Maximum grade for Lionel trains

What’s the maximum grade for Lionel trains? What’s the recommended grade for Lionel trains? The two are very different, and the first really depends on what compromises you are willing to make.

Generally speaking it’s best to go with a 2-2.5 percent grade on elevations with Lionel trains. But you can push it, if you’re feeling lucky. The shorter the trains you are willing to run and the more actively you are willing to adjust the throttle, the higher the grade you can get away with.

Recommended grade for Lionel trains

When I measure vintage trestles, they tend to increase in height about 5 millimeters to a quarter inch per track section. That works out to about a 2 percent grade if you use O31 track, or 2.5 percent with O27 track. This was what manufacturers like Lionel, Marx, and K-Line felt safe with, based on the capabilities of their trains.

Maximum grade for Lionel trains

You can get away with 4% with trains with Magnetraction. That works out to about .4 inches per track section with O31 or .35 inches per track section with O27 track. But you will have to cut the power on downhill sections. With grades like that you can’t let the train run passively. You also can’t run super long trains.

How to calculate grade

Grade is rise over run, or rise divided by run. The run is the distance between trestle sections. The rise is the difference in height. Ten-inch sections make it easy to calculate. Go .2-.25 inches between sections to get 2-2.5% grade, or up to .4 inches to get a 4% grade.

If you use longer track sections, simply place the trestles evenly apart under each long piece, generally 8.75 to 10 inches apart. This makes creating an elevated area easy no matter what kind of track you decide to use.

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