Everything on model trains, model railroads, model railways, locomotives, model train layouts, scenery, wiring, DCC and more. Enjoy the world's best hobby... model railroading!

If You Want Truly Photo-Realistic Plans – You Won’t Find Better!

Trains Ran Well Before Ballasting

Rhalf models HO and has this question:

“My trains were running well until I ballast half the track. Now I find I have no power to the track at all where whereas I did before.

I have been relying solely on rail joiners to transmit current between track sections, so I suspect adhesive or bits of ballast have probably fallen into the joiners somewhere on the track…creating an insulated joint.

Do I need to solder the rail joiners to the track? If so, how far apart? I thought maybe I should add a feeder to each section of track giving each its own power supply? Feedback would be good.”

22 Responses to Trains Ran Well Before Ballasting

  • Rich Jonessays:

    I always soldered my joiners to the track. If you still have a problem check for a cold solder joint, where it looks good but not making good contact. I did solder feeders every couple of sections when I installed my track wiring

  • Garthsays:

    Assuming you are using long length flex track, yes it helps to have a feeder to each piece of track, especially with DCC. The problem I have had with soldering joins is lack of movement to compensate for expansion due to heat. I have had some serious buckling and now leave a gap between track sections (up to 2mm) depending on the time of year (hot or cold) I’m laying track.
    Best of luck, Garth

  • Drewsays:

    Although you should have feeder wires on each piece of track. Most likely your problem is dirty track take a razor blade and scrape your track just hard enough to take off any glue that may have dried on the track. Then get a good track cleaner and clean track. If your rail joiners fit tight this should fix your the problem. But I would still suggest you power each section of track.
    Good Luck

  • Richard Francis Bakersays:

    Ballasting is always a bit of a hassle! The best thing to do, is to get some track underlay – what you can do, is put glue on and then once laying down the track you can then add bits of glue between the sleepers – that is if there isn’t enough glue having laid down the rail – and then just pour it on and leave to dry. You’ll then have a track where you’ll find that the ballast has actually set in the right places. Otherwise, you can use track rubbers to clean the rails or you can use tools or a Stanley knife to get rid of the ballast from the rise of the rail. Hope that helps!

  • Steven Attiassays:

    I have rail joiners across many sections of track and only soldered groups of 3 sections together. I also send power to several blocks (not every section of track). But I would consider making sure the track is clean… easy to find advice here from various methods. Also make sure your loco’s wheels are clean. The materials used in ballasting (glue, etc) will likely impact the conductivity. The fact you have no power may indicate you do have a disruption in the wiring that occurred during the ballasting. I know I constantly checked the track by either running an engine or using a meter (https://www.micromark.com/Bachmann-Track-Voltage-Tester?gclid=EAIaIQobChMImuHxsaCj4AIVmITICh12zQehEAQYASABEgI8X_D_BwE) as I worked thru ballasting section by section. Good Luck.

  • Edwardsays:

    I had s similar problem and found it was glue on rails ,even if you cant see it on track a good clean of rails did thie trick

  • phil johnsonsays:

    if you are using wet water with dish detergent, that is most likely your problem. I like to use denatured alcohol & water instead. soaps leave a residue. try cleaning your rails with a Bright Boy or equivalent

  • Robertsays:

    If you solder 2 wires to an auto bulb you can use this to test where your dead section is. If it is a dirty rail then clean it and if it is a faulty join then that one can be soldered.

  • Steve B.says:

    If everything was running fine before ballasting, I suspect one of 2 possibilities. One could be that you bumped/moved a section of track or wire breaking the connection. Two is glue entering at the joiners. Unless you were using a lot of glue or the joiners were loose, I doubt that the joiners would get completely isolated by the glue. The initial step I would take for myself would be to locate the fault. If you have a volt meter, you can measure the voltage along the various sections. If you do not have a volt meter, Robert’s suggestion of using a 12V bulb will also work fine. Most volt meters have an Ohms scale to measure resistance. With the meter set to the lowest scale, you should measure less than 10 ohms from rail to rail across a joiner. Technically it should measure 0 ohms, but it can vary due to the leads, the way you hold them and the cleanliness of the rails. I doubt that your problem is due to glue on the rails because you indicate complete loss of power in the ballasted section. Typically a dirty track would cause spotty voltage loss. That said. cleaning the track after such an operation is never a bad thing. Adding feeders is fine if you want to do the added work, if everything was running fine before it should be just as good after the problem is identified and fixed.

