Novice needs advice on track for HO gauge lay out

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Laird Knapp

New Member
I am a first timer at this and need some advice. Over the years I have acquired lots of donated track from people who heard I wanted to build a train layout in retirement. I now have a hodge podge collection of brass track (mostly Atlas, Tyco, Lionel and some stamped just made in Italy or Yugoslavia), and what I'm told is silver steel track (mostly Life Like, but a few Bachman) because the track has been sitting in the attic since 1990 and would not be silver nickel . I am getting close to the point where I will be laying the road bed and anchoring the track to it. My question with regards to the brass track - is there any problem with mixing and matching brass track from different venders, or should I just use one brand kind?

My second question is what are the pro and cons of using the silver steel over the brass? I ask this because I have almost enough Life Like track to complete the track circuit and I like the little locking tabs for keeping the track connected while I'm moving it around and not having to reconnect sections that pull apart. But I am short some pieces and locking tabs to complete the layout if I decide to go that way. Does anyone know where I can find additional Life Like track segments and locking tabs (see photos)? Can new newer silver nickel track be used to fill in gaps?

Appreciate your sharing your experience and advice on this matter before I fully commit to brass or the steel.
IMG_3069.jpg
 

Bruette

Well-Known Member
Welcome aboard the forum and congratulations on beginning your layout!

I am not familiar with “Silver Steel” track.

Most modern track is made with Nickle Silver rails.

Nickle Silver is a superior conductor and resists corrosion compared to brass.

I am by no means an expert on HO track. Someone will come along that can provide better information.
 

GeeTee

Active Member
My advice , is to get rid of the steel , if it were me i would use as little of the brass as possible . Steel (probably zinc steel ) will rust , brass will tarnish and corrode. Nickel Silver will corrode but its 10 times less than the other two. NS has been around since at least the 70's , I dont think you can buy brass or steel anymore . HO gauge is HO standard gauge , rail joiners should work as long as the rail Code is the same ( Code 100 ) . The locks aren't needed if you are going to build a layout on plywood , they just get in the way.

Most things you can find on ebay , sectional Atlas NS is usually not that expensive , brass track is dirt cheap.

You might want to consider a sub to Model Railroader , I think they will give you 9 or 10 how to books for free ( sub $42/yr ?).

The only issue with using steel (code 100) with NS (code 100) would be galvanic corrosion , I dont know how big an issue that would be . Like I was saying , the minute I come across steel track it goes in the garbage or ends up being a flat car load.

Zinc steel , clean it every time you use it.

Brass , tarnishes readily clean at least 4 - 6 weeks if not 1 - 2 weeks .

NS , I ve gone years without cleaning , and even then its mostly dirt from the wheels.

Its not an appearance issue , its a conductivity issue. Its extremely frustrating trying to switch cars and end up stalling all the time.
 
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santafewillie

Well-Known Member
As GT posted, use the steel track for something else. That Yugoslavia stuff is probably steel, as is the LifeLike and Bachmann. Use a magnet to verify. Brass is actually a better conductor of electricity than either steel or nickel-silver, but the cleaning may get old after a while. That being said, if the humidity in the layout area is really low, brass might go for 10-12 weeks before requiring cleaning. Nickel-silver and brass can be used together with no problems as long as you take the cleaning in stride. The main thing is not to mix code 100 and code 83 with one another. I have some brass that I use on industrial sidings that is out of range of engine travel so it is inconsequential.
Those clips are interesting, I have seen them before but I have never seen them in use so I cannot comment on them.
Enjoy and keep asking questions.
 

ShermanHill

Well-Known Member
Nickle Silver is a superior conductor and resists corrosion compared to brass.
Actually, Brass is a better conductor, has lower resistance. However, Brass oxide is an insulator, so the transmission of the current to the pickup wheels is dependent on the cleanliness of the rail top.
 

Bruette

Well-Known Member
Nickel Silver - The usual formulation is 60% copper, 20% nickel and 20% zinc. All three of those metals are better conductors than Brass. Unless the Nickle Silver used in model railroad track Is different or there is some other property of metallurgy I am unaware of Nickle Silver is superior conductor compared to brass.

Best to Worst – Which Metal is the Best Conductor of Electricity

(equally sized)

1 Silver (Pure)

2 Copper (Pure) - “Copper is less conductive than silver but is cheaper and commonly used as an effective conductor in household appliances. Most wires are copper-plated and electromagnet cores are normally wrapped with copper wire. Copper is also easy to solder and wrap into wires, so it is often used when a large amount of conductive material is required’, reports Sciencing.com

3 Gold (Pure)

4 Aluminum

5 Zinc - ScienceViews.com explains that “Zinc is a blue-gray, metallic element, with the atomic number 30. At room temperature, zinc is brittle, but it becomes malleable at 100 C. Malleable means it can be bent and shaped without breaking. Zinc is a moderately good conductor of electricity”.

