Which style track to use will depend on what you want to model. If you enjoy traditional A.C. Gilbert American Flyer-style layouts, then you will want to get track that can handle the larger flanges on the engines and cars. If you are a scale modeler, more prototypically-accurate track can be used. In addition to sectional track, flextrack, and materials for hand-laying track are also available in S-scale. Be sure to check out the "Track" listing on the S Resources button on the left. Note that "code" for rail means 1/1000th of an inch in rail height. So, code 100 is 0.100" tall rail.
For original A.C. Gilbert A.F. track, you will need to research the secondary market for what is available. It used code 220 rail (usually hollow steel). GarGraves makes track that closely matches A.F. track. They also produce sliding-frog/sliding-point turnouts.
Starting in 1961, A.C. Gilbert started producing their PikeMaster track components, which increased the realism of track to a whole new level.
Lionel (code 133), MTH (code 133), American Models (code 148), American S Gauge (code 172), and Fox Valley Models (code 138) all make track that are compatible with the deep flanges of A.F. equipment.
There is no "hi-rail" track, per se. For "deep-flange" or "hi-rail" track, the NMRA specifies code 125 as the minimum rail height for S-scale. If your layout falls into this category, you can choose any track mentioned above or below, as long as it is using rail that is at least code 125 (0.125" tall). It purely depends on what you plan to run on your layout.
Some modelers have several loops on their layout each using different track so that they can run A.F. and scale equipment on the different loops.
The S-Helper Service track, now manufactured and sold by MTH, uses code 133 rail. It was originally based on the S-scale version of the PRR 4-track mainline. The MTH track comes in sectional track that has the ballast "built-in" (similar to Kato in HO- and N-scale). They also have flextrack available.
Lionel's FasTrack also uses code 133 rail. It is similar to the MTH/SHS track in that its sectional track incorporates the ballast as well. With a little bit of effort the MTH/SHS and Lionel track can be combined, with the only real difference being a slight ballast color difference and the tie-spacing is slightly different.
Starting in the summer of 2017 Fox Valley Models entered the S-scale market by making available code 138 flextrack, #5 turnouts, and other track parts. As an aside, even though the company is primarily an HO- and N-scale products company, the owner is actually building a large S-scale home layout!
Tomalco Track has track manufactured by Micro Engineering to their specifications. They produce code 70, 83, and 100 flextrack, which is available weathered or unweathered. Tomalco Track manufactures their turnouts and crossings themselves. They build turnouts from #4 to #10, as well as #4, #5 and #6 wyes, double slips, 3-way turnouts, and various curved turnouts. All in matching code 70, 83, or 100 rail weathered or unweathered. The company is owned by S-scale modelers.
Custom Trax manufactures code 100 flextrack with built-in ballasting. They also produce matching turnouts (#4, #6, and #8).
Railway Engineering manufactures code 70, 83, or 100 turnouts. They also manufacture wyes, curved, and stub turnouts. The company owner is an Sn3 modeler.
For those who enjoy hand-laying their own track, the well-known Canadian company, FastTracks, makes all the tools, jigs, and materials necessary for laying your own hi-rail (code 125), standard-gauge, and narrow-gauge S-scale track. They also have videos and templates freely available.
BK Enterprises makes complete turnouts, turnout kits, and turnout parts. They are available in code 148, 125, 100, and 83. Turnouts #4 through #12 are available, as well as various wyes, curved turnouts, stub turnouts, double-slip turnouts, and crossings.
If all you need is some of the parts that make up turnouts, you might also consider the Right-O'-Way turnout parts. Although the company makes O-scale turnout parts, since rail height is independent of the modeling scale, those parts can be used in S-scale hand-laid track. The owner got started in the model railroading hobby with American Flyer when he was a little boy.
P-B-L has available code 70 flex track (weathered and unweathered), code 70 turnouts, code 55 stub turnouts, and bundles of individual rail pieces.
Railway Engineering manufactures code 55, 70, and 83 Sn3 turnouts. They also manufacture wyes, curved, and stub turnouts. Since they are all hand-made, custom orders can be specified, such as dual-gauge turnouts. The company owner is an Sn3 modeler.
BK Enterprises (web site is gone) makes complete turnouts, turnout kits, and turnout parts. They are available in code 83, 70, and 55. Wyes, and curved and stub turnouts are also available. They also carry dual-gauge turnouts.
For those modeling in Sn2, Portland Locomotive Works makes pre-weathered wood-grain tie strips that make hand-laying track much easier (they are available in 4', 8', and 12' sections). The company LitCo manufactures Sn2 turnouts using code 55 or 70 rail. BK Enterprises (web site is gone) makes complete turnouts, turnout kits, and turnout parts in code 70 and 55. Wyes are also available. For regular straight or curved track, most modelers use HOn3 track. N-scale track is also a very close match to two-foot gauge in S-scale, but that makes mechanisms in the locomotives a bit more of a challenge. There are more HOn3 mechanisms available than N-scale ones.
