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I've noticed that, even in this modern age when nickel-silver track is the norm for modern HO model railroading, there is still some HO track using steel rails available.
I know Bachmann still offers a steel version of E-Z track, but I heard it may be discontinued soon (if it already hasn't been.)
Life-Like and Model Power also offer conventional Code-100 steel track (the latter only equips it with their sets.) And speaking of Life-Like, they also offer Power-Loc in steel track, but are planning on discontinuing the nickel-silver version (too bad!) Their railroad crossing and switchman accessories also use steel rails (both the conventional and Power-Loc versions, if I'm not mistaken.)

While steel doesn't oxide like the crappy brass track did, it is prone to corrosion and rust (if you're running a layout in a basement or something), and when it's perfectly-new, it's nice but does not conduct as good electricity as nickel-silver does. My guess is that steel track is cheaper to make and sell than nickel silver, and can also be purchased cheaper than nickel silver on occasion. (Too bad Tyco didn't stick around long enough to start making nickel silver track!)

Any comments/opinions?
 

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Extinction like the Dinosaur!

Yeah Wiley, With the advances in plastics and metal, the old steel track is becoming a thing of the past and for companies still offering it...its just a matter of time...and with that comes, we the consumer unloading all that accured track through the ages....I switched over a couple of years ago to Atlas Code 83 NS and its fantastic. Just like old Atlas & Tyco brass track there's already a glut of this track on Ebay,Garage Sales,Train Swaps,etc....anytime I have a sale I'm giving away bundles of steel/brass track for pennies on the dollar as most modelers are using Nickle/Silver. Not saying theres anything wrong with it...other than rust,corosion,and all round maintenece of it,etc:eek:...some guys I know use this stuff for Yards,sidings,abandoned spurs...Oh, I still have two old Bachmann Crossings that I converted to Code 83 just because they look good on a layout...can't unload everything...just wouldn't be right!!:D:thumbsup::laugh:
 

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I have been around model railroading long enough that I have some brass and steel track also. Starting a new layout soon and I figure I will use some of the old track like
MacDaddy55 suggested. In the yard and deadend sidings. Places where the locos won't be running just cars. Paint it up some and it should be fine. I am retired now and it is time to build my dream layout. I have been buying stuff for it for many years. Thank goodness I have already bought my NS flex track. I have over 125 pieces of 3' atlas flex track. I would hate to buy it today at over $4.00 a section. The most I paid for any of the NS flex was $1.29 a section, some under a dollar. When it was on sale I would buy some. From what I hear brass is a better conductor than NS, you just have to clean it more often.
 

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One use I found for the steel track is nailing it to shelf boards and using it to store some of the excess cars and locos that I like to keep around. I think they stay on the shelf better and look nicer that way. Having bought several 'lots' of trains over the years, I have a lot of extra track.
 

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I personally do not have problems with steel track. Hell, I even use power-loc and EZ track with the steel versions because it is affordable for me for the moment. I am also not bothered by the fact that I have to clean it, because I only have to do it once a week. I do not run my trains THAT extensively to where I need to worry about track cleanliness all the time.
 

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Personal Preference!

Hey JJB, Yep, its all about what you feel comfortable with. Our Layout is in our Garage and over time with meticulous care our steel track still began to show signs of age & wear. With battling the elements here in Wisconsin we looked for track that would stand the test of time and the Atlas code 83 NS track proved that. There will always be tons of track to be had and depending on financial needs, modeling experience,etc steel track comes in real handy because there is so much of it out there. Theres the old saying,"One mans trash is another mans treasure..once its mine,its mine forever" and I can speak for alot of modelers who adhere to this.:thumbsup:
 

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Hey JJB, Yep, its all about what you feel comfortable with. Our Layout is in our Garage and over time with meticulous care our steel track still began to show signs of age & wear. With battling the elements here in Wisconsin we looked for track that would stand the test of time and the Atlas code 83 NS track proved that. There will always be tons of track to be had and depending on financial needs, modeling experience,etc steel track comes in real handy because there is so much of it out there. Theres the old saying,"One mans trash is another mans treasure..once its mine,its mine forever" and I can speak for alot of modelers who adhere to this.:thumbsup:
That's very true. I guess that when you're in a club, they are going to expect the track to remain clean, but if you're at home and you run your trains occassionally, you won't need to do the same thing every day. I did notice that steel gathers up a lot of gunk from something because I end up having to use the black side of the rail pad (woodland scenics) quite a lot just to take that stuff off the rails.
 

