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Lionel FasTrack track system

SEVERAL YEARS BACK, Lionel's then czar of engineering, Bob Grubba, tantalized Lionel Collector's Club of America conventioneers in Minneapolis with the hint of a new track system. When hobbyists asked him if it would be a solid rail system like that of Atlas O, he smiled and said, "Think more along the line of Super O."

Advance the clock a few years and we have Lionel's FasTrack. It's a new product, not a re-hash of Lionel's postwar Super O track, and other than a shared O-36 curve diameter and the shape of the plastic joining tabs, there are no real similarities.

Let's begin with the foundation.

Lionel's track, like MTH's RealTrax, S-Helper Service's track, and several brands of HO track, comes with a built-in plastic base designed to look like track ballast.

FasTrack uses a textured gray plastic that has a rough, gravel-like feel to it. It is similar in look and feel to the roadbed on S-Helper Service's S gauge track, but in thickness (.14 inch) the plastic is more akin to MTH's RealTrax.

The height of the roadbed from base to top (not including rails) is just under half an inch. On top of each 10-inch straight section of track you'll find 24 brown, cast-in ties. At first glance it looks like there are too many ties, but counting and measuring shows the number of ties in the track bed - scaled to O gauge dimensions - would fall within federal railroad standards.

The ties themselves are about 101/2 scale feet long and have a 91/2-scale-inch face. The 101/2 foot width exceeds Railway Tie Association norms, but not by much.

The FasTrack rails are tubular, but unlike traditional tubular track there is no attempt to model the familiar pinched silhouette of a rail.

In profile, they remind me of a 2-by-4 piece of lumber.

The rails themselves are 7/32-of an inch tall, shorter than standard 3/8 -inch O gauge tubular rail height, and close to the size of 9/32-inch height O-27 rails. For comparison, K-Line Snap Track rails are 9/32 inch tall, RealTrax rails are 9/32 inch tall, Atlas O rails are 7/32-inch tall, and GarGraves rails are 7/32-inch tall.

Electrical connections between track sections are made on the bottom. Flip the track over and you'll see the flattened tabs holding the rails in place, as well as the bars connecting the outside rails. A powered "lockon" track section comes with the wires attached to the center and outer rails.

Each track section has a "half pin" on both ends of the center rail and a full pin on opposite sides of the outer rails. Any which way you put the sections together you'll always have the right number of pins, which is good since the pins are not designed to be removed. Just like the rails, the pins are secured to the plastic base. Isn't that slick?

To put track sections together, hold the sections in a slight "v" shape, line up the holes for the outer rails, and press the sections together. Use a similar technique to pull the sections apart. I had no trouble at all joining or separating sections.

Lionel says that when joined, the track is so solid that you can lift an oval of it into the air and it won't break apart. So I tried it.

I carried the track up and down a hallway, and then hung it on the wall of our workshop for three weeks. It stayed together the whole time.

Back on the floor in our workshop, I connected the oval of FasTrack to a transformer and grabbed everything handy that would run on its 36-inch diameter curves.

That included Lionel's Fairbanks-Morse H-16-44 , Alco FA and S-4, and EMD SD40-2 diesels; K-Line's F7 and Atlas O's RS-1 diesels, and a RailKing R36 subway set and Big Boy. All ran quite well. There was no evidence of any wear on the track, nor were there any derailments or flanges striking the tops of the ties.

FasTrack is a big step forward for Lionel, and initially is available in its starter sets.

Lionel president Bill Bracy told us that established operators are so interested in the new track that Lionel is stepping up its release of switches, different length straight sections, and different diameter curved sections.

Only time will tell whether FasTrack will put a dent in sales of RealTrax and Atlas O track, and whether it ultimately will supersede traditional tubular track. In the meantime it sure looks nice and works well.


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