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This review is from Model Railroad News, VOL 4, Iss 11, November, 1998. Reprinted with permission of Lamplight Publishing Company.


For years O gaugers have relied on dated Lionel steel 3-rail sectional track for creating their railroad empire. Tubular rails and sparsely spaced, oversize metal ties did little to help an already unrealistic 3-rail operating system look anymore convincing.

In recent years, manufacturers such as GarGraves set out to make 3-rail track more realistic looking by blackening the middle rail, adding more ties per section, and creating long flexible track sections for customizing radiuses an d track lengths. But many O gaugers were looking gor a more simple method of creating realistic, problem free layouts through the use of sectional tack like manufacturers were producing for HO and N sclae modelers. These gauges included multiple radius curves, straight lenghts, various degree crossings, and switches.

Today, with the heightened interest in O gauge and new products entering the 3-rail market at a rapid pace, a new O gauge manufacturer has stepped forward to take on the task of bringing out a true realistic 3-rail sectional track system – Atlas O. The company has long been acquainted with sectional track systems through the Atlas HO and N scale product lines. Now, Atlas O has introduced their 21st Century Track System to the 3-rail market.

The 21st Century Track System is a complete system designed to allow the modeler to create complex track layouts constructed with little or no cutting and fitting. Pieces that are being released for 1998 include: 10", 4.5", and 1.75" straight sections; 0-54 and 0-72 full and half curved sections; 90 degree crossing; 0-54 remote switches; nickel silver, black, and insulated rail joiners; terminal rail joiners; and track screws. More pieces are planned for future release.

Starting with the sectional track, one can see that Atlas O is truly dedicated to producing a higher standard 3-rail track system. The rail itself is solid and make of nickel silver - a superior electrical conductor. The only draw back to using nickel silver is that Magne-Traction equipped Lionel locomotives will have less traction and thus diminished pulling power. But on the other hand, most other manufacturers are currently using traction tires to enhance locomotive tractive effort and are unaffected by this design. If you own many Lionel locomotives with this feature, a decision will need to be make on how important a factor this is in your choice of track.

The profile of the rail follows prototype but is slightly wider to accommodate both older O gauge trains as well as new. The plastic ties are scale size with nicely simulated wood grain varying from tie to tie. Tie plates with spike detail are represented. The center rail has been darkened to blend in with the ties. Each rail joiner has bolt detail and slides over the rail as they do on HO and N scale track designs.

A snap-lock feature has also added to each track section to aid the modeler in keeping the track together. This innovation seems to work quite well for temporary setup and usage on a level tile floor, but it is recommended to anchor the track down for more permanent use; the manufacturer does provide two pre-drilled holes in each section for this purpose.

While Lionel style track relied on the use of bulky track Lock-Ons to provide power to the rails, Atlas O has again utilized an HO and N gauge feature – the terminal joiner. This is nothing more than two rail joiners with wire leads soldered to them. Place them where ever you desire power to be supplied to the track. The terminal joiners are easily hidden under the rails and roadbed.

If you are just in the planning stages of your layout this may all sound great, but what will this do for those of us who already have existing track down? Not to worry, the Atlas O system has this covered as well. They have come up with a transition rail joiner that mates Atlas O track to most other manufacturer’s track. Only slight modifications will need to be made. Examples of what is involved include: shimming the Atlas O track up to the height of Lionel O gauge track, 027 track will need rail opening enlarged only as Atlas O track matches the overall height of 027 track, and GarGraves track will except standard rail joiners if web of rail is trimmed back slightly.

While the 21st Century Track System does provide a better detailed track and a method for joining it to existing track and a method for joining it to existing track, the success of the product line depends on the centerpiece of the system – the switches. Our review samples included both right hand and left hand 0-54 turnouts.

The first thing we noticed upon removing the switched from their smartly packaged blue boxes was how similar they were to the Atlas HO and N switches. Atlas O has used a comparably designed, low profile remote switch machine, as well as utilized their existing #56 switch control box. The biggest benefit from this design is that longer cars and locomotives will be able to clear the switches. Furthermore, should any unforeseen clearance problems arise, the switch machine can be moved to three different locations along side the switch.

Due to their design, the Atlas O switches are not track powered as are the Lionel style turnouts. Complete and easy to read instructions included with the switches explain how to wire the switch machines to the switch control box and to the proper terminals on your transformer. Also explained is how to use the switches with the Lionel Trainmaster Command system.

Atlas O has provided for non-derailing action as well when trains are running against a switch. The points are sprung in such a way to allow a car to pass through them and then return to their original position. The spring tension can be adjusted if necessary, but has been set at the best determined position at the factory.

The appearance of the switches matches the rest ot the track system with the same scale sized ties, spike and bolt detail, and blackened third rail. The switches also feature detailed metal frogs and points, and metal guard rails. Atlas O has included a sliding ramp to be placed between the center V-shaped closure rails. This is to ensure that older Lionel operating cars with slide shoe activation devices on their trucks will pass through the switches safely.

After setting up an oval of track with switching to an inside circle on a level tile floor, we began testing. The first thing tested was the remote switch machines to see how well they operated. After wiring them up per instructions, the control box and switch machines worked flawlessly, always throwing the switch completely and withoug hesitation.

Next, an assortment of O gauge rolling stock, steam locomotives and diesels by Lionel, Weaver, K-Line, and Mikes Train House were run on the layout. All trains ran smoothly on all portions of the track. Never once did any of the locomotives loose power or derail on the switches. The non-derailing feature worked perfectly every time, even on the lightest weight freight cars. There was no need to adjust the spring tension from the manufacturers setting. Nevertheless, you may encounter a piece of rolling stock that does have problesms rolling through the closed switch. Chances are that by adjusting the spring tension or even adding weight to the car will take care of the problem.

Atlas O has succeeded in providing a true 3-rail track system to the O gauge market. The 21st Centurey Track System is innovative in design, full of the details O Gauge modelers currently are expecting, and is an outstanding, reliable performer. Anyone who is designing or adding to their layout should strongly consider this system. Three rail track never looked so good!


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