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This has been a topic I’ve been wanting to post for a while, sort of an observation really. My current layout has all automatic, standard Lionel switches of the O27 variety (though in various radii, mainly O-36). They... aren’t the most reliable gadgets, even by the standards of Lionel gadgetry. Two of them work perfectly, two of them work ok, and one hardly ever works properly. Naturally, the last one is on the far side of the table. Isn’t it always like that?

Now, I quite like switching, as a operation. It’s fun to pick up and set out cars, park trains in sidings, service local industry, ect.. I really think it makes for some great fun and cool looking scenes.

But fighting with switch machines is a bear, it really sucks the fun out of a quick operation session, especially if your train stalls on the other side of the table (that seems to happen every time I try and service my industrial spur!). Or if the switch machine decides to second guess you and flip to prevent/cause a derailment, or just refuses to work at all. I also find myself often flipping switches (that I can reach, anyhow) by hand anyways, it adds something delightfully tactile to do as a single operator, it’s sort of like playing the brakeman as well as the engineer.

So here’s a question, or maybe more a statement: I think, in terms of layout design, that switches should be largely manual to improve operational reliability. Or at very least, your automatic switches should be within arms reach, in case they prove recalcitrant! Has anybody else come to this conclusion as well?

This train of thought has also led me to wonder: do manual switches still suffer from shorter length locomotives stalling on them? I presume they would, since I think that’s usually a function of how far apart pickup rollers are apart vs how long the switch frog is, isn’t it? Since presumably the track geometry dose not change I’d assume that there’d be no difference between a manual and automatic switch in this regard.

It also occurs to me that, depending on one’s chosen era, modeling all manual switches might also be more prototypical too.

Last edited by Redshirt214
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Only 4%  of my switches have switch machines installed.  I have two drawers full of uninstalled tortoises.  The rest of the switches are an easy arm's reach near bench work edge for walk around hand throwing.

My three rail only uses Ross switches.  The Ross switches are so dependable they have flange thrown floating points.

There is a reason that the old Lionel switches are no longer made.

I put manual switches out front where I can reach them. Remotes go where I cannot reach them.

Make sure the footprint of your remote control switches are the same as better quality switches such as Ross switches so that you can upgrade/replace as needed.

I have not needed upgrades for my layout, but it is nice to know that Ross is available.

My experience with Fastrack remote-control track switches is that they are pretty much bullet-proof. In four years my only derailments occurred when I placed two O72 switches points-to-points in an S curve. The locomotive would push a car up over the second point rail. Problem solved by cutting/filing an angle on the tip of the point rail. The Plywood Empire Route is a switching Pike with every track switch being thrown several times in each operating session. All O72 with the exception of an O36 switch buried under a mountain.

Interesting replies all! I'm glad to see that 'm not alone in my thinking. Tom, a question about those floating points, do they reduce stalling?

I suspect I'll leave my current layout as is, rather than do any upgrades. The current layout was built when when I was still a kid, and Fasttrack was new so the old stuff was out there for dirt cheap.

At this point in my life it'd make more sense to just build another layout, since my tastes in operation have changed a bit since then, if and when I ever manage to have a steady job, and move out of my current house and into a new one. But planning is free! So I keep bouncing different ideas around in my head.

Redshirt:

I do not have any hesitation of any powered units on any switches any where.   However, most folks would disagree with how I solve that problem.

If there is ever any hesitation detected I look for any obvious problem with the switch.  If all is right there I look at the locomotive and ask myself "Do I really like/need this engine?"   If the answer no, then I simply low ball price it and dump it at the next train show.  (Blew out four of them last Saturday!).

If the answer is yes I give it to Bob Buck in York and have a on board battery R/C system installed.

I do not tolerate problems.  This is supposed to be  fun hobby, I retired from angst.

I have about 50 switches, all Gargraves with Z1000 motors.  No issues.  I do have the motors so placed & wired that, if there is a motor failure, I can pop in a new motor in a few minutes.  I have a few spares handy.

Only problem with the motors is that occasionally a gear on the internal motor shaft kicks loose, which is a simple repair, after which the switch motor is ready for re-use.

