Someone asked me recently for a cost comparison of MTH Realtrax vs. Lionel Fastrack. Both are similar O gauge track systems with plastic roadbed. MTH’s system has been on the market a few years longer, but Lionel’s is more popular, in spite of being more expensive.
Let’s figure out just how much more expensive it is.
Generally speaking, the standard curved and straight sections made by MTH cost $4.49 at retail. Their Lionel counterparts cost one dollar more, $5.49. When you buy online, the Lionel track tends to be discounted a bit more heavily than the MTH track, but you can still expect to pay a premium of 60-75 cents per track section.
If you use O31 track, you’ll need 20-22 pieces for a simple loop that goes around a 4×8 table. With Lionel, you can expect it to cost you about $121 before shipping and/or taxes. With MTH, you can expect it to cost about $99 before shipping and taxes. If you use wider curves and/or add switches, the cost increases with either track system, but the Lionel switches command a good $45 premium over MTH at retail, and even at discounted rates the premium is around $30. So if you were to add a pair of switches to make a siding, you can expect the Lionel cost to go up nearly $230 at retail while the MTH will increase a more modest $140.
So there’s no question the MTH track system is more cost effective. Why do people buy Lionel’s Fastrack, then? Reliability, mostly. It gives fewer problems than MTH’s track system. While disassembling it will wear it out, Fastrack holds up better under repeated assembly and disassembly than MTH’s track. Fastrack is also easier to fix.
Regardless of which solution you pick, there are ways to save costs. First, get a starter set from whichever manufacturer makes the track you want. This gets about half your track, along with a train, at a discounted price over buying either one separately. One advantage to buying locally is that if you like the train from one maker but the track from the other, many dealers will be willing to swap the track out for the other, especially if you’re willing to pay the small price difference–assuming they sell both makes, of course.