Upgrading an old model train - Model Railway Engineer

Upgrading an old model train

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upgrading a model trainIf, like me, you have old Hornby or Graham Farish locomotives on your railway you may notice they lack a bit of oomph. Here’s how I give mine a power up.

Most often a poorly performing model train is a sign it needs a service and clean but if your locos run fine but just lack power, say to climb an incline or pull the number of wagons and coaches you want, there’s another option you can try.

Upgrading a model train

No, I’m not* talking about adding DCC to a DC loco. This tip is about upgrading the ‘permanent’ magnets of the motor itself.

At the heart of the electric motor inside your locos is a magnet and replacing it with a new more powerful one can revitalise your engines

Doing so is relatively straight forward and really no more complex than the procedure discussed in my last post on model train servicing.


New Magnets
I use Neodymium magnets when upgrading my Locomotives. Neodymium are a relatively new type of magnet and many times stronger than traditional types. Magnets of this sort of the size and shape needed are available on eBay (for Hornby).


Examine the locomotive a locate the screws fixing the bodyshell to the chassis. Usually these are the large screws on the underside of the unit although on some Hornby units you might also find one in the funnel.

Remove these screws and gently lift the shell off.

Watch for tabs and clips, these can break easily. It’s just a case of identifying them and sliding the frame out and and away from the upper body shell.

With the top removed you’ll now see the the motor and axle assembly. (For an excellent guide on how brushed DC motors work I recommend this guide from PCB Heaven).

model train neodymium magnetLocate the magnet which is the recessed rectangular slab on the top in the photo to the left of an N gauge locomotive I was upgrading. On other models it maybe a cube towards the rear.

> Tip: While you’ve got the locomotive open, it would be good to give the axles and cogs a clean and oiling. It’s also worth noting that Neodymium magnets are very strong so it’s worth moving anything they might attract well out of reach.

Prise this free with a small screwdriver and drop in the replacement magnet, ensuring you have it same way around for polarity.

Reassemble the loco back together and give it spin.

The improvement will depend on the state of the magnet you removed. Sometimes the difference is negligible but on one loco I fitted the new magnet too the pulling power increased significantly as did the smoothness of movement.

I’d love to hear how you get on and the difference new magnets made to your trains.

Footnote: Usual disclaimer applies, this post is for information only and I take no responsibility for any damage or loss caused in relation to the contents of, or use of, or otherwise in connection with this article. 



  1. Keith Chambers - August 20, 2016

    re: “No, I’m talking about adding DCC to a DC loco”.  
    Did you mean “I’m NOT talking about”  ?

  2. Iain Donaldson - January 13, 2017

    I have just been given 45 Hornby oo trains that were purchased about 1980.As far as I can ascertain these trains have been hardly used and they all come in new looking original boxes.I purchased as all Hornby set so that I could test the trains on it.To date I have tested only a few and what I have found generally is that the trains are working in most cases but some are slowly and jerky .I am comparing the trains to the new one tha came in the set that I purchased.
    Can you tell me the best way I can go about ensuring these trains are returned to their original working condition.
    Thanks for any advise

  3. David Wheatley - April 7, 2017

    Hi Where can I purchase these magnets you talk about in your article?

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