Quite some months ago I had the house attic renovated in order to be able to rebuilt my HO model train layout. Until the renovation the layout base platform was a home made job. I really have no eye for carpentry, nor do I have a sense for correct measurements: cut first and then try to make it fit is sort of my modus operandi. So it should not come as a huge surprise that the whole contraption built by myself looked bad and also functioned pretty badly. There were gaps, offsets and other things which are not particularly conducive to getting a decent track road bed established.
So instead a carpenter was engaged to built the foundation of my future railroad empire. Suffice it to say that this gentleman did a super job. The platform is smooth as glass and rock solid.
While all this sawing and hammering was going on I had been debating on what kind of track to use. There is of course the standard track, either Code 100 or 83, which one would put on corkbed, then ballast, etc., etc. Quite a few companies make this track, thus it is readily available and not that expensive.
The cork track bed comes in 36 inch length. It is easily put down, either by tacking it or glueing it to the platform. It is not really the worst of the approximations of track ballast, it sort of has the right color and can be spiffed up readily. Besides it is relatively inexpensive. An extra bonus is the fact that cork bed deadens the running noise of the trains!
Turnouts (switches) come in a great variety.
Then there is flextrack which can be bent to a just about infinite number of radii and, like standard track, can be cut easily to any desired length.
All this seemed relatively easy, but then I started thinking that there ought to be a better way. Wrestling with unruly Flex Track while trying to bend it into a proper radius was not really my idea of fun. A lot of rail nipping and sawing would be required to make track pieces fit.
Hmmm...what about this Bachmann "E-Z" Track stuff? I had seen it at model train exhibits and it did not look too bad. The track is rigid, has the road bed integrated and the individual pieces just snap together. Sections of track come in various length and radii, and the track geometry is correct. It is more expensive, but then one would not have to purchase the cork roadbed.
What really pushed me towards Bachmann E-Z Track however was the fact the the turn outs of the E-Z Track line had DCC decoders built in. No complicated block, track or turn out wiring would be necessary. Yes, the PECO (and other) switches can be digitally controlled, but I would still have to string feet of wire to separate switch decoder units which sort of defeats the purpose of the whole DCC idea.
The DCC turn outs were the final push for me. With almost all of my locomotives having decoders fitted I quite enthusiastically jumped on the whole E-Z Track band wagon.
Just a few short weeks after inaugurating my railroad several problems appeared. The three foot sections of E-Z track started to buckle. They are tacked down through the available holes, but nonetheless the track still buckles.
Then I noticed that some of the shorter pieces of track failed. The actual rail will come loose, because the little sleeper tabs which keep them in place just disintegrate. This is problem is particularly acute where two pieces are connected.
Eventually the whole track section will fail and will have to be replaced.
Frustratingly as time goes by more and more of the track is showing the above symptoms. Two of the DCC turn outs had to be replaced, because the closure rails came off. The switches have a fundamental problem in any case: they are of such bad quality and so badly put together that most rolling stock can not negotiate them and will derail.
My high hopes were dashed. The quality of the Bachmann E-Z track in my experience is frankly atrocious. I have wasted a significant amount of money on this stuff, now I will have to tear it all out to replace it with "normal" standard track.
Here are a few photos of the torn up lay out:
All photos by Ralf Meier