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Trackwork - Explaining the Range (C&L and Exactoscale)


The bringing together of the C&L and Exactoscale trackwork ranges has brought a wider number of options for modellers wishing to improve the look and the standard of running on their layout. Improvements over recent years in the standards and level of detail on Ready to Run locos and rolling stock have caused modellers to look more closely at what improvements they can make to their track work, in order to match the higher standards of detail and prototypical appearance of the models that they run. 

Let’s start by looking at the word 'Finescale'. What does it mean? Well there is no defined answer, but personally I look at it as meaning that the trackwork and associated equipment should look as REALISTIC as possible. Put simply, trackwork components should be of the correct scale size wherever possible. Wheels should not have massive flanges that require huge gaps between running rails and check or wing rails and realistic looking rail chairs should be included in some form.

As an example of something not looking quite right, take Peco code 100 rail. It is 33% too high when compared with the prototype and therefore looks too chunky to most modellers. It was used for many years because the flanges on models in the early days were so over sized that rail of the correct prototypical height would have resulted in the wheels running along on the tops of the chairs rather than on the rails!

Peco code 75 rectifies this problem in that it is the correct scale height, but the track is still not accurate when compared to the prototype, as it is built to a scale of 3.5mm to the foot (HO), when modellers in the UK using OO, EM or P4 model in the scale of 4mm to the foot. The result is that Peco track has its sleepers spaced too close together when compared to the prototype and to make matters worse the sleepers are too short (a scale 7' 9" in length instead of the standard 8' 6" length of post grouping railways in the UK). Other manufacturers as well as Peco provide ready to run turnouts (points) but some of these have plastic sections at the common crossing (frog) to prevent short circuits, and often have some kind of spring arrangement in between the switch blade rails at the toe end (often under a blob of plastic), neither of which are prototypical or good to look at! Many use plastic for the Check Rails (the short rails on the inside of the two outer stock rails) which are there to help the wheel sets pass through the Common Crossing without derailing. Obviously they should not be made from plastic as they are rails and the turnouts therefore look very ‘toy’ like.


Sleeper spacing and the shortness of Peco sleepers show clearly in this comparison with C&L scale Flexi Track

So what can we offer to overcome these limitations?

The combined ranges of C&L and Exactoscale track work now offer a variety of options that are designed to assist modellers of all abilities in their quest to have realistic track work on their layouts. The beginner can start with our own brand of Flexi Track and a straight forward Turnout kit (see below for details). More experienced modellers may only need items that are impossible to make at home, such as plastic moulded chairs and sleepers, their skills enabling them to make most or all of the rail components themselves. There are many choices to be had, depending upon modelling experience, time available for track building, budget, individual preferences and a host of other variables.

Scale & Gauge
Firstly, a quick guide to the scale and gauges available. We offer products in two scales, 4mm to the foot and 7mm to the foot. 

4mm includes 'OO', 'EM' and 'P4', with track gauges (the distance between the rails) of 16.5mm, 18.2mm and 18.83mm respectively. 7mm includes 'O' gauge Finescale (F7) with a track gauge of 32mm and Scale Seven (S7) with a track gauge of 33mm. Further information will follow on a separate page giving more details of scales and gauges, along with points to consider when deciding which scale/gauge to follow.

Where to start?

It seems sensible to start with the beginner or person returning to modelling after many years, neither of whom will be familiar with our products nor the changes that have come about in trackwork products and methods in recent years. We will begin with the options to get started and then gradually introduce the various products across the range.

C&L Flexi Track (Bullhead Rail)

C&L Flexi Track with Hini Nickel Silver Rail

This is the basic starting point for most. We provide Flexi Track in four gauges, OO (track gauge 16.5mm), EM ((track gauge 18.2mm), P4 (track gauge 18.83mm) and F7 (O Gauge fine scale) (track gauge 32mm). All are available made with Nickel Silver or with Steel rail (see later paragraph which detail the different qualities for each). The Nickel Silver rail used in our flexi track is unique to C&L and is called 'HiNi' rail. This is short for 'High Nickel'. Standard nickel silver rail has around 12% of nickel in it and tends to look quite yellow in appearance. Our specially designed 'HiNi' rail has 18% of nickel and as a result it looks much more like steel rail, in that it is more of a grey colour with only a slight hint of yellow, rather than the vivid yellow of standard nickel silver rail. It is not as grey as actual steel rail but is very popular as its appearance is so much better.

