My Five Favourite Model Train Maintenance Tips

wheel cleaningOne of the most common questions I get is how to maintain locomotives and track so trains run smoothly — I seemed to get a desperate plea for help daily over the last year. So rather than write another exhaustive how-to on the subject here are my favourite five tips that I’ve recommend most often during 2018.

#1 Cleaning Dirty Track

Removing dirt and oxide that builds up on track is a routine activity on all model railways and dirty track accounts for many of the problems I’m asked about.

The recommended solution is to use a track rubber as per the Hornby forum. Just push this along your track and it’ll remove all manner of junk from your rails. It’s more manual than one of the expensive track cleaning trains but I find it just as effective.

For a budget alternative — from my blog archives — use alcohol wipes. This won’t do as good a job as the track rubber but if used frequently will prevent a lot of problems building up.

#2 Keeping A Layout Clean

Keeping the track clear either from debris deposited while working on the layout or from general dirt if the layout resides on the floor (I previously wrote a whole post on maintaining floor based model railways) was one of my most common recommendations over the last 12 months.

My answer for all those who ask is to use a small handheld vacuum cleaner such as this one and keep your layout tidy and junk free. Your trains will thank you!

#3 Make Your Own Cradle For Working On Train Wheels

Sooner or later you’ll need to clean the wheels of your locos or work on the underside for which you’ll want an easy way to safely hold them upside down.

You can buy purpose made cradles but this tip from ModelRailwayForum will do nicely if you won’t want to spend the money.

To save you the click: simply take an oblong chunk of foam packing material and cut out a central section large enough for the locomotive to rest in. Job done and the money saved can go towards another locomotive.

#4 Testing Your Trains

One of the first things I do when people contact with me train problems is to suggest testing their trains on a isolated test track with its own power supply to rule out problems with the track work, wiring or controller. There’s a great video on how to make one by Calvertfilm below. Every modeller should have one of these.

#5 How To Clean Train Wheels

After I’ve suggested cleaning the track and testing the train to rule out wiring issues and confirm it is the loco that’s having the problem the most common advice I’ve given over the last twelve months is to clean the wheels.

This is actually very easy but stumps many people.

You can either hold the loco in a cradle and wipe an alcohol based cleaning agent over the wheels or use the technique in the quick video below from teddybeareleventeen.

Doing this regularly (once a month if you run your trains a lot) will prevent a lot of problems developing.

If these five tips don’t solve answer your problems and you’re still looking for more, take a look at the exhaustive how-to guide of tips to make your trains run smoothly that I did write. As always, if you do have problems, feel free to reach out to me on FacebookTwitter or via my contact page and I’ll do my best to help.

>A final, personal, note: I spend a huge amount of time testing, photographing, writing and researching techniques for these articles and pay for all the running costs of MRE out of my own pocket. If you found this article useful you can support me by making a donation on my fund-raising page. Thanks and happy modelling, Andy.

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