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2-rail vs. 3-rail system?

The discussion about that question is endlessly! Here in Germany it is most of all a question within the community of HO hobbyists: Märklin or not? Although other manufacturers like Hornby, Lionel or Trix also have (or had) a 3-rail system, Märklin is the most popular manufacturer here - for many even THE synonym for HO model trains at all.

A question of faith?

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Märklin - or not? The PROs and CONs

What are the advantages of Märklin´s system? Wiring is easier, especially reversing loops. Any 2-rail system will yield a short circuit when the rails are put together in a reverse loop. But not this third rail system, because the 2 outer rails are ground. In the middle there are studs for constant electric current; this can be also used for wiring electric accessories like signals. Locomotives have a collector shoe to get the electric contact; generally, the electric contact between loco and rail is better.
The Cons? The tracks don´t not look realistic. Although Märklin replaced in the 1950ies the 3rd rail by studs for a more realistic look, mockers here in Germany still call it "Pickel Gleis" (in english: "pimple track"). And a realistic looking railroad crossing, or scenery in an engine depot with an inspection pit, where the locos are checked at the bottom side, is somewhat tricky to realize. Last argument: When running Märklin cars on two-rail tracks the wheels must be insulated from each other. Vice versa, it is no problem to run 2-rail wagons on Märklin tracks.

And the winner is…

… you! The arguments are balanced each other. So it´s up to you to make a personal decision, when starting with HO model trains. With the rise of DCC (Digital Command Control) the question has to be discussed on a new level, because digital control allows to run more than 1 loco on a track, thus making distinct electrical blocks on a layout obsolete. Today wiring of 2rail systems for multiple trains is somewhat easier.

Last, but not least: H0 or HO? Marklin or Märklin?

For some the using and spelling of the terms "HO" or "H0" may be a bit confusing: In Germany we use H0 (that´s the letter "H" and the figure "zero"). But in the USA and Great Britain the spelling HO is commonly used ("H" and "O", both are letters). But don´t mess up. Scale 1:87 and standard gauge 16,5 mm are the same according to the US-American National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) as well as the European counterpart, the NEM.
And what about the spelling of "Marklin"? That´s because the German character "ä" is not a common usage internationally. The correct German spelling is "Märklin".

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