Thursday, December 20, 2012

Atlas & Micro Engineering Code 55 Track Comparison

I have people ask me on occasion about what track I use for my layouts.  I don't recall the exact timing of the release of Atlas code 55, but it was prior to starting my first N scale layout which would have been around 2002.  I have used Atlas code 55 flex track and turnouts exclusively on all 4 completed layouts to date.  The exception is the concrete tie flex track made by Micro Engineering which I used both on the Orin Line and Marias Pass layouts.  Altas released their #10 turnout prior to the construction of the Orin Line, which was a great addition, especially for better looking cross-overs.  Micro Engineering also makes code 55 flex track with wooden ties, however, I have not used it.  I did use a 36" length of ME flex track with bridge ties on the Marias Pass, and was very pleased with the product.

There are differences between the Atlas and ME code 55 track.  While the rail is very similar in shape/profile, the tie spacing and thickness are quite different and must be accounted for when mixing the two different brands together.  The ME flex track also comes in weathered and non-weathered rail.  This is also important.  The Atlas flex track can simply be painted the same color (ties and rail) since it has wooded ties.  The ME flex track on the other hand requires a very steady hand if you wish to paint the rail, but not the concrete colored ties.  For this reason, I like using the weathered rail.

I submitted an article that was published in the Jul/Aug 2009 N Scale Railroading that illustrates the differences between Atlas and ME code 55, and further discussed the ME concrete ties to build a modern looking mainline.

Here you can see the difference in tie thickness between the Altas and ME code 55 flex track.  The difference in rail height must be accounted for when mixing the two brands.  I used a styrene shim under the Atlas flex track to raise the height by about 0.30" to match the ME rail height.  The same shimming is also needed when using an Atlas code 55 turnout next to ME code 55 flex track.

I used ME code 55 with concrete ties on my mainline, while using Altas code 55 turnouts and flex track on a third track/siding on my BNSF Orin Line layout.  The mixing of concrete ties and wooden ties provided a unique modeling opportunity, and suggests that the railroad is in the process of updating their track work over time.  

On the Marias Pass, I used ME code 55 flex track with bridge ties, to span the Flathead River.  On one end, the bridge track connected immediately with ME code 55 with concrete ties.  On the other end, I needed a short section of Atlas code 55 with wooden ties, before entering into a #10 turnout.  One trick I used is that instead of putting railjoiners at the point where the bridge track and concrete track meet, I used the full 36" of bridge flex, and removed the last several inches of bridge ties and replaced them with concrete ties.  This moved the railjoiners down the line several inches and actually into a tunnel where they were hidden.  Less gaps and railjoiners means better, smoother track and operation.

On the other end of the bridge, instead of having railjoiners at the end of the bridge track, and then again at the turnout, I simply used a full length of rail from the bridge tie flex track, removed about 4" of bridge ties, and replaced them with Atlas code 55 wooden ties.  This way, I eliminated one set of railjoiners to make smoother track work.


  1. Hey there,

    One major difference between the Atlas and Micro Engineering flex track I feel you left out is the atlas track when bent into a curve will form a natural curve, it will also bounce back straight when let go. Where as the ME flex is much more ridgid. You have to bend and form the curves by hand which can be much more tricky.


    1. good point Josh. I actually covered that exact difference in the article I wrote. Taking that a bit further, I also illustrated that as the ME is flexed around a bend, the ties can spread apart unevenly, since the connecting material alternates between each tie. Bottom line is that it does take a bit of work to get a perfect bend. Once it is bent, it stays bent however.

  2. I use ME flex and Atlas turnouts too. I discovered the height differential between the ME concrete tie track and the Atlas track is .020", of which I use "risers" made from of Evergreen styrene sheets to elevate them. For turnouts, I draw a general outline of the tie silhouette on the styrene sheet and cut out with scissors. If I traced a LH turnout and need to use a riser for a RH turnout, I simply flip the riser over. I prefer the sheet risers over styrene strips as uses less ballast when that time comes.

  3. Atlas turnouts are junk. Go handlaid.