This guide will help you distinguish some of the different styles of N scale switches Atlas has made over the years. This guide covers only code 80 switches with actuators. It does not cover code 55, True-Track, or switches without actuators. It does not cover brands other than Atlas. It includes information on the type of switch control that came with each style of switch.
There are two versions of this guide. This one has detailed close up pictures of the switches. The other one, which has the same title without the word “detail”, has more distant pictures, which can be useful for recognizing the general shape of the switch actuators in eBay listings. The other guide also has information on styles of switch controls, which is not included in this guide.
I have most of these styles of switches and switch controls available for sale in good, very good, and excellent condition. If you are interested in purchasing switches, please contact me using the eBay message system. Tell me what style you want, what condition, and how many each of left, right, #4 and #6. Once we agree on a price, I will clean and test your switches, and I will make a custom eBay listing for your set of switches.
Atlas switches are the most popular brand in N scale. But there are at least ten styles of Atlas switches that you may see for sale on eBay. In order of age these start with a very old style made in Italy, range through 5 styles made in Austria, 2 styles made in the USA, and end with two current styles made in China. All of them work well, so you can safely buy any type and use it on your layout. But there are some differences in design that may affect how well your trains run. And you may want to standardize on a particular style so that they will all look alike, and so that you can interchange parts between switches. Note that some of the made in China switches have manufacturing and design flaws that cause them to not work well. See the discussion of style 9 for more information.
This guide is to help you recognize the styles of switches that you already have, and identify the styles of switches you see pictured on eBay so you will be more sure of what style you are buying.
I will describe these ten styles in reverse order, starting with the newest, since those are the ones you will see most. I mention the country of manufacture because this information is printed on the bottom of every switch.
10. Made in China. Most of the current switches being sold new are style 10. It comes in a plastic bubble pack, and includes a switch control and a piece of curved track. The title on the package says “N Code 80 Switch”. The actuator cover is plastic and has a smooth surface. This style looks exactly like style 8, which is made in USA. See the description of styles 8 and 9 for more information.
9. Made in China. Style 9 looks like style 10, except that it has a thick piece of moving rail instead of a thin L shaped moving rail. Some style 9 switches are defective in that the moving rail has not been machined enough and it is too thick near the points. This causes a bump when a car wheel comes into the point. It also causes the gauge to be a little narrow in the region of the points. Style 9 switches also have a design flaw of having extra narrow flangeways at the frog, so they are unforgiving of older cars with large flanges, or of cars whose wheels are set a bit narrower than standard gauge. Such cars will tend to bounce up as they go through the switch, and they may derail. The combination of narrow gauge at the points and narrow flangeways can make it almost impossible for a car to run smoothly through this style of switch. Most cars will jump up either at the points or at the flangeways.
I tried to repair these flaws on some of my switches, and I found it difficult. The moving rail is cast from a hard metal, and it is not easy to file down. It cannot be removed and put back, so it is hard to get at it with a rotary tool. The narrow flangeways are plastic, so they can be made a little wider with careful filing. But if the point area is too narrow, the switch is not very usable.
I contacted Atlas about these problems. I didn’t hear back from them, but I have started seeing lots of China switches of style 10, made like USA style 8 switches. They appear to have taken care of the problems of style 9 switches. You can recognize them by the visible flat bottom of the L shaped moving rail. But some switches being sold new in stores may still be this defective style 9. The packaging is exactly like style 10.
Not all switches of style 9 have the thick rail problem. Some have a moving rail of the correct thickness. These switches are very usable. They still have the narrow flangeway problem, so they work best with modern cars with small flanges.
8. Made in USA. You may still see some of this style new in stores. This style looks almost exactly like style 10. It comes in the same style plastic bubble pack. The main difference in packaging is that these say “Made in USA” at the bottom of the package. The title on the package says “N Scale Switch”. This style has two significant differences from style 9. One difference is that the moving rail is a made of thin metal bent into an L shape, rather than the thick rail of style 9. This rail works very well. It never has the problem of being too thick like the moving rail in style 9. The other difference is that the flange ways at the frog are a little wider than on style 9. This makes style 8 switches more forgiving of cars whose wheels have thick flanges or are set a bit closer together than the standard. To tell the difference between style 8 and style 9 switches out of package look carefully at the moving rails. In styles 10 and 8, you can see a little jog in the inside of the moving rail near the point where the L shape appears from under the plastic piece that holds the ends of the moving rails. The inside of the moving rail of a style 9 switch looks straight, with no jog at that point.
