Category Archives: Interviews

Steel Ties and Turnouts for PROTO:87

Following Weinert’s recent introduction of Mein Gleis, there is more news about track – this time from RST Modellbau. The small company introduced super detailed steel and wooden ties for hand-laid track in 2009 and just announced a set of steel ties for the German EW190-1:9 Fz (St) turnout template with 190 meter prototype radius. This long-awaited release fills a void in the available PROTO:87 lineup, which had been dominated by models with (real) wood ties or ties made from PC board. In this interview, RST Modellbau’s Ralph Steinhagen tells me more about the new turnout.

Johannes: Your steel track tie set was very well received. Did you always plan on adding a turnout kit to your product line or was that something that you decided after the track came out?

Ralph: It’s true that despite a slow start, the steel as well as the wooden tie sets turned out to be a pretty good success.

Originally, I wanted to manufacture the steel ties in small numbers for personal use only. Wanting to model them perfectly, I discovered the complexity of the matter and realized that it could only be done right with plastic injection molding.

When you take into consideration that at the beginning of the 1940s 40% of German track had steel ties, it is remarkable that no major manufacturer had steel ties in their program. Due to this circumstance and repeated customer inquiries, I realized that in the long-run I am not going to get around producing a turnout with steel ties.

RST Modellbau steel ties (note the nicely detailed rail joiners).

RST Modellbau steel ties (note the nicely detailed rail joints).

Johannes: What challenges did you face when developing this kit?

Ralph: Most problems are solved in theory only and I am sure that I will face great difficulties. For instance, I need to include the points and ground throw mechanism because most modelers will not be able to make the complicated parts themselves.

Johannes: What’s included in the kit and what other tools and materials does one need to assemble the turnout?

Ralph: The kit is essentially a set of individual plastic ties and tie plates, a lasered cardboard template and a cast nickel silver frog. The kit is pretty sophisticated and geared towards experienced modelers and naturally you need a few tools to put it together – but nothing that’s not in a modeler’s toolbox anyway.

Steel ties detail.

Steel ties detail.

Johannes: Can you use other track than code 70?

Ralph: No. Since the frog is made from cast nickel silver and the points are made from code 70 rail it is not possible to use a different rail size.

Johannes: The turnout can be used for either RP-25 or PROTO:87. How did you set up the kit to accommodate the two standards?

Ralph: The kit will feature two different frogs and guard rails with 0.5 mm flange width for PROTO:87 and 1 mm for RP-25. These can be easily dropped in.

RST Modellbau track with wooden ties.

RST Modellbau track with wooden ties.

Johannes: How much will the kit cost?

Ralph: I don’t know the final sales price yet. Only after receiving all proposals for cast parts and tooling, I will be able to finish the calculation. I hope to offer the kit for under €100, though.

Johannes: Do you have plans to release more turnouts in the future?

Ralph: Depending on the success of the first turnout, I am considering developing a turnout with 300 meter radius (300 EW).

Wood tie detail.

Wooden ties detail.

Johannes: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me.

Ralph: It was my pleasure to tell you about my current project.

Find out more

RST tie sets, track and accessories are available directly from RST Eisenbahnmodellbau’s Shop.

Are you a prototype modeler and interested in being featured on this blog? Contact me at

Images courtesy of Ralph Steinhagen. Used with permission. is not affiliated with the manufacturers of the products mentioned on this site and did not receive payment or samples for review.

Kits for the Modern Era – Interview with Rail Yard Model’s Gene Fusco

At the Amherst Railroad Hobby Show, I bought my first Rail Yard Model kits. I am working on a Penn Central X58 box car right now and really enjoy putting it together. This is largely due to the detailed 60-page instruction manual with numerous photographs and a 14-page documentation of the history of the car – all provided in PDF format on a mini CD-ROM. I wanted to find out who’s behind these extraordinary kits and interviewed Rail Yard Model’s Gene Fusco.

Johannes: How and when did Rail Yard Models get started and why the focus on the modern era?

Gene: I started Rail Yard Models in the spring of 2002. Before that, I worked in the hi-tech world as a software developer for almost 16 years. I was laid off in a 25% corporate reduction in force and decided it was time to do something different. At the time this all happened, I was in the process of building patterns for the X79 Kellogg’s box car for my own personal modeling use. As a Penn Central fan, I had long wanted some of these cars for my collection. When I decided that I was going to try to run a business making craftsman kits, I was already most of the way to completion.

My focus on the modern era is multi-faceted. There was a hole in the niche market of special interest “modern” freight cars. (Modern is in quotes there, mostly because the 60’s are 40+ years ago now!) There were already several craftsman kit manufacturers that had the 1920’s to the 1950’s quite well covered. So, as far as a business is concerned, I saw a market segment that wasn’t being satisfied.

Another aspect of the time period selection was pure personal interest. It’s the time period I model and am most familiar with. Finally, there is the availablilty of data. Large amounts of hard data are still readily available for cars in this time period. This includes data such as builder’s drawings, roster information, builder’s and fan photos. And finally, if all that fails, the actual cars are still around which can make it possible for field measurements to be made.

