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New to N scale, what type of track to use?

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  • Member since
    October 2005
  • From: Central Texas
  • 332 posts
New to N scale, what type of track to use?
Posted by MJ4562 on Friday, September 15, 2023 11:59 AM

Hello all, I'm getting started in N scale.  Going to start small, no bigger than 3'x5', while I work on my skills and see if I enjoy it. 

What are the pros and cons of EZ Track and Unitrack compared to the traditional track laid on cork roadbed? 

I have a handful of the various brands and type of track but haven't tried putting on cork roadbed yet.  What advice would you give to a newbie and what would you do if starting fresh? 

  • Member since
    December 2008
  • From: Neenah, WI
  • 231 posts
Posted by sschnabl on Friday, September 15, 2023 12:30 PM

MJ4562 - I've never used the EZ Track or Unitrack, but I've been told the Unitrack is very robust and runs well with a lot of equipment.  I think the biggest advantage to using this type of track is if you plan on setting it up and taking it down a lot, or just making changes to the track arrangement, it is fairly easy to do.

To me, the biggest drawback is the realism.  I like the look of laying flex track, painting it a rusty brown color, and then adding ballast to it to make it look realistic.  I know there are some people that have done a decent job painting the molded ballast, but I don't think I would be able to make it look as good as flex track.

If you decide to go the flex track route, code 55 is becoming more popular as the rail profile is closer to the prototype than code 80.  Atlas, Micro Engineering, and Peco offer track in code 55 (Peco's track is actually code 80 that has part of the rail buried in the ties so only .055" of it is exposed above the ties).  I used the Peco code 55 track on a previous layout, and it was extremely reliable.  When I started on my current layout, I liked the look of ME track with the closer tie spacing, so I decided to go with them.  Currently Atlas has a better selection of turnouts, but I've heard that once Micro Engineering is fully moved into their new facility, they plan on adding #8's and #10's to their existing line of #6 turnouts.

I guess it all depends on what your goals are.  Maybe purchase a few pieces of each and find out what you like best and go that route.

  • Member since
    October 2007
  • From: Fullerton, California
  • 1,344 posts
Posted by hornblower on Friday, September 15, 2023 1:57 PM

Since you're just getting started in N scale, there are a few things to consider before deciding which brand track to use.  I assume you don't already have a collection of locos and rolling stock.  If you purchase only new locos and rolling stock with "low profile" wheel flanges, then you can use Code 55 track which does indeed look much better than Code 80 track.  However, if you purchase used locos and rolling stock, be aware that lots of older locos and rolling stock have wheels with deep flanges ("pizza cutters") that will bounce along the ties of Code 55 track.  So, you can use Code 80 track and not worry about the wheels of your loco and rolling stock collection, or you can use Code 55 track and be sure to change out the wheel sets on your older locos and rolling stock.  Also note that it might be more difficult to find replacement wheels for old locos than for rolling stock.

I am currently helping a friend build an N scale 4'X8' layout of the Ventura County Railroad in Oxnard, California.  Since we had to compress a lot of track into the small layout size, and because my friend bought most of his locos and rolling stock used off the internet or at train shows, we chose Peco Code 80 "small radius" turnouts and Atlas Code 80 flex track.  There is a little difference in thickness between the two brands of track but we were able to fix this by placing cardstock shims under the thinner track where the two brands of track meet.  No, the Code 80 track doesn't look as good as Code 55 track would have but once the track is painted and ballasted, it looks pretty nice anyway.  I recently hosted an open house for my 17'X19' HO scale layout and we displayed this N scale layout, too.  I set up an Atlas/Kato GP30 loco pulling a short train around this layout at about 10 scale miles per hour and left it running all day without a hitch.  In fact, the only "adjustment" I had to make was to periodically slow the train back down as visitors kept speeding the train up!

I have heard great things about Kato Unitrak but I don't think it looks as good as painted and ballasted flex track.  You are also limited to the sectional track lengths and radii available from Kato.  Unless you use a Kato designed track plan that will fit on your 3'X5' layout, you could run into problems getting the track pieces to fit the space using your own track plan.  Happy modeling!  


