With the the continuing growth of Z scale model railroading we’re seeing new products and techniques that only a
short time ago were the sole property of the larger scales. The Fast Tracks company of Ontario, Canada now brings
us a wide array of fixtures, tools and instruction on how to build our own Code 55 and Code 40 turnouts and lay our own track. This is exciting stuff!
Hand laying track and building turnouts has long been considered something of an esoteric experience but the Fast Tracks company has now brought the fixtures and know-how right to our Z scale doorstep. I had the chance to speak with Tim Warris of Fast Tracks and was pleasantly surprised at just how extensive their Z scale support extends.
With many options for Z scale and a wealth of knowledge in both print and online instructional videos, after you read our interview we strongly suggest you visit the Fast Track website for more information and videos.
Tell us a bit about the history of Fast Tracks.
I founded Fast Tracks 2003 as a way to generate a bit of extra income to offset the costs of building the Port Kelsey Railway. To be honest, I never thought it would take off the way it did!
I had been making turnout assembly fixtures and tools for my own use for a while, and it was only after encouragement from other modelers that I decided to take a stab at producing the assembly fixtures commercially. My brother, Ron, had quite a bit of experience in developing e-commerce websites and offered to build a site to see if there would be any interest.
What sort of challenges have you encountered while producing track fixtures for Z scale?
As expected, the small size and limited clearances of Z scale track was challenging. Unlike the rest of the scales that we offer, all of the Z scale assembly fixtures have added clearance around the tie pockets to ensure that modelers are able to solder easily without making contact with the aluminum fixture.
The published standards for Z scale have also been a bit of an issue for us. We have found that the standards are not compatible with some of the European equipment, resulting in some interchangeability issues. So we decided to stray from the standards and add additional clearance to our designs.
You now offer Z scale turnout fixtures as well as straight and curved track jigs, what prompted the addition of these new straight and curved jigs?
Simple. Customer demand. We started receiving requests for straight and curved track fixtures shortly after offering the turnout tools. The roll out on these tools took much longer than we had anticipated as it involved building several specialized machines to produce the pre-gapped and pre-cut PC board crossties that we felt were integral to the system.
With so many possible combinations of scales, rail size and radii, we needed a system that could be used to generate the necessary CAD files with as little manual input as possible. So we decided to invest in a high-end parametrically driven 3D modeling system that allows us to generate the CAD files with a few simple parameters.
How difficult is building a turnout in Z scale using your fixtures… is this something best left to the very skilled?
If you can build things in Z scale, you should be able to build turnouts as well. While it does take some patience, it is certainly well within the skill set of most modelers to get excellent results using our tools.
What type of instruction and support do you offer to customers?
We take pride in very thorough documentation. In addition to our written instructions we also have a complete library of how-to videos on our website showing step-by-step how to get great results using our tools. In the last month we have re-shot all of our videos in DVD quality and will have these available shortly.
Should a modeler run into any difficulty we answer all of our emails – usually the same business day, or if we are really backed up, the next business day.
Currently Code 40 is not in widespread use in Z scale… talk to us a bit about the benefits and any possible drawbacks of using Code 40 rail in Z. Is it much more difficult to work with Code 40 as opposed to Code 55 rail?
I don’t find working with code 40 any more difficult than code 55. I would not hesitate recommending modelers use code 40 in Z scale. The improvement in appearance is hard not to notice. Using our tools to build track eliminates the flange clearance issue, as the frogs in the turnouts are not filled with any material. As a result there is ample clearance, with nothing to interfere with the wheels.
You produce turnout fixtures, you produce straight and curved track jigs… what about easements? Is there a method or tool for easements in the Fast Tracks system?
Easements can be built using either our straight or curved track fixtures. Simply build a length of track and leave the last 12″ or so only soldered to one rail. This will allow this portion of the track to flex. Install the track in place along the easement centerline and solder the remaining rail to the PC board ties using a track gauge.
Do you have plans to offer curved turnouts or any sort of crossings in Z?
We would like to add curved turnouts in Z scale in the future. We decide which products to add to our line based on customer requests, the more requests we get for certain tools, the more likely we are to produce them, and so modelers should not be hesitant to ask! We may not be able to produce a specific tool right away, but the more requests we get, the more likely it is we will bump it up our priority list of new products.
Crossings in Z scale are a bit of an issue. Due to the small clearances in Z scale it isn’t possible to build some crossings using our techniques and still be able to cut the necessary electrical isolation gaps without the trackwork falling apart.
Overall how has the reaction been to your Z scale track products?
Very positive. Z scale tools were requested shortly after we released our HO tools and remain a good seller.
What key points about your company and your products would you like the Z scale enthusiast to know?
We remain committed to providing as wide a range of Z scale tools and supplies as possible. To do that we really need to know what the Z scale community wants. My background is with the more traditional scales, and sometimes I have to guess as to what Z scalers are looking for. So I would encourage people to tell us! The best way is just to drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or a post to our forums at www.fast-tracks.net/forums.
We may not always be able to provide what a person wants right away, but every voice is heard, and we listen carefully to those voices when we choose what new products to focus on.
Away from the products for a moment, personally what are some of your overall philosophies regarding model railroading?
I prefer a “holistic” approach to model railroading. That is, I prefer to build the layout as a whole unit and as such try not to get too caught up in the details, and it’s the finished look I am after. I find if I get too wrapped up in the details, progress can almost stop. While a detailed layout with plausible scenes is what I am after, I try not to worry too much if there aren’t enough rivets.
Usually the difference between a finished layout and a plywood canyon is how concerned the builder is with minutia. I have seen this many times with trackwork. Typically a modeler who insists on adding details such as individual tie plates to a turnout, will rarely actually build a layout, with the “good enough” subscribers accomplishing so much more.
You make a wide range of products for Z scale… what’s your take on the current state of Z?
I may not be the best person to ask this question, as personally I am not a Z scale modeler. I can say one thing for sure, after attending the NMRA Train Show this past July in Anaheim, California and witnessing the numerous high quality Z scale layouts there, Z scale is certainly becoming popular. And with popularity comes more products.
BTW, I did pre-order a Z scale CNJ 1000 Boxcab. So there is a pretty good chance I will be building a Z scale layout in the future!
Category: Raildig Guest