gaps and feeders, but nothing too  onerous.

Most people choose the track type based on the variety of turnouts and not solely based on the code of the track. For example, in N scale Atlas offers both Code 80 and Code 55, which is more finescale in appearance but has the issue with older wheels. The Code 80 is slightly easier to wire for DCC, but it's not a huge difference. The atlas Code 55 offers only a #5 as the smallest turnout, which may be too broad for some.

PECO offers Code 55 which requires some additional wiring with DCC and Code 80 "Insulfrog" which is a little easier to wire. Some folks find the way the PECO turnouts look somewhat unrealistic, but they are very space-saving.

And there are other brands as well. But there is no one-size-fits all.

Personally I've used PECO C55 and Atlas C55 on projects and both have been fine. I've also seen fine layouts built with Atlas C80 and other suppliers' products.

If you have a hobby shop nearby, looking at samples of the various track and turnouts to see what you like the best may be a help. Forum advice only goes so far.

  • Member since
    October, 2012
  • 17 posts
Posted by Don1942 on Friday, November 02, 2012 7:01 AM

Thanks Cuyama. If only I could find a hobby shop that carried N scale. I yet to find any N scale hanging on a hobby shop wall.

I plan to build my layout in phases for multiple reasons and learning what works is one of them. For now I', going with Atlas C55.

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