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The Track That Never Was


by Bradley Kaplan

Lionel track has changed very little from the day 3-rail Standard Gauge track was introduced in 1906. Today Lionel's 3-rail 0-gauge is virtually the same design as the 1906 track (obviously it is a different gauge. There has been a bunch of minor changes in the 3-rail tubular track but they are subject to their own aritcle!).


You are probably thinking: "You forgot to mention Super O track!" And, what about "T-rail" track from the 30s? Both Super O and T-rail were Lionel's attempt at making a more realistic track.


What many people do not know as that in 1915 Joshua Lionel Cowen applied for and received a patent for a more realistic track system. Please note that even though Cowen's name appears on the patent he may not be the inventor. He may have taken credit for one of his employee's ideas.


The track system consisted of 3 rails mounted onto a realistic lithographed metal roadbed. The roadbed included the railroad ties and ballast detail. The patent states that traditional toy train track has trouble with rails falling off which this track rectifies! Also this patent claims that the track would be cheaper to make then traditional 3 rail track.


The patent does not state whether it applies to 0-gauge or Standard gauge track. This is probably because in 1915 Lionel was just entering the 0 gauge market. Lionel may have planned to use the design for either gauge. This new design might have given Lionel a marketing edge in the already existing 0 gauge market which was dominated by Ives.

There are two patents covering this track system. One patent applies to the track and the other is for the rail joiners. I do not know if any patents or documentation exist for switch or crossover tracks. To my knowledge, this track was never produced and no prototypes exist. Here's one of the patents for the track.

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