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Track size tradeoffs

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Track size tradeoffs
Posted by MJ4562 on Sunday, July 17, 2022 2:31 PM

What are the factors and tradeoffs involved in selecting track size for a layout? Assuming a person is starting from scratch. As a longtime reader of MRR I notice most layouts trend toward larger sized rail and many that use lighter rail--Code 70 or 83--on visible sections revert to Code 100 on hidden staging areas. 

Is it a question of cost?  Are special turnouts and other track only available in certain size rail?   Do trains run better on larger sized track?

Being a fan of the "track is a model" mindset I would love to do an HO layout in code 70 mainline and code 55 for sidings.  What sort of obstacles does one run into going that route?

I appreciate your input.    

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Posted by selector on Sunday, July 17, 2022 2:43 PM

It is all those things.  Code 100 was the standard, and widely available, and is easiest to use due to its true dimensions.  It offers the least problems with flanges of various sizes that some might still want/have to use due to heritage units, inherited and gifted units, and the like.

If your aim is close approximation to scale, and to realism, IOW fidelity, then you should probably seek to acquire the slighter/smaller codes of rails. Just as the thinner tires and smaller flanges impart realism, especially with small and non-glad hand couplers and with finer and more numerous detailing on rolling stock, the smaller rail stock looks more like the real thing.  However, it sometimes takes more skill or more careful handling as it is less robust.

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Posted by MisterBeasley on Sunday, July 17, 2022 2:51 PM

I built the original section of my railroad with Code 100 track, because I was familiar and comfortable with it.  When I moved on to the next section, I transitioned to Code 83.  I like the Code 83 better because the ties are thinner and the track just looks more realistic.

Code 83 is a bit more costly than Code 100.  All the new track is Code 83, even for staging, in case I wanted to change the layout and I need more track.

I did have some old European engines and rolling stick with pizza cutter wheels that rattled on the Code 83 ties.  I also had some old Tyco cars that did that, but a planned replacement of all my plastic wheelsets fixed that.

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

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Posted by cowman on Sunday, July 17, 2022 3:00 PM

This is purely my take on the matter, much like yours.

I think those that use Code 100 in hidden areas is primarily cost  There is also some on operational factors, thinking of cookie cutter wheels were larger flanges may hit and ride up on frogs of smaller code turnouts.  Size of turnouts is certainly a factor, whatever code track you are  using.

I have not heard much about trains running better (or worse) on various code track other than the frog bumping, and that can usually be corrected with different wheelsets.

Since you are of the "track is a model" mindset and if cost  is not a factor to you, go for it. I have never knowingly seen a layout with mixed track sized to fill the "track is a model" mindset, but then I've visited very few perminant  layouts, mostly ones at shows.

I'm waiting for me to get into carpenter mode and get a shelf in my new room,  but will be using all Code 100.

Good luck,

Richard

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Posted by trainnut1250 on Sunday, July 17, 2022 3:39 PM

MJ4562

 As a longtime reader of MRR I notice most layouts trend toward larger sized rail and many that use lighter rail--Code 70 or 83--on visible sections revert to Code 100 on hidden staging areas.

I do this mainly due to cost. I have 300' feet of Atlas code 100 in the hidden staging areas. I use ME codes 83, 70 and 55 on the visible portions of the layout.

MJ4562

Being a fan of the "track is a model" mindset I would love to do an HO layout in code 70 mainline and code 55 for sidings.  What sort of obstacles does one run into going that route?

I appreciate your input.    

I did exactly what you describe on my upper deck - worked great. The only issue might be getting a full selection of turnout sizes and specialty track in code 70 and 55. If you are a fan of detailed track, I would bottom feed ME flex. They are up for sale but are still making track. They do make code 70 #6 turnouts but after that you are off to other brands for turnouts.

 

Have fun with the project,

Guy

see stuff at: the Willoughby Line Site

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Posted by John-NYBW on Sunday, July 17, 2022 5:34 PM

I have a completely different mindset when it comes to track. Function is what matters. I was perfectly happy with code 100 track on my last layout. When I started my current layout about 20 years ago, I switched to code 83 only because it seemed to be the new standard. I didn't want to have different sized rail on different sections because that would require transition rail. When my trains are running, I don't notice individual ties nor do I notice the height of the rail. It makes no difference to me. I've never been tempted to use lighter rail nor handlay rail. Commercial flex track and turnouts work just fine for me and in some industrial areas, I've made good use of sectional track. On sections of track I've laid recently, I have painted the rail but to me this is a minor detail and not something I really notice much at all. 

We all have different things that are important to us when it comes to the choices we make. Track appearance has never been high on my list. As long as it functions well, that's what's important. 

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Sunday, July 17, 2022 10:03 PM

I do not use code 100 track, and I never have.

I use code 83 on the mainlines, and almost all other track. Some industrial track drops to code 70, or even ME code 55.

-Kevin

Living the dream and happily modeling my STRATTON AND GILLETTE Railroad in HO scale. The SGRR is a freelanced Class A railroad as it would have appeared on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954, in my personal fantasy world of plausible nonsense.

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Posted by Pruitt on Sunday, July 17, 2022 10:35 PM

I use code 100 in hidden areas because I have scale miles of it (no exaggeration) from years (and layouts) past. I use code 83 for my heavy mainline, code 70 for branchlines and sidings off the mainline, and code 55 for sidings off the branchlines.

I do NOT use ME track unless there's no alternative because I don't like it - hard to curve smoothly. Others love it, but I use Atlas for the code 83, Peco for the code 70, and - ugh! - ME for the code 55 because they're the only game in town.

I haven't finished scenicing an area with code 55 track yet, so I don't know if it's worth the extra effort of connecting two different rails sizes together or not. Code 83 and 70, the difference is very visible.

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Posted by wrench567 on Sunday, July 17, 2022 10:43 PM

  Many years ago I built a module with a hand laid industrial section using code 40 stripped from old N scale track. With weeds, crummy ties, bumps and dips. The track looked great. But the bad part was the wheel width. Regular sized HO wheelsets looked awful. I also tried the proto 83 wheelsets but they also looked horribly huge. I have since scrapped that siding and rebuilt the module using code 83. Once it's painted and ballasted it looks better with HO size wheels.

    Pete.

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Posted by trainnut1250 on Monday, July 18, 2022 12:01 AM

Pruitt

I haven't finished scenicing an area with code 55 track yet, so I don't know if it's worth the extra effort of connecting two different rails sizes together or not. Code 83 and 70, the difference is very visible.

Mark,

From my experience with code 70 &55 - I think you will be very happy with the look when it is done.

Guy

see stuff at: the Willoughby Line Site

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Posted by mobilman44 on Monday, July 18, 2022 5:41 AM

All my HO layouts were built with Atlas code 100, due to cost, availability, and my own built up inventory over the years.  I did have a minor amount of Atlas code 83 on my last layout, and I certainly appreciated its improved realism.  

That said, if I were building another layout today, I would still use Atlas code 100. 

Why???  Well these days, cost is not a problem and I assume the supply is there.

But there is a factor that some of us "seniors" might be battling with, and that is the "harder to work with" challenge of the smaller rails. 

Specifically, there is the soldering of feeders and joints, and even the placement of rolling stock upon the smaller rails, and so on. 

For those of you with "young eyes" and "non-shaking hands", this is all a moot point.  But for those of us fighting these aging factors, it can be a huge deal.

 

ENJOY  !

 

Mobilman44

 

Living in southeast Texas, formerly modeling the "postwar" Santa Fe and Illinois Central 

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Posted by rrebell on Monday, July 18, 2022 9:07 AM

The look of the smaller code is better down to code 70. Beyond that you lose the illusion unless you go scale wheels. Code 100 is much easier to put cars on the rails which can be why people use it in hidden areas, also it is more forgiving of bad trackwork. I started with code 70 and stayed and have no troubles with derailments, but sometime compermise is good and if I was going to start over I would proubly use code 83.

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Monday, July 18, 2022 11:18 AM

MJ4562
What are the factors and tradeoffs involved in selecting track size for a layout?

Code 100: Anything will run on it with no modifications. Too large for virtually any real railroad.

Code 83: Represents heavy rail in North America. Massive amount of products available. All newer designed products are made in code 83. Almost everything will run on it.

Code 70: Represents common rail used in North America up until recent mainlines. Older trains will bump the spikes as they roll along. Not much new product being offered.

Code 55: Represents industrial trackage and old time mainline. Flex track only and just from one manufacturer. RP25 wheels will clear the spike heads.

Code 40: Represents light industrial trackage. Must be handlaid by soldering to PC board ties. Even RP25 wheels will bump the spike heads.

-Kevin

Living the dream and happily modeling my STRATTON AND GILLETTE Railroad in HO scale. The SGRR is a freelanced Class A railroad as it would have appeared on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954, in my personal fantasy world of plausible nonsense.

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Posted by MJ4562 on Monday, July 18, 2022 11:43 AM

Thank you everyone!  That is very helpful.  I'm returning to the hobby after a career and raising a family so I don't have much legacy stuff but a lot to catch up on. 

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Posted by wrench567 on Tuesday, July 19, 2022 7:17 AM

  Unless you are going for a museum quality scale equivalent of the prototype. I wouldn't worry too much about track codes and shy away from anything smaller than code 70. HO trucks, wheels, couplers, frogs, guard rails and more are not truly scale. Even the proto 87 wheels are too wide and have large flanges compared to a true scale wheel.

   Pete.

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Posted by fwright on Saturday, July 23, 2022 3:54 PM

I can't let the errors go by.

Proto87 wheels are exactly scaled from the prototype.  Proto87 track usually uses ME or very similar rail in the appropriate height to represent the track being modeled.  Flangeways are indeed to scale - which is even more obvious to most observers than the wheel width.

Normal NMRA RP25 HO wheels are called code 110 wheels.  They are 0.110" wide, hence the designation.  Code 110 wheels are nearly twice as wide as Proto87 wheels, and require much wider flangeways.  There is also a set of standards for semi-scale wheels, known as Code 88 wheels.  The Code 88 wheels will run well on NMRA standard track if flangeways are kept at the minimum dimension.  But flangeways at the widest dimension, such as were used by Atlas (may still be), will have wheel drop in the longer frogs (higher frog #s).  HOn3 generally uses Code 88 wheels, but there are some older code 110 wheels around.

The narrower wheels make a bigger visual difference on truss rod rolling stock and on small diameter driver locomotives.  On more modern equipment models, the extra distance between the wheel and the unmodified truck frame may distract from the improved visual effect of the narrower wheel.  This distance can be disconcerting using unmodified truck frames for Proto87 wheels.

Back to the OP's question.  Spiked code 40 rail will work with RP25 flanges in HO if very small spike heads are used.  I have used the smallest size spikes from ME, and plan to try Proto87 spikes when I resume hand laying track.  At one time ME (or its predecessor Kurtz-Kraft) made code 40 flex track for HO and HOn3.  Or the code 40 rail can be glued or soldered instead of spiked (usually the case in N handlaid track).

Code 55 and code 70 rail work just fine with reasonably small spikes for anything except the AHM/Rivarossi pizza cutter flanges.  I know, I handlaid code 70 rail in the mid 70s - code 83 rail was not yet being made, and AHM equipment was common among budget modelers.

Fred W

....modeling foggy coastal Oregon in HO and HOn3, where it's always 1900.... 

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Posted by doctorwayne on Sunday, July 24, 2022 3:31 PM

fwright
On more modern equipment models, the extra distance between the wheel and the unmodified truck frame may distract from the improved visual effect of the narrower wheel. This distance can be disconcerting using unmodified truck frames for Proto87 wheels.



I totally agree Fred.  A friend uses the the code 88 wheelsets, and to my eye, they do look disconcerting, especially because of the gap between the face of the wheels and the unprototypical-wide sideframes.
I'm guessing that those modelling in Proto 87 use true-to-scale-width trucks, too...but it must be a little more difficult to put a derailed car back on the track, especially if one has shaky hands and fat fingers.

Wayne

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Posted by Pruitt on Sunday, July 24, 2022 6:28 PM

fwright
The narrower wheels make a bigger visual difference on truss rod rolling stock and on small diameter driver locomotives. 

They also make a huge difference on any rolling stock where the wheel width can easily be seen, like tank cars.

Code 110 on the right, code 88 on the left:

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Posted by FRRYKid on Monday, July 25, 2022 2:56 AM

I have used Code 100 for all my layouts for the most part (On my old layout, I did have a few sections of ME bridge track in Code 83.) as I mosty use sectional track. (I do use flex when a curve isn't standard or the extra length is needed. I have a car shop that has flex track in the base due to the size.) As mentioned, it is heavy for prototype, but as I have some of the cookie-cutter Rivarossi engines (3 U-boats), it is needed. The rail can be weathered as needed to reduce the apparent height. As I reused the turnouts from my old layout and had built up a stock of Code 100 track, it made sense and cents to use and reuse it.

As someone has said before, it is your railroad and you can do with it as you please.

"The only stupid question is the unasked question."
Brain waves can power an electric train. RealFact #832 from Snapple.
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Posted by fwright on Monday, July 25, 2022 11:44 AM

Thanks Wayne.

What little I know about Proto87 is that trucks must be equalized - this includes diesel trucks.  No rigid one piece side frames on car trucks, which is entirely prototypical.  So altering bolster lengths is probably not that big a deal to bring the sideframes in closer to the wheels on freight car trucks.

Although Proto87 interests me, reality is that it's not for steam modelers unless you a machinist capable of making your own drivers.  And I am not a machinist or a metal worker - my last name is Wright, not Smith.

As for re-railing, as I've gotten older and shakier and working in HOn3, I have really come to appreciate rerailing devices.  A rerailer - which is very easy to make, even from cardboard - makes getting the wheels on the rails pretty trivial.

Fred W

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Posted by tloc52 on Monday, July 25, 2022 2:28 PM

Previous to retirement and a move in 2014 I used Atlas code 100. 

November of 2014 and all mainline is code 70 ME rail with the staging yards in code 100, because I had it.

2/2022, I started replacing the main track that crosses through the Paper Mill in code 83 by ME. 41' has been replaced and another 43' is waiting to be replaced.

My opinion is use what you have or want to use. If someone says unsolicted your rail is too large, out of scale, whatever, don't invite them back. They are rude and in many cases do not have a layout. If you ask, well you asked and be prepared for anything.

Whatever code rail you use, weather it

TomO

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Posted by John-NYBW on Monday, July 25, 2022 2:54 PM

I've never been the least bit concerned about wheel width because for the most part, we look at our rolling stock from the side. I suppose if photography is a big part of the hobby for you, scale wheel width might make a difference but for me, I'm fine with the fat wheels. 

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Posted by Medina1128 on Tuesday, July 26, 2022 11:07 AM

My first layout was built entirely of Atlas code 100, and most of that was flex track. My current layout is code 83. Where I need special turnouts, I go to either Shinohara or Peco.

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Tuesday, July 26, 2022 1:15 PM

Usually code 100 in HO is more durable and a bit cheaper.  Smaller codes look finer and are a bit more expensive and more fragile.

I used code 100 in staging and code 83 for the rest.


/tradeoffs

Rio Grande.  The Action Road  - Focus 1977-1983

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Posted by Onewolf42 on Thursday, July 28, 2022 1:06 PM

On my most recent layout I used Atlas code 83 for all mainline, yard, and branch lines. I used code 100 (Atlas and Peco) for hidden track (helix, and lower/upper return/staging loops).  I used code 70 Micro Engineering for service spurs.  The Micro Engineering code 70 is challenging to install smooth flowing curves but I only needed to install about 250 ft of it so I perservered with it.

I had planned to use Micro Engineering code 83 (and I bought 1200 ft of it) for most of the visible track, however when I started testing it I found it extremely difficult to lay smooth flowing curves like I can with the Atlas flex track (and the Peco flex track as well). 

For my 'next' layout I assume will again use code 100 for hidden track and code 83 for most/all visible track. I doubt I will install any Micro Engineering track.  As an added bonus for the Micro Engineering code 70 track, I salvaged all of it as I deconstructed my layout, however it is completely unusable because painting it totally locked it into the current shape.  It is impossible to reshape now. 

The Atlas code 83 flex track can still be easily reshaped even after being painted. I was able to salvage about 900 ft of Atlas code 83 full 36" pieces and another 100+ pieces between 20" and 35" long.

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Posted by wjstix on Friday, July 29, 2022 9:27 AM

I use Kato Unitrack, which uses code 83 rail. Because their rail is narrower compared to other makers, I've found I can use "semi-scale" .088 wheelsets with no problems. I'm not obsessed about it, if a car comes with metal wheels I don't change them. However, I do have a fair number of older cars that came with plastic wheelsets that I'm converting to .088 metal a few at a time. BTW the one car that always gets the .088 wheels are cabooses, since you see their ends more than any other car, the closer-to-scale wheels do make a difference there in appearance.

Stix

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