7 Tips That Will Make Your Model Railway Train Run Smoothly

How to clean model railway trackTrying to figure out why your model railway 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.

Does the problem occur with several trains or just on one particular engine?

If problems occur with multiple trains, logic dictates it’s not the locomotives but the track. Skip forward to track cleaning.

If it is just a single unit, it’s more than likely that the problem lies with that train.

Locomotive problems

The most common issue stopping locomotives running is dirt on the wheels causing them to lose traction or fail to pick up power. Dirt on wheels is a common problem so cleaning the wheels should be done regularly. Luckily, it’s easy and quick to do, there are also a number of simple maintenance checks you can carry out.

If it’s an older locomotive, it could be dirty wheels but you might also need to oil and lubricate the gears. Again, this is something that needs doing occasionally, although not as often as cleaning the wheels, and the last post in the last link explains everything you need to know.

If you’ve done both of these and it still won’t work, there’s something broken and it needs repairing. 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 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).

If however other engines exhibit the same stop-and-start symptoms then it’s likely to be a problem with the track or power on or to the track. in which case the other techniques below should solve your problems.

From modelrailroadforums.com and ngaugesociety.com

Clean Your Tracks

If your model railway is in a 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, and cleaning the rails will be vital.

RJF Trains, an American dealer, points out that “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”.

Grease and Grime

Goo Gone is my preferred choice for cleaning particularly dirty tracks. This is rubbed over the track to clear particularly stubborn grease and grime that build up over time.  It can either be quickly applied as mentioned below to remedy one-off problems or as RJF suggests as part of a regular cleaning schedule by fitting out a train with front and rear cleaners.

Tip via RJF Trains.

Alternatively, it may be just routine dust and dirt that builds on model railway tracks — be it Peco, Hornby, or any other brand — over time. This can play havoc with your rolling stock wheels or interrupt the smooth flow of current to the locomotive will bring your trains to a halt, slow down, or cause them to judder.

Again, Goo Gone will work wonders here but most people (myself included) use a lint-free cloth dampened with a cleaning alcohol and then rubbed over the railheads as described here.

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.

(If you’re in the middle of constructing your layout, you might also have glue and paint on the track. If this is the case a track rubber – available here – will make easy work of shifting it).

MRE Tip: Never use sandpaper or a 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. And once you’ve cleaned the track, adding a thin coat of graphite from a pencil will reduce the need to clean so often in future.

Via The Hornby Model Railway Forum

Faulty track wiring or badly joined joints?

According to Hornby Train Restorations another common issue that could be causing your trains to slow or stop, particularly in bigger layouts, is 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.

Source: Hornby Train Restorations and modelrailwayforum.co.uk

Wonky wiring

Loose or poor power connections will also 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 loose 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 areas for which you should seek specialist advice, see modelrailwayforum.co.ukmodelrailroadforums.com

Source: BrianLambert.co.uk

 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 down to 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.

Locomotives don’t have infinite power and if the trains are too long they might not have enough power to pull all the carriages and wagons you’ve lined up. Alternatively, 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.

Via RMWeb

Try reducing the length of your train, this or one of the above other techniques should get your trains running.

How do you keep your trains running smoothly? Please share your tips with other readers by adding a comment below.


In the majority of cases, trains that previously worked but now stop and start are caused by dirt on the wheels, track or the gears that need oiling.


Picture Credit: Les Chatfield


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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.
  1. I bought a Gauge master power unit for O gauge 12 years ago and it’s always worked fine. We are Hornby Dublo 3 rail and the heavy old engines take a lot of power. My layout in the old attic bedroom of my cottage is 25’ X 15’ and I’ve recently laid a copper cable under the edge of the baseboard, all the way round to connect the negative side of the power to it. Large diameter wires help.
    With regard to cleaning track: I visited Pendon last weekend and the guys there advised me against using the Peco track rubber – very abrasive. I’m going to use a cleaning fluid from now on.

