MÄRKLIN’S 00/HO TRACK SYSTEM 1935 – Present

Introduction

Märklin produced several forms of track for their 00/H0 scale trains since their inception in 1935.  This track is a “three-rail” system (the inner track, solid or stud, providing the power and the outer track providing the return, just like the old Märklin or Lionel 0-gauge track.  In this article we explore an overview of the various track offered by Märklin over the course of its history.  

Märklin’s  0-gauge track

The 00/H0 track forms differ significantly from each other but can be used together on the same layout with and sometimes without adapter track.

A somewhat similar metal three-rail track system was produced by Hornby for their 00 trains, which ran on DC power.

Hornby 3-rail 00 track (courtesy Eric Wicherts)

The German Trix firm also used a 3-rail track system for their DC operated trains, whereby the outer (return) rails were insulated from each other being fastened to a black cardboard base thereby allowing 2 trains to run simultaneously on the same track.

 

Trix 00 track  (courtesy Eric Wicherts)

Märklin’s  different 00/H0 track forms are discussed below.

The first metal # 3600 series track

When Märklin introduced their first “00” trains in 1935, these trains ran on track with a metal roadbed, a distance of 7 mm between the painted ties and a tubular middle rail.  Between 1935 and 1947 these 3600 track pieces were produced with minor variations.  The roadbed and material used for the middle rail, colouring, etc. changed often due to paucity or lack of raw materials before and just after WWII. The beige colored track below was produced from approximately 1946 – 1947 when the lithography materials required to print the roadbed on the track were scarce.  This track is known as “PX-style track” because the sets containing this track were sold in Postal Exchange (PX) stores to US soldiers.  The track system included straight track (18 cm. long), curved track with a circle diameter of 72 cm, (twelve track pieces forming a circle), manual and electromagnetic switches and a crossing track.   

The first Märklin 00 track

 

NB: the length of each straight track piece of 18 cm is one-fourth of the circle diameter of 72 cm.  This configuration has been maintained by Märklin from the first 00 track until today.

The Post war metal #3600 series track

In 1947 Märklin improved their 3600 series tracks by spacing the ties much closer at 4 mm.  This track system lasted until 1958.

There are several notable variations within this track system.  Initially the outer rails were blackened solid brass, later hollow.  Also the paint scheme of the underside of the tracks differed, especially as there was a shortage of available paint in the earlier post-war years.

The system included straight track (18 cm), curved track with 12 track pieces form a circle of 72 cm radius, manual and electromagnetic switches, a double slip switch, a crossing track and set of  wide radius curved track numbered 3700 (12 track pieces form a circle of 91 cm). The electromagnetic switches initially had a single solenoid, later a double solenoid for operation.

The 3600 series track

The Model-gleiss,  #3800, 3900 series track

From the French firm Vollon & Brun, who produced beautiful 00 trains, Märklin purchased the license for their track.  

Vollon et Brun (VB) H0 Train Set

The French track consisted of plastic ties embedded into a metal roadbed and had a solid centre rail.

 

Vollon et Brun H0 track

In 1953 Märklin came out with an improved version of this system:  for the first time the “stud-contact” system was introduced.  The track consisted of solid blackened brass rails, black plastic ties embedded in a metal roadbed and very small stud contacts protruding through the plastic ties, similar to the later K-track system.  The straight track was 22 cm long.  Sixteen curved track pieces formed a circle  (117 cm. diameter for the #3900 series curved track and slightly smaller for the #3800 series curved track).  Electromagnetic switches and a cross-over track were sleek, and bumper track pieces had light. The colour of the metal roadbed is slightly yellowish and different from the later M-track.

The track was very labour intensive to produce and was therefore rather expensive.  It was offered together with the existing 3600 series track and did not sell well.  Besides, the locomotives had to be adapted with a special pick-up shoe. The first “ski pick-up shoes” were introduced because the old tongue (or spoon) pick-up shoes could not run on the stud-contacts.  The new ski pick-up was perfectly flat, and ran smoothly over the stud contacts. 

Märklin’s flat tongue pick-up shoes on a T 800 locomotive.  This style pickup could not run on the stud-contact style track.

The “Model-gleiss” track system was discontinued in 1957, just after the introduction of the 5200 series M-track.

It must be stated that this system was beautiful and very realistic with its sleek switches and wide radius curves.  The track pieces are far superior to the “M-track” and arguably, even to the “K-track”.

The Model-gleiss system introduced in the early 1950s

The #5200 series M-track

In 1956 Märklin introduced the “M-track” system (M: Metall), which lasted until 2001.

The track consisted of a metal roadbed with imprinted painted ties and studs protruding through the centre of the ties.  Straight track pieces were 18 cm. long.  Curved track of three different radii was available, together with manual switches, electromagnetic switches of various curvatures, including a curved switch pair and a three-way switch and two different double slip switches.  Although not the most realistic, the system was reliable and sturdy.  It was much cheaper to produce than the 3900 series track.  

 

5200 series M-track

 

For the clockwork train, produced in 1953, a set of “M-track” without the stud-contact was available, which could later be adapted with the purchase of a center-stud rail for electric operation.