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I just got a bunch of steel flex track. I think it’s code 100. Haven’t started my layout yet,
Someone suggested I plate the track.
Would this help? For what I looked up it’s cheap and easy to do, but will it make the track work?
Asking because it’s a good deal of track and it would sure help!
Hood Automotive tire Urban design Motor vehicle Line
 

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The old saw about "you can't make a silk purse out of a sows ear" applies to this question as well.

Plating the track would probably help with the corrosion issue, but I don't know that anyone has any data on how durable that would be over the long term. It probably wouldn't help too much with the conductivity, though, because your underlying metal doesn't change, and that's what carries most of your current. Another issue might be thermal expansion. Every inch of nickel silver expands 0.000009" for every 1 degree F of temperature change. The low grade steel that your rails are made of is 0.0000097". That may not look like much, but you're talking about thousands of inches, maybe even approaching 10K by the time you have multiple sidings, etc. Is the room climate controlled?

And finally, I think you grossly underestimate the hassle that plating that much track would be.
 
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Plating is really a simple process, but the more I think about doing it to your supply of track really isn't feasible. In order to get a good plating, the steel track would have to be immaculately clean and free of oxidation. That would require either a lot of time using an abrasive like emery cloth, or soaking it in harsh chemicals which would likely damage the plastic. The emery cloth method might not work well given the somewhat intricate details, especially with the plastic ties.

If you could plate it, the plating would be less than 1/1000 of an inch, and would almost completely eliminate any further oxidation, which is the real demon with steel. When steel oxidizes, it does so on the surface. The core would still conduct electricity, but at the surface, it wouldn't.

If you use the track as is, you would probably need to use an abrasive on the top of the rail periodically to keep things running. They make eraser-sized track cleaners for this very issue. You would alo need to be sure that the wire feeding power to the track is connected in a way that prevents oxidation from interfering. For example, simply using track connectors with a wire soldered to them wouldn't be a good long-term solution, as oxidation will form between the connector and the track. You may need to solder the feeder wire directly to the rail.

If I were in your shoes, I would lay a stretch of this track and test it as is. Chances are it's been sitting unused for a long time, so the state it's in now wouldn't get much worse except for the usual time effect of oxidation.

The power lead would need to be connected with good contact to the steel, and the tops of the rail would need to stay rust free. You're going to need to clean the track periodically anyway, just to keep dust from becoming a problem, so I say give this a shot.
 

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Plating is really a simple process, but the more I think about doing it to your supply of track really isn't feasible. In order to get a good plating, the steel track would have to be immaculately clean and free of oxidation. That would require either a lot of time using an abrasive like emery cloth, or soaking it in harsh chemicals which would likely damage the plastic. The emery cloth method might not work well given the somewhat intricate details, especially with the plastic ties.

If you could plate it, the plating would be less than 1/1000 of an inch, and would almost completely eliminate any further oxidation, which is the real demon with steel. When steel oxidizes, it does so on the surface. The core would still conduct electricity, but at the surface, it wouldn't.

If you use the track as is, you would probably need to use an abrasive on the top of the rail periodically to keep things running. They make eraser-sized track cleaners for this very issue. You would alo need to be sure that the wire feeding power to the track is connected in a way that prevents oxidation from interfering. For example, simply using track connectors with a wire soldered to them wouldn't be a good long-term solution, as oxidation will form between the connector and the track. You may need to solder the feeder wire directly to the rail.

If I were in your shoes, I would lay a stretch of this track and test it as is. Chances are it's been sitting unused for a long time, so the state it's in now wouldn't get much worse except for the usual time effect of oxidation.

The power lead would need to be connected with good contact to the steel, and the tops of the rail would need to stay rust free. You're going to need to clean the track periodically anyway, just to keep dust from becoming a problem, so I say give this a shot.
I decided to forget about the plating idea. The thin nature of the plating and other factors make it impractical.
Also...
Ive been hearing conflicting points: one side saying the steel tracks will work and to use it, the other that it will not and to toss it out. Sometimes people accept a newer method and technology as being better and rightfully so, but some folks think that a better method means the older way is suddenly absolutely useless. Kind of like how most knives now seem to be made of stainless steel and to many the rust resistance makes carbon steel totally obsolete. But I prefer carbon steel knives, I’m new to this so am trying to see what is what and to learn.

Someone mentioned a club in California that uses steel track on a big layout and the trains run well on it. I emailed the club for advice to see what they say. Maybe they’ve found a way to make the steel track work. I hope so because it’s a good amount of steel track I have and would allow me to get started a lot easier. We will see and I’ll post what advice I get. If I do use the steel track, I’ll post the results.
 

