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Thoughts on Track


Ravenser

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I wouldn't normally touch on controversal subjects in a constructional blog. But in the case of the current OO track thread, http://www.rmweb.co.uk/community/index.php?/topic/79416-poll-ready-to-lay-oo-track-and-pointwork/ my views arose in the context of the layouts on this thread, and are best explained in their context , and flow back into "matters outstanding" with the layouts, and things that need to be done.... So really it's more sensible to reflect on how my own approach to OO track has developed and some of the practical issues involved here, in a rather quieter atmosphere

 

We start with Ravenser Mk1 - so far , for various reasons , which can be summarised as life getting in the way, there has't been a Mk2.

 

Ravenser Mk1 was a portable small industrial layout , based on "Yarmouth Quay", the Plan of the Month in Railway Modeller June 1988. I was living in a bed-sit at the time and assumed no very sophisticated level of modelling would be practical under the conditions. This decision I rapidly and bitterly regretted. Setrack points seemed to be the obvious accepted way on a layout with severe curves - the plan called for something like a 9" radius in places, and the authors assured us that they had tested these with a Mainline 03 and it was very happy. So I bought a new Bachmann 03, and a Hornby 06 because it was cheap and I was young and poor. I added a connection to a traverser fiddle yard and the rest of BR. The Airfix 31 and Triang Hornby 37 from my teen-age modern image layout, Flaxborough, were patently unsuitable, but the Wrenn Class 20 was pressed into service as the mainline loco, and the Lima 09 was also recycled

 

Ravenser Mk1 never worked very well, and the main reason was those wretched Setrack points . Operationally it was very interesting , with a lot of traffic potential - when things weren't derailing. I discovered Parkside wagon kits and started building them - and Romfords and Setrack points don't mix very well. At first I thought it was just me , and some negative force field I exhuded. However somewhere in its early years I joined DOGA and duly discovered the subject of wheel and track standards. Such things simply weren't mentioned in the magazines of the day - and hadn't been for about 20 years

 

In those days Setrack points featured flangeways 1.55mm wide - as I found out when I eventually measured one with feeler gauges . Perhaps they still do. This proved disasterous. I had bought a secondhand Lima 20 to replace the Wrenn 20 in the hope it would run better. It still stalled on the dead frogs, so I invested in a DOGA pickup kit [now discontinued as all RTR locos come with decent pickup] This meant replacement wheels - and the only available replacements were Ultrascales. I invested 30 quid in a set - but Ultrascale wheels are EM profile. And the EM value for flangeways is 1.0mm. I rewheeled the loco, fitted the pickups - and every time it went round the run round loop it fell off somewhere, because the check rails were far too far away to check anything and the gaps at the frog might as well have been the Grand Canyon

 

I got clever, hacked out the plastic check rail and superglued in a short length of rail gauged out using a Romford wheelset (a technique gleaned from an Iain Rice book) Unfortunately the new checkrails sat rather higher , and as the additional pickups had had to be fitted under the keeper plate , they fouled it. Result - an abrupt halt. Any plans to detail the Lima body quietly died at that point. After a nice new Bachmann 08 failed to deliver reliable running Ravenser Mk1 was effectively abandoned, though it lay around for a number of years before I acquired a car and carted it down to the tip.

 

Next came Tramlink. Croydon Tramlink is laid in concrete sleepered FB track , with concrete sleepered points.Until recently , Peco only provide concrete sleepered flexible track in code 100. So unless you built your own plain track - and 10 years ago that meant sleeper by sleeper, and only one very obscure product catered for FB track with concrete sleepers - the only option for modern image modellers was Peco code 100. After all modern image modellers are just teenagers running brightly coloured coarse scale RTR with steam-roller wheels, one stage up from the train set, aren't they?

 

So Tramlink was laid with Peco code 100 . Because I thought that light rail meant sharp curves, and because it is a small diorama layout (it was supposed to be quick - except that everything had to be near scratchbuilt ) I used a Peco code 100 small Y and a Setrack point to save space.