6 Nickel - Most metals conduct electricity. Nickel is an element with high electrical conductivity.

7 Brass - Brass is a tensile metal used for smaller machines because it is easy to bend and mold into different parts. Its benefits over steel are that it is slightly more conductive, cheaper to purchase, less corrosive than steel, and still retains value after use. Brass is an alloy.

8 Bronze

9 Iron (Pure)

10 Platinum

11 Steel (Carbonized)

12 Lead (Pure)

13 Stainless Steel
 
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santafewillie

Well-Known Member
Not meaning to get into any arguments here, but according to Bachmann Trains, brass is a better conductor than nickel-silver even though the individual components of NS are better than brass.

Bachmann comparison

Either one works for model railroading, brass just requires more care.
 

Bruette

Well-Known Member
Unless the brass used in model railroad track is of a higher copper content than typical brass. Nickle Silver would be a better conductor. Also corrosion is a real consideration for all conductors. All Brass corrodes rapidly in comparison to Nickle Silver therefor Nickle SIlver is a superior conductor even if it is slightly less conductive than Alpha Brasses.

Alpha Brasses are 65% copper, 35% zinc but are seldom used. That is not to say they are not used in model railroad track.

Typical Brasses range from 50%-55% copper.

Nickle Silver is typically 60% copper – 20% Zink and 20% Nickle.

For example, Gold has a lower conductivity rating compared to Silver or Copper, but it considered a superior conductor for high-end applications, computer CPUs and circuit boards, also for electronics intended for the military and space programs.

My experience is not with model railroad track. I am applying my experience from designing and building my own brand of computers in the 1990s, Bruette Computers. In addition, I have some experience with metallurgy as it relates to welding and brazing composite metals.

If we are comparing new materials, then yes Alpha Brass is a better conductor than Nickle Silver. However, we must take into consideration the real world and nothing is new for long. If we consider corrosion Nickle Silver is a better conductor than even Alpha Brass.

Bottom Line: Even if Alpha Brasses are use in model railroad track the reduced maintenance makes Nickle Silver a superior conductor.
 
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Bruette

Well-Known Member
Not meaning to get into any arguments here, but according to Bachmann Trains, brass is a better conductor than nickel-silver even though the individual components of NS are better than brass.

Bachmann comparison

Either one works for model railroading, brass just requires more care.
It is not Bachmann's opinion that Brass is better as a conductor than Nickle Silver. It is "Len" (who ever that is) from a Bachmann message board.
 

Bruette

Well-Known Member
I have sidetracked this thread long enough. I have stated the science, do with it what you will.
 

trailrider

Well-Known Member
When you say "silver steel" or "steel silver", you may or may not have steel track. The best way to tell if the track is actually steel is with a magnet. If it is NOT magnetic, chances are that it is "Nickel Silver" (NS), which is the copper, nickel and zinc alloy. It is the most common type of track available today. It tends to oxidize much more slowly than brass track. The difference in electrical conductivity between the two is minor. Unless you are planning a huge layout, it won't matter. (And you would use jumper wires from the power pack to various sections of the layout anyway.) With brass track you may have to clean the top surfaces of the rails more often than with NS, depending on the climate in which you live. I live in a dry climate, so I clean very little. I have brass track on fiber ties left over from my younger days and layouts, and use it on sidings, or where the track turnouts (switches) happen to lay out where I can use the older brass ones, interchangeably with NS track. Unless you have a bunch of the steel track, I'd get rid of it. Most of your HO scale track is probably Code 100 (.100" from top to bottom of the rail). While this size is a bit "heavy" compared to the real (prototype) railroads (about 152 lbs/yard...mostly used by the Pennsylvania RR), the visual difference between Code 100 and Code 85 (.085" high) is so little that I don't let it bother me, and shouldn't bother you if you have a bunch of it on hand. Another advantage to Code 100 is if you have the old AHM/Rivarrosi locomotives and rolling stock that have the large "pizza-cutter" flanges on the wheels. While you can change out the wheel sets on freight and passenger cars with modern wheel sets, changing the drivers on the older model steam locomotives could be a hassle.
Welcome to the hobby. Do NOT hesitate to ask questions. We'll try to help if we can.
Sincerely,
Trailrider,
President & Chief Gandy Dancer (now in my 65th year in HO)
Grashhook, Galesburg & Western Division, Burlington Route RR
 




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