7. Made in USA. The main difference between style 7 and style 8 is that the actuator cover is a different style. There are also slight differences in the exact positions and angles of the moving rails. Style 7 and older switches have a slightly wider gauge through the points than the newer styles. They also have a little wider flangeways than styles 8-10. This makes them more forgiving of older types of cars with larger flanges. The original packaging of this switch is a box with a blue face and yellow sides. The actuator shape is quite visible in the picture on the box. The box says USA on the front.
6. Made in Austria. This style has an actuator that looks similar to the actuator on styles 8-10, but it has the manual button near the center and off to the side instead of directly on top near one end. The actuator is also a little larger than the ones on style 8-10.The base of this switch is the same as style 5. It is well made, and its action is smooth and reliable.
5. Made in Austria. This style is distinguished by having a metal actuator cover. This switch is well made, and its actuator is one of the smoothest and most reliable of the older styles. The actuator cover sometimes shows rust spots where the paint on the metal cover has been scratched. It is often sold new in its original cardboard box. Some boxes are yellow and orange, and others have a blue background. The rounded metal actuator cover is quite visible in the picture on the box. The box may show #2580, #2581, #2582, or #2583.
4. Made in Austria. This style is easily recognized by the three screws on the actuator. It is the only style that has screws on the actuator instead of wires coming out of the actuator. Manual switches of this type do not have the screws, but they have the same shape of actuator. This style is not as common as some of the other older styles. It is sometimes sold new in its original yellow and orange cardboard box. The three screws are visible in the picture on the box. The box may show a number between #2550 and #2558.
3. Made in Austria. Left switch in picture above. Styles 2 and 3 have a two-part actuator in which the remote is a separate piece. The manual version of this switch is easily recognizable because it has a short actuator with a flat end. The picture shows how the remote separates from the actuator, and what the switch looks like without the remote. Styles 2 and 3 are very common on eBay. They are sometimes sold new in package. The package is a bubble pack with a yellow background. The package includes an old lever style switch control.
2. Made in Austria. Right switch in picture above. This style has the same actuator as style 3. One difference between this and style 3 is that this style has thin L shaped moving rails instead of thick moving rails. The moving rails are fastened in place with rivets with small round holes visible in them. The rivets are the most visible characteristic for distinguishing this style from style 3. Another difference is that style 3 has a turning piece with a slot in the top of the actuator cover, whereas style 2 has a solid cover. Possibly this was designed to be used to turn a sign or something. But this is the only style of switch that has anything like that.
1. Made in Italy. This style has a one piece actuator that looks square on the ends. The actuator base is molded as part of the base of the switch. This style is quite rare on eBay. I have seen it for sale with a blue and orange box.
How I decided on the age sequence of these switches: I don’t know for sure the relative ages of these switches, but here are the factors I used to put them in this sequence.
Style 1 is rare and looks like a really old style. It has very thick wires. It is made in a different country than the others. So I placed it oldest.
Styles 2-6 are all made in Austria, so I placed them together. I put styles 2 and 3 together because they have the same type of actuator. I put them as the oldest of the Austria styles because they come with the old lever style switch control, and they have thicker wires than the newer styles. I put style 3 newer than style 2 because its moving rail is mounted like the one on all the newer styles.
I put style 4 newer than styles 2 and 3 because it comes with a button style switch control instead of the lever control. I put it older than styles 5 and 6 because its actuator base is molded as part of the switch base, whereas all the newer styles use screws to fasten the actuator to the base.
I put styles 5 and 6 newer than styles 2 and 3 because they have thinner wires, and they come with a button style switch control instead of the lever control.
I put style 6 newer than style 5 because its actuator is plastic like newer switches and because it has very thin wires, like the newer styles.
I put style 7 newer than styles 2-6 because it was made in USA like style 8.
I put style 8 older than style 9 because I saw that transition in process. When I started modeling N scale, hobby shops had style 8 on the shelves, but as those sold out, they were replaced with style 9. I also saw the transition from style 9 to style 10 in process.
I hope you find this guide helpful. Writing it was an interesting and useful project for me.