Tom Lowa at 4DBrix has worked continuously to bring new innovations to the Lego train hobby for some time now. Using their own on-site 3D printer, they’ve been making things like remote switch mechanisms and modular switch tracks, as well as a lot of monorail components, if you’re into that kind of thing. More recently, however, there has been two new additions to the 4DBrix online store that really gives them some good reputation.
If you missed it or haven’t seen it yet, I don’t blame you. It hasn’t been “officially” announced by 4DBrix yet, but rest assured it IS listed on their site. Enter the “Ultimate Railroader” series. Aside from a clever name, this is 4DBrix’s play at getting into a more serious scale Lego railroading market. Currently, the only two products in this line are nearly the same, but different enough to make someone want one of each (or more). Tom has listed R148 crossovers, in both right-hand single crossover and double crossover configurations, on his website. He was also kind enough to send us a set of the double crossover to review, which will be the main point of this article.
The first thing I was wondering when I discovered the new switches is why R148 was used rather than R120, R136, or R152, which would maintain the standard 16-stud interval between radii. This was done deliberately as a means of keeping the crossovers self-contained. Using this radius, a crossover will fit nicely inside the length of 6 track lengths, or 96 studs. It is also currently the largest radii of turnout/crossover available, and also the least expensive. BrickTracks, while keeping with their injection-molded standard, has prototype turnouts available on Shapeways. While not a bad option, Shapeways charges a buyer for a product based on it’s weight. A huge turnout like that can get expensive very quickly. 4DBrix’s double crossover is currently available for $150 USD, which is roughly the cost, all in, for ONE of the Bricktracks R104 turnout prototypes from Shapeways. Big difference there.
Secondly we move into the design of the crossover. If I had to describe it in one word: brilliant. Tom nailed the mark on this factor. Rather than designing some complex system, Tom greatly simplified the challenge by making one side o the crossover and then mirroring it over the long axis to produce two congruent sides. The crossover divides cleanly into twelve pieces, numbered to assure proper placement when assembling the switch. The connections are identical to Lego’s own track joining system. Clips between both sides of the crossover provide a strong connection to assure the track will not separate in use. Assembly takes less than two minutes (a generous estimate), looking at the guide provided.
Switch stands and yellow levers are included in the kit as well, enough to have one lever on each of the four throws. This is a big design win as well. The stock crossover from Lego does not allow for all four switches to be set in the “open” position. This means that you could only run trains in opposite directions on both lines. If you for some reason had to reverse a train back through the crossover, it would be automatically set to cross onto the other line, where mayhem ensues, speaking from experience. The Ultimate Railroader crossover eliminates that problem entirely. The last main design feature to mention is that all of the ties are kept at right angles from the straight rails. This will make ballasting these crossovers an absolute breeze. There are also plenty of studs on top of the track to add cross ties and also anti-studs underneath to ensure a strong connection to your ballast or baseplate.
The ONLY thing I have against these crossovers is that I prefer the rotational switch throw used on the BrickTracks switches. I chalk that up to personal preference and not design flaw, however, Make no mistake, the Ultimate Railroader crossovers are truly a worthy addition to the layout of any serious brick railroader, or even beginners. Cale and I will be putting this new piece of track through its paces at an upcoming train show and we’ll try to document our trials. With the review of the track out of the way, we’ll move on to another new design of theirs, but not currently available for purchase.
A few weeks ago I was messaging Tom online, explaining to him that I had a large steam locomotive which was annoying to take on and off the track constantly. I then suggested making some sort of railer-ramp, and he took the idea and ran with it. This is the prototype which resulted:
The design and use is very simple. A large smooth end allows for locomotives and cars to be rolled smoothly onto the ramp. The second part includes a wedge which acts as a straightener for the wheels. This aligns the flanges with the rails quickly and easily. The last section ensures a smooth transition from the ramp to the rails.
I have to say, like the crossovers, it too works beautifully. We tested several freight cars with is and a locomotive. We also placed a locomotive on a carrying track cradle and rolled it off one end, and that worked too. Another excellent job by 4DBrix.
Be sure to check out 4DBrix’s website as well as their facebook page for more cool Lego train related products.