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Model Railroad Track Types

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When shopping for model railroad track sometimes you'll see products listed as "N gauge code 55" or "HO code 83", but other products have names like "True-Track", "Unitrack", or "E-Z Track". What does all this mean?

All model railroad track has an MNRA code number which specifies the height of the rails. Track with an integrated roadbed is usually sold by name, as all track in these product lines will have the same code rails. The track pieces available to you will be determined by the brand and type of track you select.

Track Codes

Model railroad track codes are defined by the NMRA. The code number is actually the height of the rails in thousandths of an inch, so Code 55 track is 0.055  inches high. Manufacturers may offer more than one code selection in any given scale, though one is always closer to prototypical. Here is a list of scales and the codes of track you will find for them:
  • O Scale: 125, 100
  • HO Scale: 100,83, 70, 55
  • N Scale: 80, 55, 40
  • Z Scale: 55, 40

Rail Metals

Different metals are used in making model railroad track. The most popular track today is called "nickel silver" because it is an alloy of those two metals. Nickel silver is popular because it doesn't oxidize as fast as other metals used for rails, meaning that it won't have to be cleaned as often. Model railroad track is also available with rails of steel or brass.

Integrated Roadbed vs. Standard Track

Author's photo.
Standard track is simply metal rails held together in their gauge by plastic scale railroad ties. One brand of standard track should be compatible with another, but mixing different codes and metals in your layout may not be advisable.

Model railroad track with an integrated roadbed has rails fastened to strips of molded plastic that's painted to look like a bed of ballast (the layer of gravel under and around railroad ties) with ties embedded in it. Integrated roadbed track is much easier to work with than standard track, making it ideal for children's train sets. This is why most train sets sold today come with an integrated roadbed track.
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