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Street Track Covers

Inserts from Pennsy Heritage Models helps create convincing, reliable street trackage.

Product Review: Pennsy Heritage Models
Street Track Covers in HO

by V.S. Roseman/photos by the author

At one time, a trip to the store, downtown to shop or to work did not involve maintaining an automobile and contending with traffic. You would walk to the corner and an electric powered trolley car would soon come along to whisk you to most anywhere you wanted to go. Beginning in an age of unpaved muddy roads and horse and wagon technology, electric rapid transit represented a huge leap forward in technology. Unfortunately, along came the bus and the automobile which finally proved too much of an enticement for the public, so that by the 1930s most of the trolley companies were financially on the skids or had already pulled up their tracks. Trolley operators and the similar interurban electric railroads crisscrossed the United States almost like the interstate highways do today. A very few cities kept their trolley cars in operation for some years but today they are all gone. Today the buzz word is "light rail vehicle" whose definition is the same as "trolley car."

There has always been interest in building and operating model trolley systems, and today models in all scales are available from a number of sources. Until now, however, the missing element was the trackage, for trolley tracks were laid in pavement and simulating street trackage is very difficult in model form. The main problem is to clear the flanges of the cars, for hand laid pavement must have precise flangeway grooves on the inner edges of all rails that are wide and deep enough to clear the flanges of the wheels.

Street Track Covers
Street Track Covers

1. The parts to make up a curved section. The radius is 6" and each section
is 1/8 of a circle or 45 degrees.

Pennsylvania Heritage Models has now made easy street trackage modeling a reality. Their system is well thought out, is practical and is so much easier than any handmade track I have ever attempted to build. I specify that this is street trackage, for while it will be trolley modelers who will probably be most enthusiastic about this product, I believe that anyone who wishes to have some yard leads or whole freight lines for their steam railroad laid in pavement will want some of this track too.

The trackage has a heavy molded base and three part molded cobblestone covers designed to accept Atlas HO Code 100 flex track. The straight track is available in both narrow and wide cover sizes, with the wide size matching the curves. The wide size is quite enough for the whole pavement for narrow streets, and the narrow type is useful where you wish to have the central cobblestones set into the center of conventional smooth pavement which can be simulated with styrene, hydrocal or your favorite paving material. I believe that the main body of users will be HO scale modelers, but the track is also for use with On30 gauge. The cobblestones are a bit large in HO scale, but are not unreasonable in my opinion, and might be a bit small in 1:48 scale for On30 gauge. This does not bother me, for different colored stone, pavement texture or possibly block size was used to differentiate the area of the street dedicated to trolley car use. You can see what it looks like in the photos to judge for yourself.

Street Track Covers
Street Track Covers

2. Assembling the track- mount the cover plates.

The curved sections are 6 inch radius which makes it possible to set curves into street intersections. I found that the current Atlas track fits fine, but in some cases needs to be coaxed into the base plates. I would suggest checking the ends of the Atlas ties to be sure there are no molding nubs at the ends. In the event that there are, they can be filed off easily and the track will fit the base plates with greater accuracy. Ideally, all flex track rail joints will occur in the middle of the straight segments to provide the most continuous trackage with no kinks.

The new Atlas flextrack is very flexible, but I also cut the joining tabs connecting the adjacent ties to let them move more freely. I bent the track gradually rubbing the rails between my fingers to form the curve. Once I had the flextrack down to as close to the 6" raidus as I could get, I then mounted it into the baseplates. Doing this will relieve most of the outwards side pressure when you fit the track to the baseplate of the street track. I use contact cement to hold the track in place as it holds very firmly and yet remains flexible. The street trackage coverplates can be glued in place with model cement such as Ambroid Pro Weld or with super glue. I advise going over track once it is on the layout to be sure that the rails are just a bit higher than the surrounding plastic cobblestones because otherwise wide treaded wheels will be lifted off the rails and will lose electrical contact.

Street Track Covers

3. Structure of Pennsylvania Heritage models street track covers.

While the parts for the cobblestone covers fit together nicely, some filing may be necessary to fit ends of the plastic sections. With care on a permanent layout it should be possible to set up the segments at the correct curve and fill in any gaps with hydrocal or other filler. In this case I would suggest using continuous flex track for the whole length of the curve.

