Should I switch to Fastrack?

A common question is whether to switch from traditional Lionel tubular track to Fastrack, or from traditional American Flyer track to the new S-gauge Fastrack.

If you make the switch, I stand to possibly make a couple of bucks from affiliate links. But my integrity is worth more than a couple of bucks, so let’s talk this through.

Fastrack vs. traditional track

A lot of people have plenty of ideas for what other people ought to do with their money. I’ve seen it plenty of times with the eyerolls I’ve gotten when I suggest people just might be able to make what they already have work.

I add extra ties to my traditional track. It adds a split second to the suspension of disbelief, while still looking like 1950s track.

Another common argument is the wider diameter of the newer track, but you can get wide curves for your existing track. O42 or wider track will work even better than the O36 Fastrack does. It’s a lot cheaper to just replace the curves than it is to replace everything. Straights aren’t terribly expensive, but once you start talking about replacing switches and crossings, the dollars pile up fast. If you already have switches and crossings, it’s probably worth holding on to them.

Advantages of Fastrack

For floor layouts, the integrated plastic roadbed is great. It holds together well even if the surface isn’t perfectly flat, and it keeps whatever dirt is on the floor out of your trains and the grease and oil that’s in your trains off the floor. That’s a win-win.

It also, of course, looks quite a bit more realistic than the track it replaced. The fake plastic look complements Plasticville fake plastic buildings well.

If a high degree of realism is what you want, it helps to apply a wash and add a bit of ballast to the edges, but the effects can look good. Adding extra ballast is optional of course.

Disadvantages of Fastrack

If you disassemble the track a lot, the grips on the underside of the track weaken and start to break, especially after age starts to take hold. Tubular track wears out too; just keep in mind that Fastrack isn’t immortal either.

Then, of course, there’s the issue of noise. It’s loud. Sticking carpet pad underneath the plastic roadbed helps a bit.

Finally, some types of trains won’t run correctly on Fastrack switches and crossings. Anything Lionel made in the last 75 years or so will be fine, but some other brands of trains, particularly Marx and some early prewar American Flyer, don’t do well on anything other than a simple loop of Fastrack, so keep that in mind.

Advantages of traditional track

Tubular track was made for more than a century, stopping only for World War II, so there’s a glut of it on the used market. Used tubular track is cheap. When you buy a lot of it on Ebay you’ll probably pay more for the shipping than for the track. Just make sure whatever you buy matches what you already have.

The original A.C. Gilbert American Flyer track wasn’t made as long, but it’s not expensive either.

The traditional forms of track can wear out, but it’s not difficult to fix minor problems with it.

Disadvantages of traditional track

Some people just don’t like the look of it, finding it too toy-like. If that’s the case for you, then you probably ought to think about some other kind of track.

Putting tubular track pieces together can sometimes be a bit difficult–though Fastrack requires a bit of force itself. If you’re having trouble getting tubular track together, I have some tips for that.

Ballasting tubular track is certainly an option, and many people think it makes it look better. But it’s more work to lay down track and then ballast it than it is to just snap together some Fastrack and screw it down to the table.

Mixing track

Maybe you like Fastrack but can’t afford to replace all of your track at once. You can mix track types in most cases, and this may ease the financial burden of transitioning.

In conclusion

Maybe you’re interested in what I use, and maybe not. If not, you can stop reading now. I’ve been using Fastrack around my Christmas tree since about 2004. On my layout I use O27 tubular track. I had a lot of it to begin with and over the years I picked up a lot of it cheap. I’m more of a traditionalist than a scale modeler, so I want my layout to look like something out of the 1940s. While there are people who use Fastrack with postwar trains, I think the traditional track is a better look for it.

Ultimately you have to decide what’s going to make you happier. Spending less on track means more money to spend on other things. Then again, most of us have far more trains than we can run at one time, and track stays on the layout all the time, so if splurging on track means one or two fewer trains, that trade-off may be worth it. But it’s not my decision to make. My job is to give you the pros and cons and help you make a more informed decision. Whichever direction you choose, I wish you the best.

Here’s some video of my friend Jim setting up a loop of Fastrack. He also shows a few other types of track.

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