How to test a model train without tools

Testing a model train with a 9v batteryHow to test locomotives when out and about and you don’t have your usual tools handy. This didn’t quite work out how I expected but in failing it proved the tip works.

Before writing tips for ModelRailwayEngineer, I always try the advice given before hand to make sure it does actually work. Just as when writing reviews, I only cover stuff I’ve actually used for prolonged periods. That’s partly the reason why there are occasionally gaps in the frequency of new articles here. With the  best intentions it sometimes takes me longer to try out the tips/guides photograph and then write the articles here.

But I digress.

This tip is a cheap, quick and easy method to the prove electrics of locomotives work when out and about. Say when you’re at a show or fair and see a ‘preloved’ loco for sale but need to check it before handy over the money.

The idea is gloriously simple.

Hold a 9volt battery across the wheels with the pickups and the motor should turn. The electricity from the battery replaces the supply that would normally come from the track and it hopefully confirms your intended purchase it worth the money.

That’s it.

So why didn’t it work out?

Well although I know this technique works having used it before I wanted to check it for this article and take a such as the one photo you see above.

So I took an OO gauge GWR 0-4-0 locomotive I had to hand and held the Eveready battery across the wheels.

Nothing happened.

The wheels should have gone round and round.

Testing a model train with a battery

The battery test worked for this loco so why not the OO gauge model?

Confused, I took the same battery and presented it to the wheels of an HOe loco I also had on my workbench. On this four-wheel track trundler the wheels turned as expected.

So concept of the battery test technique worked but why then didn’t the OO wheels spin.

I put the GWR tank engine on my rolling road and gave it a go.

Nothing happened there either.  It actually had a fault. It’s fixed now but this little exercise goes to prove the effectiveness of this budget testing tip. It spotted a problem with a train I didn’t even know had a defect.

So next time you’re out at a shop, boot fair or your preferred venue for getting second hand rolling stock and track, take a 9v battery so you test the engines. Hopefully, they’ll work better than my GWR Panier engine.


Founder of ModelRailwayEngineer, Andy Leaning

Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.

Afflliate disclosure:The links on this page may take you to carefully selected businesses, such as Hornby, Amazon, eBay and Scale Model Scenery, where you can purchase the product under affiliate programmes. This means I receive a small commission on any orders placed although the price you pay does not change. You can read my full affiliate policy here. I also sell my my own ready to use, pre-made and painted buildings and terrain features. browse the range.

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