It is necessary to fit the street coverplates carefully to get a smooth even pavement, and I suggest doing this only after the track and baseplates are mounted to the model railroad layout permanently. Some small amount of filing may be needed to true up edges of the coverplates so they can butt up against sidewalks or other paving materials. It is possible to adapt this system to work with the Walthers paving panels

Street Track Covers

4. 90 degree curve made of two track sections. The curves match wide straight track, which is 3" wide. 6" radius in HO scale is 43'-6" radius and if used as On30 is 24’ radius. NOTE: The Bachmann PCC trolley shown above was modified by filing the corners of the gear towers slightly to let this model negotiate the tight 6" radius curve.

The coverplates are molded in a good color of grey to simulate cobblestones that were very common in use on street trackage. I suggest a light wash of black be painted on the coverplates once they are installed to get the most even finish possible. The black paint (mixed with thinner and a flat finish if a mixable one is available for your favorite brand of paint. I use Floquil) will settle and collect in the grooves representing the mortar between the stones in a very realistic fashion.

Turnouts matching the rest of this system have been shown as advance samples by Pennsylvania Heritage and should be available shortly. These were also 6" radius to match the curved sections. There are limitations to the track geometry. For example if you arranged two parallel tracks next to each other (east and westbound) a simple terminal would consist of a trailing point turnout connecting the two tracks into one for a hundred feet or so. Such an arrangement permits running one or more cars into the pocket formed, and then dispatching the car back in the opposite direction. (This requires double ended trolley cars) There are no current parts in the Pennsylvania Heritage line to simulate this, but it is perfectly prototypical to extend the track into a dirt base and put the turnout and pocket track there. There is no provision for double tracking curves, but these could be done off the street too.

Street Track Covers

5. Completed track section treated with black wash of thinned
black Floquil paint with flat finish mixed.

Right angle crossings have been not been shown yet, but by leaving a small section of a street intersection at the center in grass a regular Atlas code 100 crossing could be used. There was an intersection similar to this near Prospect Park when I was a child.

For straight trackage, this system works well when integrated with Walthers street panels when the center of the Walthers panels are raised to match the street level of the Pennsylvania Heritage sections. I also found that straight trackage can be made by using only the coverplates and leaving off the baseplates to make a track with a lower profile that comes closer to matching Walthers pavement.

Street Track Covers

6. Straight track covers glued to Atlas flex track with Walthers paving sections
along side to make up a very realistic street with full crown.

Walthers pavement with either a single or double track line at the center makes a wide avenue or boulevard. For narrower streets, cut down the width of the Walthers panels. If curves must be laid in the street, however, I suggest using a flat pavement or the geometry of making the pavement taper down at the sidewalks (forming the crown of the street) may be difficult. I have not had any problem keeping cars on the rails but it is probably a good idea to use a thin piece of cardboard occasionally, to keep debris out of the flangeway grooves.

The straight track is available in either narrow or wide paving- I chose the narrow but would have used the wide type which matches the curved sections if I had the choice now. For current pickup, I suggest soldering the wire lead to the bottom of a rail joiner and file a notch in the end of the Pennsylvania Heritage baseplate to accommodate these.

Street Track Covers

7. Straight track on its base requires more shimming to match Walthers paving sections.


Pennsylvania Heritage Models
RD#4 Box 139
Bridsboro PA 19508

Street Track Covers

HO - On30, 4 sections
MSRP $11.50

As the track is two rail, you have the option of wiring the rails together to use a trolley pole for the electrical return, but cars will run more reliably with two rail pickup and a dummy trolley line. Elastic thread or stretchable catenary wire (same thing-) is an excellent substitute for real wire as there is always a temptation to rerail a car under wire which can really play havoc with operating live wire. Of course, if you are a dedicated juice jack it is possible to string wire and operate off a trolley pole just like the real ones. This product is now available in brick red for those modeling streets with brick lined trackage. This is a useful product to simulate not only trolley track, but also abandoned traction lines, dummy traction line with a static trolley for a static trolley system. The track is also ideal for steam railroads operating on street trackage. Though this system has its limitations, it makes street trackage easy to build and practical for every model railroader.

Street Track Covers

8. Straight track on its base shown with Walthers paving sections.


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