Trackwork - Explaining the Range
The bringing together of the C&L and Exactoscale trackwork ranges has brought a wider number of options for modellers wishing to improve the look and the standard of running on their layout. Improvements over recent years in the standards and level of detail on Ready to Run locos and rolling stock have caused modellers to look more closely at what improvements they can make to their track work, in order to match the higher standards of detail and prototypical appearance of the models that they run.
Let’s start by looking at the word 'Finescale'. What does it mean? Well there is no defined answer, but personally I look at it as meaning that the trackwork and associated equipment should look as REALISTIC as possible. Put simply, trackwork components should be of the correct scale size wherever possible. Wheels should not have massive flanges that require huge gaps between running rails and check or wing rails and realistic looking rail chairs should be included in some form.
As an example of something not looking quite right, take Peco code 100 rail. It is 33% too high when compared with the prototype and therefore looks too chunky to most modellers. It was used for many years because the flanges on models in the early days were so over sized that rail of the correct prototypical height would have resulted in the wheels running along on the tops of the chairs rather than on the rails!
Peco code 75 rectifies this problem in that it is the correct scale height, but the track is still not accurate when compared to the prototype, as it is built to a scale of 3.5mm to the foot (HO), when modellers in the UK using OO, EM or P4 model in the scale of 4mm to the foot. The result is that Peco track has its sleepers spaced too close together when compared to the prototype and to make matters worse the sleepers are too short (a scale 7' 9" in length instead of the standard 8' 6" length of post grouping railways in the UK). Other manufacturers as well as Peco provide ready to run turnouts (points) but some of these have plastic sections at the common crossing (frog) to prevent short circuits, and often have some kind of spring arrangement in between the switch blade rails at the toe end (often under a blob of plastic), neither of which are prototypical or good to look at! Many use plastic for the Check Rails (the short rails on the inside of the two outer stock rails) which are there to help the wheel sets pass through the Common Crossing without derailing. Obviously they should not be made from plastic as they are rails and the turnouts therefore look very ‘toy’ like.
Sleeper spacing and the shortness of Peco sleepers show clearly in this comparison with C&L scale Flexi Track
So what can we offer to overcome these limitations?
The combined ranges of C&L and Exactoscale track work now offer a variety of options that are designed to assist modellers of all abilities in their quest to have realistic track work on their layouts. The beginner can start with our own brand of Flexi Track and a straight forward Turnout kit (see below for details). More experienced modellers may only need items that are impossible to make at home, such as plastic moulded chairs and sleepers, their skills enabling them to make most or all of the rail components themselves. There are many choices to be had, depending upon modelling experience, time available for track building, budget, individual preferences and a host of other variables.
Scale & Gauge
Firstly, a quick guide to the scale and gauges available. We offer products in two scales, 4mm to the foot and 7mm to the foot.
4mm includes 'OO', 'EM' and 'P4', with track gauges (the distance between the rails) of 16.5mm, 18.2mm and 18.83mm respectively. 7mm includes 'O' gauge Finescale (F7) with a track gauge of 32mm and Scale Seven (S7) with a track gauge of 33mm. Further information will follow on a separate page giving more details of scales and gauges, along with points to consider when deciding which scale/gauge to follow.
Where to start?
It seems sensible to start with the beginner or person returning to modelling after many years, neither of whom will be familiar with our products nor the changes that have come about in trackwork products and methods in recent years. We will begin with the options to get started and then gradually introduce the various products across the range.
C&L Flexi Track with Hini Nickel Silver Rail
C&L Flexi Track (Bullhead Rail)
This is the basic starting point for most. We provide Flexi Track in four gauges, OO (track gauge 16.5mm), EM ((track gauge 18.2mm), P4 (track gauge 18.83mm) and F7 (O Gauge fine scale) (track gauge 32mm). All are available made with Nickel Silver or with Steel rail (see later paragraph which detail the different qualities for each). The Nickel Silver rail used in our flexi track is unique to C&L and is called 'HiNi' rail. This is short for 'High Nickel'. Standard nickel silver rail has around 12% of nickel in it and tends to look quite yellow in appearance. Our specially designed 'HiNi' rail has 18% of nickel and as a result it looks much more like steel rail, in that it is more of a grey colour with only a slight hint of yellow, rather than the vivid yellow of standard nickel silver rail. It is not as grey as actual steel rail but is very popular as its appearance is so much better.
Chairs with three holes (bolts) are moulded as part of the sleeper to give that realistic look.
Flexi Track has the rail inclined inwards at 1:5 just like real track, this being the means by which rolling stock stays in the middle of the track rather than 'hunting' from side to side as the wheel flanges alternatively strike the inner face of each rail. The running of models is therefore smooth. The track can be curved without any further work and as part of the design of the plastic 'track base' (the plastic sleepers and the plastic webs that hold the sleepers at the correct spacing), the track gauge is widened very slightly on bends, the amount being proportional to the severity of the curve. This aides models by reducing the amount of resistance (friction) caused by the flanges of all the wheels bearing against the outer rail. Without this, on sharper curves, trains noticeably slow down without any change in the amount of power being applied to the motor.
All of our Flexi Track comes with sleepers that are a scale width (10 inches on the prototype) and a scale length of 8' 6" long (as used by all UK railways since around 1923). The exception is on our OO Flexi Track. The sleepers on this product are in 'proportion' to the gauge of the track, rather than a scale 8' 6" long. The reason for this is that OO uses a gauge of 16.5mm, which works out at around only 4' 2", instead of the 4' 8 1/2" on a UK railway. If scale 8' 6" sleepers were used, the amount of sleeper visible between the outer edge of the rail and the end of the sleeper would be excessive and look wrong. By maintaining the scale distance from outer rail edge to sleeper end, the track looks 'right' even though the gauge between the rails is narrow and not to a scale 4' 8 1/2".
