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Where’s the Wire? The Fast Track on New Train Technology
By Karen Mendez Smith
April 1, 2003

The era of chugging locomotives is past, but model train manufacturers are proving that their products can keep up in the 21st century. A host of technological advances have opened a new track for train enthusiasts.

Getting Wireless

New computer-controlled sets can enhance the precision of model train courses. “With only a small computer controlling your entire layout, enabling you to run multiple trains with minimal wiring, my guess is that digital command controls are here to stay,” said David Griffin, a train junky since the age of three and owner of Bluegrass Model Railroad in Lexington, Kentucky. “Acceleration and braking are a dream with digital command.” Speed changes are now done via a chip on the locomotive itself, so hobbyists can be speeding around the track in no time!

It’s All About Power

Conventional power supplies are here to stay and continue to become more powerful and compact with each passing year. Train construction follows that same trend. “I forsee more micro-technology coming into it,” said Griffin. “The details are already there, with smaller, sturdier pieces being manufactured all the time.”

Palace Theater Built-up

Lightening Up

The same is true of lighting, which is always a sensitive factor, according to most hobbyists. White LEDs, which burn brighter and clearer, are replacing bulbs as the de rigeur detail, giving a more realistic “scale” look. For example, hobbyists in the know are wild about Wm. K. Walthers, Inc.’s Palace Theater. With starburst arch lights, animated chase lights on the marquise, a lighted entryway and miniature windows for posters, this venue comes ready to customize with the name of your favorite feature. Now that’s showbiz!

Smoke and Mirrors

The new effects generators are also adopting the reality-check route. Now generators can spew forth engine sounds, whistles and smoke like there’s no tomorrow. “Our sound technology is incredible,” says Cara Orchard, Public Relations and Promotions Manager at Lionel. “We have actual digital recordings of all kinds of trains.”

Fast Tracking

Also new at Lionel is its latest Fast Track system. “Fast Track allows you to pop pieces together and literally run them around the living room carpet if you want to,” said Orchard. “It’s so simple, you can pull it up or put it down for play anytime you want.” It also makes changing your layout a snap!

About the Scales!

Z scale: Trains built to a ratio of 1:220. A 75-foot-long locomotive measures 4 inches long. The rails of the track are 6.5 mm apart.

N scale:
Trains built to a ratio of 1:160. A 75-foot-long locomotive is 5 1/2 inches long. The rails of the track are spaced 9 mm apart.

HO scale:
Trains built to a ratio of 1:87. A 75-foot-long locomotive is 10 1/2 inches long. The rails of the track are 16.5 mm apart. Most popular for beginners.

O scale:
Trains built to a ratio of 1:48. A 75-foot-long locomotive is 18 3/4 inches long. The rails of O gauge track are 1 1/4 inches apart. Most popular for the well addicted.

G scale:
These trains are built to a ratio of 1:22.5. A 75-foot-long locomotive is 40 inches long. G and other large scale trains run on gauge 1 track with rails 45 mm apart.

Writer's Bio:
Karen Mendez Smith has been involved in children's media for over twenty years as a literary agent, writer, and creator of animated television and film. Co-founder of Satori Organics and M/Path Press, she is a parent to eight children and five incredible grandchildren (and counting).

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