Point control

Over the years I’ve used a variety of methods to control turnouts on my layout. Everything from ground throws, control rod linkages, and motors. The scope was always the same: move the point blades and control electrical polarity at the frog. It seems like a simple enough scope with just two elements yet it constantly amazes me how complicated I’ve made it and how much more complicated I could have made it. Despite my actions, I can’t escape the frustration of feeling like I’m making this all much more complicated than it needs to be.

This is my next scope item for the Liveability Index.

I used to own some N scale turnouts that had been made by Minitrix. They had a subtle little control switch built into the side of the turnout to move the blades. The frogs were live and powered by a hidden bellcrank actuated by the same rod that moved the points. That bellcrank transferred power from the stock rails to the frog and, since it moved with the points, as you changed the turnout so changed the power at the frog. These were some of the nicest commercially made turnouts I’ve ever owned. I’d like to maintain that same ability to contain everything related to the turnout, it’s control, and electrical needs right there at the turnout. I don’t want to string wires or any control bric-a-brac to anywhere from anywhere. I prefer to move the blades by hand so the mechanical requirement here is little more than that it must reliably seat the point blades against the stock rails and hold them there.

Off the shelf options

In the traditional modelling scales there are some good options. In N scale companies like Fleischmann, Kato, and Tomix offer really well made turnouts that meet these simple scope items right out of the box. As we step up through the scales we have Tillig’s in TT, a plethora in HO, and on and on. Building track is one of my favourite model railway activities so perhaps a “B side” question wrapped into this is to weigh my interest in making the turnouts and installing this gear myself or focussing on a bigger goal and going with a proprietary option?



    1. I’ve used the regular ones in the past both on my own layouts and on other folk’s lines. I like them.

      I’ve never used the ones with the built in switch but they’re a neat option. They certainly would satisfy my scope of keeping everything at the turnout and their design would make it easy to replace if they ever failed.

      I think my only concern is their appearance. That said, I have a feeling that if they worked well enough I could learn to overlook them. On those layouts where I’ve used them before, I’d certainly notice them while simply looking at the scene but they dissappear from view during an operating session. Perhaps this is another example of where this hobby gets challenging in that the layout is supposed to satisfy all those criteria of a high quality static diorama yet meet an equal number of criteria when we turn it on and run the trains.



  1. Depending on the scale in which you’re working, the easiest solution is an over-centre spring on the points, and simply flicking them from side to side. This is the PECO approach in HO – but one can also fabricate the springs oneself.
    However, part of the question of turnout control must be, “What are you trying to replicate?” If you are doing a mainline with turnouts controlled by a dispatcher, then motors are the way to go. If you’re doing a lightly-trafficked line where train crews lined their own turnouts, then a manual throw is more appropriate.
    If I can blow my own horn, my personal favourite these days is the system I used on my own layout. This employs miniature switch stands (about 4″ high) with a custom-fitted lever… RC aircraft control lines… and the “Bullfrog” manual switch machines from Fast Tracks. I’ve written about it on my blog – here’s the category link:
    Without a doubt, this is the thing that people comment on when they first operate my layout. Everybody loves it. You would too.
    – Trevor (Port Rowan in 1:64)

    1. That’s a great set of questions to frame how to think about moving the blades. To abbreviate my response: I think I’m okay with manually lining the points right at the turnout. As in the Peco example, a simple spring could work just fine.

      I’ve watched your video demonstrating your approach several times and think it is every bit as cool as you say it is. It’s certainly something to consider.

      For anyone who hasn’t seen the video:



    1. I agree.

      I’m not using DCC currently but feel it’s something in my future. I don’t know why but I had developed this assumption that those Frog Juicers were fairly expensive but a quick check of the FastTracks website proves that assumption wrong. At that price, why am I not using them?

      Until now I’ve relied on mechanical means for alternating power at the frog and these are always susceptible to failure for any number of reasons – none of which should apply to the Frog Juicer. Though in my spec. I outlined a desire to have everything “at the turnout” these could be installed away from the turnout so if the ever did find a way to fail, replacement would be easy and without damage to the scene.



      1. I whole heartedly recommend the frog juicers as well. For my current free-mo module project I went with mechanical for two turnouts (using tortoises to control points and power frog) and a caboose ground throw with a frog juicer.

        It was my first use of the frog juicers and was so much easier I’m planning to switching the tortoise controlled frogs to frog juicers in the future (and probably ground throws too)

      2. Yup, I’m sold on them now.

        They look so darned bulletproof and, further, I’m attracted to being able to install them remotely.

        Since I don’t have DCC right now I can at least plum in the leads required so when it’s time to tie them in the wiring is already in place.


  2. A nice feature of self-contained point throw, such as an over-center spring, is that you can maintain it from above the layout. That’s especially important if you have to place the layout on something solid like a shelf, or the top of a low wardrobe.

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