Johannes: How do decide which prototypes you model?

Gene: Again, a complex answer with many factors. The primary consideration is if good data is available to make high quality patterns and decal artwork. Simple line drawings in that back issue of your favorite railroad magazine just don’t cut it in today’s modeling environment.

The next hurdle to clear is the engineering: is the model manufactureable? This requires some mental analysis of the prototype to decompose the big picture into the individual parts and decide what can and can’t be done with the materials and technology available to me.

The next consideration is the possibility of the model being produced by one of the “big guys” in the hobby. This isn’t limited to exact duplication of a specific car, but includes cars that are close or similar in appearance. If a ready to run version of one of my kits becomes available it would essentially kill market demand for that kit. There are a number of people that would still buy the kit based solely on their desire to build models themselves, but not enough to support a profitable product line.

Johannes: Do you work from original drawings when designing the models or do you take measurements from the cars yourself?

Gene: When possible, I try to work from copies of original builder’s drawings. This proves to be a two edged sword on many occasions, since there is often a big difference between “As designed” and “As built.”  Careful observation of prototype photos is essential to pick out these differences. In some cases, the differences amount to substantial “phases” that can be represented in the model. For instance, the PD3000 model represents two distinct body weld seam arrangements that were only seen through prototype photo research. The builder’s drawings only showed one of the patterns.

PD3000 in NAHX original paint scheme on Phase Ia body.

Phase Ib Penn Central H58 with a different weld seam pattern.

When drawings are not available, field measurements are used. The Mo-Pac SBW was designed in this manner, since Union Pacific was kind enough to keep one of these parked on a local siding for a year or so. The risks with field measurements are that the car you may have access to is an oddball and not representative of the others in the production run. Again, a great deal of research is required to ensure a realistic model is produced.

Johannes: You put a lot of effort in the documentation of the prototype history supplied in your kits, which I find very helpful. How do you compile this detailed information?

Gene: This tends to be the most time consuming aspect of the design process. A great deal of the history data is actually collected while doing the research for the decal artwork. During this phase of product design, I solicit images from some of the better known photo and slide collectors as well as searching the Internet for photos of the car.

Keep in mind that all data collected through public means is classified as “Reference Only” until I can contact the original owner of the images and secure reproduction rights. Very often, the people that supply the drawings will also have access to associated historical data and are great resources to tap when assembling the car history.

Johannes: Will you offer kits with the nicely detailed Exactrail Barber S-2 trucks in the future?

Gene: I can’t make any promises at this time. As with this specific product or any other third party component I include in my kits, there are a number of business and design issues that must be resolved before a decision is made.

Johannes: Are you at liberty to tell me what new releases are you working on?

Gene: The simple and quick answer is no. Since I started Rail Yard Models, I have kept a policy of announcing a product once it is very near to full production. The primary reason for this is to avoid the perpetual problem of announcing a product, then having customers endure delays while the unforeseen, but always present problems are worked out.

Johannes: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me.

Gene: You’re very welcome!

Find out more

More information about the excellent range of Rail Yard Model kits is available at

Are you a prototype modeler and interested in being featured on this blog? Contact me at

Images courtesy of Gene Fusco. Used with permission. is not affiliated with the manufacturers of the products mentioned on this site and did not receive payment or samples for review.

Update: Rail Yard Models has ceased operation. You may still be able to find kits on eBay.

Interview with Fast Tracks’ Tim Warris (Part II)

Welcome back for the second part of my interview with Fast Track co-founder and product developer Tim Warris.

Johannes: What new products are you working at Fast Tracks?

Tim: We are planing on focusing on the tools we currently offer and expanding the line of available fixtures with the addition of narrow gauge curved turnouts, and European and HOm fixtures.  Starting on January we will be launching a completely reworked website that will be easier to navigate and use, this project has kept us busy for some time now, but everything looks on track for the January 1 launch.  Of course there are always other special projects we are working on developing, keep an eye on the site for announcements.

Straight 3-way narrow gauge turnout.

Straight 3-way narrow gauge turnout.

Johannes: At the 2009 National Train Show, I had a chance to see your Central New Jersey Bronx Terminal in person and I was very impressed by your handiwork. Tell us how you found out about this prototype and what challenges you encountered in modeling the terminal.

Tim: I have always been fascinated by railroad trackwork, the more complex the better.  I ran across an image of the CNJ Bronx Terminal in a book by Michael Kriger “Where Rail meet the Sea”, that focused on rail marine operations.  I was immediately intrigued by the operation and started doing some research on it.  Finding suitable information on the terminal was quite a challenge.  There isn’t much out there in the public domain (well there wasn’t then) so it was very slow going at first.  I was fortunate to find a detailed trackplan for the terminal that had been published in a 1950 Railroad Model Craftsmen magazine.  Working from that I was able to develop an accurate HO scale design for the layout.