Chairs with three holes (bolts) are moulded as part of the sleeper to give that realistic look.

Flexi Track has the rail inclined inwards at 1:5 just like real track, this being the means by which rolling stock stays in the middle of the track rather than 'hunting' from side to side as the wheel flanges alternatively strike the inner face of each rail. The running of models is therefore smooth. The track can be curved without any further work and as part of the design of the plastic 'track base' (the plastic sleepers and the plastic webs that hold the sleepers at the correct spacing), the track gauge is widened very slightly on bends, the amount being proportional to the severity of the curve. This aides models by reducing the amount of resistance (friction) caused by the flanges of all the wheels bearing against the outer rail. Without this, on sharper curves, trains noticeably slow down without any change in the amount of power being applied to the motor.

All of our Flexi Track comes with sleepers that are a scale width (10 inches on the prototype) and a scale length of 8' 6" long (as used by all UK railways since around 1923). The exception is on our OO Flexi Track. The sleepers on this product are in 'proportion' to the gauge of the track, rather than a scale 8' 6" long. The reason for this is that OO uses a gauge of 16.5mm, which works out at around only 4' 2", instead of the 4' 8 1/2" on a UK railway. If scale 8' 6" sleepers were used, the amount of sleeper visible between the outer edge of the rail and the end of the sleeper would be excessive and look wrong. By maintaining the scale distance from outer rail edge to sleeper end, the track looks 'right' even though the gauge between the rails is narrow and not to a scale 4' 8 1/2".

The depth of Flexi Track sleepers is 0.8mm, and is referred to as 'Thin'. This is one area where we move away from the prototype as normal sleepers are 5" deep and would therefore scale down to be 1.6mm. C&L Flexi Track (and matching Turnout Kits) uses a depth of 0.8mm in order to save on the costs of ballasting, as only half the amount is needed to cover the same length of track. Once the ballast is laid, no one can see the depth of the sleepers anyway! On a large layout the amount of ballast saved can be significant and not only does this reduce the cost, it also saves a lot of weight, should the layout need to be moved or be exhibited at Shows. Flexi Track is best fixed in place with a rubber based glue such as Copydex. It can be pinned, although this is not recommended, but if this is done, the pins should be placed between the out edge of the rail and the end of the sleeper. If pinned in the centre of the track and glue is not used, there may be a tendency for the track to narrow, with the outer edges lifting, as the sleepers are not deep (strong) enough to be certain that they will maintain lying flat.
C&L Track base (Bullhead Rail) - OO, EM, P4 & F7


'OO' Track Base

We offer the packs of the track base used with our Flexi track as a separate item. Customers can then use rail that they might already have, to make up their own track, by sliding the rail through the chairs moulded to the sleepers. The number of sleepers moulded and held together by the webs varies depending upon the scale and gauge. However, each make makes up 5 metres of track, whatever the scale/gauge.

Exactoscale 'Fast Track' (Bullhead Rail) - OO, EM & P4 only


Exactoscale P4 'Fast Track'

The equivalent track base in the Exactoscale range is similar, but as with all Exactoscale Sleepers, Timbers and Turnout Kits, the sleepers are 1.6mm deep and therefore accurately represent the scale 5" depth of the prototype. This can be useful in places where sleepers are not ballasted to the top edge of the sleeper, such as in some goods yards etc. Also if the weight of additional ballast is not an issue (because the layout is permanent) then modellers may feel that to have everything accurately to scale, they need the thick sleepers offered in this range. The rails are passed through the chairs as with the C&L track base, having first ensured that there are no burrs on the ends of the rail, as these could possibly damage the chairs. Packs are of sufficient Track Base to make 2 metres of track. Three pieces of track base make up the equivalent of a prototypical 60' panel of track. Two types of track base are offered for P4 modellers. One pack is suitable for straight track work. The other is for use on curves and has been designed to widen the gauge of the rails to reduce resistance (see paragraph on Flexitrack for more details on gauge widening).

