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Thread: Atlas C55 vs FastTracks turnouts

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    Question Atlas C55 vs FastTracks turnouts

    Here's a question I haven't seen many people discussing. My dad and I are about to begin building the layout we've always been talking about, an around-the-walls multilevel layout with over five scale miles of track. Of course, such a layout will have dozens of switches. He has a lot more experience in these things than I, and he believes that FastTracks handlaid turnouts are more reliable and better than Atlas prefab turnouts. However, since I'm the one who builds the majority of the turnouts for our Freemo modules, and I don't like building turnouts, I've been thinking about the idea of using prefabs instead.

    I know that the Atlas turnouts are a lot more expensive. I don't remember what my LHS sells them for but somewhere around $15 seems to be the average price on the internet. The price of materials for a handlaid turnout is only about $5, which is significantly less. However, at 30 mins per turnout, it's either hundreds of dollars or many hours that we'd be saving based on one choice or the other. Either of which, of course, could be spent on other areas of the layout (like turntables... nice ones are expensive xP)

    Here's a direct comparison of the two:

    Atlas
    • Powered frog
    • Hinged points
    • Two different frog angles allow more varied trackwork
    • Extra straight track at each end
    • No need to install ties, paint is optional
    • Money cost: $15
    • Time cost: Neglible

    FastTracks
    • Powered frog
    • Solid points
    • Single frog angle
    • Small footprint
    • You must install ties and paint
    • Money cost: negligible
    • Time cost: 30-60 minutes


    What I want to know is how these compare in terms of operation. The FastTracks turnouts that I've operated over at club setups work very well, they're completely bulletproof as far as I can tell. I don't have any experience with the Atlas ones. (I think one person may have a module with them, but I never paid attention enough to remember.) Can anyone else help shed light on this decision?

    Some other information: we use DCC, and we're going to be throwing the points and juicing the frogs using slide switches or Blue Point switch machines. I run small steam, he runs second-generation diesels. The largest locomotives we have are my 2-8-2 and his SD40s. (He also has a 2-8-8-2 but she's not going to be a road engine on this line since we don't want to install enormous turntables just for her.) I do run 80' heavyweight passenger cars with body-mount couplers, though. Minimum radius is going to be 22".
    "The curious but intense pleasure that is given to many people by the watching and the study of railway trains, their engines, and the detail of their organization is both an art and a mystery. It is an art because the pleasure to be had is exactly proportionate to the informed enthusiasm one puts into it. It is a mystery because, try as one will, it is impossible to explain to others exactly in what the pleasure consists."
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nerva View Post
    However, at 30 mins per turnout, it's either hundreds of dollars or many hours that we'd be saving based on one choice or the other. Either of which, of course, could be spent on other areas of the layout (like turntables... nice ones are expensive xP)
    I think that nicely sums up the trade off you'll have to make.

    Operation-wise, I'm sure a halfway decent self-builder will have more reliable FastTracks-turnouts than stock Atlas - but he'll also fiddle long enough with any misbehaving Atlas turnouts to make them reliable. A non-experienced track layer will have better success with stock Atlas turnouts than with half-assed FastTracks.

    Different choice for everyone, some like building turnouts, so half an hour spent on something fun AND saving money is a no-brainer, some don't and also have two dozen other projects on the backlog, but they are on a generous budget that makes 15$ per turnout look cheap... Me personally, I'm leaning towards the second option.

    Just one fact I'd like to add: FastTracks offers more choices than Atlas, not less. Atlas gives you #5, #7, #10 straight, #2.5 and #3.5 wye and one curved turnout, FastTracks has templates for #4, #4.5, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10 and #12 straight, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8 and #10 wye and tons of different radius #6, #8 and #10 curved turnouts plus some specialities like a #6 threeway turnout: http://handlaidtrack.com/track-templates-n

    I'll be looking for someone to build me a #8 30"/20" and a #10 40"/30" curved turnout, once I get to the modules that need them - or maybe I'll have the self confidence to try that myself, then. Nothing available from Atlas that'll fit the track plan I have on my mind...

    I'd suggest you go ahead and build a FreeMo-module with Atlas turnouts and give them some thorough testing. That way you don't invest too much money (what's one or two turnouts compared to the cost of an entire new layout?) and have a better feeling whatever way you decide.

    HTH,
    Heiko

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    I think it really boils down to preference.

    I currently have 2 fast track jigs ( a number 8 and a number 10). The number 8 is a turnout nobody makes commercially.

    All of my Free-moN modules currently have Atlas, Micro Engineering, and Fasttracks turnouts installed.