  • Morgan Bilbo, PRR fansays:

    The way I clean track is a little different. I do not use a bright boy or abrasive. I use a cloth saturated with: either cheap alcohol or acetone. I found 100% acetone at Dollar Tree and have been warned that it destroys plastic. But its in a plastic bottle. I was warned that its no good on the skin. Don’t breath the vapors. HAH! I have had no problems whatsoever. I like the acetone over alcohol because it don’t smell, don’t dry my finger skin and so far has not attacked any track. Now – I use it only with a cloth, and don’t get too much on the ties, etc. But also use a toothbrush or cotton swab to clean the sides of rails. Another thing I did was using the toothbrush, clean rail joints. And I use it to clean wire/connectors, etc. before soldering. Again, I like it better than alcohol. Finally, it cleans paint off brushes or spray can nozzles. So as for danger – I don’t see it. Now in all honesty, if it’s sold as nail polish remover, how can it be harmful? Since I’m male and don’t use nail polish LOL I can’t tell for sure. If the cloth/solution don’t clean, because of glue on the rail. Try using a very fine emory cloth or very light file or Xacto blade and be extremely careful to not scratch the rail. The bright boy seems to be OK, but I’d rather use something finer, even a pencil eraser. Now a final thought. I haven’t had time to test using graphite on the rails. But I heard that it helps electrical conductivity. Others may comment on this.

    • Peter Bayley-Blighsays:

      From how you have described the effect on your finger I would think that you are not using acetone – it will dry your skin very very quickly.

  • Peter Fasakesays:

    What is track ballasting?
    Thank you.

    • Geoffsays:

      Basically you glue small stones around the sleepers to simulate the gravel used on the real thing. You can buy appropriately sized stone from your hobby store, or experiment with grit from a pet store.

  • Steve B.says:

    I have never handled any acetone that doesn’t have a distinct odor. Acetone is used extensively to bond acrylic plastic and plastic models. Not all plastics will melt with it though, hence being in a plastic bottle. Acetone that I have purchased has always been in a metal can. Emory cloth works because of the grit that is glued to the surface. Grit grinds and comes loose. Use it enough and it will begin to enter your rolling stock and it will not be good, to say the least. A file creates filings of the material you are filing. In the case of filing track rails, the filings are conductive metals. you can use either if you do it away from the table and clean the track thoroughly before putting it back. Graphite is used in motor brushes so it is conductive depending on the purity. The graphite sold in powder form is usually sold as lubricant. the powder is messy and really will not remain where you want it.

  • Jan Perssonsays:

    I would solder a wire loop from track to track around the rail joiners. To me, this would not interfere with expansion and would make it easier if a section of track needed to be replaced !

  • Morgan Bilbo, PRR fansays:

    The acetone I referred to is probably not acetone as you know it. Since it’s sold as nail polish remover, I doubt if its harmful. As I said, I don’t smell it and it sure don’t seem like alcohol. Regular nail polish remover has oil and stuff in it. This that I buy does not. Yes, don’t breath too much of it. And for gosh sakes, don’t drink it. LOL Use it with care, just as you would anything like it. I just don’t like oil/Wahl clipper, or bright boys and since this is about ballast. I’d rather try acetone than alcohol or other such. I avoid water and water base when I can. If you use Elmers for ballast, then you are bound to use water. And I don’t. So, please don’t get upset about my telling about acetone. I am not talking about the stuff at Ace or H-D or such.

  • Don Jenningssays:

    go over the track with a cleaner or cleaning solution where you put the ballast. You may have gotten glue or paste on the rails.
    that is all. BYE

  • Phillipsays:

    I was wondering if ordinary household power extension cord wire would be okay to wire up a HO model railway layout. I have plenty of 10amp to 15amp power extension cords in the shed, which would save on purchasing wiring from a hobby shop, or would it be too thick to use? Any ideas?

    • David Stokessays:

      Strip the insulation off your old extension cords and use it for the main power feeds (or Bus feeds) under the layout if it is solid core. If the wire is multi cored (that is, not solid wire) leave the insulation on the individual wires but strip them into three separate ones. You can the buy 22 gauge hookup wire which is soldered to your rails fed down under the them through the base board and to the bus wires. Bigger is better when it comes to carrying electrical current, but above the base board you will need a little “invisibility” so smaller wires up there.

  • Morgan Bilbo, PRR fansays:

    I may input here, just a simple idea. The buss wire should be 14 to 16 gauge. Some extension cords are 16, but some are 18. I knew of one guy who used 18 gauge for feeders and buss. I would rather use 16 for the buss and either 20 or 22 gauge for feeders. That’s what I’m doing on a new shelf layout I’m working on right now. All the wire I’m using is what I had on hand/available. Avoiding purchase of new. But, be sure the wire is good. Copper. Stranded or solid – your choice. Some like solid, others like stranded. There are pros and cons about that, and IMHO it depends on what you like and are comfortable with. Stranded wire when soldered seems to work fine for me. i.e. Making sure the solder joint is solid, shiny and I actually grab and pull on each feeder as it’s installed. If any filing is required on the rail because of solder lumps, be careful there too. When soldering use the minimum amount of solder needed. Just be sure the connection is SOLID.


    When running DCC, it is imperative that you install dropper wires on every piece of track and switch. I do not recommend soldering rail joiners if you ever hope to pick this track up some day, move it, or sell it. Do not ballast track for at least one full year until you have run and run and run ALL trains, carriages, heavy weights, etc over all your track and switches both directions many times. Then have a go at ballasting a section at a time. Once ballast is done, it pretty much is over. To take the track up now will almost ensure total destruction. I glue my foam sub roadbed to my green foam board base, then use very fine nails with small heads to pin the sleepers down thru these layers.Hobby foam adhesive releases very easily, should you ever have to pick up your rails, open up a tight curve, etc. Also build your benchwork in modules, bolted together, so someone can get it out some day.

  • Morgan Bilbo, PRR fansays:

    I’ve changed my strategy. I am using AWG 20 wire exclusively. I have a lot of it. A short feeder from the track to the buss. But. The buss is another AWG 20 wire from that short feeder all the way to a terminal block. That is a lot of wires going those blocks. (One block for one rail, the other rail has it’s own block. Then, from the terminal block to the command station is AWG 18 and that is less than a foot long. So, those individual wires carry the load. And it works. I test all track with 3 HF meters, an old MyCronta analog meter and a ? better quality meter. But the HF’s are free and that’s what counts. Turn the power on. Engine can be on the track standing or running or not. I take one meter and measure at one end of the layout, at the command station/which is in the middle, and at the other end of the layout. Repeat with as many meters as you wish. I measure Volts,DC and AC, the continuity and resistance. All I care is that the voltage reads the same. I don’t need accuracy, just make sure the track has the same power everywhere. I’m not sure whether to bother measuring amps is necessary. If that is a priority for you, then invest in a Ramp meter/$80. Or read up in the forums for ideas on that. Hope this is not too late. But might be helpful in some way. Or even if someone else has this question.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Add a photo or image related to your comment (JPEG only)

Use Tiny Railroad Micro Controllers

Model Train DCC HELP

N Scale Track Plans

Watch Video

Model Train Help Ebook

Download Your Free Catalog

Watch These Club Videos

Club members access helpful new resources each month: diagrams, video tutorials, articles, track plans and more. Watch the tour videos here.

Scenery Techniques Explained


Model Railroad Building House Plans

rail yard buildings


Submit Your Model Railroading Questions!

Before you submit your model railroading question please add some feedback, answers or comments to other postings on this model train blog. What goes around comes around... so if you can help others in the hobby, someone else may help you.

Important - Please add plenty of supporting details to any question you submit (eg. scale, solutions you have already tried etc.) , as the clearest and best questions usually get the best answers. Also, please check your spelling and punctuation as all questions need to be approved by the blog moderator prior to publication. Approved questions are normally published within a week (if not sooner).

Submit your model train questions here.

Scenery & Layout Ideas

Submit Your Article

Would you like to write an article and have it published?

Preference will be given to articles that help others progress in the hobby, maybe suggesting an idea for their layout, a quick tip or two... or perhaps a little bit of good advice based on your model railroading experiences.

We are all in this hobby together, so the more we can do to share ideas and help each other, the better.

Submit Your Article Here

Model Railroading Blog Archive

Reader Poll

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.