I heard a good question the other day. Will vintage American Flyer trains run on Lionel S gauge Fastrack? Given that the trains and track were made by different companies more than half a century apart, it’s fair.
Lionel S gauge Fastrack is designed for both modern production American Flyer trains and vintage Gilbert American Flyer trains from the 1946 to 1967 period.
Lionel S gauge Fastrack compatibility
Modern Lionel S gauge Fastrack looks different, but has the same technical specifications as vintage tinplate Gilbert track. The track gauge is still the same. Crucially, the track radius is also the same. It looks different with the integrated roadbed and molded track ties. But to the train, it behaves the same.
The biggest problem with compatibility is the track radius. Many vintage Gilbert American Flyer trains really need at least a 20-inch track radius to work properly. Some can get by on a sharper 15-inch radius, and Gilbert did ship that kind of track for a time in the 1960s.
But that Gilbert Pikemaster track, with the 15-inch radius, is the problem track. Lionel Fastrack uses the 20-inch radius (40-inch diameter) that the original did. Wider radius isn’t a problem. Shorter radius can be. The Pikemaster track looked better than the old track. Fastrack combines the best elements of both. It looks as good as, or better than, Pikemaster track, but works reliably like the older metal track.
You can also get transition pieces so you can switch between modern Fastrack and vintage Gilbert tinplate track. And you can refurbish dirty or rusty vintage American Flyer track, then use the two together.
Sidestepping the question
Lionel attempts to head off these questions by disguising who actually makes the track. It carries AF branding, and only on the back, in small print, do you ever see the words “Lionel, LLC.” Not everyone knows Lionel and American Flyer are the same company and have been since 1967.
Of course, you have to be careful which Fastrack you get. American Flyer trains cannot run on Lionel O gauge Fastrack. The distance between the rails isn’t correct. Not to mention that middle rail.
As long as you are absolutely certain you are ordering S gauge Fastrack and it has two rails, you don’t have to worry about compatibility with vintage American Flyer trains. Lionel knows that legacy market is a major selling point for them, so they are not going to abandon vintage Gilbert American Flyer. They know there are hundreds of thousands of those sets in basements and attics, often with rusty track, that can use some nice new track to run on.
That’s why vintage American Flyer trains run will on Lionel S gauge Fastrack.