What travelling 54,000 miles by train taught me about model railways

Trains serviceWhat travelling 54,000 miles by train has taught me about keeping my model railway in tip-top condition.

I’ve been running ModelRailwayEngineer for almost two years now and almost 90% of the articles, tips and guides on model trains you read here are written when I’m on a normal commuter train.

I travel between Kent, Surrey and London daily, to Bristol numerous times a month and to Cornwall lots of times a year and all on public transport trains. That’s approximately 2,300 miles by train every month! And approximately 54,000 miles I’ve travelled by train while writing this blog!!

It’s a good job I love trains!

Apart from getting to know South West Trains and First Great Western very well this train travel has also taught me that, like our OO, N and HO gauge versions, big trains frequently don’t run smoothly: trains break down, tracks need fixing and lines get blocked. If only a giant finger could reach down out the sky and give the trains I’m on a gentle nudge when they get stuck!

Here’s what watching Network Rail, Network South East and First Great Western while travelling 14,000 has taught me about keeping trains running.

Track Maintenance

For all the abuse they get, Network Rail – the organisation managing track in the UK – spends a huge amount of time and resources on trying to keep the railways running.

And if you want your trains to run smoothly, you need to do the same on your layout, as I wrote in the post on keeping trains running smoothly and track cleaning tips.

  • Regularly check the electrical connections are in good order.
  • Maintain and clean your track – once a month
  • Check for debris on the lines

Service Your Trains

From the early days of railway transport, trains have needed regular maintenance and it’s no different for the latest FGW and SW train or your small-scale rolling stock.

Trains, big and small, break. Just two days ago on my journey from London to Guildford, a train broke down ahead of the one I was on and nothing moved for almost an hour.

For model trains, the very least you should do is apply model train oil to movable parts. Watch this video for a great overview of how to clean your trains.

Design for Errors

There’s hardly a week that goes by when I don’t experience some kind of delay on my travels. While these are frustrating as hell they are understandable given how complex and busy UK rail networks are now. What it has taught me, however, is that problems whether caused by accident or mistakes, will happen and need to be expected.

Read other posts in this series of posts on model railways for beginners.

On model railways, this means planning for failure. Make the electrics easy to follow so you troubleshoot lose connections, design the baseboard so you can all parts of the layout and provide access holes on tunnels and bridges in case of derailment etc.

Share your what you’ve learnt and how it relates to your model railway.

What mistakes have you made that could have been planned for?

Share your story in the comments, I’ll read it on my train journey today.

> 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.
Founder of ModelRailwayEngineer, Andy Leaning

Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of modelrailwayengineer.com. 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.

Add Comment

Required fields are marked *. Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.