 

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This proved to be a mistake. My cardboard Manchester Metrolink is feather-light, and the Tenshodo is at one end. It would go through the Setrack point into the Cripple Siding with the Tenshodo leading, but propelling the unpowered half through that point via articulation comprising 2 panel pins invariably resulted in a derailment... Conventional RTR locos were fine, but not the LRV. Since the idea was that 3 light rail units would have 4 possible sidings , and operation would consist of shuffling a unit into the empty slot, like a form of Light Rail Solitare , this was serious. I removed the check rail on the point and fitted a replacement, gauged with a Romford wheelset (see above) but while this didn't foul anything it didn't solve the problem, either When I tried to build a proper Croydon unit from an Alphagrafix kit, the skirting around the bogies fouled them ( I was using A1 Models etched H frame wagon bogies) and the unit wouldn't take any kind kind of curve. Drastic rebuilding was called for, and the project ground to a halt to a soundtrack from the musical Oliver ("I'm reviewing the situation... - and I think I'll go and think it out again")

 

Tramlink is currently sitting boxed up about 18" from my right shoulder as I type. Where it has been for quite a while. At some point, when I've caught up and finished off other projects, I really need to turn back to the project and try to finish it and sort it out. One big question is whether I rip up all the track and relay or not. Or put another way - can I somehow coax the Metrolink unit and other light rail vehicles through that dratted point or not? Ordinary railway models (eg a Bachmann 08) were fine - but light rail vehicles made from Alphagraphix card kits are really very light - and as I built them , sealed units . The Croydon unit stalled at the point where I realised to modify it I'd have to get inside - which would effectively destroy what I'd built this far. I've got a couple more Croydon kits in stock , a Midlands Metro kit , and one DLR unit kit from Street Level. Yes , the Halling model would almost certainly take the point happily - but it was pricey, at the time it was released my employment was uncertain, and it's HO, whereas everything else is 4mm. Now Croydon Tramlink units are big and boxy, and so should a model be (as this is a text-heavyposting, cue a gratuitous shot of a Croydon unit last year,

 

blogentry-80-0-95632100-1391259199.jpg

 

and a model of a unit seen at Kew Bridge model tram exhibition a few years back

blogentry-80-0-66428400-1391259384.jpg

 

) . And the Halling HO models would look a bit petite. Not to mention that I'd need at least 2 , arguably 3, and that's around £500 spent on what has become a side interest when money is a lot tighter than it used to be

 

Or - if a bit of weight won't cure the problem - rip up all the track and relay with Peco's new - and distinctly more British looking - code 75 concrete sleeper flexible , and their new concrete sleeper code point. I'd still have to use a small Y point with the sleepers painted at the Beckenham end . But I would get live frogs , and it would make it much easier to fit point motors - which I omitted first time round . The baseboard frame isn't really deep enough to allow a Cobalt Blue , never mind a Tortoise (two of which I do have surplus - as they were too big to fit in the narrow neck of Blacklade), A Hoffman/Conrad could be fitted, but with commercial points there would be no objection to using SEEP or Peco solenoids - I'm sure I have a CDU or CDU kit somewhere.

 

However the track was pinned and ballasted with PVA and ripping up might be rather destructive. And the replacement point would be longer, and the fouling point on the Cripple Siding further back , and in the context of a diorama layout I'm not sure if I have those few critical inches.... [ I don't , as the below shot illustrates. A Peco code 75 concrete sleeper point is medium radius and therefore 2 inches longer than the point currently used - the frog is 4.5cm further along] Then there's the thought of drybrushing all the ballast for that "brand new look" . Last time I used an ad-hoc mix from white and black - so the whole thing had to be done in one hit with one batch because colour matching was impossible. Maybe Railmatch BR Grey acrylic??

 

blogentry-80-0-01860400-1391985167.jpg

Hmmmm . Where've I put the "too hard" basket?

 

Next came the boxfile. This was built for a DOGA competition some years ago. The catalyst here was my discovery that yes, two Peco small Y points would fit in a boxfile back to back, and there was even enough room for a headshunt which would just about take an 08 with the switch blades of the point snapping at its heels , sorry wheels. At which point my scepticism about Phil Parker's competition idea evaporated and I got cracking...

