History of T-TRAK
In the Beginning…
In the July 2000 edition of the NTRAK Newsletter there appeared a notice of the Japan Association of Model Railroaders (JAM) International Model Railroad Convention to be held in Tokyo starting Sunday, August 13, 2000. Jim FitzGerald was asked to speak at the convention, and he took his wife, Lee Monaco-FitzGerald with him. What took place at this convention was the development of a concept that would become T-TRAK. The September issue of the NTRAK Newsletter included a detailed write-up of the JAM convention where the Hino N Club's layout was discussed. This club's layout featured modules that sit atop tables on bases that are about 4" high. The Hino N Club layout included a 2-track mainline with the track identified as Kato Unitrack. The track on these modules is apparently set back from the end of the modules by about ¼" and expansion tracks are used to connect the modules to each other. A photo of a corner module shows the dimensions of these modules to be closer to that of NTRAK with wider sweeping corners and examples showing some North American prototype themes.
In March 2001, Lee wrote an article in the NTRAK Newsletter expressing concern about getting new people into the model railroading hobby. She pointed out that we, as modelers, needed to reach out to folks who come to our shows and talk to them about their interest in the hobby. She encourages us to look for ways to include everyone in the hobby. She discussed some of her whimsical efforts including her "Dimensional Murals" that hang to the floor on the front of her NTRAK modules as well as her table-top layouts like Castle TRAKula.
In July 2001, Lee published some photos of the detailed work by some Japanese modelers to draw interest in the second JAM convention that was held in August 2001. She discussed how the Japanese modelers were inclined to build dioramas to showcase highly detailed building models by mounting the buildings on boards with scenery around them. Following the second JAM convention, the September 2001 NTRAK Newsletter introduced T-TRAK modules for the first time in an article by Lee. The introduction stated that the T-TRAK modules were based on a Tram Module design by RM Models of Japan. Lee said that she and Jim had been shown the module concept at a meeting in Japan the previous summer in August 2000. The concept seemed to pull together many of the topics that she had been writing about in her Newsletter articles: tabletop modules, Kato Unitrack, and most importantly, getting new modelers involved in the hobby. T-TRAK seemed to be the perfect way to bring all these ideas together.
The first T-TRAK Modules
Lee built the first three T-TRAK modules and displayed them sitting atop an NTRAK module at the Gateway 2001 National Convention and National Train Show in St. Louis, Missouri in July 2001. The initial modules were built using art boards that Jim and Lee acquired in Japan. The boards are the size of A4 paper (the standard paper size in Japan) and are about an inch thick with end plates, providing the structure needed to hold up the track and scenery. In the article, Lee indicated that she and Jim were looking for a US supplier for the art boards and would provide additional information as it was available.
The November 2001 NTRAK Newsletter ran an article on Lee taking her first three T-TRAK modules over to Japan for the August 2001 JAM convention; there were two T-TRAK-compatible layouts in which her modules were included. That issue of the NTRAK Newsletter included an article on how to build a T-TRAK straight and corner module. In the January 2002 NTRAK Newsletter, Lee provided an update on T-TRAK including photos of her Center City set of three singles that featured a siding and dense urban modeling.
The Concept starts to Germinate
By March of 2002, the NTRAK Newsletter published a notice that T-TRAK module kits were available from Richard Hein in Glen Arbor, Michigan. The black and white version of the original T-TRAK logo made its first appearance in the March issue while the May issue, was the inauguration of a regular T-TRAK feature in the NTRAK Newsletter. The May issue featured pictures of Paul Musselman's early modules including the first photos of a double module. Paul was a very early T-TRAK adopter and is the author and maintainer of The Unofficial T-TRAK Handbook.
In July 2002 the T-TRAK website, www.t-trak.org was introduced and in September an Australian website came online. A Yahoo Forum was created for T-TRAK in October 2002 and was instrumental in the growth and spread of T-TRAK KATO it provided a place for modelers from across the globe to share their ideas and work. In January 2003, a new Shapemaster pre-molded module kit was released. These kits, which were featured in a layout including Dave Halloran's Wabash Crossing shown below in the July 2003 NTRAK Newsletter, were available in many different shapes and sizes and allowed modelers to build T-TRAK modules without having to do any carpentry. These module kits were very popular and helped launch T-TRAK for modelers who were unable or unwilling to do woodworking tasks involved.
The NTRAK organization started selling modules in May, 2004. Today, there are five manufacturers that provide module kits and they are listed in the reference section.
