Evolving your home layout beyond LEGO’s standard track elements has never been easier. First there was ME Models and now with companies such as BrickTracks, 4D Brix, and TrixBrix, competition is fierce. Even home 3D printing can offer decent results as long your machine has a large enough print area. With that in mind, I’d like to go over a few more recent entrants to the LEGO track world.
In addition to the companies listed above, there are also several companies in China that have been producing what I would consider knock-offs. These brands include Leipin, Ausini, Banbao, and Enlighten and can be found on sites like eBay and Aliexpress. I have actually ordered some just to see what the quality is like. Honestly, they’re not bad, I just don’t like buying what is obviously meant to rip-off LEGO track. Besides, once you factor in shipping, they’re not really much cheaper than the real thing. Anyway, none of the Chinese companies are being creative with track geometry or producing anything other than R40 curves, switches, and straights.
With that out of the way, even though they are not exactly new to the game, I’d like to first go over ME Models. Unfortunately, it appears as though ME has exited the track business. As per the thread on Eurobrick forums, there are still many original Kickstarter backers who have not received their pledges from several years ago. There are many other reviews out there of ME Models, so I will try to be brief. I myself received my Kickstarter pledge fairly early. Once the metal track was released, additional orders of metal track showed up without delay.
I have a few gripes with ME track. First, it requires gluing. I tried using it without glue at first, but after the track randomly exploded for the umpteenth time, I bit the bullet and glued it all together. Secondly, rather than the “tire” of the wheel riding on the top of the rail, the outer diameter of the wheel flange rides on the top of the lower part of the rail. This causes every wheel-set to bump up when transitioning from OG LEGO track to ME track. If your train is going fast enough, this can cause derailments. And my last gripe is specific to the metal track, that the metal inserts are not pre-bent. The tension causes the inner rail of the track to bow up. Also, while mostly only noticeable on r56 and r72, the joints between rails are straight, causing the train to wobble through the curves similar to as if you had single R40 curves spaced with straight sections.
Next up, BrickTracks! BrickTracks’ initial release of R120 and R104 curves was intended to continue where ME Models left off. Now with ME Models seemingly going dark, I believe it is their intent to start working backwards by releasing R88, R72, and perhaps even R56 and to also release 9V versions if there is enough interest. Additionally, they are in the prototyping stage of R104 switches. I myself have only used their R120 curves and some 3D printed prototypes of wide radius switches.
Suffice to say, the R120 curves are essentially indistinguishable from LEGO’s own R40. Solid, crisp, injection molded single piece curves. Quality comes at a slightly steep price, but the product speaks for itself. Each stud even has “BT” embossed on its surface. My 3D printed prototype R104 switches and R104 double crossover are available to anyone willing to pay the steep price that Shapeways charges. Functionally, they are superior to LEGO; the throw requires rotating the knob 90 degrees, making motorization easy, and the throw and be moved to either side of the track. Will these ever see mass production? We can only hope.
Having never used TrixBrix, my first hand experience ends with 4D Brix (what’s with the X’s?). Besides the regular R56, R72, and R88 (no R104, you’ll have to stick with BrickTracks for that!), 4D Brix also offers some very interesting switch configurations. You can purchase R40 ladders, double crossovers, wyes, and a very recent addition, R148 crossovers and double crossovers. A huge plus of 3D printing is rapid, cheap prototyping and a low upfront cost. 4D Brix (and TrixBrix) prove this by offering a large range of interesting track geometries without having to pay the high costs of having a tool machined for injection molding.
4D Brix (and TrixBrix) are both 3D printed products, so the quality, strength and surface finish are not quite as good as ME Models or BrickTracks. However, the clutch of both the anti studs and the regular studs are excellent. Usability-wise, I’ve had no issues. One quirk of 4D Brix is that each switch is broken in to different sections, each about 16 studs long. For example, the R148 crossover is 8 separate pieces. I imagine this is a size limit imposed by the particular 3D printers they use. My guess is that the size limit is also why they do not offer R104 curves. Once assembled, this isn’t really an issue though. The color matching is excellent, and if the surface finish was as smooth as LEGO, it’d be hard to distinguish. I recommend taking some sand paper to the top rail surface to smooth it out.
And although I’ve never used their product, TrixBrix has some wild cross track products. Check them out.
How do the prices of all these products compare? ME Models doesn’t have any product listed on their site anymore, so my comparison will be with product currently for sale.
Prices are for a full circle of track. TrixBrix prices were converted to USD at 1€ = $1.17USD. When viewed this way, BrickTracks investment into injection molding really shows. I can’t wait for them to begin production of smaller radii and switches.