Guide to track lighting

Track mounted lighting equipment is immensely popular and has been used as a vehicle to offer flexibility in the highlighting of featured objects within many types of environments including the residential home, commercial applications as well as a great many buildings within the retail sector which display a wide range of product from small items such as jewellery through to large in items such as cars and motorbikes.

Track lighting systems have been around for some considerable time, in fact since the early 1960’s, when the first track was designed and produced by a company called Lightolier which is included as a division of Signify (which was then known as Philips). Some ten years later in the 1970’s, track lighting was redesigned with a number of improvements and then in the 1980’s,to become the lighting system of choice as the solution for providing accent lighting within interior designed applications, such as within the retail sector. More recently, and with the development of LED spotlights, it is again undergoing some resurgence to become an optimum solution within the specification arena.

Installing a track lighting based solution provides flexibility in the accent lighting, in that once the track is ideally positioned and correctly installed, it offers the ability to add and subtract luminaires as required as well as providing the opportunity to position, direct and orientate the spotlights where required, allowing for a bespoke solution for each application.

In considering the availability of track based lighting, there are generally two main options, either using a Mains Voltage (230Volt) track system which has a mains supply directly into the Live End of the track or alternatively to use a Low Voltage track system which has a reduced voltage supply to the track, such as 24 Volts, with the electrical supply from the mains being operated through a 24 Volt Constant Voltage Non-Dimmable LED Driver positioned remotely.

If we firstly consider the Low Voltage Track System, these systems are ideal where there is an opportunity to position and install the LED Driver within proximity of the track Live End whilst it also being hidden from view. If this is not possible for the application, maybe a mains track offers an alternative solution. A great advantage of low voltage track systems is that the fittings are in the main, much smaller and more compact, making this an ideal solution where space, such as ceiling height is at a premium or where the fittings are positioned adjacent to the object being illuminated, such as in many retail applications.

For Mains Voltage Track Systems, there are two main types, that of Single-Circuit Track, sometimes referred to as ‘Single Phase Track’ which utilises two conductors, that of ‘Live’ and ‘Neutral’. This is certainly the most cost-effective solution for track lighting and is often used is residential applications where all fittings placed upon the track are operated together on a single circuit. The alternative solution is to use a Three-Circuit Track, sometimes referred to as ‘3 Phase Track’ which utilises four conductors, that of ‘Live 1’, ‘Live 2’, ‘Live 3’ and ‘Neutral’. In each case, the track casing is being used as the earth.


The installation of track lighting, either surface mounted, suspended or in some applications, recessed offers a cost-effective lighting solution which can be very easily adjusted or remodelled to suit the changes within the environment or the changes in emphasis within the space. The fittings can be moved, repositioned and orientated to meet any new requirements within a space and additionally, the number of fittings can be adjusted, either by increasing or decreasing the number, resulting in a different level of illuminance or a re-focus of the light within the space. With regard to a major benefit being gained from using a Three Circuit Track over that of a Single Circuit Track, is that it provides the ability to operate the lighting across 3 different circuits with each one being controlled separately, allowing the user greater flexibility in the different lighting scenes available for the application.

There is also generally, a larger range of equipment available for three circuit track systems, which can provide a greater selection in the type of equipment being utilised on the project. The availability of fittings includes narrow beam spotlights, medium and wide beam floodlights and wallwash fittings as well as pendants. It is worth stating that the installation of three circuits does not necessarily require each circuit to be used, as it is possible to either leave one unused or to connect, through mains wiring, for the live conductors of two circuits to be connected together so that they can be operated together on a single circuit. Generally, Single Circuit Track is rated as being 16 Amps at mains voltage and a Three Circuit Track is rated the same as also being 16 Amps at mains voltage, however this is across each of the three circuits offering potentially three times the capacity for fittings split evenly across the circuits.

Whilst it can been seen below that the profiles of 3 Circuit Track is somewhat larger, I can see only one major downside of specifying a three-circuit solution over that of a single-circuit solution and that being cost, in that the equipment cost would be greater as would the installation, however the benefits gained in flexibility and in the capacity of the system should alleviate that concern.

Single Circuit Track (sample diagram)

Three Circuit Track (sample diagram)

Considering whether to install a track system as against that of installing recessed downlights for the application, there is a benefit in selecting track solution as each length of track requires a single point of installation, either at one end or centrally somewhere along the track length for getting a supply to multiple fittings,, whereas the recessed downlights require wiring to each point of illumination and with cable which has to travel within the ceiling void to reach each of those points, potentially increasing both the installation cost in materials and the installation time required on site.

Amending the downlight option in the future, with its fixed points requires an electrical contractor to remove the fitting, cut a new hole and get a supply to that position. This leaves holes which require some building work to the ceiling and then decoration, all of which can be costly to the end user. With a track system, the user can undertake change easily by switching off, isolating the lighting circuits and then removing the fittings to reposition them somewhere else within the space or in another space if the same track system is installed, allowing flexibility for an infinite number of amendments to the system and in only providing illumination where needed to only highlight the featured objects. This could also offer the benefit of negating the need to purchase additional lighting equipment when higher levels of illuminance are required in an area by moving them from elsewhere or that of energy saving when removing illumination from areas where it is not required.

Applications such as the projects, shown above, for a Volvo Garage in Kildare, Ireland and for The Yard in Manchester, where either all or a large proportion of the illumination within the building is provided by only a 3 Circuit Track Lighting System can present a difficulty when looking to include emergency lighting within the space. Rather than having to install separate lighting to offer the emergency component, there is now a solution where the emergency lighting can be simply fixed directly to the Unity 3 Circuit Track and where one circuit provides the permeant supply required to maintain the charging facility to the units. These 3 Hour Non-Maintained unit gain power to the battery from the track and to the green charging LED, which is incorporated within the head. A 3.2W light source of 250 Lumens with a 105° beam angle offers the illumination. For 3 Circuit Track installations only.

In concluding, the greatest benefit from track lighting is that it offers the adaptability and flexibility of the system to meet the specific needs of the customer at any time without having to call an electrical contractor to undertake this for you. The added benefit of LED spotlights is that they offer both longevity of operation and reduction in energy usage, allowing the customer to have an optimum energy efficient solution for many years to come, whilst also facilitating the emergency lighting solution to allow persons leave the building safely when required to do so.

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