Maintenance Tips for A Garden Railroad


What is garden railroad maintenance?

Maintenance for a garden railroad is much the same as on a real railroad. You have to overcome some of the same problems such as: track maintenance, ballast, drainage, routine, locomotive and rolling stock maintenance, replacing or rebuilding structures, trimming trees and shrubbery and lots more. 

Why Maintain A Garden Railroad?

The railroad will look better and run better. It is also a lot more fun to run a well-maintained railroad. 

When Should You Maintain Your Garden Railroad?

You should establish a regular schedule of preventative maintenance in order to keep major unforeseen repairs to a minimum. Locomotives should be checked at least every eight to ten hours of operation for dirt or oxidation build up on the wheels and for proper lubrication. 

Track should be cleaned before each operating session , or when ever the performance of the locomotives seems to be sluggish or erratic. 

A regular schedule for watering plants will keep your garden looking good and you'll use less water over all than if you water only occasionally. 

Where Should You Maintain Your Garden Railroad?

Of course you can't take the garden or track inside to maintain it, however, it would be best if you set aside a clean and dry work area inside for train maintenance. You can make a simple cradle from three short pieces of 2" x 8" lumber. Nail them together in a "U" shape and suspend some heavy fabric or other material to act as a hammock for your locomotives and cars to sit in while you are working on them. You can also have a tray for any parts that you remove.  This will make it easier to find them when it is time to reassemble the locomotive. Good lighting is also important as well as having the proper tools close at hand. 

Maintaining Your Garden and the Railroad Right of Way

Maintaining the garden requires about 15 minutes of water each day during the dry season and about the same amount for those days that it does not rain during the rainy season. Cypress mulch or pine bark in areas where there are no plants will help the ground retain the moisture longer. 

2) Weeding is probably the next most important maintenance task. Keep the right-of-way clear. Most of the weeding will need to be done by hand. This is hard work and very time consuming, but if you do a little bit each day while the train is running, you'll be able to keep your railroad looking good. 

3) Pruning and trimming of foliage along the right of way plays a very important part in preventing the trains from derailing. Another factor is debris that has fallen on the track. Make a walk around inspection just before you run the trains or set a small locomotive on the track and let it run first. The locomotive will find any debris quickly and be derailed. Just go to that location and remove the debris that caused the derailment and the locomotive on its way again. This many not clear the tracks completely, but it will allow you to get trains running fairly quickly. 

4) Maintaining the ballast along the track is almost a continuous process. If your railroad was planned with good drainage in mind, however, you may be fortunate enough not to have to ballast as often. You will need a piece of wood with two notches for the rails and a fairly still four inch paint brush for maintaining the ballast. 


Pour the ballast directly on the track in the area to be ballast. Next, run the piece of wood back and forth along the rails to help work the ballast in between the ties. You can also use the piece of wood to help slope the ballast away from the ties along the side of the tracks.

Finish removing excess ballast from between the rails with the paint brush.

Maintaining your Track, Locomotives and Rolling Stock

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. The only exception to this is stainless steel track. Stainless steel will not oxidize but it can accumulate industrial pollutants and dirt. These can easily be removed with smoke fluid, goo be gone, or alcohol. Do not use any abrasive cleaning block on stainless steel rail. You can use an abrasive block such as a bright boy, or an LGB #5004 track cleaning block on brass or aluminum. You could also use one of the many liquid track cleaners, however the cleaning block works best. LGB designed a locomotive specifically to clean the track: LGB # 2067 and it does a great job. LGB also offers a track cleaning attachment that can be installed on the bottom of any LGB twin axle car.

A small amount of LPS 2 oil applied to a soft cloth and wiped on the top of the rails will slow down the oxidation process and help the trains run longer between cleaning. You can also use wall clipper oil outdoors for the same purpose.

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.

4) The wheels and axles of your rolling stock need to be cleaned and lubricated just like your locomotives. The plastic wheels need to be kept clean to prevent them from spreading dirt and oxidation around the layout. the wheels are easily cleaned with a cotton swab and alcohol. The wheels can be popped out of their trucks so the ends of the axles can also be cleaned with alcohol. After cleaning, the axles need to be lubricated once again with a very small drop of plastic compatible oil on each end of the axle.

The following cautions should be observed when lubricating your locomotive or rolling stock:

a) Use only plastic compatible oil
b) Do not use oil on or near the motor brushes.
c) Use gear grease on the gears and not oil.
d) Do not get oil or grease on the wheels of the locomotive or rolling stock. 

Maintenance Tools and Other Accessories:

LGB tool set #5002

LGB track cleaning block #5004

LGB maintenance oil #5001/9

LGB smoke fluid & cleaner #5001

LGB track cleaning unit #5005

LGB gear lubricant #5102

LGB conductive paste #5101

walthers bright boy #949-521

electrical contact cleaner

alcohol cotton swabs

pipe cleaners

needle nose pliers

a stiff brush for removing dirt

paint brush for ballast piece of wood to spread ballast

assorted garden tools


Note: do not use sandpaper, files or a hobby knife to clean the track or locomotive wheels, this will cause scratches which will accelerate the build up of dirt and oxidation.

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.

Model Railroading with LGB by Robert Schleicher (A Greenburg Book)

The Large-Scale Model Railroading Handbook by Robert Schleicher (A Chilton Book)

LGB Track Planning and Technical Guide by Robert Munzing (A Ernst Paul Lehmann Patentwerk Book)

© 2005 HR Trains & Toys, Inc.- Don Morris