The depth of Flexi Track sleepers is 0.8mm, and is referred to as 'Thin'. This is one area where we move away from the prototype as normal sleepers are 5" deep and would therefore scale down to be 1.6mm. C&L Flexi Track (and matching Turnout Kits) uses a depth of 0.8mm in order to save on the costs of ballasting, as only half the amount is needed to cover the same length of track. Once the ballast is laid, no one can see the depth of the sleepers anyway! On a large layout the amount of ballast saved can be significant and not only does this reduce the cost, it also saves a lot of weight, should the layout need to be moved or be exhibited at Shows. Flexi Track is best fixed in place with a rubber based glue such as Copydex. It can be pinned, although this is not recommended, but if this is done, the pins should be placed between the out edge of the rail and the end of the sleeper. If pinned in the centre of the track and glue is not used, there may be a tendency for the track to narrow, with the outer edges lifting, as the sleepers are not deep (strong) enough to be certain that they will maintain lying flat.
C&L Track base (Bullhead Rail) - OO, EM, P4 & F7
We offer the packs of the track base used with our Flexi track as a separate item. Customers can then use rail that they might already have, to make up their own track, by sliding the rail through the chairs moulded to the sleepers. The number of sleepers moulded and held together by the webs varies depending upon the scale and gauge. However, each make makes up 5 metres of track, whatever the scale/gauge.
'OO' Track Base
C&L Flat Bottom Rail - OO, EM & P4 only
We offer code 82 Flat Bottom rail in both HiNi Nickel Silver and Steel.
Flat bottom rail is supported by some form of 'Base Plate' along with one of many types of appropriate fitting (a 'Pandrol' clip being one of the most common). The Base Plate is just what it says - a flat base on which the foot of the rail sites and its purpose is to spread the weight of the rail (and passing train) onto as much of the sleeper underneath as possible. It is also necessary to help hold the rail upright and to prevent the rail moving sideways and altering the track gauge.
We offer 'Base Plates' in packs of 250 or 500, along with plastic moulded sleepers made to look like wood, or 'Dowmac' concrete versions, for a more up to date layout.
C&L (Bullhead Rail) - Sleepers and Chairs - OO, EM, P4, F7 & S7
The next stage up from using Track Base is to make us of the plastic sleepers that we supply, which do not have the chairs moulded as part of them. We can supply a range of chairs which include 2 bolt (GWR), 3 bolt (BR, SR, LNER, LMS) and 4 bolt (Midland, some railways in the North East and Scotland) enabling the modeller to choose a Company or Region that did not use 3 bolt chairs. This method of track making is particularly useful to a modeller who wants to make their own track without the need to be good with a soldering iron. The previously popular method of track making using Copper Clad sleepers soldered directly to the rails was at one time almost the only option for those wishing to make their own track. The introduction of detailed moulded chairs and wood effect plastic sleepers in the 1980's, using a special glue to fix the chairs to the sleepers, was revolutionary and very popular, as it opened the door to track making for many more modellers who were not confident with a soldering iron. This is now the standard track making system, with its main advantages over Copper Clad being that anybody can do it, with improved looks as a result of there being real looking chairs doing their real job of holding the rail in place. Copper Clad could be improved somewhat by the addition of plastic chairs cut in half and stuck to each side of the rail at every sleeper, but this was only possible if the amount of solder used was minimal and allowed the chairs to butt against the rail, and was very time consuming and tedious!
The system only needs a couple of track gauges and some Butanone glue. Plain track can be successfully made with the type of chairs required to suit the modellers’ individual requirements.
C&L 'OO' sleepers
C&L 3 Bolt Chairs
C&L Turnout Kits (Kit in a Bag) - OO, EM P4 & F7
For those that have never built a Turnout before, we offer a simple to make 'Kit' that includes everything you need to make a prototypical looking Turnout. It is based on the system of gluing chairs to the turnout timbers, and other than soldering a dropper wire and two bonding wires; it can be completed without any further use of a soldering iron.
The Turnout is built on top of a paper Template and comes with full instructions. One big advantage with these kits, which other manufacturers can't match, is that they can be built on a curve, to suit individual requirements. This means the modeller has more flexibility and is not restricted to a curved turnout of a 'set' radius, as sold by manufacturers.
Suffice to say that all the hard work is done for you in that we have had the Common Crossing components professionally made so that the crossing assembly unit is ready to fix to the timbers without any filing or soldering required. Likewise the Switch Blades come with the taper already prepared, so that the toe end fits nicely against the inside edges of the stock (outer) rails. Two types of chair are included, a standard 3 bolt S1 'Running Chair' and sufficient Slide Chairs (the ones that the switch blades rest on and slide across when the direction of travel is altered). It is necessary to cut some of each in half and so that they can be added cosmetically around the Common Crossing, where space is limited and individual 'Special Chairs' would have been used on the prototype. Using only two types of chair keeps down both the cost and the level of difficulty, meaning that anyone is perfectly capable of making turnouts to a good standard. Roller Gauges are included unless you select the option to leave them out when ordering.
Turnout Kits with Plywood Bases
C&L previously stocked laser cut plywood trackbases from the Timber Tracks range. That supply is no longer available to us but there are stocks still remaining. Exactoscale commenced work on a similar product, but with significant improvements some time ago. There have been delays in bringing these items into productions but we are hopeful that they will be available very soon. Customers will therefore be able to order a plywood Track Base for their Turnout instead of using moulded plastic timbers