Damaged Track, What Can I Do?

I was recently testing a locomotive on my layout and managed to damage a section of track in the process. Here’s how I fixed it.

I recently got my hands on an old Graham Farish loco and after a quick service wanted to see how fast she would go.

I’d already tested her on a rolling road and was confident the motor, gears and wheels were okay but I just wanted to see how fast she’d go on real track.

I placed her on the layout and let her run for a bit before the test run. All worked well, as it should. I then set her off, slowly increasing the dial on the controller as she accelerated. Faster and faster.


She was racing along beautifully until….

Well, let’s just say I’m glad it wasn’t a real locomotive with people on board.

Thankfully, the loco and tender were fine but the track hadn’t fared so well and a track joint at the point of the crash got pretty mangled.

I suspect there might have been an issue with the joint beforehand which is what caused the derailment but either way in the process of careening off the track the joint took a beating.

One of the rails had even become slightly bent.

This tale is bit exceptional but damaged rails can happen for a variety of reasons and if not corrected will ruin the smooth running and enjoyment you’ll get from the railway.

But what to do?

So what can be done?

For a floor or tabletop railway, it’s just a case of swapping out the damaged rails but what if the damaged or broken rails are on track that’s already laid, glued and ballasted?

There are two possible solutions: try to fix the rails in situ or replace them.

Repairing broken rails isn’t something I recommend.

Unless you’re very lucky you’ll never get the rails right again. Even If you get the gauge (the distance between the rails) correct there’s a good chance they won’t be perpendicular to the sleepers and in many cases, the rails will come free of the sleepers as they are twisted and bent.

Sadly, I’d recommend replacing the track.

This is a matter of cutting out the section at fault and then dropping in a replacement run.

For track that’s laid and glued with ballast this may seem like a major operation but with the right tools and little practice, it’s really not that difficult.

rail alterationIt’s a case of cutting the rails with a Dremel and cutting disk, dampening the ballast and glue with a spray of water and then very gently prying the track up. There is a write-up and video of this here.

With the old track lifted off, clean the area thoroughly making sure there are no bits of ballast left lying on the track bed.

Then attach new joiners to the ends of the track that remains (this is a lot easier with a little tool I made a while back) and then slide the replacement track section into place.

I recommend you test and practice this first. Glue some track down to spare piece of wood and then try cutting and replacing sections of it before doing it for real. Once you’ve got the hang of it it’s relatively straightforward to do.

With the track back to normal, I gave the loco another run and it flew around the layout at a very gratifying rate. Admittedly, this isn’t something I do regularly but just occasionally, it’s nice to watch a train hurtling around and this loco is now the fastest in my N scale fleet.

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  1. I agree with everything about the reparation of the track and setting the track back together with new fishplates but add the following tips…
    Use the same locomotive that went off at the damaged section and run it slower and then increase the speed next few times, and if it runs through then it should be ok.
    Sometimes that loco needs the back to back distance re-checked before running it in case a squeeze has closed the distance.
    Thirdly, bent track may be the result of expansion of track if gaps weren’t enough during the initial laying.
    On curved sections approaching turnouts/ points bent rails can cause faults one way only so always run the locomotives both ways through the repairs particularly checking for any points bounce.

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