Your observation about the most troublesome switch being the one hardest to reach is so true!   And so annoying.  I use DZ-2500s wired for TMCC CAB-1 control (DZ-2001 Data Wire Driver) and push-button operation on the fascia (where applicable).  Some advice that might be generalized to other brands:

  1. Test the switch on the bench BEFORE installing on the layout.
  2. Program the switch (if it requires that) on the bench BEFORE installing on the layout.
  3. Plan for access to the switch - a pop-up hole or hatch.  "Stuff" is going to happen.  It's not a matter of "if". 
  4. Consider a physical or manual way to throw the switch.  I think there's a company called Bluepoint that makes a flexible mechanism for mechanically activating switches.  They are part of my Plan B.

I have 42 switches on Panhandle 2 and all but one are powered.  The other is a dummy that will be fixed in place.  Reliability is extremely important to me, so this is a topic I have given much thought to.  I'm only beginning to install switches and track, so I'm keeping notes on what happens.

Best of luck,

George

I've built several layouts with both Ross/Gargraves and Atlas track and turnouts.  My experience with the Atlas turnouts was that the switch machines were delicate and unreliable, and I wound up removing the Atlas switch machines and installing the Z Stuff D-1000s, which worked well.  I am currently between layouts and hope to build another (hopefully my last) in the next year or so.  Given my experience with the Atlas switches, I expect to go back to Ross/Gargraves.  

Reliability is key and will save a LOT or cursing and frustration.  George's recommendations above are spot on.  Always test the switches on you bench BEFORE installing them on the layout.  And always make sure you have some way of reaching all of your switches for maintenance and to tend to derailments.  

WAYBACKWHEN-->  I could not give up my Lionel 042 switches or my 100mph switches. I was old track devotee.

Then I saw a layout that Steve Bernnison (sp?)  at Ross built for a friend.  At that point I was hooked. I redesigned and replaced all of the Lionel switches with Steve's as well as Gargrave trackage.. Then after Dennis Zander came out with the DZ-1000s switch machines ( I replaced those as well with DZ-2500Cs) I would never go back to Lionel, Atlas or MTH switches.

Last edited by AlanRail

Good and timely topic, at least for me. I am in the process of testing 042 switches for a layout build. I have accumulated several used versions of these over the years. Now that my Mianne order has been placed I am trying to figure out which switches work and trying to tweak the ones that don’t. It can’t get a bit frustrating but I’m making progress. I will create a post on the O/027 forum about one that has me stumped.

@Redshirt214 posted:

Interesting replies all! I'm glad to see that 'm not alone in my thinking. Tom, a question about those floating points, do they reduce stalling?

I suspect I'll leave my current layout as is, rather than do any upgrades. The current layout was built when when I was still a kid, and Fasttrack was new so the old stuff was out there for dirt cheap.

At this point in my life it'd make more sense to just build another layout, since my tastes in operation have changed a bit since then, if and when I ever manage to have a steady job, and move out of my current house and into a new one. But planning is free! So I keep bouncing different ideas around in my head.

Hey, Redshirt! I can relate to your problem; in the past I've been so...there! Really, it seems the bulk of the problem, at least for now, is that one switch that is causing a lot of problems. You can find 027-height switches very cheaply online, so a twenty-dollar or less fix isn't far away, but maybe you want encouragement to build anew. That's great, too. If you choose to stay with 027 profile trackage, you might be more pleased to find a wider radius in some, if not all, sections. I currently have a layout with an outside loop and an inside sort-of-dogbone, where trains turnaround and come back the other way with each pass by using 2 FasTrack "bullet-proof" 036 switches. Never had a derailment because of them in 10 years and each pass turns the switches once, so one complete turnaround going exactly the same route uses 4 "non-derailing" passes. Not bad for ten year-old turnouts! First pic shows Seaboard switcher just having gone right w/switch and will trigger non-derail after going around the "town". Next pic shows the Williams CP Trainmaster on the straight part of the switch, will go thru the mountain and throw it again coming back. It saves the "same look" of a straight ahead loop. 3rd pic shows WP freight just over the non-derailing loop it goes over each time it passes by.Inside loop No Nafta jinx here copy 2Night sky?

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  • No Nafta jinx here  copy 2
  • Night sky?

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