MÄRKLIN’S 00/HO TRACK SYSTEM 1935 – Present
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Model-gleiss, #3800, 3900 series track
From the French firm Vollon & Brun, who produced beautiful 00 trains, Märklin purchased the license for their track.
The French track consisted of plastic ties embedded into a metal roadbed and had a solid centre rail.
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.
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 #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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.