    • Hi David, thanks for the heads up; this is why I suggest using a track rubber to remove just difficult to shift track dirt like glue and paint and a track cleaning fluid like Goo Gone is what I recommend here for general use. (I’ve always wanted the Dublo three-rail system, one day!). Best wishes, Andy

  2. Two cars per axle is a good rule of thumb. Meanwhile, remember power packs in most sets are minimal and only run “average” locos. “Average” is determined by Athearn blue-box locos or in their sets according to the guys at Bachmann. I use old packs (I have six of them) and they still have original outputs. I have long tracks so I direct wire one to half a circle (my mains are thirty-some feet long) to half of one using common wire on ground (-) and plastic insulators on the live track side (+). I use a second power pack for the other half. I also solder a lot of my connections taking a voltmeter around the track for voltage drops. I also use 12 gauge wire for connecting to the transformer, but only at the middle connections. I hope this helps.

  3. Just watched an interesting video on u tube.seems to dispel the myth about not using WD40 or 3in1 oil on locos. The trick seems to be just using a tiny spot of oil. I use 5/40 from the tip of a pin. No harm done so far on 60 locos. Hornby want you to buy their expensive oil but it’s not necessary.

  4. Hi
    I am building a 16×10 foot layout on two levels, double track plus storage sidings on top and 11 storage sidings on the lower level. I am putting droppers approximately 3 feet apart and all seems to be ok so far. Currently using DC and DCC on each level depending which controller is hooked up. Also have a shelf above with 26 foot of track so far and it only has two feeds at the moment. No problems either. Clean track is most important. I use a Relco cleaner when on DC. (Never ever use on DCC) . Great for cleaning tracks and DC motors. Current diversion is into TT and building an exhibition layout with a friend. Brilliant gauge as lots more fits in without the need for magnifying glasses. Interesting challenge as a change from OO for a few months. Relco is great for cleaning up the old Triang locos and track! Good luck with your layout. Let’s have some pics

  5. Without reading every single comment or post on here. I’m a seasonal hobbyist. My train only comes out at Christmas. This year I have been having inter-mitten power problems. It only occurs on the straight track. The track is an oval shape with just the track that came with the train. So I’m sure it is not a length issue. I presume a dirty track. What my question is ,can you or should you not use WD-40 to clean it. I have tried a couple of things on it all ready. 1st just a pencil eraser that work for short time. Couple trips around the track. Then I tried just a degreaser, worked for several more trips around and then it sat for a day and now, it is really bad in just the same 2 spots on the straight track. I dont live close to hobbyshop so I would need something that I could get at any hardware or Walmart type store if WD-40 is not recommended. Thank you in advance. Wrendy

  6. I have a graham farish 0-6-0 it has had new brushes,gear drive wheel and been lightly lubricated….The issue is that after 5 mins running it slows down a considerable amount that it stops,all new track as new layout,wheels cleaned,does anyone know what’s up

  7. I have trouble with a Trix Britannia class engine N gauge. The rear LHS driving wheel seems to move about on the axle ie loose on stripping down The wheel slide off the axle easily, is this incorrect due to wear? the opp wheel is fast to the axle. if a salution is possible ie Loctite wheel to axle how is it set with the opposite wheel ie position of connecting rods etc.
    Regards Derek

  8. Hi, I have a Jouef HO locomotive with a bulb holder attached across the motor. Do you know what this is for and what specification (volts, watts) the bulb should be ? Thanks

    • Hi Brendan, no idea off the top of my head but I’ll have a think and talk to some other readers here and see if anyone knows what it might be. Andy

  9. hi have just put train track together to try an intercity train engine and carriages – the small british railways tender goes fine but the intercity front carriage will not – do they have motor or something in or is it controlled by the track – a complete novice sorry for what seems a silly question
    kind regards

    • Hi Christine, was the track supplied with the trains as part of a set with the trains or acquired separately? Model railway track curves are available in different radiuses and longer rolling stock (such as carriages) will struggle on the tightest radiuses. If you got all the track and trains as a set they should work together so it maybe a different problem but if you got them separately this is most likely the cause and you’ll need larger radius curves for the longer rolling stock, look for ‘radius 2 and 3’ curves. Let me know and I’ll try to point you in the right direction. Andy

  10. Hi Andy
    I have a OO u shaped layout 6x6x6 2feet wide layout In your opinion,which is the best controller to use,it is of single track.
    Thank you 
    Rick Maddock 
    My email is.      rickmad@ btinternet.com

  11. Hi i have a dapol engine that has just stopped working when i remove the cover the light on the front of train is on to show power, but the train will not move any advice please.

