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Another thing to consider, the price is not only in space, but you can't find inexpensive 2 rail.  Now, all our budgets are different, and to many that may not be an obstacle, but my total hobby budget for a year is in the 200-300 dollar range.  You can't even begin to touch 2 rail O with that.  3 rail, on the other hand, if you shop around-you can find good deals and engines under $100.




I'm a 37-year Aerospace retiree, with an annual hobby budget of $2500-$3000, but since I dropped out of my expensive Astronomy hobby, I can now afford high-priced O-Scale 2-Rail equipment, which now seems easily affordable compared to the thousands I used to spend on large, high-tech Astronomical-grade telescopes, eyepieces, filters, and such.


[Always try to get enough money together to go'll be glad you did!]






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Last edited by Former Member
Originally Posted by mwb: can't find inexpensive 2 rail.  

More mythology..... 


In the past 2 months, I've bought 2 Weaver engines for under $175 total.  You can get pretty decent cars for as little as $10-20 ea at swap meets.

Modelers are in extinction, for those prices you can find something, agree with you, but if you want more details there is two ways or you add or you pay for. if you pay for the price will be a lot higher IMO.


1. Put your email in your profile so if anyone wants to contact you off of the forum they can.


2. What area do you live in. With that, others can invite you over to see, touch and hopefully operate to get a grasp on the differances in 2 rail or 3 rail. There is no substituition for hands on, seeing what were talking about.

If space is a consideration, don't rule out HO scale. Same fun and enjoyment, just smaller.


3. After seeing and operating you'll have a much better understanding of which direction interests you.


These three things can be done in a weekend. 

The last two 2-rail engines I bought were under $250 each (shipped) -- one was brand new (Sunset brass 44-tonner); the other was almost new (an MTH Heritage Unit).  My 2-rail rolling stock hasn't been any more expensive than the 3-rail I had been buying previously.


Bargains are out there. You just have to be in the right place at the right time. Now if I can only get my hands on an MTH SP, WP, or DRGW UP Heritage SD70ACe with scale wheels/fixed pilots.

Incongruous.  Everything is drop-dead gorgeous - locomotives, scenery, ballast, everything.  But the track.


We are in 2- rail because we think track is part of the model.  Very few 2-railers achieve what Jerry has done, but we have more realistic track and wheels.  Doesn't make us better - just more realistic track.


I always say - if you like the looks of three rail track, go for it.  It is a hobby, and there are no rules.

Originally Posted by John Sethian:
Ok, here is my two cents worth.  What hold my attention is a well sceniced, highly detailed layout, with attention paid to realism (including weathering) quality, composition, and both foreground AND background elements.   Most of all, I look for not just fidelity to the prototype trains, but to the scenery they are passing through.

Usually your 2 cents is worth ~$37 and the loose change under the sofa cushions...but that all goes to tuition bills.


How many rails are under your engines and cars?  You chose what......


"OPNION"?   Must be the VA monsoon season,



That is certainly a beautiful photo essay!


The scenery and trackside detailing, as well as the locos and rolling stock, were all so realistic, I thought I was looking at pictures of a REAL railroad!



          .....then I noticed the track.....



It's like General Eisenhower in his class A 5-Star Uniform, wearing thong sandals!



Last edited by Former Member

Un-weathered 2 rail track and equipment on a table top layout doesn't capture the look and feel of railroading as much as the beautiful 3 rail layouts examples above. It's more than just the track.  But that said consider how much better those outstanding railroads would look with 2 rail track using scale sized rail and ties.  Today this is possible with virtually the same amount of effort and cost using commercially available track and rolling stock. 


 Space constraint is an often cited reason to go 3 rail as most out of the box rolling stock can handle  "O-72" (36"radius curves).   But as Bob2 has pointed out on several occaisions - there is nothing magic about the center rail (or grossly high rail and fat ties) that makes operation of large locomotives on tight curves possible.  I wonder what the market reaction would be if MTH offered a complete 2 rail product line designed for 36" radius curves rather than going head to head against Lionel in 3 rail. 


Ed Rappe

Last edited by Keystoned Ed
Originally Posted by Keystoned Ed:

......there is nothing magic about the center rail (or grossly high rail and fat ties) that makes operation of large locomotives on tight curves possible.  I wonder what the market reaction would be if MTH offered a complete 2 rail product line designed for 36" radius curves rather than going head to head against Lionel in 3 rail.

I think just I felt a serious ripple across the space-time framework of this universe.........




Nobody should go head-to-head against Lionel...let them continue with their ongoing sideshow!  One 3-rail manufacturer is enough!


(MWB, you probably just experienced a fleeting Antimatter event, or Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle.)



[I'm still working on an optical method for sharpening your Avatar, which would be visible to me only.]

Last edited by Former Member
(MWB, you probably just experienced a fleeting Antimatter event, or Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle.)

I routinely work with positron emitters (amongst other fun particles) so annihilation reactions are something I'm accustomed to being around.


However, I periodically () experience a variant of Pauli's exclusion principle wherein knowing where I am is in conflict with my angular momentum (and when I am...) which is actively reflected in avatar....except when clowning around.