It was several years before I started on actual construction, beginning with the most complex piece of trackwork (of course, why do it the easy way…)  Shortly after I started building it I also started a blog to document the process.  Fortunately for me, a few readers also had been researching the terminal and were willing to share with me the information they had on hand, which was substantially more than what I had and filled out my collection nicely.  From this I believe I have enough detailed photos and drawings to complete the terminal very precisely.

Detail of the intricate trackwork of the CNJ Bronx Terminal.

Detail of the intricate trackwork of the CNJ Bronx Terminal.

Johannes: Did you use custom assembly fixtures for this project or did you build some of the turnouts from scratch?

Tim: I designed custom fixtures for every piece of trackwork on the terminal, in total about a dozen fixtures.  I combined as much of the trackwork onto a single fixture as possible, and in some instances joined together two fixtures to allow me to maintain as much accuracy as possible.  For example, one fixture has  four curved #2.5 three way turnouts on it.  Building them all in a single fixture ensures they will maintain precise alignment when installed in place on the layout.  Even the straight and curved trackwork was built in fixtures.  I completed all the trackwork, and soldered it together into a single unit before installing it in place onto the layout.

Johannes: What have you been working on lately and where can we see CNJ Bronx Terminal next?

Tim: Since the last major train show in Hartford, I haven’t done much work on the layout.  I find sometimes the most effective thing to do, is to do nothing at all.  When I do return to the project, I will probably focus on building a detailed model of the round freight house and the float bridge.

Johannes: I am looking forward to seeing the terminal again soon. Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions.

Find out more

For more information about Fast Track visit their website at Details about Tim’s Central New Jersey Bronx Terminal can be found on his blog at

Are you a prototype modeler and interested in being featured on this blog? Contact me at

Images courtesy of Fast Track and Tim Warris. Used with permission. is not affiliated with the manufacturers of the products mentioned on this site and did not receive payment or samples for review.

Interview with Fast Tracks’ Tim Warris (Part I)

In addition to updates on my projects, I decided to start a series featuring conversations with members of the prototype modeling community. In this first installment, I interviewed Fast Tracks co-founder and product developer Tim Warris, who is currently building a model of the Central New Jersey Bronx Terminal.

Johannes: Your Fast Track system of building turnouts seems to be very successful. What in particular makes working with your tools and assembly fixtures so easy compared to other approaches?

Tim: I had always hand-laid turnouts on all my layouts, with varying degrees of success.  I was frequently frustrated by small imperfections in the operational quality of the finished trackwork.  Sometimes it would work flawlessly, and other times I would find irritating bumps as equipment passed over the turnout.  I knew if a turnout was constructed precisely to the NMRA standards this would not happen, but when building a turnout in place by hand it was just too easy to introduce small variations in the final work, that would effect the performance of the trackwork.  Using an assembly fixture forces all the rails into precise and correct locations, eliminating the possibility of imperfections in the trackwork and results in very smooth running track without requiring a lot of skill and patience to achieve.  If someone can solder (or even if they can’t) they will be able to produce very smooth trackwork using our tools.

Slip switch built with a Fast Track assembly.

Slip switch built with a Fast Track assembly.

Johannes: Are the switches you offer exact replicas of prototype drawings including geometry and radii?

Tim: No.  We considered following a specific prototype, but then quickly realized that every railroad, and every trackwork supplier, has their own design.  Deciding on which prototype to follow would be difficult, so we decided to take the same approach as other manufacturers and develop a line of generic trackwork that would be plausible on any railroad.  The geometry and radii follow published NMRA standards and practices where possible.  This approach seems to have been well received and offers reliable and good looking trackwork.

Dual-gauge H0/H0n3 turnout.

Dual-gauge H0/H0n3 turnout.

Johannes: Can your fixtures also be used to build Proto:87 turnouts and is it possible to use tie plates in the assemblies?

Tim: The only difference between Proto87 trackwork and NMRA trackwork is the track gauge and flangeways.  We can, and have on a couple occasions, modified fixtures for customers to work with Proto:87 standards.

Most commercial tie plates that are available are designed to slip under the rail, and would not work with our fixtures.

Johannes: Do you have plans to start a line of assembly fixtures based on European prototypes?

Tim: Yes!  We are hoping to introduce this in the new year.  We have done a few fixtures based on European and German prototypes as custom projects, and would like to add these to the standard line.  As well as a line of HOm fixtures with prototype European ties.

Check back next Sunday for the second part of the interview in which Tim tells us about new Fast Tracks products and how he got interested in the CNJ Bronx Terminal.

Find out more

For more information about Fast Track visit their website at Details about Tim’s Central New Jersey Bronx Terminal can be found on his blog at

Are you a prototype modeler and interested in being featured on this blog? Contact me at

Images courtesy of Fast Track and Tim Warris. Used with permission. is not affiliated with the manufacturers of the products mentioned on this site and did not receive payment or samples for review.