Unitrack Update

Still from a gif by Nzrst1jx (会話 | 投稿記録)
CC by 3.0 (wikipedia)

While I’m now planning a layout based on flex-track, I’m still interested in Unitrack. However, when a new announcement caught my eye, I realized that I’d missed some announcements late last year also, and thought I should bring my pages up to date, and do a Musing to summarize the new items. I haven’t bought any of these, and probably won’t, so I don’t have pictures to post. Some of this may be old news to readers who pay closer attention to Kato than I have of late, as several items are from last fall.

I’ve also updated several of my pages that contain information on Unitrack to reflect these new items.

North American Grade Crossing

First the big news: Kato’s DC and DCC-compatible automatic grade crossing is coming out in a North American version this spring. It’s been five years since the Japanese version came out (which I reviewed here), but finally a U.S.-spec version is, according to Kato USA, coming in May. I don’t plan to buy one, but I’m sure it is good news for many. The part number is 20-652-1 (the Japanese version was 20-652).

Based on the Kato USA photo linked above, it has red/white crossing poles and typical U.S. street markings. One obvious difference from “typical” U.S. practice is that there are poles on both lanes on each side, something that’s much less common here, except for “silent” crossings (which have other differences). Presumably the audio has also been changed to be correct for North America, but they don’t mention that.

As with the Japanese version, you can buy add-on sets to change it from one track to multiple. In fact, it’s the same part (20-653) since there are no markings on the actual street track section. You can also get extension cables (20-654) to put the sensors further from the crossing on high-speed lines.

One thing worth mentioning: the North American version lists for US$220, while the Japanese one (still available) retails from one typical Japanese store for US$143 (that’s marked down from a standard US$172). The set may be marked down in U.S. stores, and postage from Japan is not cheap. But assuming you don’t mind the differences, you’d probably save a significant amount buying the Japanese version.

Iida Line Bridge

Another interesting development is that Kato came out with a set of curved single-track bridges. These are available singly, or in a set that is intended to replicate a famous prototype on the Iida line, the “sixth Mizukubo River” bridge, also known as the “S-shaped bridge” for its curve.

This is shown at the top of this post, but for some better photos, see this Japanese-language blog on Yahoo Japan. The bridge was built like this to avoid a fault in the rock alongside the river, which they would normally have just tunneled straight through. Actually, they did tunnel through it, but the tunnel collapsed during construction. Then they built the bridge. So now the line crosses over the river and back to avoid the problem area.

The photo at the top of the post shows the actual bridge (apologies for the poor quality, but a still from a low-res gif video was the only image I could find with an appropriate license). This is during the dry season, when the riverbed is mostly stone. At other times the water stretches across the entire width.

If you want to find more photos, do a google search on “第6水窪川橋梁”.

As for the Kato track, this is a straight box-girder bridge with curved track atop it and a walkway to one side. It’s very similar to the 20-46x series 124mm Plate Girder bridges, in fact it may be the same bridge molding with different track atop it. The curvature is quite wide: 448mm, or 17 5/8”, which is larger than any normal Unitrack single-track curve (except for the odd 778mm curve used with #6 switches). Each bridge provides 15 degrees of curvature. The boxed set includes four bridges, five cylindrical pylons (standard Kato Viaduct 50mm or 2” height) with inspection catwalks, and riveted box-girder catenary poles similar to those of the prototype.

The bridge catwalk is on the inside of the curve, just like on the prototype, and the catenary poles mount to the pylons on the outside.

20-823 Curved Bridge Set (green bridges)

20-465 Red bridge

20-466 Green bridge

20-467 Gray bridge

20-069 Single Track Bridge Pier #5 with Trapezoid Shape (5 pcs)
I don’t know why they call it a “trapezoid”. To my eye it is a tapered cylinder, so “spindle” would be a more correct description.

20-058 Warren Brace Catenary Pole set (12 pcs)

Note: all of the above do not appear to be available outside of Japan today, although they should be orderable from Japan via the usual online stores.

All things considered, this is a very nice bridge, and it would be a great scenic detail on any single-track rural Japanese model railroad.

Other Unitrack Additions

While not anything near as interesting as the grade crossing or bridge, Kato has made some other updates to their Unitrack line. With one exception, these do not appear to be available in the U.S. yet.

First, they have two 186mm (7 5/16”) straight track sections for modeling engine-house tracks with pits between the rails. Once is a fairly modern-looking maintenance service pit, of the kind often found inside a diesel or electric engine or car maintenance building. The other is a steam-era pit, normally found in a roundhouse or similar structure.

Because these are in ordinary Unitrack sections, the “pit” isn’t very deep, which is reasonable for an ash pit, but would look rather odd for a maintenance pit. But I suspect you could paint it a dark color and it would look fairly good.

20-015 Ash Pit Track

20-016 Straight Pit Track

Kato lists these as 015/016, but one store had them listed (likely incorrectly) as 115 and 116. Oddly, 20-015 is available from one U.S. store, but not 20-016 or any of the items listed below.

Despite the name, the “Ash Pit” track is the track element they supply with their roundhouse as an inspection pit inside each stall, and it appears that the differences between them are more of era (steam versus diesel) than use. Ash pits were generally located outside, and used to clean out the firebox before putting the locomotive away for the night. You wouldn’t dump ash inside a roundhouse, as it would get all over everything. It also usually contained live coals, which could start a fire indoors.

20-060: Buffer Track D (35mm) (1 7/16”) (2 pcs)
End of track bumper with a tie across the rails and both rails bent up to form wheel stops. This is, per Kato, a typical style used in low-speed stations and on local lines.

20-092: Adjustment Track Set B: 33mm (1 5/16”) and 35mm (1 7/16”) (4 pcs of each)
The 33mm segment can be used on a 90-degree curve to adjust center-to-center spacing from 66mm to 33mm.
The 35mm segment can be used when constructing figure-8 layouts with a 90-degree crossing in the center.

Finally, in the “what were they thinking?” category, comes a set of turnouts with colored LEDs embedded in the ballast to show which way the switch is thrown. I suppose it’s useful for an on-the-floor layout where you don’t care about scenic realism, but to me these look terrible.

29-653 #6 Left Unitrack Electric Turnout with Railroad Switch Indicator Lamp

29-654 #6 Right Unitrack Electric Turnout with Railroad Switch Indicator Lamp

They also make these characterized as “DCC” for about US$20 more. I can’t tell if that means DCC-compatible, or DCC-controlled from the limited text. These come in both #4 and #6 switch versions. They’re out of stock at my usual supplier, or I’d be tempted to buy one just to see what it is.

29-551 #4 Left DCC Electric Point (w/ Railroad Switch Indicator Lamp)

29-552 #4 Right DCC Electric Point (w/ Railroad Switch Indicator Lamp)

29-553 #6 Left DCC Electric Point (w/ Railroad Switch Indicator Lamp)

29-554 #6 Right DCC Electric Point (w/ Railroad Switch Indicator Lamp)

As suggested by the 29- part number, these come from Kato’s low-volume custom shop, and probably won’t be sold outside of Japan. And they may be limited-production items that won’t remain available.

And that wraps it up, at least for now. I’m still hoping for more single-track concrete-tie track, but Kato just doesn’t seem interested in producing that, as it’s been a number of years now with nothing new in that arena.