"Turning" Turnouts into Crossovers . . .


It doesn't seem too well known by modelers that turnouts and crossovers are typically laid differently on the prototype. Possibly because most of us grew up with RTR sectional track, which usually only has "shorty" turnouts in the limited track range. And those shorty turnouts were so handily designed to fit "heel to heel" to make sectional track crossovers without any further thought.

The big realism difference that is most noticeable on our models is the missing prototype's use of double track length ties between the two frog sections on their crossovers.  On real track, which has a normal practical tie length limit of 16ft 6 in, the prototype lays a long and a short tie end to end, to get the 23 ft or so of double track tie length needed.  But to give adequate and even support across all three tracks, those "combo" ties are laid alternately long-short, short-long.

I'm not absolutely sure of the technical reason, but I suspect it's to create a more stable "platform" to keep the diverging routes aligned level with respect to the two separate frogs.  The last thing you need on a real railroad is to have heavy cars suddenly tilting as they also do a reverse curve switch of direction, while crossing from one track to another. But you can't really rely on two adjacent sections of real roadbed and ballast to stay exactly the same height over several years of hard use and bad weather.

As shown above, if you hand lay track from a crossover template, or use a crossover fixture, then you likely will get instructions on just including the longer ties at the beginning of the construction as above. And of course some of the better fine scale RTR track manufacturers do have “fully timbered”  crossovers in their range.

But if you prefer to start off with two regular turnouts, then you can add long ties in the gap, and extend the length of the existing ties without making it too obvious that they have been modified.  The CV turnout bases we used here are #8’s and the bases as supplied are deliberately made short enough to fit into crossover configurations and so just require extra ties. Other turnout manufacturers may supply turnouts that have the full prototypical turnout length, and there the only problem is merely cutting them back shorter for two to fit together at the double track spacing of your choice.

Here you can see the extra wooden ties and tie extensions in place. Note - We glue our turnouts and ties down onto a strong and dimensionally stable plastic sheet so the ties are fixed both above and below.  This effectively makes the turnouts extremely strong and self contained, so they can be laid like RTR units, and even pre-ballasted, and so potentially may be removed and relocated in the future, even including the original ballasting.

Since the turnout bases have tieplate and spike detail, we also added individual tieplates to the new tie sections, so that they match much better once painted.

One other point to note is that we custom made the ties to match the tie height of the plastic bases exactly. That way both the rail and the bases stay perfectly even and flat from one end of the crossover to the other. If you have some other manufacturers turnouts, then just check the tie thicknesses before you begin.  If there is a height mismatch, you can still avoid the use of custom tie thicknesses by shimming the appropriate ties or bases with thin layers of card, such as cut pieces of manilla file folders, to level everything out.

Here is the entire combination painted. Unless you look very closely, it is very difficult to spot where the turnout bases end and the wooden additional ties and extensions start. I apologize for the missing points on the LH Turnout. I took this photo while some other work was being done on the crossover

And here for full critical assessment is the “6 inch” close up of the altered section. Now it’s possible to spot most of the new work, although the added tie plates definitely help disguise the changeovers.


UPWilly's picture

Andy, that "ties" it together nicely

For those that have "RTR" turnouts or find hand-laying difficult, there is an alternative discussion in the November 2011 MRH magazine, page 68 (Improving Atlas #6 Crossovers) where a pair of turnouts are "turned" into a crossover. The primary result is the ability to maintain double track spacing within the normal value as Andy shows in this thread. Adding two-track-long ties as Andy mentions above would certainly add value to the modification in the MRH magazine.


Bill D.

N Scale (1:160), not N Gauge. DC (analog), Stapleton PWM Throttle.

Proto-freelance Southwest U.S. 2nd half 20th Century.

Keep on trackin'



skiloff's picture

Not quite relevant to topic

Andy, I've had a question for you for some time but it hasn't been urgent so I haven't bothered to this point. Others might have the same question, so I thought it better to pose it here for many more eyes than a personal email.

I've looked at proto87stores for a long time and thought "how cool" but being in N scale and already committed to my fast tracks stuff, I didn't really see I'd ever use it. However, a project I hope to start in the summer will be a small HO switching layout. Your recent posts on your trackwork has me thinking this would be a really good way to jump in with both feet on a small layout.

However, when I go to your sight, I feel overwhelmed with information and I don't know what I need or what I should get. I'd really like to get the really detailed turnouts and track since it will only end up being 2x6 feet (two 3 foot modules) and be a very nice "show" layout, as well as another learning experience. A "starter's primer" might be very useful, much like your post in this thread with crossovers.


HO Scale '70s/80s era

Very interesting

Nice pics and good info. Usable in any scale also. Thanks!.


Long life to Linux The Great!

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