Tips for connecting traditional tubular track

I saw a question earlier this week about working with Lionel tubular track. It doesn’t snap together quite as easily as modern Fastrack does, but it’s a lot cheaper, especially if you already have a bunch of it on hand.

I probably have 100 linear feet of tubular O27 track (Lionel, Marx, and K-Line) on my layout, so I’ll give some tips for working with it.

I found one brilliant trick for improving continuity in an old train magazine. Before assembling the track, flip it over and flow a little bit of solder into the side that has the track pins. (Here are some tips on soldering if you need them.) This effectively cuts the number of track joints in half. It’s not worth disassembling an existing layout and going back and doing this, but if you’re starting from scratch, it’s definitely worth the investment in time. Your trains will run at a more consistent speed, with less need to run additional power drops.

A lot of people advise loosening the track to make it easier to put together, but I don’t recommend that if you can avoid it. A looser physical connection also means a looser electrical connection. If the track doesn’t go together easily, use a hammer. Seriously, just screw down your first piece of track securely with 4-6 screws,and if you’re paranoid, temporarily screw down a scrap piece of wood against the side with pins in it to act as a stop.

Now slide the next piece of track down into position as best you can. At this point, you can apply a drop (just a drop) of Rail-Zip and/or copper anti-seize lubricant to each track pin. This will lubricate the pin slightly, inhibit corrosion, and improve conductivity. Then go to the end of the track that doesn’t have pins and tap it either with a mallet or a hammer and a block of wood, from the end that doesn’t have any pins in it. With curved sections, tap one rail at a time. With straights, you can use a block of wood and tap all three rails at once. Tap until the track fits together securely. A gap of less than a millimeter won’t hurt, but the smaller the gap, the smoother your trains will run and the better your electrical continuity will be. Once you’re satisfied with the fit, secure that piece of track with at least one screw and move on to the next one, working your way around the entire layout. You can take out some screws as you move along. If you prefer to secure the track with zip ties instead of screws to keep the noise down, remove the screws when you’re finished and replace them with zip ties.

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