Kato Unitrack Overview
Unitrack is a sectional track system for N-scale made by Kato (they also make some in HO), similar to systems by Bachman, Peco, Tomix and others. The track elements consist of code 80 (0.080 of an inch high) rail, on a molded base replicating ballast and ties. The system is designed to replicate high-quality mainline rail, with deep and fresh gray-color ballast. Most Unitrack elements are readily available in North America.
The track comes with attached rail-joiners that allow repeatedly snapping the track together and separating it, making the system ideal for temporary floor or table-top layouts. It stands up well to use, and has a reputation for quality of both construction and materials. It’s priced accordingly (i.e., not cheap). Track is sold individually or in sets (such as the “passing siding” set with two switches, the necessary curves, and some straight track), and sets are often a less-expensive way to buy it.
Unitrack mostly replicates older lines using wooden ties, although there are a few viaduct elements that replicate concrete-pad “slab” track found in urban heavy-rail passenger use, and Kato recently introduced a limited number of double-track and some single-track elements replicating modern concrete-tie track, including banked curves. In late 2009 the first elements replicating urban light-rail in-street “tram” tracks were released.
All of Kato’s n-scale Unitrack elements can be interconnected. An adaptor for connecting to Atlas snap-track is made (it’s actually for connecting to Tomix sectional track, but it’s marketed in the U.S. as an Atlas connector), and some people have had success directly connecting Unitrack to various forms of flex track. It is not, however, directly compatible with other systems using molded plastic bases. Insulated rail-joiners can be purchased to allow the use of the track in more complex designs.
The system also includes a number of bridges, bridge piers, viaducts, viaduct supports, and passenger platforms. At one time there was a grade crossing with working gates, available in both Japanese black/yellow (part 20-650) and North American white/red (20-650-1) forms, although the former had to be imported. Both were incompatible with DCC by report, and both appear to be currently out of production. However at least the Japanese one is rumored to be planned for re-release in 2012. There is also a “rerailer” section that replicates a rural wooden-plank grade crossing (without signs or gates), part 20-021. All three have adaptors to allow construction of multi-line crossings (in the former two, a separate kit, 20-651, is required).
For the longest time, Unitrack included only three track-switch elements, a #4 (in both left and right forms), a #6 (also in L/R versions), and a double-crossover (effectively four #6 switches on one track plate); all are electrically operated using momentary-contact 12 Volt DC electrical switches (Kato’s or any other single-pole “(on)-off-(on)” switch). The #6 turnout is power-routing, the #4 can be configured as power-routing or isolated. The crossover is insulated where the four switches meet, as well as on one rail of both parallel lines. Kato warns against use of the #4 with long-wheelbase cars. In late 2011, a “#2 Wye” switch (Kato Japan description) was introduced in Japan (20-222). While it’s expected to be introduced in the U.S. as well, exactly when is unclear.
Unitrack’s biggest flaw, aside from cost, is the somewhat limited selection of elements compared to some other systems.