That silvery glint...

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azdiane

Member
Yesterday I was up flying, and happened to be at the right angle to see the sun's bright glint racing along railroad tracks below. That sparkle of sun on steel rail is one of the things that I find visually iconic and appealing about railroading, and wish I could reproduce with my models.

But in my HO world, I see a golden glint on the rails. It is one of the things I have the most difficulty "suspending disbelief" about.

Which leads to the question, has anyone got experience with steel HO track? Several manufacturers produce a steel rail flextrack. I find it visually very preferable over the color of nickle-silver rail, but I have always heard that it's a big problem to keep steel clean. I'll be running DCC, and I live in a very rust-free climate ('tho I presume the steel rail is stainless anyway).

So I'd appreciate hearing from y'all about your experience with steel rail HO track. Am I crazy to be considering it for the new layout? :confused:

Hugs,
Diane
 
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KB02

Well-Known Member
When I first got my layout up and running, It was based off of an (old) basic 4x8 layout that was given to me by a friend. He also gave me a bunch of spare (old) track. Combining this with all of the (old... and some new) track I already had, I ended up having a HUGE variety of track to work with. I have brass, nickle silver, some unidentifiable, and some steel. While I was not the pickiest about which pieces of track I used to build my layout (hence my post "Cleaning making it worse?") Some pieces of track just found their way right into the trash. Mostly, the trashed pieces were steel.

Now, you seem to have stumbled upon the issue you would need to be aware of right out of the gate: Keeping it clean. With NEW steel track on a NEW layout, I would think you would not have much of a problem as long as you went into it with the knowledge that you had to make sure you did your upkeep of the track. But, and to steal a line from Denis Miller, That's just my opinion; I could be wrong.
 

Iron Horseman

Well-Known Member
Which leads to the question, has anyone got experience with steel HO track? Several manufacturers produce a steel rail flextrack. I find it visually very preferable over the color of nickle-silver rail, but I have always heard that it's a big problem to keep steel clean. I'll be running DCC, and I live in a very rust-free climate ('tho I presume the steel rail is stainless anyway).
I know O-Scale people who purposely rust the sides of steel rail. Much better color than trying to paint the rust the color on. That leads to what I think the trick of steel rail is, to keep it clean it has to have lots of running of trains. O-scale is heavier so it keeps it rail cleaner. I don't know of anyone who has tried to gleam (special method of polishing) steel rail to keep it clean. That would be an interesting experiment in and of itself.

I would think that the bigger problem would be either the availability of turnouts (none) and/or the difficulty of building them. All the cutting and filing of steel rails would wear out the tools very quickly.

I have G-Scale stainless steel rail that is made primarily for outdoors. G scale doesn't have the same clean track problems as HO because the equipment is so heavy it crushes the "dirt" out of the way to make contact. A lot of G-scale is also battery powered where contact with the rails is irrelevant.

I do not believe that HO steel rail is stainless.
 
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The only thing i have seen on steel track copared to nickle silver. the steel track is not as good of a conductor for electric power it will do the job just with a little more resistance.
 

josephbw

Member
I would like to make a suggestion Dianne. Instead of changing the rails, change your light source. Color temperature varies widely with indoor lightning. Your typical incandescent bulb emits a yellowish color, and fluorescent emits a greenish color. However both bulb types are available in "Daylight" color temperature as are LED lights, which more accurately mimic the color temperature of the sun, and will give a more prototypical reflection on your NS rail. Daylight bulbs are also advertised as 5000°K (Kelvin) bulbs. Good Luck.
Joe
 

azdiane

Member
@ Joe -- My little oval test track is set up directly in front of two large windows. They actually provide a ton of natural daylight, and in the afternoon direct sunlight floods in. No matter how I try, I can't get my brain to make a silver glint out of the golden reflection off nickle-silver rail, despite the lighting.
Hugs,
Diane
 

Iron Horseman

Well-Known Member
The yellow glint off the rails here is due to the incandescent bulbs in the passenger platform not the lack of shiny silver rails.
 

Lynnb

Active Member
I'm not sure what to say as I've never been fortunate enough to go joy flying to admire landscape and rail heads. But I bet it does have something to do with the sun as it sounds like it was a sunny day. Should be interesting to see what you come up with Diane.
 

Sirfoldalot

Product Tester ACME INC.
Staff member
I don't see how much more "silvery glint" than this. Am I missing something?
Maybe you were just looking through a crazed windscreen .. Lol.image.jpg
 

azdiane

Member
Sherrel, that's just what I'm talking about! All other factors aside, that silvery HO track just LOOKS better to my eye. Prototypical-looking steel rail HO track is readily available, and for visual purposes I'd like to use it. But it is reputed to be a real problem to keep clean.

My question for all who have actually used steel rail is does the steel rail pose a really nasty cleaning problem as is its widespread reputation, or is the bad rep overblown and the problem small? Compared to nickle-silver rail, do you have to clean steel rail twice as often? Five times as often?

I recognize that the steel rail has more electrical resistance than NS, but extra electrical track feeders aren't a problem to wire in, and especially with boosted DCC power in the rails, I can't see that that will be an issue.

So please folks, chime in. If you have any experience using HO steel-rail track please give your experiences and opinion.

Hugs,
Diane
 
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Bruette

Well-Known Member
Steel will always have more corrosion then nickel/silver, but if you are willing to clean it frequently and the humidity is kept low you should have no major problems.

I use Lionel's Fastrack and I am not sure what it is made of, I know it is not nickel/silver. My minor corrosion problems only cropped up over the summer when I was not cleaning it weekly.

