Trying to figure out why your model train judders, stops and starts? Don’t panic. Here are 7 easy and quick tips from model railway gurus across the Internet to get your loco running smoothly.
Troubleshoot Your Trains — Engine or Layout?
The first thing I look at when trying to solve why a model train runs slowly or occasionally stops and judders is to identify if the problem is with your layout or a particular train.
To do this take a loco and give it a test run around all sections of the track – try not to get distracted running your train 🙂
Find the spot where you have problems and then test run all your trains over it. If you only have one train, skip to Clean Your Tracks.
Does the problem occur with the several trains or just on one particular engine?
If it is just a single unit, it’s more than likely the problem lies with that train in which case you may want to consider sending it off for repair. Send it back to where you got it from, Hornby etc, or Google “model train repairs” to find a repair service if it’s not still under warranty.
If you’re working in N Gauge, and especially if you’re using Graham Farish Chinese production or UK (Poole production) locos, it could be that you have a fault called ‘split-gears’. A good service shop will be able to deal with this, as with other juddering faults, but is mentioned here as it can also lead to engine burnouts which are more costly to deal with. The folks at www.ngaugesociety.com have a handy page on this very issue at http://www.ngaugesociety.com/index.php?page=split-gears
If however other engines exhibit the same stop and start symptoms then it’s likely to a problem with the track or power, in which case the other techniques below should solve your problems.
If your model railway is in typical home and inhabited by children, cats and/or dogs, your miniature wonderland could be under siege from all manner of giant particles that will cause small trains any number of problems. RJF Trains, an American dealer, points out “normal” house dust, dander, baby dust bunnies, cat hair, smoke particles and sawdust all mix with the oxidisation process that occurs when current passes between metals and can create a “truly impressive challenge”.
RJF suggest using white spirits or another cleaner (Goo Gone – American visitors use this link for faster delivery) is my preferred choice) rubbed over the wheels and track to clear such debris. This can either be quickly applied as below to remedy one-off problems or as RJF suggest as part of a regular cleaning program by fitting out a train with front and rear cleaners.
Tip via RJF Trains.
Grease and Grime
Even with large debris cleared, model railway track – be it Peco, Hornby or any other brand – is prone to dirt and grime that can play havoc with your rolling stock wheels or interrupt the smooth flow of current to the locomotive that will bring your trains to a halt, slow down or cause them to judder.
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Thankfully, the dirty track can be cleaned of grease and grime cheaply using a lint-free cloth dampened with lighter fluid methylated spirit and then rubbed over the railheads. Again, Goo Gone (here if you’re browsing from America) is your friend here and will remove grease in particular.
But be careful however not to get it on your rolling stock or scenery paintwork, just wrap the cloth around your fingertip, drip some onto it and run this over the top of the track.
MRE Tip: Never use sandpaper or scouring pad – this will scratch the rails making it easier for dirt to accumulate. If you’re looking for more tips on loco cleaning, see The Top 5 Model Train Maintenance Checks.
Via The Hornby Model Railway Forum
According to Hornby Train Restorations another common issue that could be causing your trains to slow or stop, particularly in bigger layouts, are the joints between track sections.
Replace worn or loose fish-plates/rail joiners and electrically connect the track pieces together with a track power booster cable.
Over on modelrailwayforum.co.uk they suggest checking that the fishplates are tightly fitted to the rails by using a pair of pliers to lightly squeeze the bottom of the joiner onto the rail foot area.
MRE Extra, The inside-track on track cleaning from Everard Media
If it’s not dirty track. it could be power related. Lose or poor power connections will cause all manner of problems from no movement at all to sluggish performance. This is particularly common for layouts that aren’t permanent and are regularly set up or rearranged and where the wires are regularly moved around.
Check that the wires connect to the track and to the power supply securely; pay attention to lose or tight wiring, frayed or split ends and confirm all wires are connected to the right terminals. Beyond this, wiring and electrics is an often complex area for which you should seek specialist advice, see modelrailwayforum.co.uk, modelrailroadforums.com
Clean Those Train Wheels
For all the same reasons dirt and grime on the track can cause problems, grease on your loco wheels can result in loss of traction and bring your trains to a halt.
To clean your train wheels use the same lighter fluid methylated spirit on a cotton bud and run them around the wheels. Railway modelling guru Brian Lambert also suggests using a fibre pen around the wheels to release the caked on muck beforehand.
Alternatively, you can use a dedicated wheel cleaner such as the Trix Conductive Loco Wheel Cleaning Brush (pictured) from the Kernow Model Rail Centre, priced £23 at time of writing.
Sources: The Hornby Model Railway Forum
A Question of Length
Rounding up these 7 Tips To Will Make Your Model Train Run Smoothly is a rare but easy problem to solve. If you’ve tried all the above and are still experiencing problems it may not be a problem with your loco or track at all but instead, it could be a question of length.
When first starting out, many people string together carriages, wagons and other rolling stock to make the longest train they can.
When long trains go around corners or up slopes the speed can vary across the length of the train set resulting in surging/contraction at different points with the resultant problems. This usually results in derailment rather than stopped trains but it can happen.
Just reduce the length of your train if this is the case.
How do you keep your trains running smoothly? Please share your tips with other readers by adding a comment below.
Picture Credit: Les Chatfield
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