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What are the advantages and disadvantages of Lionel FasTrak vs. MTH Realtrack vs. Atlas O?

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What are the advantages and disadvantages of Lionel FasTrak vs. MTH Realtrack vs. Atlas O?
Posted by Bernie on Sunday, October 30, 2022 11:46 AM

as asked.

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Posted by MisterBeasley on Sunday, October 30, 2022 1:40 PM

This forum is almost all HO gauge and N guage modellers.  You would probably get more responses on the Classic Toy Trains forum.

In HO, i find that most track manufacturers who use "fast" in their product names are making short sections of sectional track.  Atlas HO makes sectional track but also longer pieces of flex track which can, within reason, be shaped to suit.

MTH, by the way, has itself closed so their products will only be available if someone else picks up the lines.

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

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Posted by Bernie on Sunday, October 30, 2022 2:22 PM

I use Peco for my main HO empire.  But I just acquired a pair of O scale locomotives and plan to set up a small layout, little more than a loop of track with branch line and a station or two.  I've little experience with O scale and am still researching my options.

Sorry if this was the wrong forum, I've posted a number of HO related questions in here over the years and didn't realize this forum was exclusive to HO and N.  I'm not into "toy trains" so it never occurred to me to post over there.

Anyway, if MTH is discontinued, that limits me to Atlas or Lionel.  To my eyes, Atlas looks more realistic, but Lionel looks more sturdy.

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Posted by rrebell on Monday, October 31, 2022 10:07 AM

No exclusive to a scale here but there are few her into O as a main pasion.

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Posted by wjstix on Monday, October 31, 2022 10:54 AM

Since "Classic Toy Trains" is a Kalmbach magazine / forum, questions regarding O gauge three-rail trains generally are more likely to find answers there. I'm sure many folks who read and post there are "Scale Three-Railers" rather than toy train collectors.

"O Gauge Railroading" magazine's online forums may have more info; they have specific forums on Atlas, Lionel, and MTH products etc.

https://ogrforum.ogaugerr.com/forum-directory

In general, the main difference between Lionel Fastrack and Atlas' O three-rail track is Lionel's track (and MTH RealTrack I believe) is more like what's sometimes called "click track" in that it comes with simulated ballast added - kinda like Kato Unitrack in HO or N scale.

https://www.lionelstore.com/category/Track-and-Power?custitem_gauge=O-Gauge

Atlas track is more like their sectional HO or N track, it's basically just rails and ties so you would need to add ballast and a subroadbed (like cork) yourself.

https://shop.atlasrr.com/c-1017-o-3rl-track.aspx

 ealtrack is/was similar.

Stix
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Posted by Bernie on Monday, October 31, 2022 12:30 PM

rrebell

No exclusive to a scale here but there are few her into O as a main pasion.

That's fine.  O isn't my main passion, either.  HO is.  I just started dabbling in O scale for the lolz and have a few questions. :-)

 

wjstix

Since "Classic Toy Trains" is a Kalmbach magazine / forum, questions regarding O gauge three-rail trains generally are more likely to find answers there. I'm sure many folks who read and post there are "Scale Three-Railers" rather than toy train collectors.

Okay.  Thanks!  I'll keep that in mind from now on: "O" questions go under "Classic Toy Trains," even for serious model railroaders who aren't into "toy trains." :-)

 

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Posted by wjstix on Monday, October 31, 2022 3:46 PM

Bernie
I'll keep that in mind from now on: "O" questions go under "Classic Toy Trains," even for serious model railroaders who aren't into "toy trains." :-)

Not exactly. The Lionel and MTH track you asked about are three-rail track made for AC trains, so I/we are assuming that's what you're asking about. The best Kalmbach forum for questions about three-rail O would be the Classic Toy Trains forum, regardless of whether you're asking about toy trains or 1:48 scale trains made for three-rail track. 

Questions about two-rail O (or O narrow gauge), DC / DCC, trains would be better to ask here - although, as has been mentioned, there aren't all that many O scalers here, so you might want to check out the forums at O Scale Railroading magazine's site. 

Stix
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Posted by Bernie on Tuesday, November 1, 2022 8:19 AM

Okay.  I just learned something new! :-)

I always assumed that all O used 3-rail track for historical reasons. 

