Upgrading an old model train

upgrading a model trainIf, like me, you have old Hornby or Graham Farish locomotives on your railway you may notice they lack a bit of oomph. Here’s how I give mine a power-up.

Most often a poorly performing model train is a sign it needs a service and clean but if your locos run fine but just lacks power, say to climb an incline or pull the number of wagons and coaches you want, there’s another option you can try.

Upgrading a model train

No, I’m not* talking about adding DCC to a DC loco. This tip is about upgrading the ‘permanent’ magnets of the motor itself.

At the heart of the electric motor inside your locos is a magnet and replacing it with a new more powerful one can revitalise your engines

Doing so is relatively straightforward and really no more complex than the procedure discussed in my last post on model train servicing.

New Magnets
I use Neodymium magnets when upgrading my Locomotives. Neodymium is a relatively new type of magnet and many times stronger than traditional types. Magnets of this sort of the size and shape needed are available on eBay (for Hornby).

Examine the locomotive a locate the screws fixing the bodyshell to the chassis. Usually, these are the large screws on the underside of the unit although on some Hornby units you might also find one in the funnel.

Remove these screws and gently lift the shell off.

Watch for tabs and clips, these can break easily. It’s just a case of identifying them and sliding the frame out and away from the upper body shell.

With the top removed you’ll now see the the motor and axle assembly. (For an excellent guide on how brushed DC motors work I recommend this guide from PCB Heaven).

model train neodymium magnetLocate the magnet which is the recessed rectangular slab on the top in the photo to the left of an N gauge locomotive I was upgrading. On other models it maybe a cube towards the rear.

> Tip: While you’ve got the locomotive open, it would be good to give the axles and cogs a clean and oiling. It’s also worth noting that Neodymium magnets are very strong so it’s worth moving anything they might attract well out of reach.

Prise this free with a small screwdriver and drop in the replacement magnet, ensuring you have it same way around for polarity.

Reassemble the loco back together and give it spin.

The improvement will depend on the state of the magnet you removed. Sometimes the difference is negligible but on one loco I fitted the new magnet too the pulling power increased significantly as did the smoothness of movement.

I’d love to hear how you get on and the difference new magnets made to your trains. If you just want to service your locomotives, see my guide on the best oils and lubricants to use

Footnote: Usual disclaimer applies, this post is for information only and I take no responsibility for any damage or loss caused in relation to the contents of, or use of, or otherwise in connection with this article. 

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 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,
  1. I have just been given 45 Hornby oo trains that were purchased about 1980.As far as I can ascertain these trains have been hardly used and they all come in new looking original boxes.I purchased as all Hornby set so that I could test the trains on it.To date I have tested only a few and what I have found generally is that the trains are working in most cases but some are slowly and jerky .I am comparing the trains to the new one tha came in the set that I purchased.
    Can you tell me the best way I can go about ensuring these trains are returned to their original working condition.
    Thanks for any advise

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