The weakest link in our garden railroads is the joiners that are used to connect track sections. Rail joiners have a two-fold purpose; to keep the track aligned, and to pass electrical current to the adjoining sections. Both LGB and Aristo have their own type of rail joiner, and their track can be used interchangeably. LGB has a friction fit, and Aristo has a joiner that uses screws to lock the track sections together, to guarantee a good electrical connection. The screws are small and can be found embedded in wax on the underside of the track sections. Each Aristo box of track comes with a special hex head screw driver to secure these screws. Good eye site, or a good pair of reading glasses is needed to work with these screws. A bag of these screws can be purchased from your dealer, since once you drop them, they are lost, unless you have a strong magnet to retrieve them from your ballast. While I prefer the Aristo system because it makes for a more secure connection, both joiners do benefit from the use of conductive grease to weatherproof the electrical connection. LGB and Aristo both sell their own brand of conductive grease which contains a large amount of graphite, and this of course winds up on everything when you are assembling track.
Even using screws and conductive grease will not prevent a track joint from eventually losing it's electrical conductivity in the outdoor environment. Soldering these joints using jumper wires is one solution to your electrical problems. The downside is that you have to drill the web in your track at each joint, clean off the oxidation, and use at least a 300 Watt soldering iron (or an expensive resistance system) to secure the jumper. With the iron you have to be careful that you do not melt your tie strip from the extreme heat.
For those of us that are not real talented in the soldering area, I present the track rail clamp. I presently know of three companies that produce this type of product.
San Val sells a system that is called "the Conductor" which is not aesthetically appealing because the screws can be seen on both sides of the joint. The other two in the market are Split-Jaw and Hillman. Both these are similar in appearance, and fasten to the rail in a similar fashion using hex head screws and a special tool.
Split Jaw has a three part fastener with two set screws, that is made to go over bare rail ends. It comes in sizes to accommodate all brands and codes of large scale track. Split jaw advertises in Garden Railways and can be found on the internet at www.railclamp.com/clamp_selection.shtml. They sell their own hex-drivers and also a power bit that is made to fit in an electric screw driver for tightening the set screws on their clamps.
Hillman offers a wide variety of clamps that also fit all codes and manufacturers' track sizes. They make a clamp that looks a lot like the split-jaw, but also make a large variety of other clamps. One actually is made to fit over the Aristo joiner to strengthen the joint and increase conductivity. They also make insulated rail clamps, expansion rail clamps (.040 inches of rail expansion), power rail clamps (to connect power to the track), wheel stops, lift out bridge and turnout clamps, adapter clamps for code 332 to 250, bridge hinge kits, and clamps for Tenmille European rail. They also produce an Expando Rail which will take up to 30 feet of expansion due to weather on your outdoor layout. In addition they also sell hex-head screw drivers, and a midget ratchet to fasten their set screws.
Both companies offer their clamps for either brass rail, aluminum rail or stainless steel. Hillman offers a special clamp for use with Aristo stainless steel track.
Many of our club members have had a great deal of success with these rail clamps, and they are becoming more an more popular. Due to our heavy monsoon rains in the summer, and high humidity, I have put my rail clamps on with a light coating of conductive grease to promote better conductivity. My personal experience is with the Hillman over the connector clamps, and the power clamps. I have been extremely satisfied with the results of this product. The Sundance Central Modular group uses Split Jaw clamps to connect their modules and promote electrical conductivity with a great deal of success.
The price of these clamps is about $1.80 each. While this may seem high, if you have a section of your railroad that causes you constant electrical problems, this is the cure you need. I have a 10 foot long tunnel under an oak tree that stays damp. This was a constant electrical conductivity headache until I installed rail clamps on all the joints.