Pros: Durable and well-built.
Cons: Has only four rail joiners, when it needs six.
A train going around in a circle or oval can delight on Christmas morning or in a museum display illustrating the past. But the action descends into monotony for serious model railroaders, or those who want to simulate train operations. A turnout, also called a switch, allows a change in train direction, by providing a track that branches off the main path both in real life and in model pikes. These devices have different numbers or designations depending on the sharpness of the diversion or their function.
The wye switch is so-called because its single track diverges into two branches at the same time. It looks like the letter “Y.” The HO scale indicates a proportion of 1/87, which puts the height of an average man at around an inch. The track comes packaged in cardboard and clear plastic, which provides a useful storage place, if you’re not ready to commit the track permanently to a layout.
The turnout measures about 8 inches long, with the straight track running about an inch before beginning the split into two branches. The ties are made out of black plastic, with some nearly invisible surface textures. The rails themselves are nickel silver for maximum electrical conductivity. The frog, as well as other moulded parts, are in the same black plastic, while the hinges and connecting wells are also in metal. The unit comes with four rail joiners, which is two less than is needed by all the track ends.
The switch itself is joined to an inch-long plastic lever that juts out of the left side of the track, if you put the “Y” at the top. This allows easy manual operation of the turnout, but only from that side. Fortunately, the switch has a plastic tie with a hole in the middle, which allows the rod of an undermount switch machine to control the direction of the switch. Four other holes allow small nails to secure the track to the layout, while four larger holes allow wire connections. When you secure the track to your layout, be sure to allow enough give for the switch to swing freely.
The ties can use a bit of brown paint to simulate realistic weathering. Paint is also needed on the rails to take away the shine. You’ll need to sand away any residue from the top of the rail to ensure conductivity with the locomotive wheels. When applying ballast, use a small file or pick to remove any that are preventing the switch from moving freely.
The instructions on the back of the package explain that the frog (interior rails) of the wye are insulated, while the exterior rails remain powered. It warns that engines with short wheelbases or diesels with single-truck pickups may hesitate or stall at the frog. I have personally never experienced that problem, using cars as small as a single-truck Birney. But the instructions recommend using the Atlas Snap Relay (Item #200) and a switch machine to mitigate the problem.
Speaking of wiring, there should be no issues with electricity if the wye leads to two disconnected sidings. However, if they join a reverse loop, then special wiring is needed to avoid short circuits. Methods for wiring such loops are usually detailed in model railroading books that describe laying track or wiring. It would've been nice if the instructions included information on wiring these loops.