Cumberland Model Engineering standard-gauge track

Standard gauge and dual gauge flex track
Marc Horovitz
1:20.3 scale, standard-gauge and dual-gauge flex track
Cumberland Model Engineering
6543 Hunters Glen Drive
Knoxville TN 37921
Prices: See text

1:20.3 scale, standard-gauge and dual gauge flex track; 70.64mm gauge (standard gauge); plastic tie strips; metal (aluminum or nickel silver) code-250 rails; available in 6' sections; rail joiners sold separately

Pros: Accurate representation of standard-gauge track; prototypical tie spacing; relatively easy to bend to wide-radius curves without a rail bender
Cons: Small, molded-in spike heads somewhat delicate
Marc Horovitz
The National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) has designated the popular large scale of 1:20.3 as “F” scale. Cumberland Model Engineering markets its line of 1:20.3 track as F-scale track (for standard gauge) or Fn3 (for narrow gauge). Sent for review were two six-foot sections, one standard gauge and one dual gauge.

Not many modelers today are using standard-gauge equipment in 1:20.3 scale. Part of the reason for that is that there is virtually no commercial support for locomotives or rolling stock. Those who are scratchbuilding standard-gauge equipment have produced some beautiful work. Building track for these trains to run on is onerous work, so the track reviewed here is a welcome addition to the hobby.

Cumberland’s track is comprised of Llagas Creek metal rails—either aluminum or nickel silver—inserted into plastic tie strips, eight interlocking tie strips per 6' section. The plastic used is a UV-stabilized polypropylene, so it should provide years of service out of doors.

The gauge of the standard-gauge track is 70.64mm, which is correct for 4'81/2"-gauge track in 1:20.3 scale. Rail joiners are sold separately. Two rail heights are offered. Code-250 rail represents 85-pound rail, while the lighter code-215 rail is close to 65-pound rail. Our review samples were both code 250. In measuring the gauge, I found both standard- and narrow-gauge measurements to be very close to spec. Rails are held in gauge by small, molded-in spike heads.

Where narrow- and standard-gauge railroads interchanged, dual-gauge track was often employed. This three-rail track allowed trains of both gauges to run over the same right-of-way. Cumberland also offers dual-gauge track in 1:20.3. The second gauge is the normal gauge-1 track that our narrow-gauge models run on. (If the standard-gauge/narrow-gauge/scale thing confuses you, write for Cumberland’s free brochure, “What is F Scale?”)

Both the standard- and dual-gauge tracks can be bent to shape by hand without the use of a rail bender, up to a point. The manufacturer recommends a radius no tighter than 10 feet. If you go with a tighter radius (which would probably not be appropriate for standard-gauge equipment), a rail bender might be necessary.

As mentioned above, the rails are held to the tie strips with small, molded-in spike heads. Also molded into the tie strips are prototypical tie plates. I found that it didn’t take much to pop the tie strips off the rails. However, if you are careful when bending and handling the track, you should be fine.

If you are working indoors, this track should present no problems if mounted to a rigid sub-base. Molded into every other tie is a small screw tab that can be used for mounting the track. This would be concealed when the track is ballasted. If you are working outdoors, you might want to attach the track to wooden battens or a sub-base of wood or concrete. The ties measure .467" wide x .370" deep x 5 1/8" long, and are hollow inside. Overall, the track is fairly lightweight. Bedding it in ballast alone may not be sufficient to hold it in place, especially in climates with freeze/thaw cycles.

This track is sold in 6' sections. Standard-gauge (two-rail) track costs $23 per section for aluminum or $48.50 a section for nickel silver. Dual gauge (three rail) track is $26.50 per section for aluminum and $65 per section for nickel silver. Tie strips are available separately and the company offers an assembly jig to aid those who wish to assemble their own track.

If you are modeling standard-gauge equipment in 1:20.3 scale, or would like to, this track is for you. It’s well made of durable materials, flexible, and goes a long way toward filling a gap in the market.


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