Model Railroad Track Switches,Turnouts or Points

Model railroad switches, just like real-life railroad switches are used to route rail traffic. In model railroading, switches are most commonly referred to by the technical term "turnouts". In the UK rail switches are referred to as "sets of points". or just "points". This is because the moving rails within the switch are called points. Trains enter turnouts by a single track and can be routed to either of two or sometimes any of three, ​existing tracks.

  • 01 of 08

    Turnout Settings: Closed or Thrown

    No. 4 switches (on right) are quite compact but useful for industrial spurs. No. 6 switches are a little more forgiving, though still very tight by prototype standards. ©2012 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

    If you want the train entering a turnout from the single track end to continue in its current direction the switch is closed or normal; but if you want it to diverge in another direction the switch is thrown or reversed. Some turnouts are curved. 

  • 02 of 08

    Left and Right Turnouts

    Author's photo.

    Two-way turnouts come in left-hand and right-hand varieties, where left and right are the directions a train entering from the single track end of the turnout diverges when the switch is "thrown". The photo shows common left and right switches, or turnouts.

  • 03 of 08

    Curved Turnouts

    Photo courtesy Marklin, Inc.

    A few manufacturers of model railroad track offer curved turnouts. In the case of curved turnouts the if switch is closed the train continues on the curve's current radius, and if the switch is thrown it turns onto a curve of a tighter radius.

  • 04 of 08

    Turnout Numbers

    Author's photo.

    A turnout's number expresses how much it will cause a train to diverge when it is thrown. The number refers to the switch frog specifically, but the entire switch structure can be known by number as well. The number is calculated by taking the number of units of forwarding travel for one unit of divergence. For example, if after traveling six inches from the point of divergence the train has diverged one inch, then you have crossed a #6 turnout. A rule of thumb is, the smaller the number the...MORE tighter the radius of the turnout's curve. The image shows, a #6 right turnout and a #4 right turnout. Notice that the #4 turnout diverges much faster than the #6.

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Wye Turnouts

    Photo courtesy of Atlas Model RR. Co.

    A wye turnout has no straight exit track. In addition to the "Y" shape, these switches are also frequently used in a larger track arrangement also called a wye. It has exits that turn to both the left and right. I suppose a wye is never closed, only thrown left or thrown right. 

  • 06 of 08

    Three Way Turnouts

    Photo courtesy Marklin, Inc.

    In the unusual case of a three-way turnout, the switch can be thrown left, closed, or thrown right. Three-way turnouts are a kind of exotic item. They aren't made by a lot of track manufacturers. Marklin, Peco, and Shinohara are the only manufacturers that I know of who make them. However, the Peco three-way has right and left turnouts slightly offset in one piece of track, instead of all three paths diverging at the same point.

  • 07 of 08

    Crossover Turnouts

    Author's photo.

    A special kind of turnout is a "crossover" turnout. A crossover turnout allows trains on one track to continue straight or cross over (diverge) onto an adjacent parallel track. A "double crossover" allows both parallel tracks to diverge onto each other. The photo shows a double crossover.

  • 08 of 08

    Double Slip Switch

    Photo courtesy Atlas Model RR. Co.

    A double slip switch is similar to the double crossover discussed above. However, it has no straight tracks. Instead, if has two tracks that cross over but can be switched to curve back to the side of the crossover they came on, instead of continuing on a straight path.


    Edited by Ryan Kunkle.