So, serious model railroaders who model in O scale use 2 rail track?  Cool!  And for that, the proper forum is O Scale Railroading.  Got it!

And 3-rail track is relegated mainly to toy trains, even though a few serious modelers do use 3-rail track (like that fellow's videos you pointed me to in that other thread).

I'm gonna go run my HO trains now...

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Posted by wjstix on Tuesday, November 1, 2022 8:51 AM

Well, yes, sorta-kinda. The traditional view held by people in N or HO or S is that O gaugers using two-rail are 'model railroaders' while people using three-rail are 'toy train guys'. However, in recent decades, that line has become more blurred as more folks become "hi-railers" or "three-rail scale" modellers - running 1:48 scale equipment, Kadee couplers, weathering and detailing their equipment etc. but using three rail track instead of two rail. 

A big difference is power. O-scale two-rail equipment is made to run on DC power, or using DCC with a decoder. Three-rail engines are going to come set up to use AC power, or one of the AC-based power systems like Lionel Legacy or MTH's DCS system. You can't really mix the two that easily, so generally O scalers are doing one track and power system or the other exclusively.

It's interesting (to me anyway) that in Germany, Marklin makes the same HO engines available for either two-rail DC/DCC or three-rail AC. Both methods of powering the trains are accepted as HO model railroading. But here, a guy running an Atlas RS-11 on two-rail track is a 'scale modeller', but someone running the same engine on three-rail track and AC power is a 'toy train' guy.

Stix
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Posted by fwright on Tuesday, November 1, 2022 9:04 AM

The problem was (and is to a large extent) that 3-rail O dominated O for many years.  With 3 rail track, there is no need to insulate axles or wheel hubs - many Lionel and Marx accessories depended on the wheels/axles conducting to an insulated outside rail for their operation.

Using low voltage AC instead of DC allowed use of simple variable output transformers for control, although universal (field windings instead of permanent magnets) motors used in postwar Lionel, Marx, American Flyer will run on either AC or DC.

The deep tinplate flanges allowed 3 rail O trains to run well on cheap-to-make tubular track.

These differences fractured O into the 2 rail and 3 rail camps, with only very limited compatibility between the 2, especially in the 1950s - 1980s.  Nowadays, most 3 rail locomotives and rolling stock are much more realistic than before the 1990s, and are available insulated for 2 rail.  With the advent of simple diodes, permanent magnet motors have become the norm for 3 rail locomotives, too.  So although you have to pick 3 rail or 2 rail, realistic locomotives and rolling stock are available in either case.  The 2 camps are much more alike than different now.

As far as track goes, MTH track is no longer being produced.  You can find it at train shows, and some hobby shops (new old stock).  Both Lionel Fastrack and MTH track have built-in roadbed, which is much more realistic looking than the O and O27 tubular track.  However, the tubular track is much easier to cut into custom sizes.  And really deep flange older 3-rail O will not run on the newer low profile track.  Marx from the 1950s and Lionel prewar are examples of really deep flanges.

Atlas O 3 rail track has an appearance not too different from their HO Snap Track.  When put on roadbed and ballasted, it is the most realistic 3 rail O track.  I believe Atlas O 3 rail has flex track as well.  A decent range of switches is available.

Yes, I still have Marx and Lionel (no modern Lionel) and MTH pieces and some track of each type.  I generally use the tubular track as the most universal and most suitable for a quick under the tree Christmas layout.

Fred W

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Posted by snjroy on Tuesday, November 1, 2022 1:02 PM

I have some equipment in 2 rail O that I run on a portable layout and on a circle under the tree. I chose to use old Rivarossi/Pola track, that can still be found on Ebay. Quality is excellent, but they will not directly mate with Atlas 2 rail track. For power, I use a Lionel transformer, with a gizmo that converts the power from AC to DC (found on Ebay). I have a brass engine that sucks up a lot of amps, even after I changed the original motor for a can motor. A regular HO pack does not provide enough power for those large brass steamers.

Simon

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Posted by wjstix on Tuesday, November 1, 2022 1:16 PM

To add to the O scale track confusion, keep in mind that for many decades (1930s-1960s) many - perhaps most - O scalers used AC power and third rail - but with the third rail outside of the two running rails, somewhat similar to what the real New York Central used from Manhattan to Harmon NY.

Many early O scale models, including the iconic Lionel scale Hudson, were designed to run on AC/Three-rail. Adding an outside third-rail, often of smaller rail made for HO/OO trains, made the track more realistic looking. Walthers sold outside third-rail pickups at least into the 1980s, or modellers made their own from flexible metal cable. 

Track planning guru John Armstrong used outside third-rail on his Canandaigua Southern O scale layout until he died in 2004....

https://www.modelrailroadacademy.com/vtag/john-armstrong/

 

 

Stix
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Posted by JimL on Tuesday, November 1, 2022 1:51 PM

Other un-ballasted track that is very popular with O-scalers is made by GARGRAVES and ROSS CUSTOM SWITCHES.

People mix-and-match different track and turnouts ... such as using Gargraves track with Atlas turnouts ... with minimal modification.

Ross makes roadbed specific to different tracks.

Lots of good fun in O scale these days.

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Posted by Bernie on Wednesday, November 2, 2022 1:32 PM

That's all good to know! :-)

My main empire is, and will always be, HO.  But I kind'a got thrust into O scale without knowing much about it.  So now I just want to set up a small O scale (3 rail) layout.  It's not gonna be as detailed and prototypical as my HO layout, but it's gonna be more than just a toy train display running around in circles.  And I'll also set up an oval around the Christmas tree (and maybe other holidays) in addition to the actual layout.  For the temporary ovals, I'll prolly use Lionel FastTrak and an old-fashioned transformer/throttle.  For the permanent layout, I'm not sure, but I'm leanig toward Atlas as their 3-rail O track actually looks fairly realistic and does a good job at hiding the center rail.  And I'll use a Lionel TMCC system (Lionel's proprietary version of "DCC") that I was able to nab from someone on eBay.  I haven't purchased ANY track yet since I'm still learning what's available, so we'll see...

BTW, I have a Marklin HO locomotive that uses 3 rail.  I placed a bunch of black metal nails (I think they're really furniture tacks) between the ties of one of my branch lines and have a switch on the fascia that can switch the line between 2-rail and 3-rail power.  The black ballast hides the nails so that you can't see them unless you look closely.

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Posted by IRONROOSTER on Friday, November 4, 2022 3:47 PM

Bernie
BTW, I have a Marklin HO locomotive that uses 3 rail. I placed a bunch of black metal nails (I think they're really roofing nails) between the ties of one of my branch lines and have a switch on the fascia that can switch the line between 2-rail and 3-rail power. The black ballast hides the nails so that you can't see them unless you look closely.

Atlas 3 rail straights and curves do not cross connect the outer rails.  I have run 2 rail scale wheel trains on it. 

Paul

If you're having fun, you're doing it the right way.
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Posted by Bernie on Saturday, November 5, 2022 1:34 PM

That's a great idea!  You can run 2-rail and 3-rail trains simultaneously on the same track! 

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Posted by Billwiz on Saturday, November 5, 2022 3:06 PM

Hey Bernie,  I model two rail HO and N as well as 3 rail O.  Most of my O fleet is my father's Lionel and Marx, as well as the Polar Express and an American Flyer Pre-War unit.  Honestly, the Classic Toy Trains Forum covers far more than post-war Lionel, these guys and gals are well versed in new O stuff and can help you.

So for my Christmas Tree layout, I use Lionel Fast Track.  It is a good option, although a bit loud if you are considering a permanant layout.  There are many options and the CTT forum folks will be happy to help you.  

 

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Posted by snjroy on Sunday, November 6, 2022 7:13 AM

Bernie

That's a great idea!  You can run 2-rail and 3-rail trains simultaneously on the same track! 

 

I imagine you need a switch to reverse the polarity  on one of the outside rails. You also need a DC power source for the 2 rail locos.

Simon

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Posted by Bernie on Sunday, November 6, 2022 2:04 PM

Right.  A wiring diagram on how to wire 3-rail track so you can run 2-rail and 3-rail trains simultaneous would be appreciated :-)

As I said above, I do have a branch line set up to run either 2-rail trains or 3-rail trains, but I can't run both types of trains on that track simultaneously.

 

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Posted by wjstix on Monday, November 7, 2022 9:18 AM

Although you could wire the layout to convert from two-rail DC to three-rail AC, there wouldn't be any real reason to do so, unless you're intending to get some two-rail DC O scale engines too. As noted, it won't allow you to run one train on AC and one on DC at the same time. Plus Atlas and other companies (like Sunset brass) offer identical engines set up for two or three rail operation. Really I'd think it would be better to just pick one and stick with it.

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Posted by snjroy on Monday, November 7, 2022 3:52 PM

I agree with Stix. The only way to run them together would be to have block controls, flicking switches as the locos run forward, changing the polarity of each block through a dedicated SPDT switch (for each block). But you would need to have at least one block to isolate one block from another to avoid a loco shorting the system when travelling through one block to another. And Ys would need to have the polarity changed for 2 rail operation - a wiring nightmare. Really not worth the effort in my opinion. A simple loop with a SPDT switch to go from DC 2 rail to 3 rail AC is feasible.

Simon

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Posted by Bernie on Monday, November 7, 2022 5:01 PM

wjstix

Really I'd think it would be better to just pick one and stick with it.

Well, we're talking HO now, right?  I have a Marklin train that I bought years ago because "reasons."  Everything else is conventional 2-rail HO.  At present, I just have a switch on my fascia to switch that one branch line between 2-rail and 3-rail so I can run my Marklin train when the mood hits me.  I have no plan to do this to my whole layout. 

Now let's talk O.  Those two locomotives I recently acquired are Lionel 3-rail O, and Lionel uses a proprietary control system that's sort'a, kind'a DCC in that you can run multiple trains independently on the same track circuit, but it's not really DCC.  In this case, I'm gonna stay in the Lionel universe, just as you suggest.  If I had known what a pain in the poo-poo hole O scale was gonna be, I'd have told my friend, "No thanks!  You can keep your locomotives!"  (Just kidding -- I wouldn't insult my friend like that.)

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Posted by wjstix on Tuesday, November 8, 2022 10:22 AM

I'm gonna respectfully suggest that you need to do a LOT more research on O scale, as a lot of what you're saying simply isn't true.

Lionel does not have a "proprietary control system" that you have to have to run their trains. You can run Lionel (and MTH and Bachmann/Williams and Menards) engines using a relatively inexpensive AC power pack/transformer. You can run the engine, change direction, ring the bell, and blow the horn. 

If you choose to go into the three-rail version of DCC, you can use MTH's DCS system to run their engines - or Lionel's. Lionel has made several different types of control systems over the years (TMCC, Legacy) but they can run any Lionel engine - and I believe most if not all MTH engines. They're basically like DCC, except the control message are sent by radio signals through the rails.

"Please note that all of our LEGACY locomotives will operate on TMCC and conventional controlled layouts. Likewise, TMCC and LEGACY systems can also control conventional, TMCC and LEGACY equipped locomotives." 

https://lionelllc.wordpress.com/projects-and-tips/wiring-your-layout/introduction-to-command-control/

"Operate up to 99 DCS or Lionel TMCC, Legacy or EOB-equipped engines independently at the same time on the same track"

https://www.mthtrains.com/DCS

(Click on "VIEW DCS BROCHURE")

Stix
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Posted by Bernie on Tuesday, November 8, 2022 3:17 PM

Yes, what you say is true.  But I think I've made it abundantly clear that I don't want to run my trains on a traditional power pack/transformer!   

And maybe I shouldn't have called O scale "a pain in the poo-poo hole."  I know I overreact when I get frustrated.  Sorry for being human.  But Lionel isn't guilt-free either!  Lionel should have gone with industry standad DCC for their locomotives as specified by the NMRA.

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Posted by fwright on Wednesday, November 9, 2022 5:40 PM

Bernie
But Lionel isn't guilt-free either!  Lionel should have gone with industry standad DCC for their locomotives as specified by the NMRA.

Lionel never had anything to do with the NMRA.  Period.  When the NMRA was created, the NMRA specifically rejected Lionel's inexpensive technology that was also used by Marx, K-line, American Flyer and most other toy train makers.  By using 3 rail, Lionel was able to keep wiring simple no matter the track configuration.  NMRA "scale" modelers hated the unrealistic 3 rail, and insisted on a 2 rail standard.  By using AC, Lionel (and all the others using AC) could use readily available motors that didn't lose their magnetism with time, and could use reliable variable transformers that didn't have the selenimum rectifiers (silicon diodes weren't readily available until the 1960s) that were subject to breakdown over time and required huge heat sinks.

