7 Tips That Will Make Your Model Train Run Smoothly

How to clean model railway trackTrying 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.

From modelrailroadforums.com and ngaugesociety.com

Clean Your Tracks

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

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 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

MRE Extra, The inside-track on track cleaning from Everard Media

Wonky Wiring

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.ukmodelrailroadforums.com

Source: BrianLambert.co.uk

Clean Those Train Wheels

Model train cleanerFor 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.

Via RMWeb

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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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. 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??

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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?


  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. 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.      [email protected] btinternet.com

  13. 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

  14. 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

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