There are no known sources for pre-built Sn42 track, so either hand-laying or custom-ordering will be required to model this gauge.
Port Lines Hobby Supply provides a motorized turntable, customized to your desired diameter of between 16" and 32". Millhouse River Studio, who specializes in high-end O-scale turntables and transfer tables, states on their web site that they can manufacture any of their turntables for S-scale as well. Diamond Scale lists a 65-foot Sn3 turntable. In the past Bowser used to make some S-scale turntables, but they have stopped manufacturing turntables.
Scenery Unlimited carries both standard- and narrow-gauge turntables.
New York Railway Supply manufactures a turntable control system (independent of scale). The owner is an Sn3 modeler.
In 2017 Dallee Electronics introduced their turntable indexer.
When laying track, with the exception of perhaps pre-fabricated track systems, you are going to need a rail gauge. The NASG sells the gauges via our online store (click on "NASG Company Store" on the Store menu button on the left). A number of retailers will carry these gauges as well. Tomalco Track, P-B-L, and Railway Engineering also produce handy track gauges, which are different and in addition to the ones that the NASG sells.
There are several commercial roadbed manufacturers that will make S-scale roadbed. You can also use a combination of HO- and O-scale cork roadbed, one side HO the other O, to get a satisfactory S-scale roadbed.
It depends upon the equipment you want to run. American Flyer will run on any of the "hi-rail" track components that are commercially made. Scale locomotives vary from as little as a 19-inch radius up to 48-inch radius for the long wheelbase steam locos. Long freight and passenger cars will also appreciate wider curves, although they will usually operate on sharper curves if the entry to the curve is "eased", i.e. gradually getting sharper instead of going instantly to maximum curvature. Lionel's engines typically (but not all) have a swinging pilot so that they can negotiate the sharper curves typically found on true A.F. layouts. For true scale modelers, some of these engines can be modified to permanently fix the pilot to the body frame, but they may require some effort by the owner.
The model trains are much like the real thing; the steeper the grade, the shorter the train can be pulled up the hill by a given locomotive. You can cut the train length by about half for every one percent of grade, so a two percent grade will cut a maximum length flat-land train length to about one quarter of its original size. Grades of over 1/2 inch rise per foot are not recommended. The wheels of the cars your engine is pulling is a big factor. Using high-quality, free-rolling wheels on your freight and passenger cars will make it much easier for your engine to pull the load up the grade. For Sn3, P-B-L's RTO (Ready-to-operate) trucks have shown to make a big difference, with 2-8-0 engines pulling 5 to 6 cars up 3% grades.
Yes and no. The rails will have to be large enough to handle the large flanges of the American Flyer trains, and the turnouts will have to be one of the multi-purpose versions that have been made (a.k.a. "closed frog") and they will have to be gentle enough in their diverging route curve that the scale trains won't bind up. Generally speaking, it is better to use track that matches the type of rolling stock. Another difficulty in combining AF with scale trains is the electrical requirements; AF is usually (not always) AC and scale is DC. Some people change their AF locos to DC or DCC and then that is not a problem.
Rail height indicates a certain style or purpose of the track. For example, the Pennsylvania Railroad used 155-pound rail. What this means is that a section of rail (one yard, 3 feet, approximately 1 meter) weighs 155lbs. The weight of the rail determines the amount of traffic that it could comfortably handle. Of course, the heavier the rail, the more expensive it was to purchase and lay that rail, so railroads always tried to use the lightest rail they could get away with for a particular piece of track. It is therefore common to find sidings or spurs to have thinner/lighter rail than the main- or branch-line track to which it is connected. We can model that by choosing the use of a particular code of rail.
For S-scale, the rail height code almost directly maps to the prototype rail weight, so code 70 rail is approximately equal to 70lbs/yrd in the real world. For standard-gauge scale modeling in S-scale most modelers will use either code 100 or code 83 rail, with larger rail used for those who wish to model the heavier mainlines or need to have A.F. compatibility, and smaller rail used to model spurs and siding or for narrow gauge track. S Scale Model Railway Society has a complete table and rail heights.
Code 125 rail will handle American Flyer equipment, but some older pieces of equipment may hit the tops of the ties. Code 148 can handle all AF equipment. Code 133 is what S-Helper Service used to use, and is now continued by M.T.H. as well. Lionel also uses that code rail.
Rick Blanchard has a wonderful web page that lists track spacing, rail sizes, brake piping, and other dimensional data, including for S-scale. He also has a web page listing how rail sizes related to the various scales, and another web page on how prototype track curvature relates to scale proportions. There is also an Excel data file listing how real world dimensions translate to S (without having to pull out the calculator).
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