    • Hi David, it could be a number of things. Is it old or new? I recently got a Dapol Terrier and it died after just a running just a few inches. If that’s the case, return it to the dealer alternatively Dapol also offer good warranty on their engines, give them a call. Let me know if it’s an older unit and I’ll be happy to suggest some options. Andy

  12. Hey Andy, I’ve just started my own Hornby OO gauge train set. I choose the Flying Scotsman train set and have acquired a Hornby Thomas and Percy as well. In regards to my train set, there always seems to be a loss of power around the back straight of my layout with all of my engines and I’m not sure why, and in Regards to my Hornby Percy, after I run him for a while, there is a smokey smell coming from the motor and when not on the rails, he is free-wheeling and I don’t know who to fix this.

    Thanks Andy,

    • Hi Will, nice trains you have there! If the power track connections are at the front of the oval I’d take an educated guess that some of the track joints are flaky and the power isn’t making its way to the rear of the oval hence the problem you’re seeing. Check all the joints and reconnect them. Alternatively you could get link wires (see my earlier post on these http://modelrailwayengineer.com/how-to-connect-additional-power-to-a-model-railway-set/) so you have power wires around the circuit and aren’t so reliant on the joints carrying the electricity to all sections.

      Was the Hornby Percy new or second hand? Burning smells are usually a bad sign but uncommon in new locos?


  13. Hi I’m starting my Hornby oo layout in my spare garage can you let me know if there are any problems Ie: temperature be it very cold or hot many thanks Barry.

  14. I just bought a Marklin Start Up Starter Set 29173 in order to put it around the Christmas Tree. Unfortunately if no other commands are sent within 3 minutes of the last command, the base station shuts off the voltage in the track for safety reasons as per manual…..Is that true??? I must be on top to push every three minutes the IR Control in order locomotive to keep going??There is no chance to programme loco to run continuously? Thanks.

    • Hi, that is the case with the Marklin and while perhaps understandable for safety reasons it’s also very frustrating in what is otherwise a nice starter HO starter set. I’m not aware of a way to over-ride this, perhaps another reader can chime in with an answer. Andy

      • Thank you for your prompt reply.

        If I knew that, I wouldnt bought this firm, Maybe other firms such us ROCO, PICO, ESU, SUDEXPRESS, BRAWA,Liliput etc etc dosent have such kind of restrictions…!
        If you know a model that doesnt stops 🙂 please let me know.
        My best wishes from Greece for a Happy 2017.

  15. Hi, I’ve got an old engine (Mallard) where the rear truck has oxidised to give the weathered greenish look – any tips to remove it? Is vinegar and recommended solution? Thanks

    • Hi Nick, If it was my unit I’d try a weak solution of vinegar and salt and see how that goes (test it first if you can). Just a heads up though, hopefully the green “oxidisation” is a just a thin surface layer but if it’s severe it could be deep and you could end up removing a a good chunk of the metal that the unit is made from in the process so tread carefully. Also, depending on the base metal it might discolour in the process, again, test it first. Andy

  16. Hello, wonder if you can help me. Have just bought my son his first Hornby train set. He has a oo gauge pendollino and the Eurostar. The gentleman in the model rail shop advised I buy an older controller as the ones that come with the kit apparently aren’t very good so I purchased an R965. Once it was all connected I switched it on but it has no speed control, only fast, so the trains derail. I took it back to the shop, they tested it and it was fine but they gave me another one anyway but again it only has one speed, fast!! Could this have anything to do with the track. The man in the shop (who is very experienced) said he didn’t know why this was happening. Any help would be appreciated. Many thanks.

