I was surprised to find issues in regard to track compatibility as I started to install track in the Wheeling Freight Terminal staging yard. I was using Walthers/Shinohara track switches and Atlas flex track. All were code 83 rail, but there was something amiss.
The National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) has many standards and recommended practices that are used across the model railroad industry so our models can operate using components from different manufacturers. Specific rail, gauge and track switch tolerances are outlined across several standards at the NMRA website. One aspect that is not standardized is the thickness of the ties that support the rails. As I am using up lots of accumulated materials with this project, I’ve encountered a tie thickness discrepancy. Click on the next two images for larger versions.
I have accumulated lots of Atlas code 83 flex track as well as several sections of Shinohara code 83 flex track bought at swap meets and train shows over the years. I am using the Walthers/Shinohara track switches on this project and the overall tie and rail height matches the older Shinohara track, but not the Atlas flex track. The height difference is about 0.030 inches. Many people may not worry about a thity-thousandsths of an inch difference, but it is noticable when you push a string of freight cars across an uneven rail joint. Steam locomotives would have some difficulty smoothly operating over the same joint. This situation becomes a problem to solve.
I made transition sections of five to six inch long Shinohara track sections by adding styrene shims under the ties. After prepping the rails on each end, the bottom of the ties on the last two inches of these short track sections are sanded to remove the slick, glossy surface. HO scale 2×10 styrene strip shims are cut two inches long and glued onto the ties under the rails. Once the joint is dry, the shims are carefully sanded to make a slight taper. After blowing the dust away, the shims are carefully painted with Rail Brown to hide their presence. I did not have any grey or black styrene on hand for this project. Here’s a transition section before painting.
When the transition section is complete, it is soldered to a piece of the Atlas code 83 flex track with the shimmed end close to the rail joint. After the flux is cleaned off of the solder joint, a mill file is used to remove any slight bump at the rail joint. Some people may feel a slight taper can be done by sanding the Atlas flex track ties, but without a belt sander at hand I feel these transition sections do the job.
After creating several of these short transition pieces, a friend suggested another method that is much less involved. I’ll cover that in the next post.
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