Trying 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 the 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.
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.
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 a problem with the track or power on or to the track. 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 and cleaning the rails will be vital.
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”.
Grease and Grime
Goo Gone (American visitors use this link for faster delivery) is my preferred choice for cleaning particularly dirty track. 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 suggest 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 track — 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 that will bring your trains to a halt, slow down or cause them to judder.
Again, Goo Gone (American model railroaders please click here) 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.
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.
(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 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
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, are the joints between track sections.
Replace worn or lose 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
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 lose or tight wiring, frayed or split ends and confirm all wires are connected to the right terminals.
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.
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 need oiling.
- To clean locomotive wheels, get the Trix wheel cleaner.
- To oil locomotive gears, use cleaning oil or Gaugemaster lubricator.
- To remove paint/glue from rails use a track rubber.
- For routine cleaning of track, use Goo Gone or cleaning alcohol.
Picture Credit: Les Chatfield
>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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