A reader writes:
Picked up my first issue of Garden Railways magazine about six years ago. Got hooked on the idea. I've purchased one engine and several rolling stock as well as a half dozen structure kits over those years. I have a spot picked for the railroad and a pretty good idea as to what I want to do. I just need to get started.
question: TRACK!!! Hear many stories about the difficulty with track power on a garden railroad. Several folks in the business advocate battery power as more reliable. If I go that route can I get away with a less expensive track, maybe aluminum? Also, your opinion on buying used track online. Thank you so much.
Battery power may be best if you are going to be doing "walk-around" hands-on operation on a very large railroad. That said, you can do remote control DCC and use track power OR battery and remote control.
Also, if you're going to have several people operating trains over the RR at the same time, some kind of Remote control is great.
If you're going to have less than, say, 250' of track, and you don't mind running jumper wires, and you're more interested in watching the trains run (or setting them to run so OTHER people can watch them, say, on open RRs), track power is probably better.
Track power is no problem at all for most people, as long as the track is reachable without getting on your hands and knees or your not under trees that generate a lot of sap (you have to watch that even with battery power, though). Also, if you run rolling stock with plastic wheels on really hot days, the wheel material can actually start depositing on the track. That's a bad thing, and it's one reason some folks complain about track power.
My old railroad was surrounded by trees and heavily planted, so I had to clear the track of pine needles, sap, raccoon poop, and other things pretty much every time I wanted to run my trains. While I was at it, I would wipe the top and inside edge of the rails with a fine grain sanding sponge. It never added more than 5% to the amount of time I had to spend clearing the track anyway.
Aluminum track is cheaper, and if you're going to build a very large railroad, aluminum track and battery/remote may be the way to go. I do a lot of open RRs where the trains just have to run and run all day long, and my RR isn't all that big, so track power works better for me. Also, I never run trains with plastic wheels, except in cold weather.
Hope this makes sense.