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Author Topic: Newbie wants to know if all HO trains and tracks are compatible  (Read 7163 times)
WriterGal

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« on: January 05, 2014, 11:36:48 PM »

Hi. I received a Bachmann HO Liberty Bell train set for Christmas. BIG smile!! I have wanted a train set for decades/"forever". Santa was good to me this year and gave me my first set! Eventually, I'd like to add other HO trains and track but I don't know whether ALL HO are created equal as far as compatibility. The Liberty Bell set is HO 2-6-0. I am looking at some HO 4-4-0 online but don't know if these will work together.

I particularly want steam locomotives and "days gone by" styles, not modern looking trains. Also, can the Liberty Bell have the smoking attachment added to make it smoke?

Thank you very much for any information you can give me!!  Smiley
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WriterGal
the Bach-man
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« Reply #1 on: January 06, 2014, 12:28:15 AM »

Dear WG,
Virtually all HO trains are compatible with certain limitations.
You'll have to choose one track brand (we hope you will choose EZ Track!); a control system (DCC or analog), etc.
Pick up a Walthers catalog to see the vast array of available items, and
Have fun!
the Bach-man
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Doneldon

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« Reply #2 on: January 06, 2014, 08:02:03 AM »

WG-

Thanks to the NMRA (National Model Railroaders Association) and the marketplace there is a high level of compatibility of model railroad equipment. The only place where there is a potentially frustrating mismatch is track with roadbed attached. The rails join normally but each manufacturer has its own method (read: plastic castings) of holding the track sections together. It's possible to join sections from different companies but it's a hassle and you lose the strength inherent in having the strong connections the roadbed joinery lends to your set-up. That's not too important for permanent layouts but it is a significant consideration for layouts which are assembled, taken down and then put up again. It's also the only reasonable way to have a layout on a floor but that is a practice to be avoided if at all possible.

I don't like sectional track very much myself, and I hate the roadbed attached track. It doesn't look great to me and it's quite expensive compared to other products like flex track or hand-laid track. I do think that roadbed attached sectional track is a good idea for beginners because it does a good job of addressing an important area of model railroading which newbies otherwise seem to have trouble with, i.e., keeping track together and aligned.

You do need to make some immediate decisions. First, you have a choice of steel alloy, brass and nickel silver rails. The steel looks the most like real track but corrosion is a really big problem, especially if the layout is in a basement or garage where there is some dampness. Brass is the best conductor of electricity but it must be painted to look like steel and its oxidation is non-conductive so it presents track cleaning challenges which means, as a corollary to Murphy's Law, your track will need to be cleaned at the most inconvenient time and always just as guests are arriving to see the layout. Nickel-silver is neither but I think it is the best compromise. It conducts electricity satisfactorily but only just. It looks better than brass but still needs painting if it's going to be convincing. Most importantly, it needs far less upkeep and cleaning than the other metals. Other scales have aluminum and stainless steel as rail options but we don't have those in HO.

You also need to decide if you want to run a DC or a DCC layout. DC is direct current. It's a proven technology. It's been around for decades and t is inexpensive, can be wired for multiple locomotive operation on the same layout and modelers continue to use it today. DCC, Digital Command Control, is much more realistic in operation than DC (some describe the difference as controlling the rails versus running the locomotives.) and it is simpler to wire, but it costs substantially more than DC, especially when you first make the plunge. It really does a far better job on realism than DC and it offers the possibility of true control over light and sound features. It sounds like (no pun intended) you already embrace sound so I suggest you go with DCC. Bachmann's Dynamis system is excellent as a starter and it is expandable. Each of the DCC makers have entry-level systems and it would be worthwhile for you to check them all out and see which best meets your interests and budget. There are some compatibility issues with DCC but they won't be a concern because the actual operating pieces play nicely together. It's just that you must stay with one manufacturer's products, other than decoders, when you expand your system.

Welcome to model railroading and this board. I can confidently predict that you'll find there's a lot to do and learn, and certain aspects of the hobby which will be your favorites. Don't be discouraged by the rather steep learning curve in your first weeks and months; you'll catch on quickly.
                                                                                                                                                                                    -- D
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jbrock27

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« Reply #3 on: January 06, 2014, 08:06:16 AM »

Gal, welcome aboard.