MB Klein/Model Train Stuff recommended a new cleaner (new to me anyway) that is supposed to prevent corrosion and enhance conductivity. I have only begun to use it and I can't say yet if it works or not. it's called Track and Rail Cleaner ACT-6000 from Aero-Car Hobby Lubricants.
 

Sirfoldalot

Product Tester ACME INC.
Staff member
Diane, I think that you need to find another cause to champion! Model railroading, no matter how hard we all try to imitate reality, is still a "pretend" business. We can closely duplicate the size, but not the mass, smells, and other natural elements that comprise the "real McCoy". (Says the man who has not had a layout in 28.5 years, except for a track under the Christmas Tree each year - not entirely my fault)

I will have to go back and look at the thread the photo came from. This person was up and running in a few weeks, and I sort of like his plan and track too. I do not remember what make he said his track was, but with a few ties replaced where the joints are .. Some weathering on the rail .. And ballast ; I think it would look very nice. I think he would still have that "silvery glint" that you like.

Personally, I would not even try the steel rail at all.
Just my 20 cents!
 

wombat457

Well-Known Member
Staff member
I tend to agree with Sherrel, model railroading has its limitations as he said. It would be great (to a point) if we could take a real world railroad and simply shrink it, to whatever scale we choose to use, to retain all of the real world feels and smells and noises.

It seems as though your main priority, or concern, is replicating the glint that comes from real track. I find it intriguing that that seems so hard to create. All it requires is, as you rightly mentioned, steel track and light - both of which are readily available. However, as has already been said, there are certainty going to be compromises to be made in order to achieve that effect. Track maintenance is certainly going to be your greatest problem, one that may well become a burden in time.

I think we need to accept that model rail roading does have it's limitation when it comes to absolute realism and, that compromise is a large part of this and any scale modelling. All I can say is don't let your passion and/or commitment to this one part of the hobby effect the over all enjoyment that you obviously attain from it.
 

azdiane

Member
Aww, c'mon you guys, you make it sound like the guys in white coats are about to haul me away just 'cuz I want silver rails. I think that suspending disbelief is a hallmark skill of model railroaders, and I think I'm pretty good at it. But when there is a simple fix to make something look right, why not take it?

I don't see where choosing the color of my railhead so it looks more prototypical is philosophically any different from adding details to a locomotive or structure to make it look more prototypical. Still, the reality of poor electrical conductivity due to dirty/corroded rails may be the answer to why not take it; it may be beyond practicality.

I'm still hoping to hear from people who have actual experience using HO steel rail, and are able to give a been-there-done-that report on how much extra work is involved in keeping it clean compared to NS rail. The visual is important enough to me that I'm willing to put up with a moderate degree of extra track maintenance, but I don't want to cripple my railroad with track that will forever be a problem.

Hugs,
Diane
 

wombat457

Well-Known Member
Staff member
"...Aww, c'mon you guys, you make it sound like the guys in white coats are about to haul me away just 'cuz I want silver rails..."
Sorry Diane, didn't mean it to come over that way - your not crazy, just ambitious, and there is nothing wrong with that all :) Mind you though, I think getting involved with model railroading DOES require a certain amount of mental instability in order of remaining remotely sane :)

Huh ... lets see the shrinks figure that out! lol
 
G'day Diane...Good point on that glint look...Sunny bright conditions have that look for real...Cheers Rod
 
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G'day Diane again , Forgot to add , I used a bit of bachmann steel alloy track here and there amongst my Nickel silver Bachmann track..The steel track certainly took more cleaning but looks wise I always thought it's slightly 'oxidised' look was more realistic in some ways...I now use Atlas Flex track..code 100 and I'm pretty happy with the overall appearance of it.. The thing is that re. functionality the nickel silver rails will always be more reliable..and careful weathering can be used to give the impression of the glinty contact area of the rails by the oxidising /rustying the look of the lower parts of the rail..but I haven't got to that stage yet.. 'weathering' can certainly enhance a glint just by going a good general weathering of the base of the rail.... Cheers Rod..
 
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Bruette

Well-Known Member
I used Tyco HO steel rail for many years under my Christmas trees. I preferred it to the brass or what ever brass looking alloy my Tyco set came with. Simple oval with only 4 straights, nothing was soldered and 1 feeder. Mind you these were DC locomotives. Every few years or so I would have to use a fine Emory cloth to remove corrosion., I never cleaned it for the 6 or 7 weeks, sometimes more it was running under the Christmas tree and my trains always ran great. Except for one year my old locomotive broke down, but that had nothing to do with the track and that is another long story for another thread.

I have some Tyco steel rail still sealed in it's original package and it looks brand new after 30-40 years. Id say that is pretty corrosion resistant.

If you want to run steel rail try a test oval to be sure the DCC signal is not diminished enough to effect your trains. I doubt it would be if you have good connections and sufficient feeders. I don't speak from experience. Pure speculation on my part when it comes to DCC and steel rail.

You are the CEO of your railroad. It won't bankrupt the railroad to try and nobody can dismiss you.

I admire your willingness and desire to pursue something you want to do! I think its great, I defiantly go my own way as well.
 
G'day Diane , Louis , and all....the thing with this subject is that I actually do like the idea of glinty track because it does frequently glint as we all know ...We often touch on the word 'prototypical'..with model rail and every time I look at a layout either in real life of on You Tube or video I'm often gobsmacked by how accurate and realistic the subject matter is...Why not try and get a shiny 'realistic' look with the actual rail too...One day I'd love to do that myself..Hope you get it sorted as time goes on...Cheers Rod
 

bwells

Member
As Iron Horseman said: I would think that the bigger problem would be either the availability of turnouts (none) and/or the difficulty of building them.
That alone maybe the deciding factor.
 




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