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Medium radius points: LGB vs Piko

by Peter Whatley

I suspect that like quite a few of the G-scalers out there, I’ve been looking for an excuse to try some of Piko’s larger (medium radius) points.  Well, now I have, so here’s a quick briefing on topics that may be of interest to others.   No excuses for a direct comparison with LGB’s well-known 16xxx (radius 3) points which are the nearest direct alternative for most of us.  However, the first and possibly most important learning item is that the two points are not “drop-in” replacements for each other – as you will read….
First things first.  As supplied you get a box, like this.  Piko’s is a pretty substantial package with reinforced cardboard interior and solid outer lid.  Should survive even the Royal Mail.  Note that Piko’s box is rather longer than LGB.   The reasons for this will be clear in a moment, when we open both boxes…

It’s immediately apparent that the Piko point is longer on the straight leg than LGB’s.  Piko’s is 480 millimetres, LGB’s 440.  Less obvious is that the curves are different too.  Piko’s stated curve is 1243.08 millimetres, against 1200 for LGB.  Both curves are, though, to the same 22.5-degree angle.

LGB call theirs radius 3:  Piko use radius 5.  Confusing!


Equally obvious is the electric motor supplied as standard with the LGB point and the extra 7.5-degree curve in Piko’s box.  The UK price difference between the two points is (as of May 2010) almost exactly the cost of the motor.   If you don’t need the motor, replacing it will effectively make the LGB point dearer than Piko’s by several pounds and there are some fitting issues (see below)


Piko’s short curve has two functions.  Added to the point, it makes a 30-degree curve, to match the other commonly used angle in G scale trackwork.  Doubled up with another of the same points in 30 degree mode, it can create a crossover with 320mm spacing between tracks, exactly double Piko’s standard 160mm track spacing.  By way of comparison, LGB’s standard track spacing (radius 1/radius 2 difference) is either 165mm (1998 catalogue) or 180mm (2008 catalogue).  Whichever LGB figure is correct (I suspect the 1998 one is), I repeat: the two companies’ track geometries are NOT the same!


As is normal for G-scale, both points are dead-frog types, with no self-isolating facility: all tracks are electrically live at all times.  The track height (code 332) and joiner dimensions are identical, as is the choice of brass rails.  There should be no issues physically connecting Piko points to any other variety of code 332 tracks in common use.


Both points come compete with an instruction leaflet and details of the company’s track geometry, though neither is explicit about details such as track spacing or curve radii – you need a catalogue or internet access for that!  Finally, the small piece of plastic in the Piko box is a small lever, designed to resemble a continental European prototype, which clips onto the tie bar, enabling manual operation without finger-poking the point blades.  Not especially useful in my opinion.


The absence of an electric motor on Piko’s point is interesting.  The LGB point is useless without either the motor or an aftermarket manual switch with an internal spring since the switch blades are otherwise free to “flop around”.  Piko address the problem by fitting a spring to the point’s tie bar, as seen below.  Users of Peco’s OO/HO pointwork will recognise the principle immediately:


I have written to Piko asking if the spring is made of any rust resistant material, but have not yet received a reply.  If the spring is ordinary steel, I’d expect fairly rapid deterioration in the UK’s wet climate, though note that Piko have provided a neat drainage hole under the tie bar.


A quick comparison with an LGB point shows that apart from the drainage hole, tie bar construction is similar, with both points easily able to have an electric motor fitted.  Either company’s motors will fit to each point.  On this, there is complete compatibility.  


Irritatingly, neither LGB nor Piko have made holes in the sleepers ready to take an LGB manual point lever.  On Piko’s this is less of an immediate problem, provided that the spring has a long life.  On both points, installing one of LGB’s hand levers (part 12060) requires the user to carve off the end of a sleeper and drill a screw hole in the same sleeper.  Not a particularly good piece of design by either company…


The Piko point has “chunkier” ends to the switch rails.  So far, I have noticed no difference in running through them, but the relatively sharp kink suggests a rougher ride for stock over the long term.  On the other hand the design may be less prone to twisting.  Time alone will tell.


Moving along the point, the frog area shows clear design differences.  LGB use tapered rails, presumably to maximise the potential current pick-up area.  In practice, the diminishing ends of mine seem to get rapidly dirty, as per the photo below left.
Piko use a straight edge on the switch rails, but tapering at the frog.  The net result is that the dead section of rail at the frog is at least 5mm longer on Piko’s point.  Rather more if you assume pickup from every millimetre of LGB’s rails.


Note that Piko’s checkrails are longer than LGB’s in both directions.  In my view, highly desirable.  It should also be clear from the last few pictures that Piko use a very square-ended sleeper design compared to LGB’s.   Presumably this is intended to have more resemblance to main line appearance.  On a purely subjective viewpoint, I find LGB’s subtly rounded sleepers more visually appealing.


Turning both points over, the underside shows that Piko have covered up the connections between various rails and the frog area:
I’m not really clear why Piko have done this.  The plastic pieces are riveted on in only one place, leaving plenty of room for water to intrude (and preventing it from draining freely) and – at least on my sample – meaning the plastic bowed slightly preventing the point lying completely level on a flat indoor surface.  I suspect that I will drill out those rivets and remove the plastic or push it further into the sleepers.  


It is just apparent that Piko’s sleeper spacing is slightly greater than LGB’s, though without this kind of side-by-side picture, it’s certainly not obvious.  The arrangement of sleepers around the frog is unprototypical on both points, but necessarily so due to the tight curve and short runoff for the straight rail.  There is little to choose between them on this score, though note that Piko emboss their name on the top surface of one sleeper.  It’s not a major issue, but it seems a shame to do something so “toy-like”.   You can just see the offending item in the final picture:
So that’s it.   There really is little to choose between the two points in terms of construction and quality of build.   The major differences will likely depend on your need for electric point motors and your aesthetic sense regarding each manufacturer’s choice of sleeper design.