  • Member since
    January 2017
  • From: Southern Florida Gulf Coast
  • 18,139 posts
Posted by SeeYou190 on Friday, September 15, 2023 6:16 PM

I have heard great things about Kato Unitrak but I don't think it looks as good as painted and ballasted flex track.  You are also limited to the sectional track lengths and radii available from Kato.

The N scale Kato Unitrack line is EXTENSIVE, and it looks fine from normal viewing distances. Your turnouts will be ballasted AND operate perfectly. That is a difficult feat in N scale any other way.

I would absolutely suggest Unitrack just to save yourself a lot of headaches and enjoy your first N scale layout.


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.

  • Member since
    November 2013
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Posted by snjroy on Friday, September 15, 2023 6:37 PM

I've never used kato's track but have read good things about it. I've used Atlas and Peco n track for 2 layouts for HOn30 models, with turnouts. I've had no major problems. You can cheat a bit by painting your roadbed with a color similar to the ballast you intend to use, before laying the track - that will allow you to go thinner with ballast and avoid issues, especially the turnouts.

If your trackplan is complicated, you can go ahead with traditional track. But if the plan is simple, the Kato track is worth considering.


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Posted by ROBERT PETRICK on Friday, September 15, 2023 7:22 PM

25' by 18' multi-level N Scale layout. Lower level yard and 28.25" radius three-and-a-half-turn helix. All Unitrak. Temporary, of course. One day I will most likely replace it with flextrack, but no reason to do so right now because it operates very steadily and very reliably.


  • Member since
    December 2021
  • 53 posts
Posted by NScale4x8 on Friday, September 15, 2023 7:29 PM

Kato has a wide selection of track length and radius.  There is even an adjustable length piece available. Kato also sells compatible flex track.

All that said, I routinely modified my Kato Unitrack. You can cut through the moulded roadbed with a razor saw like this one:  Make two cuts in the middle of the roadbed. Slide the pieces off the track. Slide back the original end pieces that are moulded to fit the snap-lock joiners. Trim the rail to match. You can make any lenth you want. Here is a video:

There is also a technique for cutting grooves in the moulded roadbed and then flexing the roadbed to make a kind of flex track. I have not done it.

I paint the sides of the Unitrack rail "rust brown". I then balast over the integrated roadbed.

You may be able to see how I remove the roadbed portion of some Unitrack so the rails are contiguous over my bridge: 

Modified Unitrack roadbed 

The rail joiners at the bottom of the image are snapped into the standard Kato Unitrack "clips". The Unitrack roadbed continues for about 5 ties. The rails continue unbroken until past the end of the bridge. I just removed the roadbed in the middle and replaced it with my custom bridge ties.

There is another example here where I removed part of the roadbed along a curved piece to make contiguous rail going from the level crossing into the

Modified curved Unitrack

curved viaduct:

  • Member since
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  • From: Central Texas
  • 332 posts
Posted by MJ4562 on Saturday, September 23, 2023 11:17 AM

For now while I'm learning and still rearranging track as it suits me, I'm going with Kato Unitrack.  They have the widest variety of add on packs and track. that way i can minimize connection issues with Bachman ez track.  

I have collected a variety of track types to try out though.  I hope to eventually reuse the EZ/unitrack in the less visible portions of a future permanent layout.

  • Member since
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  • From: Mpls/St.Paul
  • 13,439 posts
Posted by wjstix on Monday, September 25, 2023 10:39 AM

I use Kato Unitrack on my HO layout, I wish their HO line was as extensive as their N scale line! 

Note that using any track 'as is' isn't going to look all that realistic. On my Unitrack sections I color the sides of the rails with a product from the Micro-Mark catalogue called NeoLube. This colors the rails to a dull dark gray. Then I randomly paint some of the ties flat brown or rail-tie brown (which is kind of a brownish gray color). You can then do a wash of either black paint or India ink diluted in water with some alcohol over the ballast. This kills some of the plastic look. 

Personally, I've never understood the idea of gluing down cork and then gluing down track on top of it. That makes it very difficult to change anything, or to re-use track if you later decide to build a larger layout. You can add track nails to the Unitrack sections to secure them down, but you don't really need to. They work fine just snapped together. They also have excellent electrical continuity. 


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