What track do I need for Lionel model railroads?

A Model Train Help Article by Papa

If you’ve decided to get into Lionel model O Scale trains, are you now wondering what style of track to get? There are some options for you to consider.

Lionel produces a wide variety of ready to run sets that include an engine (and a tender if the model is for a steam locomotive), some rolling stock (railroad cars like box cars, tank cars, flat cars, or hopper cars. etc.), and a caboose. These sets come with a power pack made to connect a special section of track to a standard electrical outlet in your home.

Some entry level sets will be have a curved section of powered track. Assembled with the rest of the included track, you’ll have a 40 inch diameter circle for your train to run on. (To see an example, you can view the Lionel Junction Santa Fe Steam Train Set on Amazon here.) Lionel Junction sets are inexpensive starter sets that give you just enough to track, power and railroad cars to get going.

Other sets will use a special straight section of track for the power input. Some sets include an additional standard straight and a special accessory section to power track accessories. These sets make an oval layout that is 40 inches by 60 inches and will fit on a 4 foot by 8 foot sheet of plywood. Most of the Lionchief sets include this size loop of track.

You need to think big if you want to operate an O scale layout that is more than the simple loop included with the sets.  You can add the inner passing loop set to give you an inner siding which increases the layout to 40 inches by 70 inches.  You have used up some more of the available space on that 4×8 sheet of plywood.

Along with the kit mentioned above, Lionel track kit offerings include outer passing loops, grade crossings, both left and right hand turnouts and siding kits that include a decoupling section and a rail line dead end bumper section.

Modern Lionel sets include FasTrack molded plastic track with three metal rails. The center rail is the “hot” rail and the outer two rails are the “ground” rails.  Lionel produces power rail section for both the DC remote control sets and AC Transformer units but please note that you cannot connect both power systems to your layout at the same time.  When I tried to do that, the protective circuitry in the power pack and the modern transformer would not allow either one to work.

Besides the modern Lionel FasTrack, you can still find older “O-27” and the later “O” three rail metal track but you should note that “O-27” will not plug into “O” due to the use of slightly thicker connecting pins on the “O” track and the height of the rails themselves.  Lionel does produce an adapter section of FasTrack that will allow you to mix “O” track with FasTrack. I have done this so I can incorporate vintage operating model O scale railroad car sets into my FasTrack layout.

I have also acquired some older box sets with “O-27” track and have modified some “O-27” to connect to “O” but have to use a ¼ in plywood shim under the “O-27” to match the rail height of the “O”.

The “O-27” designation actually is referring to the approximate diameter a circle made from just track curve sections.  A circle of track is 27 inches in diameter when measured from the outside of the metal ties. “O” is slightly larger at 31 inches in diameter and standard FasTrack is “O-36” which is measure from the outside rails instead of the ends of the model RR track ties for the older tubular metal tracks.  Lionel offers a variety of curve diameters and straight track lengths. Standard FasTrack straight is 10 inches long per section. If you are like me, you will always want more straight track like the 10 inch or the 30 inch extra long track section. You can also get a 4-pack of the 10 inch straight sections.

I hope that as you explore all of the offerings Lionel FasTrack has to offer, you’ll find the combination to make a model railroading layout that’s uniquely yours. My grandson and I have a lot of fun designing new layouts, disconnecting the track and rebuilding it to see what new combinations we can make. We’re sure you’ll have fun building your model railroading layout, too!

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