 

Given that there was a deadline and that the whole concept was based on the fact that two Peco small Y points would fit , this was never going to be a "teach yourself pointbuilding" test bed - especially as the thing was , well - a boxfile (Two boxfiles, to be pedantic). But I was determined to raise my game in the matter of track, so the boxfile was done in Peco code 75 with three small Y points. Not only that, but they are operated by point motors - I fitted Peco solenoids under adjacent small buildings operating the points from the side. With switched live frogs and full sectioning this was a considerable advance on Tramlink (I'm still wondering why I fitted section switches - on a one engine in steam shunting puzzle I've never found any need to use them and they're left permanently switched on).

 

The problem of the incorrect sleepering was side stepped by making part of the visible area cobbled with inset track (Metcalf cobbled card) and swamping the rest in black flock, representing ash ballast, so that you only see bits of a sleeper here and there. This is effective , but it's a bit of a fudge, and only offers a solution in very special circumstances.

 

My big mistake was forgetting to fit a CDU . One point is , at the best of times, unreliable in throwing in one direction - at the worst of times it just gives up. Another point is liable to stick when it gets warm, and only one point is rock-solid reliable. A CDU might have cured all this or at least greatly mitigated it. But I can't retro-fit one because all point motors - and the relevant bit of wiring - are sealed inside buildings , and I'd have to destroy one to get access to wire in a CDU.

 

Whoops. Running on the boxfile is not of exhibition quality - but coaxing small 4 wheel (or occasionally 6 wheel) shunters across a lot of point frogs and board joints at minimal speed with absolute precision of positioning is a very demanding application . And the worst problems relate to the rather dodgy track joints between the files and couplers uncoupling thereon

 

Which brings us to Blacklade . This time I was determined to go the whole hog. Hand built track to a proper track standard (DOGA OO Intermediate) with 4mm sleepering, using wheels to a standard (RP25-110) which fits the track properly . The last bit was the easy one, since this is essentially what you get on modern RTR - subject to the manufacturing tolerances of Chinese factories on things like Back to Back . The biggest compromise on wheels is the use of Romfords on a few kit built wagons (If they don't come with Romfords I fit Hornby wagon and coach wheels set to the correct back to back of 14.4mm)

 

The original Carl Arendt plan envisaged Peco streamline points,no doubt hand operated. Since I was once again up against a deadline, and a slip was involved, I chickened out of attempting to learn point building and contacted Marcway . A full size plan of the layout on lining paper using Peco templates was sent to them - this was a very useful exercise as it allowed me to check clearances and train lengths full size. They advised that almost the whole thing could be done with their standard 3' radius points. However I did have to order two bespoke units - a single slip more or less to the same footprint as Peco, and a crossover at 2 '6" radius with continous checkrail. This is not quite as bad as it might be, since one leg is kinked - but the dogleg to straighten up for the platform still introduces a reverse curve.

 

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(considerable progress has been made since!)

 

This one kink apart, the whole thing flows in a very pleasing manner and I was feeling really quite chuffed with the result until I saw a shot of one throat on Jim Smith-Wright's P4 New St.

 

Running reliability is generally good . Occasionally a piece of stock derails at the board joint on the back road, where alignment is not perfect and I had to tweak a rail out slightly. That's more down to the imperfections of my carpentry - I didn't quite focus on the need for absolute precision there

The wheels on a second-hand Hornby Pacer jam in the continous check rail at the crossover at any B2B - but then they are coarse steam roller wheels. Pacer rebuilding is one of my stalled projects.

 

The major problem in terms of reliability is the points , and their uncertain closure. I've already had a couple of goes at fixing this: round one is reported here http://www.rmweb.co.uk/community/index.php?/blog/343/entry-6357-mind-the-gap/ where thicker wire was fitted to everything bar the bespoke crossover at the platform ends, and round two last summer involved a lot of digging round with a scalpel blade. They now close with reasonable reliability except for the slip (occasionally) and the bespoke crossover. The plan to solve the latter involves detailing up the old Airfix 31 , which is normally very happy running through it - whereas the Hornby 31 generally derails (Hornby 31s do seem to be a little track sensitive.)

