Modeling Catenary

Catenary is the overhead wire used to feed electricity to trains. While model railroads can be built with catenary that forms part of the electrical circuit, for typical Japanese models the catenary is purely scenic and the models are not equipped to pick up power from overhead lines. Commercial n-scale working catenary is available from European suppliers, but at a significant cost.

In fact, many model railroads put up the poles, but omit any wires. In part this is due to the transient nature of most Japanese model railroads, being set up temporarily and taken down between sessions, due to limited residential space. It’s also because any visible wire would likely be overlarge for N scale.

Kato provides several kinds of poles, but no wire, for simulating catenary as part of their Unitrack system. Other companies also make models of poles (and some provide metal structures for the catenary wiring itself), but this site is focused on my modeling, which so far uses Kato’s products.

Kato’s poles are somewhat over-tall, to avoid snagging tall cars or raised pantographs. From a normal viewing distance this isn’t easily visible, but it may not look good in close-in photographs. Some modelers add their own wire, typically using 0.005” piano wire, elastic thread sold for modeling electrical wires, fishing line, or other things that provide a similar appearance.

My intent is to model both poles and wire, although I haven’t decided yet if I’ll just use the standard Kato height, or modify the poles to more accurately reflect the prototype. And initially, I’ll only erect the poles, as I expect to be taking the track apart repeatedly while I work on electrical blocks and scenery.