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HO Track Systems

There are a number of different HO track systems available. All HO cars are compatible with each system, but the different manufacturers' track pieces do not fit together.

It is generally agreed that Tomy AFX track is the best system out there - offering curved pieces in five different radii, running from tight six inch bends up to sweeping eighteen inch curves.

In addition to the curves, straights come in lengths of three, six, nine and fifteen inches. This three-inch geometry means any track design should join up without any problems.

There are some things that all the track systems share, such as the hard plastic construction and three inch geometry. However, rail height does differ, with Tomy rail sitting lower than on the Tyco, Life Like and Micro Scalextric systems.

Rail height matters. Traction magnets act on the metal rails, so the higher the rails are, the nearer they are to the magnets and the more downforce there is. For serious racers, a difference of a few thousandths of an inch makes a big difference to car set-up.

The track we've talked about works well, but it is toy track. To go a step further, we need to go routed.

Routed HO tracks are quite different from 1/32 wood tracks. The best routed 1/32 layouts are works of art, but an experienced DIY-er can knock a decent one together with some mdf and copper tape.

Not so with HO. First, the track surface needs to be smoother and with perfect joins. Sintra - expanded closed-cell PVC - is the material of choice. It is more tricky to route than mdf.

Second, there are three slots to be routed for each lane - one for the guide pin and one either side to hold the rails. That's twelve slots for a four-lane track and eight have to be consistent - within thousandths of an inch - in both width and depth.

Once we have perfect grooves for the rail, the rail material needs to be rolled into the slots and anchored to prevent traction magnets from pulling the rails up.

Many have set out on the quest to route an HO track, but few have mastered it.

One of those masters is Brad Bowman, who has hand crafted dozens of home and competition tracks across America, including the Katz Spa Ring - a wonderful racing circuit with elevation changes and landscaping.

Modular routed tracks are a high quality and versatile half-way house. MaxTrax are at the forefront of this technology with Brad Bowman also producing his own sectional system.

- Andy Player

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Five different radii of AFX curves

Rail height is important

The Katz Spa Ring (courtesy of Brad Bowman)

A longer version of this article originally appeared in issue 12 of SlotCar Mag.

MaxTrax is modular routed track

(courtesy of MaxTrax)