What color is the road bed that came with your set, black or gray?  (not the ties but the plastic base underneath the rails and ties).
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Keep Calm and Carry On
WriterGal

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« Reply #4 on: January 06, 2014, 06:41:57 PM »

Thank you for the information, Bach-man. I definitely am planning on sticking with EZ Track since it's what I have and am getting used to using. It's great to know all HO trains will work together if I stick with the one track and controller. As to the power controller, I'll stick with what came with the set for now and then see how it works as I add trains. Smiley
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WriterGal
WriterGal

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« Reply #5 on: January 06, 2014, 07:08:42 PM »

Wow, Doneldon, thank you so very much for all the wonderful information!! I plan on sticking with EZ Track since my hubby also gave me many sets of additional track to go with the Liberty Bell train set and I like the way the pieces fit together easily. As to making the track look more realistic, could I add to the layout height all along the track to make it look "lower", more on ground level? I can see there will be a LOT to learn, but that's fine. I enjoy learning.  As to the power control source, I will use what came with the set and then see what seems the best choice as I add trains. I believe the control that came with the set is DC. Thank you again and I look forward to years of enjoyment with my trains and interacting with other "train people".  There are probably many terms/acronyms that I will need to learn along the way so hope I don't step on any toes while I'm learning.  Smiley
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WriterGal
WriterGal

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« Reply #6 on: January 06, 2014, 07:15:14 PM »

Hi jbrock27. Thank you for the welcome. The track road bed that came with the train set is black however, my hubby bought me many additional sets of track and they came in gray. I have not opened them yet in hopes I can send them back and switch to all black. They were purchased online so don't know if I'll be able to get them switched or not yet. I like the looks of the black better. Other than the looks, is there any advantage to one vs. the other?
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WriterGal
ebtnut

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« Reply #7 on: January 06, 2014, 07:26:35 PM »

WriterGal:  As you move further along, you'll want to acquire some additional reading material to get you grounded.  There are good books out there to get you started.  Here's a sample link:  http://www.kalmbachstore.com/modeltrains-railroading-model-railroading-books-essentials-series.html
Most folks start out with a 4x8 foot table, which is handy.  Use at least 1/2" thick plywood and brace it underneath around the edges and about every 18" or so with 1x2's across to keep it from warping.  Brace the legs to prevent wobble.  There's a discussion thread elsewhere on this forum on possible track layout designs for 4x8's.  For now, stick with the standard track, which uses what we refer to as Code 100 rail.  The EZ Track is fine for first-timers to get your feet wet.  As you progress you'll come to understand the virtues of flex track and grid type benchwork which gives you much more flexibility in layout designs. 
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WriterGal

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« Reply #8 on: January 06, 2014, 07:54:12 PM »

ebtnut, thanks for the reading information link. I will definitely check it out. Is it possible  to combine the EZ Track and other track later on down the road or must I decide once and for all right now which system I will use? I'm glad you brought up layout. It is my intent to eventually build a LARGE set up and leave it all up permanently. What would be a good way of "covering" the layout, buildings, etc when not in use to protect it all from dust, etc?
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WriterGal
jward


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« Reply #9 on: January 06, 2014, 10:04:36 PM »

that grey ez track is nickel silver rail, it is much easier to keep clean than the block track with steel rail. I would keep it and make it the main track. you can mix the two types, however, and with a thin layer of ballast on all tracks, you won't be able to easily tell the two types apart.

as you add trains, there is one brand you need to be aware of that is incompatible with the rest/ that brand is marklin, which produces mainly European style trains. markin trains run on ac similar to three rail lionel, the two outer rails on lionel, and both rails on marklin track are electrically connected, and the wheels are not insulated from each other. using marklin trains on dc track such as you have will cause a short circuit and possibly burn up your controller.

