Model Train Repair: Identifying and Fixing Derailment Issues

Published: 25th March 2010
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The popular hobby of scale model train building is both rewarding and wonderful, but as many model railroaders know, in the course of building your layout there are many issues and repair situations you can encounter. One of the most common and debilitating to your model train layout is the problem of derailments-after all nothing is more basic to the model train hobby than keeping your rail cars on the tracks. Here are some common causes to look for, and tips on how to repair the issues with model train derailments.

Cause #1: Catching on the Rail Joints. Rail joints are one of the first places to look when trying to find the cause of a train derailment. Look at each joint to make sure it is level, and if it's not, fasten it more tightly, and use a file to smooth down the top of each spike or nailhead that fastens the track to the layout.

Cause #2: Turnouts Too Tight or Too Wide. Track switches are one of the most common causes of model train derailments and a frequent area of repair. If the gauge is too tight the wheels may rise up and cause a derailment. Also, if the gauge is too wide it can also make the wheelset to climb up and derail as well. Many turnouts are manufactured with too wide of a gauge, but you can fix this easily by filling in the inside portion of the guardrail until the gauge fits tightly.

Cause #3: Overlubrication. Many model train builders use too much lubrication, believing that you can never go wrong with lubricating your machinery. However this can be too much of a good thing, and too much oil will attract dirt to your equipment and cause derailments, and worse, can damage the paint on your trains and result in the need for additional repairs. Use a minimum amount of oil, and do not use oil at all for couplers, but use a powdered graphite Teflon.

Cause #4: Weight Distribution. Most freight cars require some extra weight to run correctly and remain steady on the tracks. The NMRA has some recommended formulas to figure out the optimal weight based on different car lengths for various scales of model trains (see the links at the conclusion of this article for more info). When adjusting the weight, keep it towards the bottom of the car and centered as much as possible. Often this simple adjustment to your trains will be all the repair you need to fix the derailment problems.

Cause #5: Wheelset Gauge. Each wheelset should be the right gauge and be correctly centered on each axle. If the gauge is slightly off, you can do this repair yourself by carefully twisting the wheel along the axle until it falls into the correct range. Be very deliberate and careful when twisting these wheels... this is the type of repair and can easily go wrong if you go too far.

Do you want to know more about model train repair? If so, I recommend this e-book which is loaded with expert information to solve a number of issues, as well as layout tips: Model Train Repair eBook

Also, check here for more info on model train repair and NMRA weight guidelines: Model Train Repair

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