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Large Scale Starter Sets

Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains(tm)

This page will help you choose the best combination of track products for your railroad. There seem to be many choices, but a few key principles might be:

Choices include:

Note: I confess that most of the examples shown on this page are AristoCraft. That's because it is the line of track I have found most useful over the long haul. Its screw-on rail joiners provide the most effective mechanical and electrical connections between track pieces of any off-the-shelf product (except for that by USA Trains, which copied AristoCraft's system, with permission, of course). That doesn't mean that the other brands suck. I have friends who are delighted with track from Llagas Creek, LGB, and several other manufacturers. In fact, the only Large Scale manufacturers whose track is useless outside are Bachmann (which keeps the price down by using indoor-only track) and Lionel (which only makes one Christmas Train in Large Scale anyway).

Confusion Solution - If you're having trouble keeping all of this straight, or narrowing your choices down to the products you will probably find most useful, check out the Track Order form page. That page includes a checklist of the most useful AristoCraft track products, sorted by material, style, and length.

Update for 2008 - Aluminum Track Revisited - Many garden railroaders suffered sticker shock when they tried to buy track in late 2007. Suddenly aluminum rail is looking like a viable option, at least for some folks. For dry climates and battery power it's almost a no-brainer. Folks with other circumstances, however, need to choose carefully. Our new article "Is Aluminum Track a Viable Option" addresses some of these issues. To see a list of aluminum track products that AristoCraft has reintroduced and is planning to introduce, check out the Aluminum track section of our "Track Order" page.

Rail Materials

Most Large Scale railroaders use solid brass track because it's durable and widely available, and because it matches the track that came with their LGB, Aristo, or USA Trains starter set. If you want your track to conduct electricity, you will likely find yourself choosing between brass and steel track (although aluminum also seems to work great for some folks, and costs less).

Rail Profiles

Click for bigger picture.Another factor you may consider is "rail profile."

The most popular Large Scale rail sizes are known as Code 332 rail and Code 250 rail. When you hear a rail code, think "thousandths of an inch". Therefore Code 250 rail is 1/4" high, and Code 332 rail is just under 1/3" high. Code 215 rail is also made, but not all Large Scale trains run on it properly, because the wheel flanges are too deep on many out-of-the-box pieces.

Preformed Curves or Flextrack

Most beginning railroaders are more used to track with preformed curves, since that's what comes with their starter sets (and any "train sets" they played with as kids). In fact, most garden railroads today are built with mostly preformed curves. That said, flexible track is great for large layouts with sweeping curves, and is used for most display railroads (the really big ones in botanical gardens, etc.). Still, for most people starting out, a couple circles of preformed curves and a dozen or two pieces of straight may be more useful than a case of flextrack, while you're learning all the other aspects of building a right-of-way. for that reason, this site links chiefly to the most common configurations of preformed curves. If you want more specifics on flextrack, please contact me.

Standard Gauge (US-style) or Narrow Gauge (Euro-style)

Track made to suit modern US equipment has more, smaller ties than track made to suit narrow gauge equipment such as the old US 3'-gauge or the European metre-gauge trains. If you want an old-timey or Euro look, or if you've got a bunch of LGB track onhand that you need to match, go for the Narrow Gauge (Euro-style) track. Otherwise, you'll likelier prefer the Standard Gauge (US-style) track in the long run. (It's also what comes with AristoCraft starter sets, but since those use 4'-diameter circles, you won't necessarily be using that track on your permanent railroad anyway.

On the other hand, choosing "wrong" here doesn't mean you have to replace your track if your taste in trains changes. As long as you don't mix track styles in the same part of your railroad, 99% of your visitors will never notice if your ties are "too small" or "too large" for the trains you are running. When I started my New Boston and Donnels Creek line Euro track was the only kind available. If I was starting another railroad now, I'd probably use Standard Gauge (US-style) track. But the track that's out there has faded to brown and settled so nicely into the ballast and woolly thyme that it looks fine no matter what I run over it.

Lengths and Diameters

Turnouts (Switches)

You do not have to order turnouts that match the diameter of your mainline as long as the straight leg of the turnout (not the curved leg) is on the mainline (a good practice at any rate). However, you should also know that:


Rerailers are pieces of track with huge flanges to help "rerail" cars that are slightly "derailed" before they hit the flange. (If a car is really derailed before it hits the flange, a rerailer will only make it worse, though). I actually like having a few around as generally I have more of the former problem than the latter. Rerailers are molded to represent grade crossings, so I try to use some of them that way. Putting a rerailer near where you put the trains on the track helps some people get their trains properly on the track more quickly, as well. A couple of these might be helpful to have on hand as a "preventative," although some people think they cause more trouble than they're worth. (As always, your mileage may vary.)


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Return to Home page Garden Railroading Primer Articles:  All about getting a Garden Railroad up and running well
Family Garden Trains  Archive Articles: Other miscellaneous articles about garden railroading
Garden  Train Store: Index to train, track, and other products for Garden RailroadingBig Christmas Trains: Directory of Large Scale and O Scale trains with holiday themes
O Scale (Indoor) Display Trains, Includes Collectible Trains  and Thomas Kinkade Trains

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