Last edited by mwb

I have been reading this thread all along and would like to add some trains of thought.

First 3 rail is a large section of the o scale market and not in any of the other major scales as in N, HO. Gauge 1, etc. Even the European o scale market the American 3 rail market is "laughable: ( quoted from European sector).

The second train of thought is that I was just told today that Mike of mth says the future of O scale is in the 2-rail market. I was quite surprised to hear that. Then the NMRA came out with a report that O scale has increased from 18% to 22% of the market. Who knew?


Originally Posted by Bad Order Hal:



The 2-rail vs 3-rail conflict will go on like the perennial Ford vs Chevy battle, with one exception: 


Both Ford and Chevrolet make good cars and trucks that look great on the road!


Bad Order Hal

Yea, and neither of them are as good as Chrysler! LOL!

Hemi 'Cuda at the Mopar Nationals


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Last edited by Hudson J1e
Originally Posted by Ace:
Originally Posted by Stan N:

HI All

I'm new to this and a little confused. I thought O scale would be the way to go because I can see them. Anyway I didn't know about the 2 rail and 3 rail thing. So my question is . How do I know if I am getting 2 or 3 rail trains and cars ? Also do most of the O scale trains makers trains and cars work together what I mean is can you mix and match them ? O one more thing I bought some real tracks because I thought it would be a good track to start with.

Thanks a lot Stan

This is your very first post on the forum? You might want to start out by telling us what experience you have in model railroading so far. And tell us something about your available space and budget for a possible model railroad project. All very relevant.


If you have any other model railroading experience, it would be useful to outline that for a starting point.

Best answer is from Ace.


When I was 5 or so and had just learned to ride a bike my grandfather sent me a spectacular 3-speed Raleigh with racing tires, slick styling and hand grip brakes. It looked fast just standing still . . . except my legs were to short to reach the peddles. My dad added cut blocks of wood to help close the gap but mostly I just fell over. Goodbye Raleigh and hello Schwinn. I was happy.

If you are just starting in the hobby you're crazy to dive right into 2R unless you have an accomplished 2R buddy or LHS close by to help you. Even 3R has a learning curve unless you just want to lay track and go with a Ready to Run set. Be prepared to do a lot of research on this forum. As a minimum, if you're not good with tools and making things work, counting rails will be the least of your challenges. One of the most common mistakes in the hobby is trying to do too much too soon. Your decision should be based on more than just pictures. Otherwise best of luck and enjoy!

Gee, I thought there had been an Armistice Day for this war?  And what are the

two railers who have dual gauge track doing?  Hiding their layout from rabid two

railers who visit? Uh, for the newcomer, dual guage track, which has three rails,  was used on railroads like the D&RGW AND C&S who operated standard gauge and narrow gauge railroads or portions of them, and rolling stock of both gauges could use one rail and that section of track.  Spend you first money getting educated!  Look hard

at the cost of starting up.  While I attend every O scale meet I can find (looking for

all the stuff not made in three rail), it is a whole lot easier just to find a hobby shop

that stocks three rail than two rail.  (It is hard enough to find a local hobby shop

these days). Only one shop in the large city of Chicago has a little two rail, one,

Hill's, closed, and the third I used to visit converted over to three rail.  It is a lot

harder to track anything O scale down.  The net helps with that, and while I used

to consider O scale brass ($300 dollar cars vs. three rail $30 plastic cars) expensiive,

three rail locos appear to be trying to close that gap.

But most of all, like any investment, look at them both carefully, and consider the

pros and cons.  And consider whether you want to build a very detailed scale layout,

or something you can soon get running trains on, and catch an effect, rather than

count rivets.  (O scale has its faction, too....Proto-48..where much has to be scratch

built, I think, using those actual scale rivets)

Originally Posted by Rail Dawg:



2-rail is the future.   




I've heard that before. Although 2 rail has grown somewhat in popularity over the last 10-12 years that I have been in it (exactly how much is anyone's guess) before I agree that it is the future I need to see two main obstacles either fall or become less than what they are now. #1) There just seems to be a very large number of 3 railers that for whatever reason be it nostalgia or something else are simply not bothered by the center rail. #2) And I think this is a biggie--If 2 rail trains were designed for tighter radii like their 3 rail cousins I believe it would go a long way in making 2 rail "the future". I can't say how many times I have read about someone considering 2 rail but choose 3 rail because they didn't have the room to run large locomotives or large cars. 


I've often wondered what would happen if Lionel or some other company offered semi-scale O gauge trains in 2 rail. I know this is sacrilege to the average 2 railer but I was just wondering about it. Would they sell? Would folks actually want toy trains that run on 2 rail track? I think if Lionel did it folks would buy it. Some other company maybe not.


That being said I don't believe 3 rail will ever die out. There will always be O Gauge enthusiasts who are not scale modelers that run their older Lionel trains or new Lionel trains because that is what they enjoy.


Just my opinion.

