By Joan Whetzel
Lionel trains have one main track size, the O-gauge. However, these trains also use 3 other special types of track – O27, fastrack and Super O-gauge. All track types are 3-rail tracks. The track gauge is determined by the width of the space between the outer two rails, called the running rails.
Scale of Lionel Track
Train tracks for all model trains, including Lionel trains, use a single or multiple letter system (G, O, HO, S, N, TT and Z) that corresponds to the track scale of the real life, full scale trains. The scale, which is stated as a ratio, for Lionel O-gauge trains is 1:48 scale. So Lionel tracks and trains are approximately 1/48 the size of their real life counterparts. By comparison, a boxcar that measures 50 feet long in real life comes out to only 12.5 inches on a Lionel layout. The track spacing shrinks from a width of 4 feet 8.5 inches to an approximate width of 1.1223958 inches. That width is rounded up to 1.25 inches for ease and convenience. There are 4 types of Lionel track. All of them are 3-rail and all have the same track width. The differences between them are small, but important.
O-gauge track comes in many lengths of straight and curved sections. Straight lengths include 5, 10, and 40 inch lengths. Curved track comes in 27, 42, 54, and 72 in inch lengths. The 3 rails of the O-gauge track are fastened together with black metal ties. The curved track produces a curve with a 31 inch diameter. All Lionel trains can run on both O-gauge and 027-gauge track. However, demand has increased for larger locomotives which require O-gauge track because of the larger radius offered by the curved track. O-gauge and O27-gauge track cannot be used together because the track heights are different. O-gauge track rails have an 11/16 inch rail height, which is about 1/4 inch taller than the rails on O27-gauge track.
027 Gauge Track
As previously stated, O27-gauge track have shorter rail height (7/16 inch) than O-gauge track. In addition, O27 tracks are tied together with brown ties, rather than the black ties used with O-gauge. O27 track forms a curve with a 27 inch diameter. which is a much tighter curve than the O-gauge track. The 27 inch diameter is what gives this track its name.
Fastrack comes in straight lengths of 1.75, 4.5, 5, 10 and 30 inches. Curved lengths come in 36, 42, 60, 72, and 84 inches. The curved sections produce a circle with a 36 inch diameter. The main downside to fastrack is that it sets up a noise-producing vibration on the layout table unless it’s used with an insulator between the track and the table. The best insulator is a cork roadbed, although a gray roadbed usually comes with the fastrack. The gray roadbed is made to appear like a authentic rock ballast.
Super O-Gauge Track
Super O-gauge track, the predecessor to Fastrack, is incompatible with all other Lionel track types. Super O was created as a more accurate alternative to the O and O27 gauge tinplate tracks. Super O track was manufactured with a brass center rail as well as brown plastic ties with petal reinforcing ties. Super O track was only produced between 1957 and 1966, and was cancelled due to poor sales.