    The hinged points on the Atlas turnouts are sometimes problematic. Also, the throw bar connection to the points can be a week spot. ( the points have a little tab that slips under a hook on the throw bar )

    All of the ME turnouts I have were not DCC friendly, so they take work to prepare and install, which includes replacing the throw bar to isolate the points.

    So far, the fast tracks turnouts have been fine, though none of those are on the mainline, so they have not been as extensively tested as the other turnouts have been.

    I think I have now exhausted my supply of commercial turnouts. All future turnouts I install will be built using fast tracks jigs, mainly for the cost factor, but also because they are much easier to repair and adjust in place.

    Paul

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    Part of it has to do with volume. You wrote that cost is negligible on the Fast Tracks, that depends on how many switches you make. If you buy all of the Fast Tacks equipment (not all necessary, I know) for each switch you will spend $250 (per radius switch). To be cost competetive with Atlas you need to build about 18 (your first one will likely be a throw away learning experience). If you only need 4 #10s, Altas is more cost effective. If you need 40 #7s, Fast Tracks will be more cost effective. Plus you will be able to repair them as needed in the future more easily.

    On the painting, odds are you will want to paint any track you lay, so that point I would consider a bit of a push.
    Karl

    CEO of the WC White Pine Subdivision, an Upper Peninsula branch line.

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    Comes down to reliability: I will never buy another Atlas code 55 turnout -- in my experience they are electrically unreliable.

    I've had to install jumpers from the stock rails to the closure rails, and jumpers from the closure rails to the points. This was after the turnout was installed and the track ballasted.

    I've invested in FastTracks code 55 jigs, and that's where I'm staying -- even though I'll only need a handful of switches for my new layout. That way, if a turnout doesn't work properly, it's my fault for poor workmanship, not mine for plunking down $15 or more on a mass-produced product that is poorly designed and doesn't provide optimal electrical reliability.

    Others' mileage may vary. ...

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    I will second the question about cost. Besides the FastTrack Tooling, you also need to buy wooden or plastic ties, conductive ties, rails, glue, solder, wire, paint and the tools to cut, paint and soldering. I'm sure I have forgotten some. Then you need to add the cost of control.

    Also consider the worth of your time. Sure, 30 to 60 minutes doesn't sound like much if you are only paying minimum wage. At least $5 materials plus $7.50 labor plus tool recovery cost, I am not sure you are saving much. Much less outside the U.S. But when you buy those FT turnout from a third party, you'll pay at least a dollar a minute for that labor.

    Your small footprint idea is a red herring. Only the length of available rail limits how big the turnout is. On both, the length of the points determines size of the working portion.
    Last edited by ChicagoNW; 11th Feb 2017 at 05:51 PM.
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    Don't let one members opinion make your decision , my more then 70 Atlas turnouts have had 2 with problems in the years I have had them now , no electrical problems , but 2 points that let loose , Atlas sent me 2 new turnouts for them.

    As to Fast track , I just bought a package of track , ties and 2 point form filing jigs, no fixtures though , they are just too expensive for me. I'm going to try with just the templates and see how that turns out.
    In my very humble opinion , you shouldn't be building fast track turnouts to save money , like some have said here costs can be even more then commercial turnouts . You should build FT turnouts if that seems like a fun part of the hobby for you , it's the only reason I'm going to try it , see if it's fun.
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    Just my choice.

    I have well over150 Atlas code 55 Turnouts on my layout and have only had issues with the No. 4's (I only have 10 with the rest being No. 7's and some 10's) and that amounted to needing to file the frogs slightly on the No. 4's and they were of the first generation, the rest have worked with out doing more than lightly filing the points.
    However if I had it to do over I would use Fast Tracks do the flexibility they allow and when I started my layout Fast Tracks did not exist and I did not want to change from Atlas.
    Boilerman

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    Quote Originally Posted by ChicagoNW View Post
    Also consider the worth of your time. Sure, 30 to 60 minutes doesn't sound like much if you are only paying minimum wage. At least $5 materials plus $7.50 labor plus tool recovery cost, I am not sure you are saving much. Much less outside the U.S. But when you buy those FT turnout from a third party, you'll pay at least a dollar a minute for that labor.
    I always find it interesting when someone brings up the cost of time involved in building a model railroad. While it is always true that time is money, this is a hobby, and the time trade off shouldn't be expressed in terms of money. Instead, the trade off should be expressed in play value or enjoyment.

