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Feasibility of 4% Grade

Pete asks:

I have done my HO layout using 2% Grades however one section just does not meet my elevation criteria.  I run fairly short trains – 7-10 freight cars pulled by a two loco consist.  Will a 4% grade that matches my prototype work?

model trains track grades

17 Responses to Feasibility of 4% Grade

  • Dale Arendssays:

    Unless the cars are overweight, a two loco consist should be able to handle a 4% grade. If not, you might look into replacing a wheelset on the loco with traction wheels.

    That being said, is there any way you can rearrange things to extend the slope and reduce the grade percentage? Or if it’s due to the need to cross over something else, perhaps you could lower whatever is beneath it so the grade doesn’t have to be quite so steep.

  • David Stokessays:

    It should work, but replacing wheels sets for traction tyre types, I believe is a retrograde step as you will lose power pickup from those converted wheels. DCC Concepts Magnarail might be a better answer. Very thin steel plates are set below the track and strong mini magnets attached to the locos

    Check DCC Concepts webpage for details. (No, I have no commercial conflict of interest. with DCC Concepts.

  • Herveysays:

    I concur with what Dale said. I would add though that you ensure the wheel sets on all your cars are free rolling. On my layout the wheels have to spin for at least 10 seconds when I give them a flick with my finger after lifting the car from the track.
    I also have 4% grades on my layout on the portion that is modelling a logging layout. I regularly move 6 loaded logging cars up and down the track with one climax or shay locomotive.

  • nigelsays:

    Whilst the ability for any train to negotiate an incline depends on the locomotive and weight it is pulling, Woodland Scenics do make a set of 4% incline risers from which I think we can summise that this steepness, whilst not common, is not unknown. I have used one on my 009 narrow gauge layout with little difficulty and, unless there’s anything wrong with your locomotives and they have decent weight to aid traction, I think they wouldn’t have any problems at all.

  • John Gibsonsays:

    the Canadian Pacific Railway Used a 4 % grade with steam engines. It was on the big hill coming out of Field British Columbia Canada. going east . They solved the problem by building what they called the ‎Spiral Tunnels which are still in use to day.

  • David Stokessays:

    I led you all astray, SORRY. The DCC Concept product is called Powerbase.

  • leon zaharissays:

    The Great Northern used pusher steam locomotives along with steam locomotives on the head end of a passenger or freight train climbing from Skykomish, Washington to Wellington, Washington prior to electrifying the line in 1909 to Wenatchee, Washington. They used the boxcab electrics from 1909 until 1929 when the new cascade tunnel was finished and the mountain grade was eliminated. The construction of the New Cascade tunnel would have bankrupted the GN if it did not have the CB&Q hauling iron ore from Minnesota to the ore docks Allouez

  • leon zaharissays:

    You will need to either cut the number of cars in half or use two locomotives at the head end like the GN did with its boxcab electrics from 1909-1929

  • Bruce Webbsays:

    Dale. My name is bruce from Utah USA and i have a few grades well over 4% as I have a section of Bingham Canyon Copper Mine and the switch backs are much more than 4% pulling up to 11 ore cars with 2 GP40’s loaded or not no problem. So my answer is simple YES YOU CAN.

  • Bruce Webbsays:

    oops sorry about calling you dale but your name is Pete

  • Petesays:

    Thanks to all for the suggestions. My prototype climbs over 1,000 ft in only 37 miles – surprising for New Jersey, huh. The 2% just did not get the job done – unless someone knows how to stretch a basement! I will now build up the grade based on the confidence you provided.

  • geoffsays:

    Like Nigel, I have a 4% grade on my 009 narrow gauge layout, and trains can run up it, though they have to be shorter than I would ideally like.

    What you should do is pin a length of track to a piece of lumber or something and prop it up at a 4% grade and see if you can run a train up it. I didn’t do that before I put in my 4% grade!

  • David Broadsays:

    4% should be fine as long as Diesel or electric locos are used and have all wheels powered. Traction tyres are bad news as they make the track filthy. Incidentally the protocol on UK railways was to measure the distance run against height gained.which is easier to measure. Horizontal distance re height is notional and there is very little difference between the two until you get to 25%.
    However most Loco drive RTR Steam locos are hopeless hill climbers and many barely cope with 1 in 75 or 1.3% If you want steamers on a 4% grade you are really looking at very heavy metal bodied locos, if you want to pull more than around 3 freight cars


    A 2% incline is 1 in elevation for every 50 in of horizontal run. A 4% incline is very ambitious for model trains and may require a two engine consist. Other than a logging scene, this is not very prototypical as most grades in the real world run about 1%. The Simple Solution is to take a longboard and play some track on it and elevate it had a 4% rise. Then take the longest train that you will run and place it on this elevation and see if it will pull it up. Of course for real test still have this incline with a curve on it. You lose a lot of pulling power on a curved incline. Hey Shay was built for the logging industry and capable of going up a 10% grade maybe even a little more. If you need ovation within a short distance then have you considered a Switchback? Go up half the length at 2% and switch back and go up the other half at the other 2%. You didn’t mention how high you have to rise on the sink line.

  • Melton G Gregorysays:

    I have a question in regards 4% grade. Is a 4% (or other number of %) grade the same as a 4 degree grade? How is % of grade measured against degree of grade? I have wondered about this for several years now with out getting a proper answer. So is % of grade the same as degrees of grade when it come to measure the amount of slope, or is it something else?

    • Robertsays:

      4% grade is rise of 4 for 100 horizontal giving an angle of 2.3 degrees(1dp)

    • Thomas C. Hayden IIIsays:

      Not even close. A 4 degree grade is a 7% grade. The % is the tangent of the degree.

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