The tale of the errant fish plate

model railway model railway engineer fish plate HOe newFish plates are fiddly things but I didn’t think I’d spend most of a morning fighting with one.

After much indecision, I’ve finally got around to laying the track for my new narrow gauge model railway.

With a quiet Saturday morning spare, I set about placing the bus wires and droppers, Peco 009 electrofrog points and track were positioned and it was then all tested and proven. After another final inspection, it was fixed in place. Hurrah.

Time for a quick play, erm test run.

The layout has a run around at the front for a station and providing access off to a goods yard and siding. I ran one of my new HOe locos up and down testing all the possible paths. Perfect.

The layout is an oval shape, with the rear half disappearing behind a back scene and to where it connects with a fiddle yard. With the “front of house” operations proven, I shunted my Minitrains loco off around the whole oval a couple of times and then into the fiddle yard and back out for a victory lap.

As it trundled around, I leaned over and flicked one the points — the point motors aren’t installed yet — to send it behind the station.


The DCC base station buzzed annoying and the Cab reported an overload. Hmmm. That’s wasn’t good. It worked perfectly seconds previously.

I switched the point back and tried again. Buzzz.

Now that was really annoying.

I isolated the point in question and tried the loco again.

My frustration skyrocketed as the buzz persisted.

What on earth was causing it?

Much faffing around and I was still none the wiser but a great deal more irritated. Model railways are meant to be my way of relaxing!

I’d now spent an hour trying to figure out where the problem lay. It was lunch time and I was getting hungry but I wasn’t going to stop until I’d found the problem.

Baffled I took a sip of tea and sat back. Nothing had changed so what could it be?

I leaned forward to put the cup down and I as did so a glint caught my eye from a section of track but it wasn’t the rails that reflected the light.

Looking closer I spotted a fishplate, aka rail joiner, nestled between the sleepers.  You can just about see it several sleepers ahead of the locomotive in the above photo.

It was lying across the track, touching both rails.

There was my noon-time nemesis. 

I lifted it out and dialed up the power once again. No overload message and the loco pulled away without complaint.


Looking back, I suspect the fish plate had stuck to my hand during track laying earlier that morning and I hadn’t realised. When I then leaned across to change the points it must have dropped off and fallen onto the track causing the short.

The take away from this tale of fishplate perturbance?

If you’re railway suddenly develops electrical shorting and it was working perfectly beforehand, check the track. It doesn’t take much, even a tiny little fishplate, to create chaos.

I should have checked the track first instead of doubting my electrics and wiring. Doing so would have saved a lot of time and frustration.

A final, personal, note: I spend a LOT of time testing, photographing, writing and often wrecking my own layouts researching techniques for these articles and don’t charge a penny for them. If you enjoyed this article or it was useful to you in some way, please add a comment to say so, it gives me encouragement to continue. Thanks and happy modelling, Andy.

> 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 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.
One comment
  1. Hi Andy, I’m so pleased to stumble upon your site as I am completely clueless regarding model railwaying. I thought it best to read up as much as I could before taking the plunge as to setting- up etc. I’ve built the baseboard(8×4) which I’m quite pleased about, and, thanks to your site , I’ve acquired a lot of the essentials, tools, oils etc .It all looks quite daunting but now I’ve found your site I feel a lot more comfortable.
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