What is Lionel Tubular Track and Does Lionel Still Make them?

Lionel Tubular Track is a type of model train track that has been popular since it was introduced in 1906. Unlike traditional train tracks with two rails, the tubular train track used 3 rails. This track type is not as common today as it was in the past, but it can still be found online, in warehouses, and toy stores.

Lionel Tubular Track is the traditional track made by Lionel in 1906. This track revolutionized model railroading by making their wiring simpler and preventing short circuits. However, Lionel stopped its production in 2015. Currently, you can only get these on warehouses and other train modelers.

This post will talk about the Lionel Tubular Track. We will first talk a bit about its history and why it became a hit. Furthermore, we will talk about their current production and some alternatives you can use if you want to try tubular tracks.

What is Lionel Tubular Track?

What are Lionel Tubular Tracks?

Lionel tubular track is a model train track system introduced by Lionel Corporation in the 1900s. It quickly became popular due to its simplicity and durability. Lionel’s tubular track is made from metal and plastic and can be used to create many train layouts.

This track is one of the reasons why Lionel dominated the market and reached its peak in the 1950s.

The tubular tracks aren’t realistic. While some trains use 3 rails, their third rail is usually on top or the side of the rail inaccessible to people.

Despite that, Lionel thought of making the tubular track.

But why did Lionel introduce the 3-rail track? How did something unrealistic become successful? Well, we have to go back to history.

In the 1900s, model railroading is not as simple as it is now. For example, they will only use DC controls with no DCC, making it harder for complex layouts.

Recommended Read: To know more about the difference between DC and DCC, please check this post: DC vs. DCC.

Furthermore, train layouts at that time were prone to short circuits, which caused the models to overheat and break.

Short circuits happen when a current wents to the appliance or motor with no resistance. This causes overheating and breaking of the motor.

To prevent this, old modelers require precision in their wiring, which makes it a roadblock for people trying model railroading.

That’s why Lionel introduced the 3-rail tracks, which became a hit.

The tubular tracks made wiring simpler and significantly reduced the occurrence of short circuits. While it is not realistic, it made model railroading better, especially for beginners.

Here is a graphic illustration of how the tubular track separated the negative and positive charges in the layout’s wiring.

2 rail vs 3 rail track illustration
Two Rail vs Thee Rail Tracks taken from: What is the 3rd rail’s purpose?

This simple change made model railroading easier. Thus, it became a hit, and the company became known for its tubular tracks.

Lionel succeeded in making model railroading simpler thanks to the 3-rail track.

Now that you know the tubular track’s purpose and what it is, let’s talk about its current production.

Does Lionel Still Make Tubular Track?

Lionel has stopped making Tubular Track in 2015. This makes it harder to get new Lionel Tubular tracks. However, there are many Tubular Track stocks in numerous stores, warehouses, and online markets. Furthermore, other brands can substitute Tubular tracks, such as Menards and Williams.

Sadly, Lionel stopped making tubular trains back in 2015. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t have access to their tracks.

For example, you can get their tubular tracks on some toy stores that still have them in stock. You can also get them from other modelers who sell their extra tracks.

If you fail to find the tubular track, you can use Lionel’s fast track, which is compatible and can replace the old tubular tracks.

Lionel’s fast tracks are prefab tracks which make connecting the tracks easier.

Of course, some modelers would want to stay with the traditional tubular tracks since it’s what they are used to.

Furthermore, prefab tracks are generally not compatible with prefab tracks of other brands.

The good news is some alternative brands still offer tubular tracks. One is Bachmann’s Williams, and the other is Menards.

The good thing about these tracks is you can use them together with Lionel’s tubular tracks.

Of course, while they are compatible, they still have some differences.

For example, Menards tubular tracks are made with galvanized steel compared to Lionel’s tin-plated tubular tracks.

It can easily be distinguished by the color where Lionel’s tubular tracks look more yellowish than Menards.

When it comes to performance, some modelers say that Lionel’s is superior since they are tin-plated. However, it is worth noting that there is only a tiny difference aside from their color.

Their difference in color makes them hard to combine.

However, the good news is when I search for marketplaces, Lionel tubular tracks can be found in many warehouses and marketplaces. So there are many stocks that you don’t have to worry about that aren’t in production anymore.

Lionel is currently making their fast tracks that are compatible with Tubular tracks. Are they compatible? Let’s find out.

Is Lionel Fast Track Compatible with Tubular Track?

Lionel’s fast tracks are compatible with tubular tracks. These two tracks are the same size, and you can use them together. However, take note that the fast track has a roadbed which means the tubular tracks attached need to be adjusted in height.

Generally speaking, there are three types of tracks: traditional, hand-laid, and prefab tracks.

Hand-laid tracks are the ones people make manually with soldering. We will be talking about the traditional and prefab in this section.

Lionel’s fast track is traditional, while the fast track is a prefab track. Their difference is that fast tracks have a roadbed with connectors. The roadbed makes connecting tracks easier. However, this reduces their compatibility with other prefab track brands.

If you check the photo above, you can see the one with a roadbed is the fast track, and the other is the tubular track.

They are also compatible with one another, so you can attach a tubular track on a fast track, adding more complexity and aesthetics to your layout.

However, please note that you need to raise the tubular tracks to level with the tubular track.

But these two train tracks are compatible, so you can use them together to add more aesthetic looks to your layout, such as adding tubular rails on bridges since using fast tracks on bridges will look unrealistic.

You can also run old Lionel trains on their newer fast tracks. As long as the train runs on the same gauge, you can use whatever track you want, and you are free to combine them to add more realism.

What’s next? Do you know about the O27 gauge tracks? They are one of the tracks that are popularized by Lionel. If you want to know about their history and why they became one of the most popular variants of the O gauge, please check this post: What is the O27 gauge track?

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