    I personally find a great deal of enjoyment in working with a soldering iron, whether it is building circuits or doing track work, or even the occasional scratch building project. I know this is a part of the hobby that others get very frustrated with, and that's ok.

    The bottom line is that you should spend more money on the things you enjoy doing least and more time on the things you like doing the most.

    Paul

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    Quote Originally Posted by ChicagoNW View Post
    you also need to buy wooden or plastic ties,
    Wood ties are about the easiest thing in model railroading to make and very costly to buy.

    Wayne
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    I was wary of atlas c55 turnouts but I've had 0 problems with them and never had any fiddle or fuss with them. I'm jealous of people who can hand lay though, specially making complex/unique turnouts. Personally I'd rather put my time into other areas of the layout. Really hate doing track work, if kato/tomix made c55 track I'd be quite tempted.

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    I can state that I haven't had any of the problems that others have mentioned with Atlas code 55 turnouts. Just no problems that a little adjustment can't fix.
    A couple of observations. Fast Tracks is NOT the only way to go if you are wanting to try the HAND LAID track work. They are a good place to start, though getting all your materials and supplies can get a little expensive at first. The jigs, points & frog filing tools are nice, easy to use, but can be a little expensive to acquire up front. Ties, copper clad ties, templates, and rail can all be picked up from many other places. Kappler Scale Lumber http://www.kapplerusa.com/y2k/p-n-ties.htm Clover House http://cloverhouse.com/Store/ Micro Engineering http://www.microengineering.com/ Proto:87 http://www.proto87.com/ All of these company are selling N-Scale turnout building supplies and most of them have many other track work building supplies & tools. Some of the Proto:87 parts are downright amazing!
    I've seen some N-Scale (and HO) layouts with hand laid track work. Every layout I've seen, and operated on a few of them also, had beautiful, well thought out, and realistic track work. You aren't limited to what is "on the shelf", you can build track work for what you need. Need a code 40 siding to cross a code 55 main line? CUSTOM BUILD IT YOURSELF! Need a crossing to go through a turnout or two? CUSTOM BUILD IT YOURSELF! I asked several track work builders: "What size frog is that turnout?" And have received almost the same answer every time: "I don't know. I build the turnout to fit the track work, not the other way around." I see that many hand laid track builders start with a FAST TRACKS turnout jig, points & frog filing tools, but after building several turnouts, they all say they can build their turnouts, crossings and track work WITHOUT using the jigs, points & frog tools anymore. You get the hang of hand laying real quick!
    'Nuff said for now
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    Wow, thank you all for the volume and quality of responses. This is exactly the information I was looking for.

    There are a few things I forgot to mention or would like to correct about my question:
    • We already have a FastTracks jig and the point and stock rail tools. We also have a good supply of rail and ties.
      • The reason I had said that FastTracks only comes in one size is because I thought we only had one jig, but I just remembered that he's been buying a pile of discounted jigs on eBay and we actually have more. So that point is moot.

    • I've built about 5-10 turnouts now, and while I have found them to be reliable, I don't really like doing it. It feels like a chore to me.


    Quote Originally Posted by ChicagoNW View Post
    Also consider the worth of your time. Sure, 30 to 60 minutes doesn't sound like much if you are only paying minimum wage. At least $5 materials plus $7.50 labor plus tool recovery cost, I am not sure you are saving much.
    This is something I hadn't considered, but when you put it this way, you're absolutely right, it isn't a huge savings.

    Based on these opinions, I think what I will do is go ahead and order enough Atlas turnouts to build the first yard. That way we can get things up and running quickly and also find out if we want to repeat that decision for the rest of the layout. And if we don't like it, we can always go back and re-lay the track, right? And I can always handlay other turnouts for spurs and other things if I need. Again, thank you to everyone for your responses. I think I'm going to have to visit these forums more often!
    "The curious but intense pleasure that is given to many people by the watching and the study of railway trains, their engines, and the detail of their organization is both an art and a mystery. It is an art because the pleasure to be had is exactly proportionate to the informed enthusiasm one puts into it. It is a mystery because, try as one will, it is impossible to explain to others exactly in what the pleasure consists."
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    Aren't Fast Tracks extremely expensive, unless you plan to build several (where it becomes cost effective)? I only need one Code 40 turnout made for a spur in my layout and the cost for just one is ridiculous, not to mention the fact that I don't really need the template anymore.

