Model Rail (UK) - - Work Bench -

Avoid dam­age to the wires and masts by es­chew­ing a track rub­ber in favour of mo­bile clean­ing ve­hi­cles to keep the rails in good or­der.

The sup­plied in­struc­tions are com­pre­hen­sive, so I’ve il­lus­trated the ba­sic pro­cesses in­volved here as a means for read­ers to ap­pre­ci­ate how the sys­tem works. How­ever, I’d heartily rec­om­mend sit­ting down with the Peco guide­book and a cup of tea be­fore mak­ing a start, as there’s a lot to take in at once. As work pro­gressed, I be­gan de­vi­at­ing from the rec­om­mended as­sem­bly se­quence, most no­tably when fit­ting the wires. The book­let sug­gests thread­ing through all of the wire sec­tions, bend­ing over the ends to keep them in place be­fore sol­der­ing them in place. This proved a real chal­lenge, as the wires tended to flex about ex­ces­sively, and they were far more prone to dam­age while hang­ing from the masts un­se­cured. I also found that bend­ing over the ends of too many sec­tions at once cre­ated un­wanted ten­sion in some lengths, which moved the mast arms slightly out of po­si­tion. There­fore, I stuck to work­ing on two over­lap­ping sec­tions of wire at a time, deal­ing with the fur­thest track first, be­fore re­peat­ing the process along the nearer line, so I wouldn’t be reach­ing over com­pleted catenary. Sol­der bonds were made us­ing a 50W iron, a no-clean flux and 60/40 grade sol­der. Dc­c­concepts Sap­phire sol­der and flux were em­ployed, the ex­tra sil­ver con­tent in the sol­der help­ing it to flow freely into the joints. Adding the reg­is­tra­tion arms proved a lit­tle fid­dly, se­cur­ing the wire to the arm be­fore it, in turn, was sol­dered to the lower tie. The catenary wire is

Check for any rogue blobs of sol­der on the un­der­side of the catenary con­tact wire, to pre­vent pan­tographs from snag­ging and get­ting dam­aged.

del­i­cate and eas­ily de­formed, so it must be han­dled with care. While the masts are able to hold the wires taught against a sprung pan­to­graph, the sys­tem can­not be ten­sioned in or­der to straighten out any ‘creases’ in the wire. How­ever, as long as the wire sec­tions are hung and sol­dered cor­rectly, the re­sult­ing ‘cat’s cra­dle’ is fairly re­silient to the odd knock.


In terms of looks, the masts and wires are con­vinc­ing, with only mi­nor pro­to­typ­i­cal dis­crep­an­cies. The lack of choice in terms of mast style is an ob­vi­ous lim­it­ing fac­tor, es­pe­cially when deal­ing with sta­tions and junc­tions, so some re­course to scratch build­ing or mod­i­fy­ing will be nec­es­sary, but the Peco sys­tem cer­tainly of­fers a con­ve­nient start­ing point. The as­sem­bly pro­ce­dure took a lit­tle time to mas­ter, but once a cou­ple of sec­tions were in­stalled, progress be­came less la­bo­ri­ous. Per­for­mance­wise, mod­els fit­ted with Som­mer­feldt pan­tographs have worked fault­lessly, es­pe­cially my mod­i­fied Lima ‘87s’ and Hornby ‘86s’. How­ever, a few less-re­fined fac­tory-fit­ted pan­tographs (mostly Hornby) have been less co-op­er­a­tive. Sur­pris­ingly, my Bachmann Class 85 also strug­gled, seem­ing to re­quire a lit­tle ex­tra head­room be­tween the roof and the con­tact wire, but a lit­tle ad­just­ment of the pan­to­graph’s spring wire has cured that prob­lem. A pos­si­ble rem­edy for er­rant pan­tographs is to limit their height to sit a mil­lime­tre or two un­der the wires. It will be hard to dis­cern that they’re not ac­tu­ally in con­tact. Ei­ther mod­ify the spring wires or add blobs of cyano glue to the pivot points. Although the sys­tem can be de­scribed as about 90% ‘ready-toplant’, there is the un­avoid­able need for sol­der­ing the reg­is­tra­tion arms and wires. This may put some mod­ellers off, which seems a real shame. For the sake of a de­cent iron (about £40) and a lit­tle prac­tice, there should be no need to miss out on the pos­si­bil­i­ties that the Peco catenary can of­fer. Hav­ing built a 4ft-long dio­rama on which to test the sys­tem, a good deal was learnt about how the parts fit to­gether. Although it cost over £100 to wire up the twin tracks and sid­ing, I still think the sys­tem of­fers good value, given the qual­ity of the com­po­nents.

Ex­pert Tip Bridge base­board joints on por­ta­ble lay­outs by in­stalling re­mov­able sec­tions of catenary wire.

In­evitably, were I to em­ploy the catenary sys­tem again (which I’m tempted to do), I’d do a few things dif­fer­ently and, hope­fully, bet­ter. And I’d rec­om­mend un­der­tak­ing a sim­i­lar ex­ploratory ex­er­cise be­fore em­bark­ing on the elec­tri­fi­ca­tion of a full layout, if your bud­get can ac­com­mo­date it. At the very least, you’ll quickly ap­pre­ci­ate how awk­ward it is to clean your track af­ter­wards!

The catenary starter pack in­cludes 12 masts and reg­is­tra­tion arms, plus a pair of in­stal­la­tion jigs and an in­struc­tional hand­book. Wires must be pur­chased sep­a­rately.

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