How to Keep Your Railroad Running Smoothly


Design considerations that can affect smooth running:

1) The track that comes with most train sets is known as "sectional track." the track usually consists of enough curved and straight track to make a circle or oval. It comes in a variety of lengths and radiuses.

To increase the size of your layout you can add straight track in multiples of two, or you may want to consult a track planning book for your gauge to get some ideas.

2) With the possible exception of "g" gauge, you will probably want to fasten your track down to a solid base such as plywood or bench work of some type. You can use small nails or screws which are made for that purpose. Care should be taken when you use screws or nails to fasten your track down, that you do not distort the cross ties. Drive screws or nails only until they barley touch the top of the ties without pushing down on them.

If you lay your track on cork roadbed or homasote it will help to cut down on the train noise being amplified by the surface on which it is mounted.

You can put "g" gauge down directly on the ground, concrete, a hardwood floor, carpet or almost any surface. All other gauges should avoid such surfaces as carpet due to the possibility of the carpet fibers and animal hair becoming entangled in the gears or wound around the axles of the locomotive and rolling stock.

3) Mount your track far enough back from the edge of a table so that if the locomotive comes off the track it will not fall on the floor.

4) Try to keep all your track on the same level. Model trains like real trains do not climb hills very well. Try and make your scenery go above and below the track to give the appearance that the train is climbing when it is really on level ground.

If you must go up hill, try to limit the grade to a maximum of 3%. This means that for each three inches the engine climbs it must travel one hundred inches forward over the track.

5) After the track has been laid, it is time to hook the power pack (for dc trains) or transformer (for ac trains),to the track.

On the back of the transformer or power pack, you will see two or possibly as many as six screws or terminals where wires can be attached. The ones you will be hooking the wires to are labeled "variable dc", or "variable ac". These are the terminals which carry the electric current to the tracks.

Make certain no loose strands of wire from one terminal are touching the other terminal. This will cause a short circuit.

The other terminals will be used for accessories such as lighted buildings or switches.

The two wires from the power pack hook up to the tracks in one of several different ways depending on which gauge you have.

  1. LGB uses a set of wires which are fitted with screw on terminals, one of which attaches to each of the two rails the rails.
  2. Large scale Bachman, Lionell, and Playmobile all use a simple clip which snaps across the bottom of the tracks.
  3. "Lionel" "o" and "o27", and "k - line, use a simple track clip which snaps in places from underneath the tracks. The clip fits between the center rail and one of the outside rails.
  4. Most all of the "HO" track has a piece of track which is called a terminal track. These usually have two terminals on one side where you attach the wires. On some models there may be a small plug on these terminal tracks instead of screws.
  5. "N" and "Z" are usually done in the same manner as "HO".
  6. An alternate method would be to use terminal joiners, which is nothing more than rail joiners with a piece of wire soldered to it. You simply replace the rail joiners with terminal joiners.

If your set came with accessories such as switches or lighted buildings, now is the time you would hook them up.

Most all accessories come with specific hook up instructions, however most will be hooked to the terminal on the back of your transformer or power pack which is labeled: "accessories ac".


Operating considerations for smooth operation

1) A model railroad will look more realistic if you don't always run it at its top speed. In fact the slower it runs the more realistic it will appear to be.

2) When changing direction, always allow the locomotive to come to a complete stop. Failure to do so could damage the motor over a period of time, and it will also cause excessive wear to the wheels and traction tires.

3) Avoid allowing any metal objects such as tinsel from the Christmas tree, tools, etc. from laying across the tracks. This will cause a short circuit and will cause the circuit breaker within the power pack or transformer to trip. If this happens, turn the power pack off and allow it to cool for several minutes.

4) Don't expect your train to pull more than a few extra cars. Although some locomotives will pull more than others, it is safe to assume that if you want long trains, you will need more than one locomotive or possibly a more expensive locomotive.

5) Probably the most significant factor for smooth operation of your railroad, is the quality of the equipment it's self. It really is true that you get what you pay for, and the more expensive locomotives run dramatically more smoothly than their cheaper counterparts.


Maintaining your railroad

1) Like any piece of precision equipment, your railroad will need a certain amount of maintenance.

Probably the most important maintenance will be keeping the track clean. Regardless of what kind of metal your track is made of , it will oxidize, which will prevent the wheels of your locomotive from getting good electrical contact.

You can use an abrasive block such as a Walther’s Bright Boy, or one of the many liquid track cleaners.

2) The locomotive wheels also need to be cleaned occasionally. You can use a cotton swab and alcohol for that purpose, or the same bright boy you used on the track, for the really stubborn dirt or oxidation.

3) The locomotive needs to be lubricated occasionally, but very sparingly. It would be better not to use oil at all than to use too much. The safest way to oil a locomotive is to put a small drop of oil on a plate, and dip a toothpick into the oil. Then lightly touch the areas to be oiled with the toothpick.

The following cautions should be observed when lubricating your locomotive:

  1. Use only plastic compatible oil
  2. Do not use oil on or near the motor brushes.
  3. Use gear grease on the gears and not oil.
  4. Do not get oil or grease on the wheels of the locomotive.

There are many more types of preventative maintenance that can be done to improve the performance of both the locomotive and the track. Many of these topics are discussed in several fine books which can be purchased here at HR Trains & Toys, Inc. A partial list follows below.

The ABC's of Model Railroading

Fun with Electric Trains

Realistic Model Railroad Scenery

Scenery for Model Railroads

Scenery Tips and Techniques

Track Plans for Sectional Track

Building an HO Model Railroad with Personality



© 2000 HR Trains & Toys, Inc. - Don Morris