C&L Flat Bottom Rail - OO, EM & P4 only 


Code 82 HiNi Nickel Silver Flat Bottom Rail

We offer code 82 Flat Bottom rail in both HiNi Nickel Silver and Steel.

Flat bottom rail is supported by some form of 'Base Plate' along with one of many types of appropriate fitting (a 'Pandrol' clip being one of the most common). The Base Plate is just what it says - a flat base on which the foot of the rail sites and its purpose is to spread the weight of the rail (and passing train) onto as much of the sleeper underneath as possible. It is also necessary to help hold the rail upright and to prevent the rail moving sideways and altering the track gauge.

 C&L Base Plates - used to hold Flat Bottom Rail (instead of chairs as used for Bullhead Rail)

http://www.finescale.org.uk/image/data/products/4sc101b.jpg C&L Base Plates (Pack of 500)

http://www.finescale.org.uk/image/data/products/4sl102a.jpg C&L 8' 6" Thin Sleepers

http://www.finescale.org.uk/image/data/products/4sl104a-a.jpg C&L 'Dowmac concrete sleepers

We offer 'Base Plates' in packs of 250 or 500, along with plastic moulded sleepers made to look like wood, or 'Dowmac' concrete versions, for a more up to date layout. 

Exactoscale 'Fast Track' (Flat Bottom Rail) - OO, EM & P4 only


Identical to that listed above for bullhead rail, except these sleepers are all made to look like concrete sleepers and have the name 'Costain' moulded into the plastic. Packs again make up 2 metres of track and have the base plate moulded as part of the sleeper. Care must be taken when threading the rail into the track base no to damage the delicate clips and rails should have all burrs removed before making up the track.

C&L (Bullhead Rail) - Sleepers and Chairs - OO, EM, P4, F7 & S7

 C&L 'OO' sleepers

C&L 3 Bolt Chairs

The next stage up from using Track Base is to make us of the plastic sleepers that we supply, which do not have the chairs moulded as part of them. We can supply a range of chairs which include 2 bolt (GWR), 3 bolt (BR, SR, LNER, LMS) and 4 bolt (Midland, some railways in the North East and Scotland) enabling the modeller to choose a Company or Region that did not use 3 bolt chairs. This method of track making is particularly useful to a modeller who wants to make their own track without the need to be good with a soldering iron. The previously popular method of track making using Copper Clad sleepers soldered directly to the rails was at one time almost the only option for those wishing to make their own track. The introduction of detailed moulded chairs and wood effect plastic sleepers in the 1980's, using a special glue to fix the chairs to the sleepers, was revolutionary and very popular, as it opened the door to track making for many more modellers who were not confident with a soldering iron. This is now the standard track making system, with its main advantages over Copper Clad being that anybody can do it, with improved looks as a result of there being real looking chairs doing their real job of holding the rail in place. Copper Clad could be improved somewhat by the addition of plastic chairs cut in half and stuck to each side of the rail at every sleeper, but this was only possible if the amount of solder used was minimal and allowed the chairs to butt against the rail, and was very time consuming and tedious!

The system only needs a couple of track gauges and some Butanone glue. Plain track can be successfully made with the type of chairs required to suit the modellers’ individual requirements. 

Exactoscale - Plain Line (P4 only)



This is a further development of the individual sleepers and chairs system. With this product, panels of sleepers are held together with webs in the same way as the Track Base panels use in 'Flexi Track' and 'Fast Track'. The sleepers are therefore automatically spaced correctly, unlike the system of individual sleepers, where this has to be done manually or using a jig. The other main difference is that the sleepers have 'pips' moulded into each of the sleepers, which correspond to the locations of each chair. Exactoscale chairs have a square opening on the underside and this locates over the circular 'pip' on the sleeper to give an exact position, guaranteeing correct track gauge between each rail. The final difference is that the panels are a lot longer than the Track Base mentioned earlier. They are made to be slightly longer than the standard 45' track panels (as used in the early part of the 1900's) or the 60' track panels, as used later on. The panels come with a sleeper at one end that is slightly wider than the rest, along with a second wider sleeper located three sleepers in from the opposite end. The reason for including these wider sleepers is that some railway companies used a wider sleeper either side of each and every rail joint. However many did not and so this panel gives the flexibility to model either. If wider sleepers were used, then the last two normal width sleepers are cut off, leaving a wider sleeper at either end of the panel, which is now at its correct scale length (of 45' or 60'). If the wider sleepers were not used, then both wide sleeper are removed and the two normal width sleepers between the wide one and the end, are shunted along and placed next to the rest of the normal width sleepers, giving a panel of the same length, but with all sleepers of the same width. Panels are available for 45' or 60 lengths depending upon the period modelled. A third panel is also offered that includes two more sleepers per 60' length and these allow representation of the fact that some railway companies used panels with two extra sleepers on curved track, in order to give more support and to prevent the 'creep' of the track towards the outside of the curve. 

