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.

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