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Maintaining Track for Smooth Trouble-Free Operations

Russell asks readers:

“My trains (HO) run pretty good but wobble a bit in places. They don’t stall much. I have rubbed the track gently with very fine grade sand paper and I think this has helped. A mate of mine here in Australia said I would be better off using rubbing alcohol. Now I don’t know what to do? Should I try both, or just stick with what seems to work already?”

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7 Responses to Maintaining Track for Smooth Trouble-Free Operations

  • Dale Arendssays:

    Wobbles caused by track is usually not dirt on the rail head. It could be caused by uneven roadbed or some obstruction in the web of the rail that the wheel flange is riding up on. It is possible that particular spots have less flange clearance and particular cars have wheels with larger than usual flanges. Inspect the track carefully. Ultimately, it may be necessary to relay the section of track, making sure that the roadbed is smoothed before track is put down.

    Also, if it is just a few particular cars, it may be that they are too light. Check the weight of the car against the NMRA recommended weights and adjust if necessary.

  • Bobsays:

    As far as cleaning the track, alcohol on a clean rag is non-abrasive and removes dust, oils, and other materials. I find it better for cleaning rails and wheels. Even super fine grit sandpaper is abrasive to the rail and doesn’t remove oils…it only spreads them around. Just to mention, there are oils floating in the air, so over time they do get on everything, including our track.

  • W Rusty Lanesays:

    As suggested above, clean the track with denatured alcohol or 91% alcohol. The wobble you may have already fixed with the sandpaper. Check out yer wheels on the cars that wobble. Disconnect them from the train and push them by hand through the wobble spots and see if you can determine what is causing the wobble. It may be the track that the wheels are riding up on something or the wheel flanges may be hitting something between the rails. It’s easier when you hand roll a piece of problem rolling stock through the problem area to determine what the problem is. At least that’s how I identify problem areas.

  • Eddie Tomlinsonsays:

    Denatured alcohol is the best cleaner to use on track and wheels, foam covered Q tips work great on wheels, I use a brass track cleaner car(Filled with denatured alcohol )to help with track cleaning, each trip around the pads need to be changed. cut up old tee shirt instead of buying the pads for the cleaner car, cheaper way to go :]

  • Barry Broylessays:

    I had some problems with some areas where I had some cars wobbling. On closer inspection I saw that two of the wobble spots were where at least one side of the track was where two rails were joined together and the inside top of one of the rails was bent slightly in from the other rail causing the wheels of some cars to ride up at that point causing the car to wobble. I solved the problem by using a very small flat file to file down the inside of the gauge to make them even solving the problem.

  • Terrysays:

    I had a similar fault which as traced to a fishplate connection

  • Billsays:

    Wobble is probably not related to cleaning. Something is out of gauge. If the wobble is happening to all cars in certain places on the layout check track. If it is happening to only certain cars then the issue is most likely a wheel set on the car(s) that is out of gauge. NMRA has a great tool for checking all this as well as a lot more areas on a layout. Definitely worth having and using.

    As to cleaning your track, stay away from abrasives. Rubbing alcohol is not the best solution either. While it will clean your track and wheels it will not discourage arcing at the wheel contact point with the rail. The arcing causes metal molecules to “explode” off the track and oxidize. This is the dark grey/black crud you find on your wheels or the rag you use to clean the track. Mineral spirits is a much better cleaner/solvent to use. It will inhibit the arcing that is creating the dirt.

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