Fractals Railroad Shed

Herein is recorded my notes and observations as I endevor to construct a riding railroad in my back yard. Topics range from where to buy the rail to what gauge track to what scale rolling stock. Mostly ramblings on various topics

We all know that rail gauge and train scale are not the same thing. You can run different scales of trains on many gauges of rail. The 'realness' of any given scale on any given gauge of rail depends on who you talk to.

American standard railroads run on 4 ft 8 1/2 inch (56 1/2 inch) gauge track. This was standardized shortly after the civil war by an act of congress to reduce the number of times goods had to be moved from car to car by hand. There is a humerous story floating around that suggests this width is based on the size the wheels of a roman chariot and is the size of two horses rear ends. Whether that is true or not, 4 ft 8 1/2 inches is was the width selected by George Stephenson in the 1820's and was eventually standardized throughout Europe and North America. See the article on trains.com for more history. Engines for this gauge track weigh many tons and cost big bucks and I don't have room for a full size train layout in my back yard. There are lots and lots of sites dedicated to full size railroads. This is not one of them.

Narrow gauge railroads run on smaller track with typical gauges of 48 inch, 36 inch and 24 inch. I will post links on narrow gauge railroads if I ever research them. Even so, engines are big and expensive and I don't have room for a narrow gauge train layout in my back yard.

Amusement park railroads typically run on 15 inch gauge, 18 inch gauge or 24 inch gauge rail. Scales vary if used at all, but I have seen references to people building half scale (or 6 inch scale) narrow gauge layouts on 18 inch gauge track. Some commercial trains use 3 inch scale on the same 18 inch gauge track. Prototypical scale for a standard equipment on 18 inch gauge would be about 4 inch scale. A flyer for commercial amusement park equipment built long ago had an engine for a 15 inch gauge track weighing in just over 2000 pounds and selling for $5000. Their engine for 24 inch track weighed in just over 7000 pounds and sold for $12000. Thus, even a layout on a 15 inch gauge track seems to be a bit large for my back yard.

A magazine dedicated to "grand scale" (> 12 inch) railroads is Grand Scales Quarterly which may be of some interest.

I saw a few references to some 10 1/4 inch gauge systems in the UK. These look kinda interesting. I will have to follow up on them some time.

Many people are investing in what is known as 1 1/2 inch scale or 1.6 inch scale equipment that runs on either 7 1/4 or 7 1/2 inch gauge track depending on which part of the country you live. This is sometimes called "live steam" trains even though you can get live steam on track as small as Gauge 1 and many of the 1 1/2 inch scale equipment is gasoline or electric. This section will get more work as I continue my investigation. The worst part about this size is that there are so many different variations and no standard name for it. Does it run on 7 1/4 inch gauge track or 7 1/2 inch gauge track? Should the scale be 1.5 inches per foot or 1.6? It is even worse than the misnamed "G gauge" where at least the gauge is standardized even though the scale is not. In any event, size 7 as I will call it engines can be purchased for as little as several thousand dollars new (typically 4-8k for basic items) with rolling stock going for a thousand or so per car with trucks and couplers. Highly detailed scale models will often cost far more. An engine will weigh hundreds of pounds and can be handled by several strong people. Track goes for 5-10 dollars a foot in 10 foot sections. Small trains can navigate turns as tight as 15 ft radius with 30-40 ft radius considered comfortable. Size 7 trains can comfortably transport people or equipment. People can sit on 18 inch benches with little difficulty. One periodical of interest might be The 7+ Railroader.

One inch scale is considered the smallest you can reasonably ride. People ride one inch scale trains much as you would ride a horse. One inch scale trains run on 4 3/4 track and common 1:12 models found in most hobby shops make pretty good scenery. Places to look for one inch scale include 1 " Scale Railroad Supply.

Gauge 1 is 45 mm or just under 2 inches between rails. You "can" get real motors (not electric) on that spacing. You can read about my Gauge 1 layout on my gauge 1 page where I discuss the layout I set up around the tree every christmas.

Gauge 0 - ... tbd

Smaller stuff - I had some N as a kid, my brother had HO. It gets even smaller. It is good for under the bed or in the garage systems. There are MANY sites dedicated to model railroading, and these are the sizes that most cover.

Some people have suggested that old mine railroads might be a good source of rail and trucks. Track can be purchased from folk like Atlantic Track and Hammer Steel. Industrial rail seems to follow a number of different standards and is sold by weight. Common weights are A.S.C.E. series which varies from 12 pounds per yard to 85 pounds per yard ARA-A and AREA standards which go up to 175 pounds per yard. Rail seems to come in 30-40 ft sections. 12 pound asce rail has a 2 inch base, 2 inch height with a 1 inch head. One source reports that 40-60 pound rail on a 24 inch gauge is used in mines. It remains to be seen how useful any of this would be for a backyard railroad although one 15 inch gauge site does sell a hydraulic bender for 12 pound rail.


Last modified: January 15 2011 22:06:34
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