Sleepers - Plastic or Plywood
So far we have only mentioned ABS moulded plastic sleepers. The Exactoscale range covers plywood sleepers and turnout timbers, under the trade name of 'ExactoPly'. The sleepers come in either 8' 6" or 9' scale lengths and are available in either Thin or Thick variants to match either C&L track/turnouts or Exactoscale track/turnouts respectively.

We are often asked if Butanone will glue plastic chairs to plywood sleepers/timbers and be sufficiently strong, even if the plywood has been treated or stained beforehand. The answer is a resounding 'yes'. I have tested this myself and know of a couple of customers who have layouts that were built using this method over 15 years ago and the chairs are still held firmly in place on top of plywood sleepers, even after all of this time.


a) C&L Kits (Kit in a Bag) - OO, EM, P4 & F7 (Nickel Silver or Steel)


For those that have never built a Turnout before, we offer a simple to make 'Kit' that includes everything you need to make a prototypical looking Turnout. It is based on the system of gluing chairs to the turnout timbers, and other than soldering a dropper wire and two bonding wires; it can be completed without any further use of a soldering iron. For a detailed description of what is included and how to make a kit please refer to the Heading at the top of the page under the Category of Turnout Kits. Follow this link to the 'OO' Kit (Nickel Silver) Page

The Turnout is built on top of a paper Template and comes with full instructions. One big advantage with these kits, which other manufacturers can't match, is that they can be built on a curve, to suit individual requirements. This means the modeller has more flexibility and is not restricted to a curved turnout of a 'set' radius, as sold by manufacturers.

Suffice to say that all the hard work is done for you in that we have had the Common Crossing components professionally made so that the crossing assembly unit is ready to fix to the timbers without any filing or soldering required. Likewise the Switch Blades come with the taper already prepared, so that the toe end fits nicely against the inside edges of the stock (outer) rails. Two types of chair are included, a standard 3 bolt S1 'Running Chair' and sufficient Slide Chairs (the ones that the switch blades rest on and slide across when the direction of travel is altered). It is necessary to cut some of each in half and so that they can be added cosmetically around the Common Crossing, where space is limited and individual 'Special Chairs' would have been used on the prototype. Using only two types of chair keeps down both the cost and the level of difficulty, meaning that anyone is perfectly capable of making turnouts to a good standard. Roller Gauges are included unless you select the option to leave them out when ordering. 

b) Exactoscale Turnout Kits - Currently only P4 with Steel Rail

Please Note - Nickel Silver kits will be introduced shortly, followed by an expansion of the range into OO and EM in Nickel Silver or Steel.



Exactoscale Turnout Kits follow the principle of the Plain Line panels, in that the turnout timbers are held together at the correct spacing by small webs in the form of a V shaped trackbase Pips are moulded into the timbers to assist with locating the chairs in the correct position (the hole in the base of the chair that fits over the pip on the timber). The Common Crossing assembly comes already made up and has the added refinement of the point rail having a recess into which the diverging rail is 'spliced', following prototype practice.


The Switch Blade and first part of the Stock Rail come as a combined assembly, again as on the prototype, meaning that Closure Rails are provided to link the end of these assemblies to the start of the Common Crossing units. Both the Common Crossing and the Switch assemblies are soldered onto an etched brass fitting which provides a lug for attaching a dropper wire. They also provide for an accurate and strong fixture, that has been professionally put together for the modeller to save time, and ensures accurate running.





