Oversize rail. How bad?

I’d like to build some track tonight or at least start to. I think I’ll put together an On30 #4 wye and I’ll use that as a test bench for actuating mechanisms and switchstand design – two areas I really need to get better at anyway. The last time I built On30 trackwork I used code 83 rail and I really liked the finished appearance. My supplies of code 83 are really getting down but I had a lot of code 100 that I should use up. I was worried that the code 100 rail would still be too large. Since in 1/48 it scales out in the range of 75lbs rail where the PEIR and it’s contemporaries stayed within the 45-60lbs territory I was worried it would bother me.

Since I don’t want to spend any money on this turnout and to use up the copious supplies I’ve accumulated (packrat…yup that’s me!) I took a browse around the web to see if there were any examples of code 100 rail used in On30 elsewhere. First off I found Peco who use it in their O16.5 (On30) track range. Tons of modellers use that trackwork and I’ve always been a fan of the Peco line. Feeling better about my compromise I dug further still and then discovered the excellent range of track that the San Juan Car Company are producing. Their rail of choice is also code 100 and their track is stunning. Code 100 for Chris’s experimenting and playing around? I’m sold on the stuff now.

Since I was so worried that the rail would be overscale I started doodling some quick tables to measure how “too big” it would be compared to what I wanted to use. Since I was doing this anyway I extended my calculations out and did so for HO and N scales and the commonly (quasi-industry standard?) for these scales too. First off I started with code 100 rail for 1/48 scale (On30) trains. The difference in rail height is only 0.017″ greater than the code 83 I had wanted to use. Scaled up to full scale this would be approximately 3/4″ in real life. Kind of hard to get worried about that, especially to my “trained in N scale” eyes. I know the greatest detractor of code 100 rail really isn’t it’s gross height as it is the rail’s profile. It just doesn’t look like real rail but for the sake of this discussion I’m not going to consider that factor. Heck the DCC folks prefer the larger cross-section of On30 for a better contact area anyway! Moving down to HO, the home of code 100 rail where folks prefer code 83 and the Shinohara fans still vote code 70 the difference in rail height is now 1-1/2″ for the code 83 and 2-5/8″ for the code 70. This is getting significant since the difference in height represents a fifth to a quarter of the desired rail’s actual height respectively. The argument toward scale rail heights starts to gather some steam in 1/87 then. Finally I stopped at N where the standard is code 80 and the commercial “fine scale” track is code 55. The difference scales out to 4″ representing almost half the desired rails height and that’s worth considering. It gathers even more traction when compared code 40 which should be the preferred rail height for N scalers. It gets worse for Z. With over twenty years of collecting and building N scale trains and building layouts with code 80 trackwork I think it’s interesting to compare it to the tinplate trackwork Lionel made famous for their O-27 train sets. I measured a length of that rail and find it’s actually shorter proportionately in comparison to N. That tinplate track scaled down to N simply by literally comparing 1/48 to 1/160 it would be the same as selecting code 70 rail. Wow.

It took longer to write this post than to do the calc’s but I found it an interesting reflection and something I’ll probably look back on later. Now let’s get some ties cut and glued down eh?!

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