The January 2003 NTRAK Newsletter featured the introduction of the original T-TRAK logo in color as well as an overview of the 3rd Annual JAM convention in Japan where interest in T-TRAK-compatible modules continued to grow. The May issue featured the modules built by Cub Scout Pack 306 which highlighted the aim to get modelers of all ages involved in model railroading.
33mm “alternate” Track Spacing
Since there were issues with larger locomotive and rolling stock passing each other on curves, a new “alternate” track of 33mm was proposed and introduced to the public in the September 2003 issue of the NTRAK Newsletter for both 33mm straight and corner modules were included. The module size for the straight module is the same as that for the 25mm spacing, but the corner modules increased in size to account for the larger radius curves used in that format. 33mm center-to-center spacing was chosen since it was already used by Kato as part of their large selection of Unitrack. The 282mm and 315mm radii for the corners were selected because they fit on a 14-3/8" square module, and this was the largest curve that could put a U-turn across a standard 30" banquet table. The alternate spacing was quickly adopted and has become the predominant standard used by modelers today in the US; however, modelers in Japan continue to use the 25mm spacing on their trolley layouts.
After all the development that had taken place in the first three years, the November 2003 newsletter featured an overview of the history of T-TRAK to that point. The January 2004 newsletter introduced the inside corner for both 25mm and 33mm track spacing.
T-TRAK at Major Train Shows
The Capitol Limited 2004 Convention in Chantilly, Virginia was the first N Scale Convention at which T-TRAK modules were present. There were 114ft of T-TRAK modules in five layouts. The T-TRAK Junction module was introduced at that show and these junctions have facilitated building larger multi-loop layouts.
First T-TRAK layout OKC 2005
A record for largest layout was set in 2008 at the Derby City Express convention that took place in Louisville, Kentucky, with 188 modules and 10.08 scale miles of mainline track. T-TRAK layouts were first displayed at the Southern Plains N-Scale Convention in Oklahoma City in December 2005 and have been every year since. The largest T-TRAK layout to date at that convention occurred in 2010 and included 128 modules contributed by four clubs with 9.78 scale miles of track. In August 2014, the Capitol Limited 2014 was the 10th anniversary of the introduction of the junction module and featured a large T-TRAK layout. The layout featured 129 modules with 6.82 scale miles of mainline track that were provided by 25 different modelers from six different clubs.
T-TRAK first debuted at Trainfest(https://www.trainfest.com/), Milwaukee, WI. in 2010, as adjunct to the multi-club NTRAK layout that had taken part in Trainfest since 1984; from 2014 on, a multi-club T-TRAK layout has been an annual feature. The Trainfest T-TRAK layout, in 2016 and 2018, also hosted winners of the Kato sponsored annual high school model railroad building contest in Japan. For the 2019 Trainfest, KATO USA announced that they would sponsor a T-TRAK module contest, apart from the T-TRAK layout, that would consist of T-TRAK ‘singles’ and will be judged by the general public.
The Amherst Railway Society (ARS) Railroad Hobby Show (http://www.railroadhobbyshow.com/) at the Eastern State Exposition, West Springfield, Massachusetts, one of the largest annual railroad shows in North America, occupies 4 buildings and averages 20 thousand attendees each year. A T-TRAK layout first debuted at this show in 2015 as part of Winterfest, hosted by the Northeast NTRAK club (http://www.nenscale.org) and has been a fixture ever since, continually growing.
T-TRAK Layouts made their first appearance at the Pennsylvania N Scale Weekend (https://www.n-scaleweekend.com/) in 2013, when the show was held in Bedford, PA, and have been present at every N Scale Weekend since, following the move to Altoona.
At 2013 N National N Scale Convention (https://www.nationalnscaleconvention.com/), in Milwaukee, the 20’x40’ T-TRAK layout was the first layout specifically identified as T-TRAK. All previous T-TRAK layouts at this Convention had been listed as a part of an NTRAK club layout. From 2016 on, there has been a dedicated T-TRAK layout at every National N Scale Convention.
T-TRAK and KATO USA
Starting in early 2017, KATO USA reached out to Terry Nathan (of T-Kits) to provide names of regional T-TRAKers in the hope of displaying local T-TRAK modules at their booth at regional and National Train Shows. The first such layout appeared at their booth during the 2017 NMRA National Train Show in Orlando, and since have been in the KATO booth at Trainfest, Amherst, Oklahoma City and most of the 2018 World’s Greatest Hobby Shows. The practice continues to this day.
