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Track Selection

Track Selection

Before beginning construction on V1 of the Northern New England Scenic, I spent considerable time researching what brand of track I would choose for the railroad.  While some modelers have had success blending multiple brands, despite slightly different rail profiles, I was determined to choose and brand and stick with it.  The three main brands considered were Atlas, Peco, and Micro Engineering.  I knew that my protoype-based design would use 3′ flex track sections cut to length for eberything but the turnouts, so I did not consider Kato Unitrack.

My brief journey back into HO scale prior to V1 had used Atlas track.  My one issue was the fact that Atlas track does not hold a curved shape before fastening in place, wanting to spring back to a straight position.  On top of that, at the start of V1 of the NNE Scenic, Atlas track was going through supply problems, so I eliminated Atlas.  Both Peco and Micro Engineering had strong proponents.  In the end, two factors tipped the scales to Peco.  First, there seemed to be a wider variety of turnouts available from Peco at that time.  Second, at the time back in 2012, Peco had a reputation for being more forgiving with older rolling stock.  Since I would be primarily buying used rolling stock for the NNE Scenic, I went with Peco.  I will say that the more recent issues with the closure and attempted sale of Micro Engineering in 2022, the choice of Peco seems to have been the right one for me.

The other decision to be made was track rail height.  Code 55 (.055″) would be more realistic in appearance.  But many of the Peco turnouts only seemed to have availability in code 80 (.08″). The decision I made at the time was to mix the two, using code 55 flex track and code 80 turnouts.  This does require care either placing a small shim under the base of the code 55 flex track where it meets the turnout or doing a thorough job spreading the ballast and gluing in place without pushing down the code 55 track at the joint.  While more recently the availability of all of the Peco turnouts in code 55 has caused me to switch to buying code 55 turnouts, I never at any time with V1, V2, or V3 of the layout have had any problems mixing the code 55 flex track with the code 80 turnouts. One reason for this is the fact that Peco code 55 track actually uses special rail that has a total physical height the same as code 80, but has a special code 55 depth to a fake rail base where the rail meets the ties.  The code 55 still ends up slightly thinner than the code 80 overall including the ties, so that is why the slight shimming when joining the two can be helpful to avoid the potential for a dip.

Looking at the photo, the track on the left is Peco code 80.  The track on the right is code 55.  As you can see, the rail tops and bottoms are the same, with the rail joiner smoothly joining the two at the same height.  But the base of the ties for the code 55 is not quite on the surface as the base of the ties for the code 80 is.  The other advantage of Peco code 55 over other brands is that between the trails, the tops of the ties are actually lower down at the level they would be for code 80, so Peco code 55 track can handle larger wheel flanges than code 55 in other brands.


As mentioned above, Peco has turnouts in both code 55 and code 80, but at the start of V1 very few turnout sizes were available for code 55, so all of my early turnouts were code 80.  In addition, at that time, my lack of experience was such that I did not want to have to make modifications to turnouts for them to work reliable.  Insulfrog turnouts had a good reputation, and I had no experience with the impact slightly dirty wheels or track can have with dead frogs.  So all of my early turnouts were Peco code 80 Insulfrog.

By the time V2 and now V3 started, I had gained skills and made the decision to switch to powered frogs.  Unifrog were not yet on the market in 2017, so I bought a sibstantial number of Electrofrog turnouts.  Many of these are in use on the NNE Scenic V3, and I still have a few left that have never been used.

Wiring Electrofrog turnouts for use with DCC is not at simple, unfortunately, as just soldering feeders to the rails.  There are two reasons for this:

  1. As shipped, power to the frog is delivered through the contact of the point rail to the stock rail when the point rails are switched from one side to the other.  That contact between point rail and stock rail can be tenuous at best.  Small springs in the Peco turnouts help to keep the point rail pushed against the stock rail, but a dirty rail or a small partical can hold the rails apart just enough to interrupt the circuit, resulting in the locomotibe stalling on the turnout.
  2. Short curcuits could easily happen at the frog if the wheels on a metral truck or if the turnout is in any way out of gauge.

While there were actually multiple electrical design versions of the electrofrogs, most (all that I received) did not have gaps or jumpers to feed power to the point rails any other way.

To convert out of the box Electrofrog turnouts for reliable control, three steps are needed:

  1. Cut gaps through the rails near the frog to isolate the frog from the point rails.
  2. Solder jumpers from the stock rails to the adjacent point rails.
  3. Solder a feeder wire to the frog to feed power to it from under the layout.

This site provides a more complete description with photos of both the problems and the solution for making Peco Electrofrog turnouts more DCC-friendly.

I got sufficiently competent at these three steps to make these turnouts work reliably for me.  But when Peco came out with their Unifrog turnouts, everything got a whole lot simpler.  Peco Unifrog turnouts have all three of these modifications already built in as part of the design of the turnout including the frog wire already soldered in place.  You simply solder feeders to the two stock rails like for any other piece of track and you are ready to go.

Thank you Peco for coming out with the Unifrog design!

Turnout Sizes

One significant shift from the earlier versions of the layout was my selection of turnout sizes, also sometimes discussed in terms of turnout radius.  On the earlier versions, I made heavy use of Peco Small turnouts in yards and for sidings, and typically used Medium for mainline turnouts.  While this savd some space, they are less realistic and also less reliable due to the shorter lengths and the effects on coupler positioning.

For the NNE Scenic V3, I use extremely few Small turnouts, and only really for a couple specific yard situations.  Almost all of my turnouts in yards are Peco Medium turnouts nd all of my turnouts on the minline use Large.