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UPDATE:
I spoke with someone from that train club in California. He said they use Code 100 steel track throughout their layout and have zero problems. He said they run wire from each flex track connection, connected to a main wire to keep the conductivity going, and no problems. I asked about any special cleaning, corrosion, etc. and he said nothing special. He said that if I run the trains frequently there's even less problem.
So I will be using the code 100 steel track on my first section, and nickel silver code 83 for the rest. I'll be able to provide more information once that's all up and running. I still have to build the platforms, get other track parts like switches etc., get a train, get a DCC system, build the actual track supports...

I have an idea: to make a little dedicated car with a cleaning sponge on the track. I will then run this car at the beginning and end of each day, or at least every other day.
 

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I wound not use a cleaning car. Better to make a cleaning pad the fits on a 1/2 breaker bar that you can then run over the track. It will have the weight and won't leave any liquid on the track to rest and corrode.
 

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Did anyone notice this thread began in 2013 ?!!!

Anyone want a gander at steel rail in action, YouTube "Highland Pacific MRR" that CZ (above) contacted thru my suggestion..

CZ: Not sure why you say 'flex track"..I'm quite sure it's all hand laid..But I could be incorrect in that perhaps a portion of it is steel flex...I'm gonna try to get over there and find out...

Repeating what I've said earlier: Man the steel looks great ! Why ? Because it's the same material the 1:1 scale runs on, I'd think !
 

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Thanks telltale, for the suggestion to contact the Highland Pacific MRR! One of the members called me back and said they have had zero problems running on steel track. Hasn't had rust and no conductivity issues. He did suggest soldering all connections and running the jumper wires to a bus from every connection. Some may think that's overkill, but I see it as good planning.

I have 73 pieces of 35" long steel flex track. That's enough to create the entire South side layout in my room (less the switches). I think its worth giving it a try, especially knowing that a major club has run the same for years and with no issues. For the other side I will likely use nickel silver.

Addressing other comments, including a suggestion to toss it all out...
Seems to me that this issue is like so many others regarding old vs new: yes, new is usually better (not always), but that doesn't mean the old is suddenly, magically useless! We see this in other venues as well: Glocks are great, so suddenly everything else is garbage... Fuel injection is awesome, so now carburated vehicles are trash and should be junked... I even see it in art: tablets like the Macbook Pro are amazing and let you do incredible work, so toss out your brushes, paints, pens, inks... It's an extreme way of thinking that defies logic and common sense. Yes, the modern stuff often functions better, more reliable, etc., but that doesn't mean the old stuff, which served others well for decades, suddenly is useless and stops working.

Steel track may not be ideal, but it would be ridiculous to toss out 2,555 inches/212 feet of track I got for free, and as a nice gesture from someone who explained the shortcomings of that track. I will likely use nickel silver for the rest of the layout, but honestly, if the steel track works well, and if its cheaper, I will use it for the entire layout.

Anyway, thaks for pointing me to that club, and also thanks to all the others here who continue to lead me in the right direcion. I always look forward to logging in and seeing I have a message or a reply to a post I am following!
 

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Go for it!

If I was in your shoes, I would be doing the same thing. Perhaps either wait to do the ballasting until you have proven to yourself that the steel track is going to work OK, or don't do it all. This way, if you decide to remove the steel track at some point down the road, you don't have to deal with removing the ballast.

And even if it only lasts a few years, by that time you may want to rebuild that part with the students who are interested at that time.

My high school had a model railroad. Although, it was really the work of a couple like minded teachers. We students couldn't participate other than bringing a train to run on the track for extracurricular activity. It was a boarding school, so Extracurricular activities are all we had to do other than attend classes, study and participate in sports. I played in a sport all 3 seasons, so I didn't get much time to enjoy their layout. I think what you are doing is rare these days... coming up with something to really engage with the kids. Kudos.
 

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Go for it!

If I was in your shoes, I would be doing the same thing. Perhaps either wait to do the ballasting until you have proven to yourself that the steel track is going to work OK, or don't do it all. This way, if you decide to remove the steel track at some point down the road, you don't have to deal with removing the ballast.

And even if it only lasts a few years, by that time you may want to rebuild that part with the students who are interested at that time.

My high school had a model railroad. Although, it was really the work of a couple like minded teachers. We students couldn't participate other than bringing a train to run on the track for extracurricular activity. It was a boarding school, so Extracurricular activities are all we had to do other than attend classes, study and participate in sports. I played in a sport all 3 seasons, so I didn't get much time to enjoy their layout. I think what you are doing is rare these days... coming up with something to really engage with the kids. Kudos.
Yes, thanks to advice here, like yours, I will set up the track on the open grid and risers and test it first. Once the train can navigate the track without issues I will begin adding the ballast etc.
I'm still really ignorant about most of this, so all the suggestions really do help.

Thanks!
 
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