Chuck: According to MTH 2 rail is the future. Also this is a 2rail forum so one should expect those here to lean toward prototype 2 rail. The TCA and 3 railers are dying off as the prices drop as collections flood the secondary market. To be honest the 3 rail market has always been a fantasy model railroad hobby which no one in the world of model railroading has ever taken seriously. Just my opinion on a 2 rail forum. Stephen

We are all saying the same thing, and it is almost trivially simple.  If you like the looks of 3-rail track under scale models, go 3-rail.  If you don't, then 2-rail is for you.


How simple is that?  One can make arguments about availability or space, but those really do not count. EBay has changed the game - you can buy anything in 2-rail, and a lot of 2- rail can make it around really tight radii.


If you like tinplate, or non- scale models, there is a separate forum.  Different hobby.

Stephen, I agree with you that the "serious" model railroaders of other scale have never given 3 rail any respect.


When MTH said that I think they meant way, way, way down the road. The reason I say this is because they only offer one or two steam locomotives in 2 rail in each catalog. Latest catalog has 3 but one of them was previously offered, catalog before that only had one. I have read that they only make 25 engines of each 2 rail steam engine. I recently read somewhere that they only made 10 of one particular 2 rail steam engine. Maybe it is the future but at the rate it is going it certainly isn't going to happen in our lifetime.


You have to remember that O scale 2 rail is a small market within the small market of O gauge. There are literally tens of thousands of O gauge enthusiasts across the country but maybe only about a total of 1K 2 railers. Even when they pass on they sometimes pass the love of toy trains to children or grandchildren.


Don't get me wrong I would really love to see 2 rail become more popular. More popular equals more and better products. It also means more layouts to see in person and here on the internet. I think it will continue to grow in popularity but as it has been-very slowly.

Last edited by Hudson J1e


Chuck, your opinon has merit!


But 2-rail should never be compromised through resorting to curves of tighter radii, as that would be a sacrilege!  Let the tight curves and odd track stay with the Lionel boys.


For those who are entertaining the noble thought of upgrading to the classic "Real Railroad" appearance of 2-rail, there are a couple steps (both costly) that can be taken to assure a proper-appearing Empire, and they're both related to space!


First, one could add-on to an existing room, or enlarge a garage.  Second, one could build a seperate addition (as I did) for the sole purpose of running trains on a larger layout.


I chose the latter alternative, which cost me over $20,000, because it was done by a contractor according to code, with a tile roof that matched the original house.


For you folks with basements (we have none out here in the SouthWest), convert the entire basement to 2-rail with long tangents and 60" radius curves. 


It all depends on how much money you're willing to spend to respect and honor your hobby!


Here's a picture of my 500 sq. ft. addition, which was built as a Billiard Parlor, but since nobody uses it for that purpose anymore, it became an O-Scale Railroad, which I started buildng 1 year ago.


That's all.....


BAD ORDER HAL   [$2795 due at signing]










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Last edited by Former Member

I just scored another "2-rail" MTH diesel last week and I think MTH has the right approach to the O Scale situation by making locomotives that go both ways. That introduces flexibility that covers both markets. At some point, maybe interchangeable wheelsets will find their way into the steam models and we'll see even more options become available. It's hard to say what percentage of scale-wheeled buyers are actual 2-rail operators versus OS3r operators like myself (most of the time).

I've read this post from the beginning and I have noticed that the op only posted twice. The three rail guys are scaring him into think that 2 rail is so much more exspensive when it's not anymore. MTH 2 rail engines cost just the same and there's a lot of brass on eBay that is not much more.

The space is a factor but I have 12' x 25' and I have come up with a pretty good plan with wide enough curves that I just got an 2rail MTH pennsy 2-10-4 and it ran fine.

Atlas, weaver offer two rail cars right out of the box for the same as three rail cars. MTH are easily two railed with kadee mounting pads already molded in. Not to mention at the two rail shows you can find a lot for not a lot. Also eBay.

Another thing that makes me laugh are the three rail guys that are so worried about fidelity of a new engine and run it on track that's not prototypical. I'm happy with going 2rail and I'm not a rivet counter and sorry but 2rail doesn't always equal serious. I get my enjoyment out of building stuff that looks like the real thing. Including the track.

What I don't get is paying close to two grand or more for a three rail engine. For that kind of money I would rather buy a brass BigBoy that I know is more prototypical.

Sorry Stan that these guys scared you off. Do what you want and not what others think you should do.

Originally Posted by Bad Order Hal:



But 2-rail should never be compromised through resorting to curves of tighter radii, as that would be a sacrilege!  Let the tight curves and odd track stay with the Lionel boys.

It's not a compromise or sacrilege if you model earlier eras such as pre-1920 or pre-1900 or earlier where engines can be quite a lot smaller - biggest engine that I run is a 2-8-0.  I also have one curve into a siding that is deliberately set to limit access by only a 0-4-0 switcher.


Another option is traction and trolley modeling where very tight corners are quite possible wrapping that ITS Class C around the city block corner.


Good stuff from Ralph there as well.  Lots of myths noted.


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