    • Hi Peter, it’s obviously difficult to diagnose from a distance but my suggestion would be with the R965. This isn’t an unknown problem with these controllers (see this discussion on Hornby’s own forum discussing exactly this problem with the two of the very same controller: http://www.hornby.com/uk-en/forum/problem-with-hornby-controller-r965/?p=1 ) and I’m surprised the shop recommended this model. Ask for a replacement or alternatively a Guagemaster controller. With a good controller your son should really enjoy the Pendolino. Andy

      • Hi Andy, thanks so much for your quick response. Glad to hear that this problem isn’t unknown on the R965. Will buy a gaugemaster controller in the next day or so and hopefully my son (and me) can enjoy his train set. Many thanks.

  17. Hi Andy I am just building my first portable base board ,How do you join up the track again after you split the baseboard in half at the joint using fishn plates??

  18. hi i have a problem with a hornby r8072 point on my layout.When the point is adjusted to transfer trains to my track extension the train slows down and stops.Any helr would be appreciated .Pat

    • Hi Pat, Have you attached power to the extension. Power across points is often problematic. Run power lines to the rails both sides of the points and it should be fine. Get back to me if you still have problems. Andy

  19. Hi hope somebody can help.I have 4 separate tracks approx. 32ft.Would you advise that I have more power connectors to the track as at the moment when the engines move away from the one connector they slow down.Any info would be much appreciated as I have just got into model railways Thanks Derek

    • Hi, I’d check the rail joiners first. Make sure the connections are good. Do the locos slow down after the joint? But more power connectors won’t hurt either. Andy

  20. Hi. I am about to build a very large model railway in a room 28 ft by 18 ft non dcc. What is the rule regarding power feeds. How many should I apply and do I wire them in series like a xmas tree or feed them back separately to the transformer

    • That sounds great, you’ll be able to do create a wonderful layout in that amount of space. Re power, you’ll need a controller and feed for each section you want to run different trains on or will it be one long section or are you asking how you boost the power?

      • Hi Andy
        Basically yes. I am worried about loss of power if I have such a large oval circuit. On a small oval circuit one power clip to the track would be fine.  However on such a large expanse of track I am questioning if I need to put several feeds from the transformer say every 1 mtr in order that the power is not lost further down the track. If so do I feed each wire to the next power clip a bit like a Christmas tree or would I feed each wire directly from the power clip straight back to the transformer. This would obviously result in a lot of wiring and what would happen when it got back to the transformer. Would I feed them to some sort of block and then have two wires from the block directly in to the transformer.

        Mike Pownall

        • Ah, got you now! You’re right to think you could do with extra feeder wires.

          I’d use connector block on the main feed wire with wires either soldered to the track or attached via power clips connecting into this.

          Alternatively, look up Hornby link wires; essentially these daisy chain one set of track connectors to another. Even if you’re not using Hornby the concept will be the same. There’s a good video showing these in use here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iw4foG_nBCU

          Take a look from 2 minutes, 20 secs in. Using these with longer wires between the clips should do the trick.

          It sounds a great layout, what do you have planned inside the oval?

          [Update: Conversation continued via email after this. Andy]

    • I’ve just started to build a model railway exactly the same size. I saw the Everard U tube clips and I copied the same connectivity. He stripped a roll of household building wire and laid the positive and the negative wire under the layout board following the track above. I powered each track 4 times by putting “droppers” in a 150 foot run connecting to the said household building wire. “Droppers” are short lengths of thin wire ,red live blue negative, soldered to the track through a small drilled hole close to the track and clipped on to the household wire at the other end. I’m running in my track after ballasting and I’ve had no problems so far. I’m running 9 trains with sound all at once. My track is Remote controlled DCC. Hope this helps.

  21. Hi,
    Is it possible for the controllers/transformers to lose power when they are getting older and does the length of the track affect the power?
    I’m working in N gauge and my track is a circular one on a 32ft baseboard so the total length of the track is about 70ft.  I’ve also noticed that if I run two locos on the main controller ( it’s a Powermaster with 6 outlets) they run slower than when I only run one.

    • Yes, especially for re length of track/multiple. I’d have multiple connections from the power feed to the track for this distance and each loco will draw power reducing the amount for others. Do you have all six outlets connected to the track? Btw, 70ft of track is a great size! What are you building, would love to know more.

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