Code 250 vs 332

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Lets talk about the age old debate of code 332 vs code 250. First, lets define it:

Code 332 rail was popularized by LGB and still comes with many large scale train sets. Code 332 rail is .332 inches tall, while code 250 is .250 inches tall. That comes out to .082 inches (82 thousandths of an inch) difference between code 332 and 250.  It's not a big difference appearance wise, but it may be to people who are concerned about every small detail and rivet locations on their rolling stock. Most people won't notice a difference between the look of the two rails, but their is a performance difference. Code 332 is heaver due to it's additional height, which means more material is required. This additional material provider better strength against accidents such as people walking on the rails as well as better electrical conductivity. Many manufactures like H&R Trains also have a marginally wider tee section (the portion between the rail top and bottom) which also increases durability and electrical conductivity.

The battle

There are many aspects on choosing code 250 or 332. The primary decision must be made: do you want a prototypical looking rail or do you want a lower maintenance layout for marginally higher rail. Some rails are still code 332 rail, but it's also slightly thicker rail which also increases it's durability and conductivity.

Code 332 pros

  • Is more durable than 250.
  • Provides better conductivity.
  • Once properly installed (ties, ballast, bent), is structurally stronger than code 250.
  • Holds up better to deer, elk, toddlers and kids walking on it.
  • Installers prefer 332 if they don't want to be called back to fix problems after soccer ball attacks and other accidents.
  • More of a bullet proof, long lasting installation that can require less maintenance.
  • The greater rail height allows greater clearance between rolling stock and the ground.
    • Mulch, sticks, rocks, tree debris, and other obstacles that land on the track to either get pushed inside the rails or off and around the rails.
  • Some brands of rail ties are interchangeable with various rail brands.
  • Rail benders are absolutely required except for the less durable rail materials.

Code 250

  • Closer in line with the real deal - closer to being prototypical in scale and can be argued that it looks more realistic.
  • More delicate rail, walking on it should be avoided.
  • Lower rail height causes tree debris, rocks, twigs, acorns, sticks, mulch, and other garden obstacles to hang up on the rolling stock and/or cause a derailment.
  • Has a higher chance of rails bending or deforming from garden accidents - stepping on, tools falling, children.
  • Typically need to stay within your brand - rail ties and rails are harder to interchange between manufacturers.
  • Rail benders may not be required, but everyone who has done it without, says they will use a rail bender next time they install more rails.

Myths debunked

  • Is more proto-typically accurate.
  • Code 250 is compatible with code 332.

- There are rail clamps that can easily join different code heights that allows rolling stock to transition between the different rails.

The Decision

The decision is entirely up to you and your goal for your layout. If you want a durable, long lasting railway layout that's very low maintenance so you can spend time running your trains, then select 332. Keep in mind, code 332 is only 82 thousands of an inch taller than code 250 rail.  On the other hand, if every detail such as rivet locations on your rolling stock, your buildings, matter to you and don't mind additional track maintenance, then 250 is the way to go. Do keep in mind that with many garden tracks, you can build your own ties and create your custom look for your layout. It's not well known, but both H&R Trains and Aristo-Craft has done research and even developed code 250 rail, however, both companies found that their customer base still preferred code 332 over code 250.