 

As an aside , the Airfix 31 runs perfectly happily through pointwork built to the the old BMRSB OO track standard (which lies within the envelope of DOGA OO Intermediate) and I'm glad of the fact . Indeed it runs a great deal better than it ever did on Flaxborough , for which it was originally bought, long ago - this is possibly due to the fact that 30 years ago I thought Brasso would be an effective track cleaner, and Flaxborough was laid with 1970s Hornby points. (There were no internet forums in those days and no local clubs so I was very much on my own.)

 

But the fundamental issue is that the Marcway points are very stiff. I've come to believe that the real problem is that the switches are not loose heeled and rely on the rail bending. My experience is that all too often the throw rod from the point motor bends before the switch rail. The smaller Cobalt Blue , with it's shorter throw rod, seems more effective than Tortoises- and the wire supplied seems to be thicker than that supplied by Circuitron with the Tortoise. It's almost certainly significant that the points where the problem is most acute are the shortest - the bespoke crossover at 2'6" radius and the slip, which has very short switch blades .

 

At this point we come to Joseph Pestell's OO track thread: http://www.rmweb.co.uk/community/index.php?/topic/79416-poll-ready-to-lay-oo-track-and-pointwork/page-54 Go back through the pages and many contributers are hotly denoucing Peco's loose heeled switches and demanding flexing switch rails. Based on my own experience with Blacklade I'm firmly opposed. Even at 3' radius I've found "flexible" switch blades stiff and potentially unreliable. Go below 3' radius and they become a serious problem.

 

A number of contributors to the thread seemed to deal with this and other issues by arguing that there is no need to cater for radii below 3' because OO modellers oughtn't to want to use anything below 3' . I have to say that those contributors who model in EM , P4 or S7, not OO, generally seem to take this view - and of course 3' is the accepted minimum radius in those finescale gauges

 

Again I have to disagree, sharply. Every single layout mentioned in this posting would have been impossible if a minimum 3' radius constraint had been imposed on me. By most modellers' standards, Blacklade is pretty generous in terms of radius - generally 3' with 2'6" in one or two places and not in the form of reverse curves. Many OO modellers find themselves using crossovers formed of small radius points. But Blacklade does not meet the minimum radius standard many are advocating.

 

In fact a lot of modellers are in OO precisely because it allows them to build a layout in the restricted space they have -which the finescale gauges would not permit. Any OO product which ignores that reality is not going to meet the needs of a large part of the target market. Certainly medium radius is the place to start, if there's only one point in the range . But a smaller radius point is going to be required on occasion by 75-80% of the OO market

 

This brings me to a further point. The idea that OO track is basically a matter for those working in OO seems to be viewed as aggressively provocative rather than uncontroversial. However people who don't model in OO have no real interest in seeing OO track brought to market. They aren't going to buy it - the lack of it doesn't affect their own modelling (A few may even regret the introduction of such a product because they would like to see people abandon OO in favour of their own gauge , and if OO points were available they would weaken the case for doing so)

 

In addition people who don't model in OO are naturally ignorant of conditions on the ground . Of course finescale modellers - who adopted the 3' constraint so long ago they've forgotten about it - can't see why anyone would want to use radii below 3' . Of course they think such radii are unacceptable. The trouble arises when they assume that OO modellers must see things the same way. OO track threads sometimes seem to become a strange world in which the one group of people whose opinions on the subject of OO track have no real validity are those actually working in OO.

 

Enough - this has run to considerable length . I'd encourage anybody reading to vote in the poll in Joseph Pestall's thread . The more whjo vote, the more useful the data becomes. No doubt it isn't representative of the statistical average - but perhaps a more useful question is what does it represent - and what does it tell us about them. In this context the fact that users of code 75 is currently outscoring the total for users of the various flavours of code 100. This seems to suggest that the poll is representing the views of those looking for something better than code100 Streamline - and that - as a minimum - the market for OO track might very roughly equate to the existing market for code75, perhaps plus a bit (to allow for those "converted"by seeing a superiore new product)

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