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This review is from Model Railroad News, June 1999. Reprinted with permission of Lamplight Publishing Company.

Review by David Otte


In the November, 1998 issue of Model Railroad News, I presented to you Atlas O’s 21st Century Track System. This new track design introduced the O gauge market to a more realistic looking 3-rail track with simulated wood ties, solid nickel silver rails, blackened center rail, detailed tie plates, and even slide on rail joiners.

Now, almost six months later, we return to our test track to see how this system is holding up after hours of further testing with a variety of rolling stock and locomotives. Also we have added and tested a few of the newest additions to the Atlas O track system: O72 switches, 40" rigid and flex track, and transition joiners.

Our test track is based on Atlas O’s O54 curves and sectional straight track making up an inner and outer oval connected by O54 switches. All locomotive and rolling stock samples we receive for review are tested on this layout for compatibility and performance, just as they are on other 3-rail manufactures track.

First of all, the track has continued to be problem free – especially so for the switches. Their non-derailing feature with its adjustable sprung points has proven to work well on a wide variety of Lionel, MTH, Weaver, K-Line, and Atlas O cars and motive power without incident.

The only trouble I have encountered so far concerns the use of the Lionel, Dodge Ram Track Maintenance Vehicle. The short wheelbase, center rail electrical pick-up and lack of electrical contact, hinder the self-propelled truck as it travels through the frog of the switches at slow speeds. At higher speeds, the truck glides right through the switch without a hitch. Again, this is the only item I have found to be a problem, and only at slow speeds!

Another item to mention here regards the switch machine itself. Our samples have been set up for remote use by way of the switch control box included with the switch track. Under regular operating conditions (16 – 18 volts), we have never encountered a problem with the switches’coil mechanism or linkage while throwing the switch. But there is one note of caution here: Do not hold the button on the switch box down for more than a second or you may damage the switch machine! The heat generated in the coil during a lengthy depression of the button can ruin the coil and actually melt the switch machine housing. I have experienced this the hard way on similarly designed HO scale switches!

Speaking of switches, Atlas O recently released a series of O72 turnouts: righthand, lefthand, and a wye. These have all been installed on our test track. The new switches are of all the same high quality and realistic appearance of the rest of the 21st Century Track System. The same switch machines are also utilized. The 072 diameter capacity will now allow those using this track system to operate much larger locomotives such as those long articulated steam engines and modern six axle diesels.

Another nice feature on the Atlas O switches is the ability to relocate the switch machine itself when clearance problems arise in a given track arrangement. The O72 righthand and lefthand switches have three different locations, and the wye, four different locations. The switch machines are easy to relocate thanks to the well written instructions, which accompany the switches. All of our sample switches worked flawlessly right out of the box without any need for adjusting the spring tension on the non-derailing feature from the factory settings.

In particular, I found the O72 wye to be the most important of the new switch releases. I do not believe any other O gauge manufacturer to date has produced a ready to use wye switch. This switch arrangement will grant the ability to create more complex and realistic switchyard and sidings. And for those of you who don’t have a turntable or have a point to point operating layout, you can now create a realistic engine turn around wye for orienting your locomotives in the right direction!

Another new addition to the 21st Century Track System are 40" long rigid and flex tracks. The Atlas O flex track is another first in O gauge track systems. The flex track will allow the modeler to create almost any radius curve needed by a track plan! Additionally, the 40" long track makes it much easier to create those long straightaways without piecing together short sections of track and having the additional concern of good electrical conductivity between all those extra rail joints. The new track sections can be cut to any length you may need on your layout.

The flex track is designed with the plastic ties connected by a single plastic link under the center rail. This allows the ties to move as the rails are curved into the required radius. Both the rigid and flex track come with simulated woods ties, with the flex also available in simulated concrete ties.

When installing the flex track, it is best to mark the desired radius on your layout first to serve as a guide while curving the flex track. Because Atlas O uses solid rail, it takes a little bit of muscle to bend the track. Because Atlas o uses solid rail, it takes a little bit of muscle to bend the track. Two screw holes are located at every fourth tie to aid in anchoring the flex track down to your layout as the desired track configuration is made. Additional tie sections are available for adding or replacing ties as necessary after the desired track curvature is achieved. The rails can then be evened out by cutting the excess off with a hack saw, or a Dremel tool equipped with a cutoff wheel. As flex track has been an important part of HO and N scale modeling for years, the new Atlas O flex track opens up a whole new dimension of track layout possibilities for the O gauger!

For those of you out there who already have a ton of traditional 3-rail track, but like the new Atlas O system, don’t despair. Atlas O has thought of you as well! They have created a Transition Joiner to mate the 21st Century Track System to tubular style track.

The new transition part is half slide-on rail joiner, and half track pin. Now, Atlas O track can be connected to Lionel or K-Line O gauge track simply by shimming up the Atlas O track to its counterparts height. For Lionel O27 track, simply enlarge the rail openings. Atlas O can even be connected to MTH’s track by the use of their transition track and the Atlas O Transition Joiner. This gives the modeler the option of using the older style track in out of sight areas such as the backside of the layout or in tunnels, and using the more realistic looking Atlas O track in the foreground.

From our continued testing of the 21st Century Track System, we can conclude that Atlas O has created a truly flexible and durable track system. Their commitment to quality, as well as to expanding this 3-rail product line, is evident in their newest releases. More importantly, the innovative introduction of O72 Wye switches and flex track show O gaugers what they can really expect from a manufacture dedicated to making new trains for the 21st Century!

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