5 ways to improve the running of your locomotives

09 April 2020
We all have our cars serviced, so why not our models? Follow BRMs five-point plan for smoother running.

1) Clean the track

Whether you use DC or DCC, our locomotives pick their power up from the rails and if there is even a tiny amount of grime on the running surface, that power won't get through. Give all your track a good polish with a track rubber before every operating session.

If there is a spot where locos always stall, take a closer look. Does the rail appear to be a different colour? There is probably a tiny amount of glue on it from your ballasting. A fingernail or piece of wood will usually be enough to dislodge it.

One word of warning - don't use harsh abrasives like emery paper, or scratch at the rails with metal objects. You'll leave tiny scratches that will attract dirt in the future. Stick to proprietary track rubbers or cleaning fluids.

Content continues after advertisements

2) Clean the locomotive wheels

Clean track is only half of the smooth running equation. Dirty wheels won't pick up electricity either.

Flip the loco on it's back, supporting it with a foam cradle, and burnish the wheels with a fibreglass pencil or something specially designed cleaning fluid. It helps if the wheels are powered and a couple of wires from your track or the back of the controller should provide the power. Yes, it's a bit of a three-handed job, but you'll get good at it surprisingly quickly.

Dirty wheels are a bit of a giveaway when looking at second-hand locos. If the wheels are filthy then you know it's enjoyed a hard life on someone's layout. Mind you, a quick clean and the model is often running as good as new.

3) Clean wagon wheels

OK, wagon wheels might not be picking up electricity, but they are perfectly capable of collecting dirt then spreading it around your layout.

This is a job even the most enthusiastic exhibition layout owner isn't likely to need to perform more than once a year and it's not the most exciting task in the world, but when you have a few hours to spare, it's well worth the effort.

While looking at your rolling stock, it's time to change any old plastic wheels for metal versions. Plastic wheels are really good at spreading dirt and replacing them with spares from Hornby or Bachmann will make a difference.

4) Oil your bearings

Where two surfaces are rubbing against each other, they need to be lubricated. The trouble is that for many modellers this means a trip out to the garage for something designed for the garden gate, which is then poured all over the chassis of their locomotive. The oil then congeals and gums the model up. This isn't what anyone wants.

You need a very light oil, we used to say sewing machine oil but nowadays there are plenty of oilers designed for modellers to use. Then apply tiny drops following the guidance in the service sheets supplied with many models.

Too much oil will attract dirt. If you can see it, you've probably put too much on so wipe the excess off with some paper kitchen towel.

5) Check your wiring

Finally, take a look at the wiring in your locomotives. Modern models designed with DCC in mind will normally be fitted with sockets to hold either the chip, or a blanking plug. If either has worked lose then the chances are the model won't move or will move, but erratically.

Older models can also suffer from dodgy connections so examine each one, it might be time to fire up the soldering iron to reset some joints.

A reliable layout is a fun one to operate. With time on your hands, we've put together a few ideas to help you fettle your model to make it run like a Swiss watch.

Still searching for trackplan inspiration? Our guide gives you simple trackplan suggestions to help you get started. 

If you’d like some more advice, take a look at the BRM Techniques page for all our latest guides and advice articles.

Content continues after advertisement