Why is the track so important?
To enjoy a layout to its full potential, it should work well and realistically. The track is fundamental to this and every effort should be made to lay it accurately. If an item of stock runs poorly it can be removed and put aside until attention is given, thus not effecting the operation of the layout. However if a section of track is faulty and especially if it causes derailment it will effect the layout and everything that goes over it. It will save time and trouble in the long run if you take the extra time and effort at the early stages to get the trackwork correct and operating properly
The track comes in two forms, one which is bought 'off the shelf' or the modeller can build his own. The latter should really only be attempted by an experienced modeller as it requires time and money to be invested but the results are worth it. For now though I will concentrate on the 'off the shelf' type, this comes in two forms, sectional or flexible.
This is the type the beginner will be familiar to as this is what usually comes in starter packs and train sets. The pieces come in set lengths and radii. They are easily joined using track joiners which slide onto the end of the rails. Sectional track is simple and quick to lay and easy to be set out into the desired layout and just as quick to lift up. If a permanent arrangement is required it can be pinned in placed, or stuck down using double sided tape.
Sectional track is ideal for a beginner as it requires not cutting or other work to it for it to be put in place. It can be altered or taken apart at a moments notice, especially if it is laid on the kitchen table. It is important that the pieces are joined on a flat surface because it is very easy to misaligne the rail ends thinking they are joined when in fact you have created a ramp for stock to derail. The track needs to be looked after very carefully as it is easy to get it bent or twisted.
A disadvantage of sectional track is the overall look of it, it has a very rigid straight or fixed curvature feel to it. The curves all look similar and there is no transition from a straight into a curve and if you intend to run stock at speed this will give rise to possible derailments.
The biggest advantage to flexible track is in it name, it can be easily shaped and fixed to any shape, so it will fit its location better. You can easily create curves of various radius, even on the same curve. You can create smooth transitions form straights to curves. For theses reasons most modellers use it for the trackwork. As the track comes on yard lengths it is very easy to cut off any length required, using either a razor saw or rail snips.
The disadvantage with flexible track is it requires being treated with care, once a piece of flexible track is bent it is very hard to get it dead straight again. Plus there is wastage of rail because when it is bent into a curve the inside rail will always be longer than the outside rail and will require cutting. Also if it is being curved it will need fixing straight away as the rail will always bend back a bit if left unattended.