Track included in Märklin’s “Primex”-line (a somewhat simplified product) can be identified by its uniform grey colour of the roadbed but is otherwise identical to the M-track system.

 

Märklin’s simplified “Primex” track

The K-track

In 1969 Märklin introduced the “K-track” system.  K: “Kunststoff”, German for Plastic. Consequently the metal tracks were from that time onwards dubbed “M-track”:  M for metal.  

The K-track is essentially the same as the “Modell-gleiss” from the fifties: plastic ties and small stud contacts, but without the metal roadbed.  Originally the series had hollow rails (2100 series), later solid nickel-silver rails (2200 series).  The assortment expanded over the years with curved track of five different radii, sleek switches, cross-overs, double slip switches and even flex-track.  The K-track system looks very realistic, but the delicate connections between the track pieces are easily bent or distorted, resulting in poor electrical contact, especially after several times of connecting and disconnecting.  

 

A sampling of different K-track

The C-track

When Märklin introduced a “toy-train” for children in 1988 (the Alpha train), it included a new track system, the #2000 series track, with a plastic roadbed, which was finely detailed, easy to connect and reliable for the distribution of continuous power.

This system resulted in the production of the so-called “C-track” (C:  “click”, because the track pieces connect with a distinct click), which was further developed in 1996 with a wide assortment of various tracks, curves and realistic sleek switches.  The system lends itself extremely well for operation with digital trains.  The connections are secure, power supply in the system is continuous and electronics can be stored beneath the track.

The track can also be used in two-rail DC operation because both outer rails can be insulated from each other.

 


A sampling of c–track (Courtesy Hobbytech Canada)

 

Compatibility

For those operators who wish to use the different track systems on their layout, Märklin made several adapter-track pieces available (from C- to K- or M-track, from K- to M-track).  All metal track pieces (3600, Modell-gleiss, M-track) are fully interchangeable without the need for adapter track.

Adapter track from C-track to M-track

Operators using the Märklin digital system can best rely on C-track.  K-track can also be used as long as the electrical connections between track pieces are secure.  M-track is not recommended for digital operation.

11 comments

  • Very nice summary of the history of Marklin track. Thanks for assembling this post.

  • Interesting to note is that Märklin have used the name “Modellgleis” for 3 different types of track.

    Other than the 3800/3900 track, today regarded as Modellgleis, the name was used when the revised 3600 tracks were introduced in the 1949 catalogue.

    Also , for a very brief period around 2014, the name was applied to the all plastic C-track clone supplied with the battery operated my world starter sets.

    Regards

    Henrik Schütz

    • Bert van Helden

      The term “Modellgleis” was also used for some of Marklin’s 0 gauge and even 1 gauge track. That track had multiple ties and had solid square rails, like the rails used in “real life” track. The track system had wider curves than the “normal” 0 gauge track and had sleek switches. VERY expensive!
      Bert

  • I really enjoyed reading your article. Can you also sometime write an informative article about which PRIMEX tracks are comparable in size and radius to Marklin tracks. I can’t seem to find any information on this subject. Thank you.

    • Bert van Helden

      Thank you for your kind comments on the article.
      The short answer to your question on compatibility with M-track is YES, the Primex track is fully compatible with Marklin’s M-track.
      The Primex track is essentially the same as the common M-track, with straight track pieces of 18 cm and with 12 curved track pieces forming a circle, the same as the curved 5100 M-track.

      The only difference with the M-track is the uniform grey color of the roadbed.
      Also, Primex track pieces are not very diversified in number and size, There are no parallel curves and the turnouts have no light. All this was done to save production costs, thus allowing Department stores to sell somewhat less expensive Marklin products.

      Other Primex products are also simplified Marklin products: steam locs have simplified valve gear, cars have fewer details, semaphore signals have no lights and so on.
      Bert

    • Hello, 5 28 2018
      All Primex HO tracks etc fit excellent with all Marklin HO , other than the roadbed color being different.

  • Primex is fully compatible with standard rails, except color there is no difference!

  • I enjoyed your article very much. My father started my collection (actually his until he died in 1962) while stationed in Salzburg, Austria. The original items were from a PX set and expanded at local toy stores in Bavaria. I served 25 years in the Army and had four tours in Germany and greatly expanded my collection. Because I never had an opportunity t become a model railroader my tracks have been set up and taken down many times over the years. For my purposes I found the robust 3600 series best suited for frequent set up then break down for storage. Though the 5100 and 5200 provide many more layout options I will keep the 3600/3700 M track.

  • Great article, looks some of my M track is older than I thought.

  • I really enjoy the M TRACK. It goes together real well. This was a real great article on the vintage marklin track.
    Thank you so much.

  • Love the article, great overview. Small comment on M track and digital: in principal it works just fine, do not be too worried. There may be an issue with the modern “click” shoe: on bumpy (older) M-track it sometimes makes bad contact with the loco. If that becomes an issue, a small welded wire from shoe to loco will do the trick.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *