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Loco Only Operates for a Short Time

This question from Dwayne:

“I only have one loco and it will only work for a short period of time. I am 17 and really new to the hobby, so have a lot to learn.”

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18 Responses to Loco Only Operates for a Short Time

  • jimsays:

    IF I was you I would check all electrical connection and clean the track and wheels on the loco. that should be a big help

  • Coopersays:

    Hi. I am also 17, I’ve been model railroading for many years. Since I was about 6. Some issues you may be having is dirty track and/or wheels, the loco could need servicing, and maybe go over your wiring.

    If this doesn’t work contact the shop or supplier to either get it looked at and replaced or refunded. What is the loco may I ask?

    Cheers Cooper

  • Johnsays:

    Dwane, dirty wheels and dirty track are usually the main problems with intermittent operation……clean the wheels and track…..

    • Warrensays:

      Hi Dwane,

      I would also add that every loco requires a service,depending on the Loco and the model you should have advice on the ‘How To’ series.



  • Frank Bsays:

    Some small cheap controllers do not have sufficient current output for older locos (which may take more current), so the controller’s overload cutout will soon trip, then cool down and reset after a minute or so.

    So when the loco stops running. check if the controller is still supplying volts to the track.
    (Use a test meter, or a small 12V bulb with a couple of wires soldered on.)

    My personal practice is to fit a small bulb or LED into my controllers, to always show if power is coming out. (And have a wired 12V bulb handy to check if the track section is live.) This makes fault-finding much quicker.

  • Johnsays:

    !st: check connections from power supply to track.
    2nd clean track.
    3rd clean loco wheels and contacts.
    4ht clean armature on loco motor.
    5th If none of the above works and if the loco is new go back to the seller and ask for warranty repair
    or exchange.

  • Craig Inghamsays:

    I’ve been working with model trains and electrical/electronic systems for over 60 years. There is always a new problem to encounter. For your situation, I will normally check track, wiring and wheel cleanliness first – as others have mentioned. I will then take the engine and set it in a cradle (a piece of handy foam) upside down so the wheels are exposed. Take a pair of jumper wires with alligator clips on each end. Attach one end of each wire the the rail so it looks like the engine would be on the track. Touch the other wire ends to the wheels and the motor should run. If it does, hold them there for a similar time comped to the time longer than it typically runs before sropping. If that shows a problem, take it to someone who can repair it. Remember, fixing may cost more than replacing.

    Later in life, equip your test bench with rollers that allow you to run the engine right on the track. Makes for better and faster testing. But, it isn’t cheap. Over time, you will develop a set of tools that make testing and repairing fun and fast. That is spelled LOTS OF MONEY OVER TIME. Keep learning about operating and fixing trains. Sometimes fixing is more fun than operating. You may even get to a point where people will pay you to fix their trains – that income allows you money to buy more trains. I now take basket cases the bring them back to life. One way to reduce the cost of this hobby.

  • John Nicholsonsays:

    From the sound of your question it seems to be a problem with the loco and not the track or wiring as you say that you have one loco that stops so I take it others are no problem. If possible check the loco bearings, bushes,etc for overheating and/or dirt/hair/fluff that is causing extra load on the system.

    Hope this is of some help and hope you have many years of enjoyment with the hobby



  • David Stokessays:

    Dwayne, it sounds to me a bit more than dirty wheels or track to me, although they are the first go to’s every time a loco fails.
    Other things to check –
    How does the power get to the rails? If a proprietory clip (ala Hornby) that has the wires connected to it and slides in from the side – do the prongs make positive contact or it the fixture loose? Are the wires fully bonded to the fixture. If so you might be getting intermittent power loss.

    Check the contact between the wheels and the motor – sometimes bits of fluff get trapped in there and cause loss of power as it builds up.

    Is it a relatively new loco, or has it been around the block a few times? – if it has you might need to replace the motor brushes.

    All locos rely on getting power to the motor and as a motor works, a small amount of heat is generated. This will cause wires (and surface mount) connections to expand and contract – as they do so they sometime break and you end up with “cold joints”. Using a multi meter check some of these immediately after a failure and you might find the problem. I hope these help

  • Alfredsays:

    If your loco only works for “a short period of time”, and not only a short distance, your power pack or supply might be overloading and shutting down. If your loco stops working and then works again after a few minutes (after your pack cools back down), check your power. You could also possibly have too many accessories drawing from the power pack / supply.

  • Donsays:

    You have some good replies to your question. Please answer them and then come back if you need to.

  • Petesays:

    I think Frank B nailed it. I had the same thing, and we were always looking at the track and wiring and connection etc., etc. A quick way to test for the over heating problem is to check the the track IMMEDIATELY to see if power is coming into that section of track. I was fortunate enough to have two locomotives that I was running at the same time. Both quit at the same time, so we knew it was not a problem with the locomotives, wiring, cleanliness, etc., etc. It was the controller.

  • Peter Glensays:

    If the motor or drive shaft is getting over heated you may have a binding problem,that may stop the loco or overload the controller.You may have some material caught up in the drive system somewhere.

  • Peter in UKsays:

    Hi Dwayne, All of the above is relevant. Track cleaning is really the first thing to do before every running session. I’ll ask a slightly different question, what country are you in, and are there any local model rail;way (railroad) clubs near you? A club is a fantastic environment to learn about the hobby and will have experts there of varying degrees of competence! I~’m in the South of England and belong to 4 different clubs, I know I’m greedy, where guys, and gals, of varying abilities help each other all the time. The other plus of being in a club is, you get to go to shows, and believe me, there is nothing quite like the feeling of seeing your pride and joy running on an exhibition layout with an appreciative audience! So clean track, check for overloads/ overheating and ASK. (There is no such thing as a dumb question, just a dumb answer!) Best of luck, and PLEASE when you resolve the problem let us all know, so we can pat ourselves on the back and get all big headed for having helped!

  • Mikesays:

    Hello Dwayne, I’ll not repeat good advice, as above, but: If your using a DC (analogue) controller then what has been said above is valid. If your using DCC then to test the track voltage you will need a bridge rectifier (see web address = https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diode_bridge). The DCC signal is bi-pola DC which means that measuring it with a normal analogue instrument is difficult. The bridge rectifier solves this.

  • Bruce Scottsays:

    Consider all the good advice listed above.
    Curious to know how old the loco is, what brand, and scale?
    If you can get hold of another locomotive and it does the same thing, it’s the power supply (wall outlet) power pack, wiring or the track.
    1. Check the wall outlet (Have a professional check this)
    2. The power pack may be underrated and heating up (cheap power packs are supplied with train sets), could have a short circuit, something wrong internal. When it cools it resets (If under warranty replace it. If possible, however, try another, more powerful pack with circuit breaker technology)
    3. Wiring loose, broken – when the wires heat up or carry too much current, they expand and loose contact. This is unlikely unless the wiring was pinched or damaged prior to installing (Ohm out wiring while moving them or even simpler replace the connecting wires and connectors)
    4. Faulty rail joiners, track, tabletop, room heats up everything expands just enough to lose contact.
    (Solder track joints and nail down the track to the tabletop.)
    5) If only the one locomotive is the culprit, assuming everything is clean connected and tight, it’s probably a broken wire, solder joint, or winding in the motor in the locomotive. When the loco heats up, again, wires expand and the connection is lost. (Find and replace the wire, resolder a faulty joint, if it’s cost effective replace the motor.
    6) Unable to find anything up this point perhaps there’s a defect in the frame. (If the loco is under warranty replace it. If not and not a one of a kind loco (special meaning), consider a new one or if it’s cost effective order a new frame and the challenge of rebuilding your locomotive from the frame up.

  • mikesays:

    No sense i getting complicated! If you are using DC, then I would say it is probably electrical, use some of the simpler advice from the others.

    DCC leads me to say, dirty track/wheels. HOW TO CLEAN is the issue, not just “clean the track”

    I have literally spent days of time researching and trying different ideas.

    Most people I have found like to Use isoprophyl alcohol full strength on soft cloth patches such as the ones used in cleaning guns, or removing nail polish, you can also just cut up an old cotton t shirt into 2 inch squares.. Q-Tips and other lint borne items will just leave lint and u will use a lot of them.

    The best thing I have found to clean track is AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION FLUID. A quart is $5 or so, and lasts a very long time. apply it the same way as the alcohol.

    You will need to maintain track cleaning procedures as it is not a one time thing. use a q-tip and apply the ATF to a two inch length of each track about every 5 or 6 feet around the layout. Do this about once a week if you don’t run trains daily. This will also serve to clean your wheels.

  • Daniel Frolichsays:

    I have had problems like this before. First, I would recommend additional observations…how far does it travel..does it stop at the same place always…can you place a lighted car on the tracks and roll it over the entire track to check voltage and ability to make contact with the rails…can you place the loco on a different spot and see if it runs the same way.
    Once you eliminate power and track problems…the loco must be at fault. I had to deal with three brand new out of the box engines that, under DCS started up, began to move and stopped after traveling 5 feet and then refused to cooperate at all after that. Turned out the circuit boards in each loco had to be replaced by the factory. Also, a test track is very useful in troubleshooting locomotives.

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