My son is going to be 4 years old in January. He wants his first "real" train for Christmas. I was going to buy him an "O" scale Lionel train but, I hate the look of both their regular and FasTrack track. I found some Atlas O track that I liked but when I called the store, they indicated that it would be a bad investment because everyone is switching the the FasTrack. Is this true?
I would differ from the above comments. Lionel Fastrack is well designed and is great for a layout around the tree or for a permanent layout. The minimum diameter is 036 and allows you to run most of the current offerings in O three rail with the exception of the some of the scale engines. It is easy to put together and we have been using it at TMCC demos around the country for the past year. We have never had a problem. It has excellent electrical conductivity. Lionel is also expanding the offerings to enclude a number of remote switches and additional curve diameters. The only complaint might be that when operating a layout there is noise generated because of the hollow plastic base. This track is not prototypical but then most three rail track is not.
Atlas track and switches are also great if you are planning a permanent layout. Since they do not have a road bed if operated directly on carpet around the tree you run the risk of fibers from the carpet getting into the gears.
MTH RealTrax is also good for a layout around the tree but my experience has been that sometimes the rigid design of the rail tends to stick up at the joints making operation of the trains difficult. I know a lot of people are using this track but that has been my experience. It is also noisy because of the plastic road bed.
On my permanent layout I use Curtis custom track and switches along with Vinylbed for the road bed.
For a 4 year old, much of the fun of trains is putting the track together and taking it apart and then putting it together again. Creating a new track plan is great fun. Turnouts and crossovers are very satisfying track pieces for children. There is a lot of play value in sectional track.
People who operate on the floor using traditional tubular track are making the switch in droves. That doesn't mean it's right for everyone.
Let me ask a three basic questions you're store (I will not call them a train shop if they didn't ask these questions) should have asked:
Will you be operating trains a) primarily on the floor, or b) on a permanent table?
If the answer is 'a' then FasTrack*, with it's plastic roadbed, is the way to go.
The roadbed will keep dust and carpet fibers out of your loco (always a bad mix). And more importantly, if you want to keep running trains on the floor, it keeps oil from the loco off the carpet.
If the answer to question 1 was 'b', will the track a) be getting reconfigured into new layouts regularly, or b) will it be fastened down in a more-or-less permanent configuration?
If the answer is 'a', then once again FasTrack is your answer.
While the ends have a lock fastener of sorts, the rail joiners on Atlas-O track do not hold up well to repeated (as in several times a week) assembly/disassembly.
On the other hand, if the track will be fastened down, Atlas-O on cork is the way to go. Both from a looks perspective and, more importantly, a noise perspecitive. When fastened directly to a plywood table, or around the room shelf, FasTrack is unbelievably noisy.
You say, "I hate the look of both their regular and FasTrack track." Which begs the question, is this actually for a) your son, or b) yourself?
If 'a', and the answers to questions 1 and 2 were 'a', then go with the FasTrack.
If 'b', save yourself a lot of frustration and go with the table/shelf and Atlas-O from the git-go.
Then get a transformer that lets you set a top speed to keep the loco on the track, then watch your son let 'em rip. Under your supervision of course.
-- Len Head Rust Scraper KL&B Eastern Lines RR Museum
Some folks may suggest MTH RealTrax, which also has a built in roadbed. If your 4 year old is the "hands on" type, FasTrack is easier for young hands to assemble and disassemble. Also, for whatever reason, my personal experience has been RealTrax wears loco wheel flanges down to a knife edge over time. No other track I've used seems to do this.