The track you use is probably the most important part of any model railway set up. Whether you're using Brio on the carpet, or O gauge fine scale on an exhibition standard display, the track needs to be consistent in both width & height.
So is all OO track the same, does it matter which manufacturer you buy from and how do you know where to start ?
Follow our tips below and you'll be on the right lines!
Table of Contents
- Is all OO track compatible?
- What's the difference between Set Track and Flexi Track?
- What is the best track for OO gauge?
- What is the minimum track radius for Hornby?
- Can you mix Hornby & PECO track ?
- Can I use Hornby Point Motors with PECO Points?
Is all OO track compatible?
In short, no.
There have been many different sorts of OO gauge track over the years, ever since Frank Hornby first brought out his tin-plate 3-rail in 1938.
Tri-ang track, with its plastic bases, came out in a variety of ranges. Firstly, there was Series 3 with a solid track bed , then Super 4 and later System 6. But these were not compatible, and a Super 4 and System 6 needed a special track piece to connect them - an R476 Convertor track.
Nowadays, track can be bought from a wider selection of manufacturers. All OO gauge track is 16.5mm between the rails, but the rails themselves can be of different sizes, or ‘code’. The rail's code refers to a 10th of an inch, so Code 100 is 1/10 of an inch tall. Other common codes are Code 83, (0.83 of an inch, which is mainly used in Europe rather than the UK, for HO scale models), and Code 75 (0.75 inch), commonly referred to as ‘fine scale’.
Whilst these rails are usually of the Flat Bottom profile, PECO have recently brought out a range of Bullhead profile - again these two types are not easily compatible.
Marcway track uses Code 75 rail, but the sleepers are much thinner than those from PECO, so the track needs packing underneath if the two track types are to be used together.
What's the difference between Set Track and Flexi Track ?
Set Track is a range of track which has rigid bases, comprising of various straight lengths, various curved lengths at different radii and point and crossings. Using different combinations of track pieces quite complex track layouts can be arranged. The track can be bought as individual pieces, or in ‘Track packs’ which bundle together enough components to make complete starter set, or a extension to an existing layout.
A set-track layout
Set Track bases consists of the chairs, to hold the rail, the sleepers and small tabs between the sleepers to keep the whole base rigid.
The fishplates are fixed to alternate rails, one at each end, which means track pieces can easily be joined together. The track base also has pre-drilled holes in several sleepers, to enable the track to be pinned to a suitable baseboard, if required.
Flexi Track (also known as Streamline) is a term used for longer lengths of track which can be bent. Whilst essentially the same as Set Track, the major difference is that every 3rd Tabs is missing, on alternate sides. This flexibility means the track can be laid to almost any curve required, from almost dead straight, to sometimes quite unbelievably tight radii. The track can also easily be cut to the required length, to allow more prototypical track layouts to be constructed. It's also possible to create smooth flowing reverse curves, which help raise the look of your layout from ‘train set’ to ‘model railway’.
What is the best track for OO gauge?
This is a very subjective question, and a lot depends on what you want to use the track for.
If you have older Hornby or Lima rolling stock, the deeper wheel flanges will run much better on Code 100 rails.
If you don't have a permanent place for your layout, then Set Track will allow you to build a layout, play, and then take it up again afterwards ( as a youngster, I used to lay an old carpet on the grass in the garden on a sunny summer's day, lay a complete double track layout with a station and sometimes a raised track with overbridge, play trains all day, then pack it all up again in the evening).
Set Track is ideal for a starter layout, it's easy to construct and connect wires to, and there are lots of track-compatible accessories, such as level crossings and signals.
PECO's Streamline points are available in a wide variety of lengths and configurations, in both Code 100 and Code 75, but for best results need to be be fixed to a rigid baseboard.
If you are making an exhibition standard layout, or if you just want a more realistic look to your home layout, you might want to consider Code 75 track, as the fine scale appearance is much better.
What is the minimum track radius for Hornby?
Most rolling stock manufacturers now recommend a minimum radius of 438mm (17.2"), common known as 2nd Radius. This is mostly suitable for short 4 wheel locomotives and non-bogie wagons. Larger locomotives, wagons and coaches will overhand considerably on tight curves, which may cause issues with coupling together.
Can I mix Hornby & PECO track?
Set Track, from the main three manufacturers (Hornby, Bachmann and PECO), if all the same Code, can happily be used together. Care must be taken to match radius of curve, to ensure symmetry and consistence in the track joints.
Can I use Hornby Point Motors with PECO Points?
Most point motors can be used with most points, but there are exceptions.
Hornby have a range of surface mounted motors, which are designed for their own points, and compatibility with other makes, such as PECO, is not guaranteed.
Point motors can also be fitted directly under the point, requiring a large hole in the baseboard, or below the baseboard, which only require a small hole for the operating wire. PECO also make point motors suitable for surface mounting, under point and under baseboard locations. These use a combination of mounting plates and extending arms where necessary. PECO point motors can also be fitted with miniature electrical switches, to change the polarity of the frog rails.
Another manufacturer of solenoid point motors is Seep. This is one fitted under our Dunn Street Yard layout.
Seep point motors can be bought with a frog polarity switch built in.
For much more information on point motors, please read our ‘Wiring a Layout' guides, sections 18 to 21.
So are you on the right lines now ?…
Without a doubt, using OO track is where most modellers start their model railway journey (apart from those who choose N gauge…). Set Track is perfectly suitable for beginners and for those who don't have a permanent place for a layout. As long as care is taken to ensure the Code of the rail is the same, you can happily mix Set Track and Flexi Track from different manufacturers on the same layout.