12V DC was selected by the NMRA (some were using 6V DC at the time) so that the smaller permanent magnet motors could be fitted into scale HO locomotives.  Most of the permanent magnet motors from the 1950s (the height of Lionel) are no longer usable because the magnets are dead (replacing magnets can bring many of them back to life).  Most of the field wound Lionel motors are still running just fine.

Lionel was using a 13.5" radius for it's O27 track quite successfully, which meant you could fit an O27 layout in virtually the same space as HO.  NMRA O standards contemplate nothing less than 30" radius, and prefer 60" radius.

Lionel's HO product did comply with NMRA standards in effect at time of production.  It's pre-WW2 OO product was pre-NMRA and used the same technology as Lionel O.

There have been many proprietary command control systems - Lionel had one in 1946 that used radio signals in the track.  Astrac (by GE) was the next major effort circa 1963.  PFM imported a sound system based on 1960s engineering published in MR in the mid '60s.  There was an attempt to make CTC-80 a digital control standard in the '80s.  Finally in the '90s, IP was donated (name of the donor escapes me) to the NMRA to create the DCC standard.  DCC is considered technically obsolete by many at this point, and attempts have been made to come up with a better alternative that can become the new standard.

When Lionel was reborn for the 2nd time in the '90s, any control system and track and wheels had to be backwards compatible with all the existing post-war ('50s and '60s) and MPC ('70s and '80s) rolling stock, accessories, track, and transformers, or Lionel would have been laughed out of business.  TMCC and follow-on systems met that standard, just like DCC has to be engineered around variable 12V DC to the motor.

FWIW, I happily run my 3 rail O with variable transformers, and my HO/HOn3 with DC power packs.  Very inexpensive, with direct control of the voltage to the motor.  Works for me since I only run 1 train at a time on any given track.  Yes, I have a Power Cab to use at the club I belong to.  But I've not gotten around to converting any locomotives to DCC yet.

Fred W

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Posted by Bernie on Saturday, November 12, 2022 2:44 PM

Thanks, Fred!  That was an awesome history lesson! :-)

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Posted by wjstix on Tuesday, November 15, 2022 4:36 PM

In the early days of the hobby, the difference between "toy trains" and "model trains" wasn't that clear. In the Depression, there wasn't that much available, and most folks had limited extra income. Even many pioneer modellers like Al Kalmbach used three-rail AC engines from Lionel, American Flyer, Ives, etc. on their layouts. Marx O-34 track (34" diameter curves) worked with Lionel track and was popular. 

Yes, Lionel in the late thirties came out with full-scale Hudson and Pennsy B-6 switcher models (and scale freight cars and "T-rail" flat-top track) but for what a 700E scale Hudson cost ($85 IIRC) you could buy a couple of "semi-scale" American Flyer engines and have enough left over to build a complete small layout. The less detailed Lionel 763 Hudson, made to take sharper O-31 curves, cost about 1/3 of the scale engine and was much more popular.

BTW well into the 1970s there were still O scale modellers running on AC power, using outside third-rail handlaid track. As I mentioned earlier, John Armstrong ran outside third-rail until he passed.

Stix
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Posted by Bernie on Tuesday, November 15, 2022 6:14 PM

Thanks, Stix!  Love learning the history! 

Also, it's iteresting that O-## indicates the diameter of a piece of curve track, except for O-27 which is something different.

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Posted by abbieleibowitz on Tuesday, November 15, 2022 10:01 PM

I think O-27 is a 27 inch radius.

 

Lefty

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Posted by fwright on Wednesday, November 16, 2022 8:28 AM

abbieleibowitz
I think O-27 is a 27 inch radius.

No, O27 is actually 27" diameter - on the outside rail.  About 13" radius measured on center.  All the Oxx track is based on diameter, not radius.  Some of it is measured to the centerline, others to the outside rail.  Most O27-compatible rolling stock is actually closer to 1/64 size, has absolutely no underbody detail, and works just fine.

Fred W

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