Kato USA has become a sponsor of T-TRAK, in both the US and Japan, and has sponsored the tables for The National T-TRAK Layout, starting at the 2018 NMRA’s National Train Show in Kansas City. Also, at Kansas City in 2018, Hiroshi Kato, President of KATO USA, along with the Staff at KATO USA, met with the participating NTRAK leadership to discuss new module kits and have NTRAK, Inc. help with the testing of the pre-production kits. At the 2019 National N Scale Convention, in Chicago, Hiroshi, and the KATO USA staff, asked NTRAK to invite the T-TRAK Layout participants to tour the KATO USA offices in nearby Schaumburg, and participate in a T-TRAK roundtable discussion.
The National T-TRAK Layout
In 2017 members of NTRAK, Inc decided to organize a layout at the National Train Show portion of the Orlando 2017 that was open to any and all T-TRAK module owners. The very next year, in 2018, and encouraged by the success of the 2017 layout in Orlando, a layout was organized at the NMRA’s National Train Show in Kansas City. This layout, the National T-TRAK Layout, was organized with the expressed intent to break the then current T-TRAK record for module count and scale mile ‘run’, previously held by the T-TRAK Layout organized for the 2016 World’s Greatest Hobby Show in San Antonio, Texas. That layout, the largest T-TRAK layout ever recorded to that point, consisted of 256 individual modules of all sizes, and featured an uninterrupted Red Line run of 15.6 scale miles!
With the help of NTRAK Inc., KATO USA, Digitrax, and many other manufacturers, publishers and other industry-related companies, the National T-TRAK Layout at the NTS in Kansas City set a new record for T-TRAK modules and scale mileage. Over 61 participants contributed 340 modules of all sizes (732 equivalent single modules) and the uninterrupted red line route totaled 28.4 scale miles. The incredible international response to this event, aided by significant coverage from the model railroad industry media and the NMRA, helped to solidify the National T-TRAK Layout as an annual ‘event’ and brought the T-TRAK concept to a larger audience of new and experienced model railroaders, as well as the general public.
The National T-TRAK Layout, 2019 edition, once again appeared at the NMRA’s 2019 NTS in Salt Lake City. For the Gateway 2020 NMRA NTS, which, coincidentally, will mark the 20-year anniversary of the birth of T-TRAK, The National T-TRAK Layout plans to break the record previously set in Kansas City as it officially commemorates 20 years of T-TRAK.
When looking at a T-TRAK module from either the front or back, the rails are colored blue-white-white-blue (often abbreviated b-w-w-b). This concept is a bit of a departure for folks who would have expected some consistency between the two rails to allow for movement between the two main lines. In an email to the T-TRAK Yahoo group in May 2012, Jim FitzGerald provided some clarification of how this standard came to be. He said that when Lee came up with the concept, he became involved to help with the mechanics of making it happen. This was back in 2001. The KATO #20-041 62mm (2 7/16") Feeder Track provides an electrical connection to the rails and it is compatible with the rest of the KATO electrical accessories. Jim wanted to use these on the module and recognized that in order to be able to provide access to the bottom of the track in case the connection were to come loose, he was going to need to drill a ¾ hole 1¾" from the end of the module. He decided to put one of these holes and each end with the front track being on the right end of the module and the back track located on the left end of the module. When the feeder tracks were installed with the plugs oriented towards the center of the module, the result was the b-w-w-b wiring. At the time the wiring standard was created, KATO had not released any crossover turnout sections and DCC was in its infancy.
T-TRAK in Other Scales
After the initial success of T-TRAK as an N Scale standard in the US, inquiries were made as to the suitability of the T-TRAK concept in scales other than N, specifically HO and Z scales. Standards were proposed for those other scales and it was suggested that the T-TRAK concepts could be implemented in any scale. The first example of T-TRAK in another scale was a Z scale demo layout in 2006 — T-TRAK-Z. Today work continues on formal Standards for T-TRAK-Z in the US while T-TRAK-HO is most active in Australia and Europe.
As an organization the NTRAK Modular Railroading Society, Inc. is focused on N Scale modular railroading. While encouraging the T-TRAK modular concepts in other scales, ownership of Standards in those scales must be developed by those who actually model and implement T-TRAK in those scales. NTRAK.org will continue to provide links to the websites of organizations modeling in scales other than N, and will continue to authorize the use of the T-TRAK name and logo to those organizations. This has already been done in the case of T-TRAK Z and T-TRAK HO.