Nickle silver rail color

Dan Lawler

I'm soliciting opinions. I've been having an interesting discussion with a member here about the perceived color of nickel silver rail. To him is appears silvery, to me it appears goldish. (Not talking about brass rail which is clearly goldish in color, but Atlas or Peco nickel silver rail.)

This conversation came up when I was seeking the chrome like shiny top-of-the-rail color found on steel rail prototypes. Steel HO track will burnish to a very close approximation of prototype rail color, but it is poorly suited to our applications and unobtainable anyway. So like so many of us I have chosen Atlas flextrack in nickel silver. Nickel silver is neither nickel nor silver colored to my eyes. I was bemoaning that it reflects a golden shade instead of the silver shine of steel. He says he perceives the color as, "... to me and I'd think most others, Peco, Atlas, Walthers, ME, is silvery-chrome looking, not gold or yellow..Perhaps you do have a vision discrepancy... Again, it's outmoded 1950s brass rail that is, well, brass colored...Todays NS is silvery or steel-gray in color.. not gold or yellow.."

People do perceive colors differently. So I'm once again soliciting opinions. Does nickel silver rail appear silver to you, or does it have a golden tone to it?
Both my N/S track sitting in front of me and N/S track I see on videos I would describe as “silver” in appearance…
Probably very much dependent upon the color or 'temperature' of your predominant light. Warmish, orangey = more goldish; cooler, bluish = silver.

I once took a picture of a bracelet I made of sterling silver, and the warm, orange-ish light of my kitchen made the bracelet look like it was made of tarnished bronze!
The "temperature" (color) of the artificial indoor light will definitely affect the apparent color of items. This is especially true of florescent lighting. I looked closely at my nickel-silver track under a variety of lighting conditions, but it definitely appears me. (There are places on my layout that appear copper-colored, but those are where I have used old brass track from previous layouts. ;) )
I agree fully with the ambient lighting, and that's a very astute observation on MilWRoader-Steve's part. Even cameras' settings for colour balance make a difference if you're not seeing in photos what you see standing and looking at the scene, or vice-versa. I can stand in a spot with a large living room window behind me, plus an LED bulb on bright nearby, a three-way type. The side rods of my BLI Niagara look like nickel-silver or polished aluminium, but, when I look at a photo of the same scene, the rods look like someone painted them with dirty crankcase oil. What the...!?

In any case, remember the words of our Lord and Saviour...if thine eyes offend thee, pluck them out. :cool: He would probably relent and suggest you do what so many hobbyists do....paint your tracks. I like Tamiya 'red brown', and also Poly Scale 'railroad tie brown' (no longer available).

BTW, if you run metal wheelsets often, your rails WILL take on that shiny look. To see what I mean, here is Atlas Code 100 nickel silver:

From well above the trestle, you can see the headlight glint at the right angle, and near the lower left corner of the image you can see the much lighter bearing surfaces:


Closer to ground level, same layout, different location:


Hi !
I am the 'member' Dan is referring to... I have been arguing against him in that his claim of NS rail having a goldish tint to it is incorrect...
Today, in the other discussion/thread with him over this, titled " HO Steel Rail Flex Track", I apologized to him there because......HE IS RIGHT !!
Instead of typing it all out again here, please go to that other thread...I'll just say this: It was the nail clipper that did it !!
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I agree with Chris, Dan and now PowrCab. Under certain conditions there is a gold(?) tint to it. It has bothered me for a long time. I eventually intend to switch out all my regular fluorescent bulbs, for daylight bulbs.
So here we are:
Though not orange like brass rail, yet still not completely gray-shiny-gray like steel, NS possessing an unwanted amber tint to it !...
Wouldn't it be nice if there were a sea change in the hobby back to steel rail, this time with flex (with plastic ties/plastic spike heads)..
I believe the reputation of steel having rust problems goes back to it originally being laid on wood ties (hold moisture) held with metal spikes (metal against metal) in the 1940s-60s; that, perhaps steel atop plastic won't act like that...
And as I pointed out: I visit the Highland Park club in L.A., all hand laid steel (and on wood !) and it looks and runs great..

Here's iron clad irony for you !! The very top of page, the MRF.COM heading. The cab forward..The rail it's on is amber in the web !!! :eek:
Steel will still rust. Stainless steel would not, depending on the quality of it. I don't know that the cost of tooling to extrude stainless steel is worth the development costs. I am not a metallurgist, so I don't know how easily, or even if, stainless steel can be extruded.
the MRF.COM heading. The cab forward..The rail it's on is amber in the web !!! :eek:
dunno, i get just basic grey, no shine, no amber .. tries on three computer, all the same, no amber