    Metro Red Ln (Metro Red Line)
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    Quote Originally Posted by MetroRedLn View Post
    Aren't Fast Tracks extremely expensive, unless you plan to build several (where it becomes cost effective)? I only need one Code 40 turnout made for a spur in my layout and the cost for just one is ridiculous, not to mention the fact that I don't really need the template anymore.
    If you buy a fixture for every different turnout it is extremely expensive, $ 141,- for a turnout , that's fine if you need 100 of a certain turnout , but if you only need 3 of 1 kind and 4 of another and 2 of , you get the picture. That's why I'm going to try using just the paper templates , if that doesn't work for me , I'll just put it aside .
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    Quote Originally Posted by MetroRedLn View Post
    Aren't Fast Tracks extremely expensive, unless you plan to build several (where it becomes cost effective)? I only need one Code 40 turnout made for a spur in my layout and the cost for just one is ridiculous, not to mention the fact that I don't really need the template anymore.
    How much is quality worth? How much is near-bullet proof reliability worth? How much is a turnout with prototypical geometry worth?

    Now, that being said, if Micro Engineering offered no. 8s and curved turnouts, I'd probably have opted to stick with that. I don't experience problems with ME's products.

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    I have more than 50 Atlas C55 turnouts on my layout, and I've had to repair 5 or 6 of them because internal jumpers failed. In each case that involved uninstalling the turnout and soldering on new jumpers. Those turnouts were all from the earliest batch of 25 or so that I received.

    Ever since then I have soldered my own jumpers on before installing them, as shown here. I don't consider it to be a big chore, as I was already soldering power feeders to every section of rail anyway, and the jumpers between the closure and stock rails are simply extensions of the power feeders.

    Apart from the clunky throwbar, I quite like the look of the Atlas C55 turnouts, and I sometimes wonder how difficult it would be to replace the throwbar and points with points made using the Fast Tracks tool.

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Schmidt View Post
    I don't experience problems with ME's products
    I also have about a dozen ME turnouts that I bought a very long time ago, but I'm not a fan of them. The first one that I removed from its package fell apart when I flicked the throwbar with my finger. "What are the odds of that happening again?", I thought as I opened and tested the second one. It fell apart too.

    That was a long time ago, and the rest of my ME turnouts have worked reliably for many years.

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    Ron
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    I handlaid my entire layout in code 40, and I installed 16 #8 Fast Track turnouts that I built. Yes, it felt like a chore to me after a while, but I did enjoy it when I had them all built and started laying it... I have never had any problems with any of them, and it's amazing how smooth my locos and rolling stock move through the turnout. It's as smooth as moving on a straight piece of track. Plus you don't have those molded spikes that wheel flanges can hit. I can literally run pizza cutter wheels on my code 40 layout with no problems. The only thing I had to manually adjust the frog after building with the jig because of the thickness of the wheels of some motive power. it's almost like the inner gauge is a bit smaller of some of those wheels. but you can always make easy adjustments with the track in place and not worry about melting plastic ties with the soldering iron, etc.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Schmidt View Post
    How much is quality worth? How much is near-bullet proof reliability worth? How much is a turnout with prototypical geometry worth?

    Now, that being said, if Micro Engineering offered no. 8s and curved turnouts, I'd probably have opted to stick with that. I don't experience problems with ME's products.

    How much is quality worth? Well, I've invested in Code 55 over Code 80. As for reliability, I've invested the time to keep my trackwork trouble free. It took over 3 years to finish my mainline (in a 4x8' layout). But I am NOT paying over $100 for one turnout. I wouldn't mind paying someone to build that one tiurnout for me. I've even offered on this and other forums, but all I got in response was, "Oh just get a FastTracks turnout, it's easy and cheap!"

    If Micto-Engineering made one of their #6 turnouts in Code 40, I would TOTALLY buy that.

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    Fast tracks jigs are very good -- if you are making standard turnouts. However their double slip and 3 way jigs are not so great. Apparently, they are scaled down versions of their HO offerings. Well, scaling down doesn't work to well. Ask me how I know --!! Needless to say after a long time fiddling, tinkering and just plain frustration.... I removed these types of turnouts and installed Atlas C55 turnouts. Now, I am pretty much trouble free. Still have a little tweaking to do (mainly because I had to fit a couple where the 3 ways were). If I had designed my yard ladder with the Atlas C55 in the first place, I'm sure some of the issues I have wouldn't exist. -- Oh well, live and learn. I do have a combo of hand laid and Atlas C55 on my layout. What I should have done after the failed double slip and 3 way "experiment/fiasco" was to completely strip my yard of all tracks and start again. However, this went down during Atlas's track hiatus -- I didn't want to be without a yard for who knew how long. ME just wasn't an option for me. Not going there.

    Wolf

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