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Jeffery S Ward Sr
Pittsburgh, PA
WriterGal

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« Reply #10 on: January 07, 2014, 12:12:08 AM »

jward, thank you so much for the information on the different tracks and the Marklin trains being incompatible! I certainly don't want to have a short circuit and possibly burn up or damage anything. The great people on this forum have been very helpful and I really appreciate everyone sharing information and suggestions with me. I am happy to be part of this wonderful hobby/experience.
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WriterGal
Doneldon

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« Reply #11 on: January 07, 2014, 05:54:48 AM »

WG-

You have made a good choice in EZTrack. It's pretty rugged and easy to use. The one thing you have to watch out for is getting both rail ends inside of their rail joiner. It can happen, when working quickly, that one rail slides into the rail joiner but the other winds up on top of the joiner. Then it acts like a piece of sidewalk that's a little higher than an adjacent one. It's easy to detect and correct -- just slide a fingernail over the joints and adjust any which catch the nail.

Don't expect high power or durability from the power pack which came with your Liberty Bell. I suggest that you purchase one from the Model Rectifier Corporation (MRC) when your power needs increase or the one you have poops out. Their goods are high quality.

Covering a layout between operating or building sessions is very difficult. Just about anything you use will break scenery and structures no matter how careful you are. Covers will also derail rolling stock. You can use inexpensive poly sheeting which is attached high on a wall or the ceiling and drapes like a tent to the edges of the layout but such a drape is difficult to get out of the way  for access to the layout. But it can be done if you don't mind the hassle. The most important thing to do is to have a finished ceiling in your train space so the dirt from an upper floor doesn't sift down upon the layout as people move around. This is mainly a concern in a basement space. All-in-all, the best way to keep a layout clean is to build it in a finished room although, I know, that's not always an option.
                                                                                                                                                                                    -- D

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rbryce1

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« Reply #12 on: January 07, 2014, 10:49:15 AM »

Welcome to the hobby and the forum.

I agree with Jay regarding your track selection.  Steel track is usually sold with train sets to make the sets more affordable.  For a permanent layout and very few track maintenance problems, definitely go with the Nickle Silver (grey roadbed) track.  Make your main lines from NS track and use your steel track as sidings for now, and as time goes on, you can gradually replace bad sections of steel track with NS track until you have all NS track.

One other type of incompatibility you will run across with your rolling stock is wheels and couplers.  Wheels are not really a compatibility issue, but I recommend if at all possible to stay away from rolling stock with plastic wheels.  They are a large source of dirt contamination of your rails, as they build up static electricity which collects dirt and deposits this dirt on the track.  They are, however, easily replaced with steel wheels and the steel wheels are easily obtained.

Couplers are another thing.  There are at least three in use, Knuckle couplers, Hook Horn couplers couplers and (I don't know the proper name for them) European couplers.   The European  couplers are not found in the US very much, but are on EBay and a lot of on-line stores.

Hook Horn and Knuckle couplers are the more available ones.  Most go with Knuckle couplers, as they are the most realistic and functional.  Myself, I find the hook horn couplers look more like "toy trains" rather than a Model railroad, but some really like them.  The cars with hook horn couplers can be converted to knuckle couplers, but this is a real hassle and generally winds up being more trouble and cost than just getting the correct car.  

Well, I hope this helps if even just a little.  Again, welcome to the hobby!  Good luck.
« Last Edit: January 07, 2014, 10:55:39 AM by rbryce1 » Logged
jbrock27

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« Reply #13 on: January 07, 2014, 01:52:47 PM »

Gal, I use inexpensive plastic sheets, like one uses to cover furniture when painting, to cover the layout.  The lighter the better bc as Doneldon pointed out, it is easy to break scenery off and disrupt things when taking a cover on and off the layout if not careful.  If you had a way to suspend or drape the plastic over, instead of on, the layout, it would be better.
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Keep Calm and Carry On
WriterGal

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« Reply #14 on: January 07, 2014, 05:24:12 PM »

Doneldon, thank you for the info on making sure the EZ track is put together correctly as well as the suggestions on power pack. Under "normal" use, "about" how long can I expect the power pack that came with the set to last? Also, thanks for the suggestion of a drape for the display. I am still trying to figure that one out.   Smiley
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WriterGal
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