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I guess Amber is a good description of the color. Isn't it interesting how differently folks see the color. For those of us like me the amber color stands out clearly, yet other people of good intentions and apparently normal eyes don't see the color. Lighting has a great deal to do with it, but to my eye there is an amber tone in every kind of lighting. Fascinating.
Selector and others,
I've stated that a full sized club here in L.A. has all hand laid steel rail and is my sworn testimony that they have little to no problems with it....
Yes, it will rust. But what little I've seen there is not during a 'prepped' open house, but on an off night visit here and there over decades..
They own the entire house right in a suburban neighborhood with crossbucks on the lawn...with only a screen door to enter in the warm weather..
From there you're essentially in what was the living room (and still is, but with assorted members sittin' around smilin' and waving you in.)..
From there you go thru and step down a few stairs into the layout room where all this glorious steel rail, trains, and scenery fan out in front of you !
I'll watch guys run from up in what used to be analog cab controlling in 6-7 small booths above..They've gone all DCC now. Cabs might stay....
Sometimes I've brought my own power and ran it there..usually starting at lower yard down on floor with separate roll-out giant panel (to accommodate narrow aisle way)..Very cool !! When someone goes behind you you merely roll 'er in a few inches, then back it out...
Any road (as Ringo would say) I say this only give you a feel for the grand size of the layout and room, and that with all of it it is non-problematic, great looking, steel rail.
Look, we know it rusts... But the amount, if train room is kept dry, is near zilch....
As I might have said, if there were decent priced steel flex I'd go to it in a heart beat.. Especially with the growing popularity of 'shelf/around the walls' layouts where sanding a little rust here and there (if at all) would be a cinch, to boot...
Modelers pushed and pushed for knuckle couplers after decades of the goofy stuff..and got em'. Then we wanted and pushed for independence-of- loco control other than via analog blocks, and we go it...We got the very problematic brass finally replaced with NS rail offered...
There are a great many very serious modelers out there who still want even more realistic commercial track..
To me, at least, a return to steel rail would be the answer to that, as, again, plastic (delryn) ties would end the nuisance of the old metal spike against steel, the way most rust took hold back then; that, and with the likelihood the separate wood ties or Tru-Scale wood roadbed holding moisture enough to ignite the problem, if you will..
A 'sea change' like this could/would be a boon to the hobby; getting the real, gray, burnished-shiny-atop, not amber, not orange, blue-gray steel rail, same as the 1:1 boys !!
Anyone agree, disagree ? Either way, curious to what you think....
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If I were forced to use steel rail, I would coat it with kerosene. Kerosene is a non-polar liquid, and is at the top of the list of fluids often cited by people in the hobby as their sworn go-to treatment to keep rails from letting them down and getting crud on them over time. In fact, even though the makers of the CMX track cleaning car suggest using lacquer thinner as their preferred cleaning medium, I only used it once to see how it worked. I can't complain. But six months later I couldn't use the rails again. I had to start over with the CMX car. What I mean is that I hadn't run a single train since June, and this was mid-January. The tracks were useless after nearly seven months of no metal wheels running over them. This time, though, I filled the car's reservoir with kerosene. Worked at least as well as the lacquer thinner, but it's supposed to last longer as a coating/preventative. BTW, next on that list published over at Model Railroad Hobbyist ezine five years ago were, in order, WD-40 Contact Cleaner and CRC Contact Cleaner. Lacquer thinner was near the bottom of the list in the 'use if it there's nothing else' portion of the bottom third.

Even so, as I said earlier, I normally paint my rails to look like the prototype's.


I think having steel rail would be cost prohibitive for most people, especially for those new to the hobby, which for the most part is the younger generation.
They have no understanding, yet, as to the relevance of steel rail, they want to lay some track, buy some stock and run a train and have some fun.
N/S track is not that expensive, but it's not cheap either, even 2nd hand, add some rolling stock, a semi-decent loco, your still talking at least a hundred hundred fifty dollars, more than enough for a beginner who just wants to see what's it like.
We want to encourage people into the hobby, not scare them off the idea by having to spend hundreds of dollars on something as basic as track. We spend thousands of dollars on our layout, willie's rolling stock alone, is a prime example at the money we spend on our hobby, and I don't think hiking the price of the basic requirements just so it's more realistic is not going to help any. Sorry N/S is here and I don't think it's going anywhere.
Even if, IF steel flex were more expensive and too costly for new comers, that doesn't mean the other stuff would not be there to chose from.
I'm aiming at serious modelers whom, much of the time spend loads of money on everything else..Why wouldn't someone who buys $300-$500.00 locos, owns 20, and has 60 -260 + cars (or only has 2 locos and 7 cars for that matter !) care that a 3' section of steel flex is $8 instead of $6.60 ?
They usually are the group which also buys the highest priced structures and kits and has the most elaborate control systems as well..
They are the most discerning among us...

I may have mentioned, Bachmann does have steel sectional track, but only 18"r curves...I think the ties are black, not brown.. I wonder if it's just a matter of time before they offer larger curves/TOs, and steel flex !!.... Hmm...I think I'll drop 'em a line.......🛤️☀️🌵