The other main difference with the C&L kit is the level of detail, especially with regard to the chairs included. On the prototype 'Special Chairs' were used for each timber in and around the Switch assembly and the Common Crossing, each with its own design, to enable it to carry out its function depending upon the rail configuration for that timber. These chairs have been faithfully reproduced in 4mm scale and enhance the look of the finished turnout no end. The check rails come already curved and so all you need is a bottle of Butanone and some time to sit and read the detailed instructions!





c) Turnout Kits with plywood bases


C&L previously stocked laser cut plywood trackbases from the Timber Tracks range. That supply is no longer available to us but there are stocks still remaining. Exactoscale commenced work on a similar product, but with significant improvements some time ago. There have been delays in bringing these items into productions but we are hopeful that they will be available very soon. Customers will therefore be able to order a plywood Track Base for their Turnout instead of using moulded plastic timbers

d) C&L Turnouts - Individual Components (OO, EM, P4 & F7)



C&L 4mm Common Crossing assembly (often called the 'Frog')

C&L 'OO' Tie or Stretcher Bar



 C&L 4mm Switch Blades

C&L 'OO' Track Gauges



C&L Turnout Timbers

 C&L 'Point Kit' - just the plastic parts - no rail included   (see 'Turnout Kits' for everything needed to make a prototypical Turnout) 

























If customers prefer (or if you have a lot of Turnouts to make), you may prefer to purchase the individual components rather than in a Kit.


Everything included in the C&L Kit is available separately and in the case of the Common Crossing, we offer either a complete units as per that in the kit, or just the soldered Vee part, leaving you to add the Wing Rails yourself. This saves on cost and if you are able to file your own Vees, then further savings can be made by buying a 'Point Kit', as these just include the plastic Chairs, Turnout Timbers and Fishplates needed to make a Turnout, with the customer providing the rail elements. Clearly modellers are not in a position to mould their own plastic Chairs, Timbers etc and so we provide just those parts.

e) Exactoscale Turnouts - Individual Components


We offer a pack of 48 plastic moulded Turnout & Crossing Timbers for use in making your own Turnout Kits, along with packs of the Special Chairs needed for the Common Crossing and Switch Assemblies. We do not sell the spliced Common Crossing, the Switch Assembly or the moulded Turnout Track Bases as separate items. as they need to be included in a kit to make the sale of these expensive parts commercially viable.

For 4mm modellers (OO, EM & P4) we can provide code 75 bullhead rail and code 82 flat bottom rail in either HiNi nickel silver, normal nickel silver or steel (see section on Flexi Track above for details of the differences). 7mm modellers have the choice of code 125 bullhead rail in HiNi nickel silver or steel. 

Nickel Silver Rail v Steel Rail
If you have an evening to waste, try looking up the arguments on this subject online! To save you a wasted evening, I will try and summarise the main points in favour of each:

Nickel Silver - advantages

  1. Does not rust - therefore can be used in damp conditions or outdoors, without the need to remove rust from the top of the rail
  2. Our HiNi nickel silver (see paragraph on Flexi Track) does not have the yellow colour of other maker’s n/s rail. It looks almost like steel and so along with point (1) makes it more attractive
  3. Conduct electricity well. As it contains copper which is a good conductor, electricity is passed without there being so much 'voltage drop' over a longer length (useful in the garden)

Steel Rail - advantages

  1. Looks like the prototype as it is made from the same material
  2. If it rusts, it look like the real thing even more (although the top of the rail will need cleaning to remove the rust)
  3. Does not oxidise at anything like the speed that nickel silver does. Steel track can be cleaned and if in a dry atmosphere where rust does not form, then it will not need cleaning again for weeks or even years, unlike N/silver rail which oxidises with the atmosphere as soon as it is cleaned and continues to do so, requiring constant cleaning (up to a couple of times a day if running intensively such as when at an exhibition)
  4. Better grip between wheels and rail. On the prototype bearings are always made from brass (contains copper) and these are used with steel axles. The reason for this is that there is less resistance between the steel and the brass than if a steel bearing was used. It follows therefore that a steel tyre on a wheel will not grip a copper based rail as well as it will a steel rail. This advantage is only applicable if your railway requires locomotives to haul longs loads around sharp bends or up inclines!







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