Clean track?

Discussion in 'N Scale' started by Siskiyou, Dec 24, 2010.

  1. Siskiyou

    Siskiyou TrainBoard Member

    Any metallurgists out there? I know there are many threads and posts on track cleaning, but I'm hoping for a few comments on tarnish from anyone not minding repeating himself (or herself).

    I have a medium-sized N-scale mountain division layout with PECO track and medium turnouts. Max grade is just under 3.0% (prototype is 3.6%), curves are minimum 16 inch radius and are super-elevated. I'm a neat freak, so dust doesn't collect on the track. What DOES affect operation, I've noticed, is tarnish. The track and turnouts LOOK clean, but running a finger or cloth over the rails shows - I assume - black tarnish. I notice that if I run trains every day or couple of days, the track seems to stay cleaner than if inactive. If I go 2-3 weeks without running trains (or cleaning track), headlights begin to flicker slightly as thought the track is getting dirty. Cleaning track and turnout points corrects the problem immediately.

    So here's my main question: does running trains have a cleaning action where wheels remove tarnish? If so, how long can you not run trains and still have track remain "clean" - i.e., no 'hidden' tarnish?

    A couple related questions:

    Does running trains promote or decrease tarnish on wheels?

    Do you find that your super-elevated curves promote tarnish on the low rail?

    I've read about and tried all liquid cleaners. Mineral spirits seemed to work best for me, but I think even it leaves residue - using it seemed to flicker the headlights sooner than if I used dry means of cleaning. What's been your experience using wet versus dry means?

    Here's a tip I offer - something I just observed on one curve that was causing headlights of Minitrix F9s to flicker (poor electrical contact). Grab your track gauge and check the track. Even if you're in a temperature-controlled room, slight changes in temp may cause your track to move. If a rail can't move fore-and-aft, it will try to move side-to-side, changing your track gauge. I corrected my problen by sanding the insides of the rail heads - slightly - with an emory board.

    Happy Holidays to all!
  2. subwayaz

    subwayaz TrainBoard Supporter

    I happen to notice that when you run your trains more often the track will stay cleaner/ I don't know exactly why that is but maybe it has something to do with the friction on the rails with the wheels of the cars/locos.
    I run my trains about once a day for about an hour, and I still run the cleaning car around about one tanks worth of Alcohol and follow that up with a cleaning car with a green scrubby pad on the bottom to get the excess moisture. The abrasion there doesn't hurt either.
    And I never have a problem with light flicker and I have a 2.5% grade.
  3. kermat13

    kermat13 TrainBoard Member

    Running trains regularly allows the dirt to collect on the wheels of the car. Which compounds the problem over time.

    I use to run a centerline car with goo gone on the wrapping--but goo gone is a oil distillate--so all your doing is making the track slippery.

    Most will probably suggest 90% alcohol and a cloth to wipe the track. Might as well go the extra effort to clean the wheels of cars and loco's all at one time.
  4. tehachapifan

    tehachapifan TrainBoard Supporter

    I'm not one of the lucky ones that never seem to have to clean their track. I have to manually clean almost all my track with a bright boy almost daily to keep trains running smoothly. My layout is in the garage and subject to temperature/humidity changes overnight. I can run trains late into the evening on day #1 without a single headlight flicker (after an extensive cleaning of the track), get up early on day#2 and the trains will sputter and flicker along horribly until I clean the track again. Yes, the track is full of the black "tarnish" you mentioned. BTW, I run pretty long trains with 3 or 4 locos on a 2 to 2.7% ruling grade.

    PS- The track closest to the overhead garage door is the biggest problem. Actually, I hardly ever have to clean the track inside my enclosed helix, which is the farthest point from the garage door. Guess it's insulated from temperature/humidity changes more.

  5. Oleguy

    Oleguy TrainBoard Member

    You might try a product called NO-OX, from Walthers sells it. I have not had to worry about cleaning my track for several months. It takes just a little bit to do the job. I put it ion the switch points and stopped all my power routing problems. Be sure to clean your track before you try adding the NO-OX. Makes a big difference.
    Just my thoughts.
    Have fun, run trains
  6. Flash Blackman

    Flash Blackman Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

  7. N-builder

    N-builder TrainBoard Member

    The best and cheapest way to clean track is use balsa wood, just break off a piece and run it on the track. The balsa wood is soft so it won't harm the track. Its also true that the more you use your track the more it stays clean. But I never have major issues with cleaning the track. I clean maybe once a month. Other then that my trains run great no issues with the tracks being dirty or having debris on it.
  8. DCESharkman

    DCESharkman TrainBoard Supporter

    I use alchohol and surgical sponges as a quick wipe of the track. After that, I have a few track cleaning cars that circle about from time to time.

    What I have noticed, is that since the conversion of my rolling stock to metal wheels, I find the rails stay polished a lot better. Some may dispuite this but it is what I see.

    But the easy thing to do is invest in a small collection of track cleaning cars from Aztec or the Atlas/Tomix unit or even the CMX clean machine. Have these running as a part of your operations and you will have a lot less issues with rail tarnish.
  9. Metro Red Line

    Metro Red Line TrainBoard Member

    I've done the gleaming method for parts of my track, the rest has never had any abrasion cleaning (it's pre-weathered rail). Everything's fine for the most part. There are a couple of spots where locos temporarily stall, and I've found there to be some gunk on the rails. I used a piece of excess cork roadbed to wipe it off and it was fine.

    A week or so ago, I ran a long train and one car kept derailing on a spot on a downgrade. I took a closer look and rubbed my finger on the tracks. I could feel a bump on the rails which turned out to be some rail gunk. I wiped it off with the roadbed and that one car never derailed again.
  10. Metro Red Line

    Metro Red Line TrainBoard Member

    As far as I know, the difference in rail height/angle is so minute that there's no real difference in gravitational adhesion from one rail to another. Superelevated curves in model railroading, especially for N scale, is more for aesthetics than anything else. N scale locos and trains are weighed by mere ounces. In the 1:1 railroading world, where locos and rolling stock weigh in by tons, yes they matter.
  11. jacksibold

    jacksibold TrainBoard Member

    I very rarely clean my track - maybe 2x per year. I attribute this to a closed room, in floor hot water heat but most importantly the John Colombo double sticky tape traction tires that i have on my LifeLike Berkshires. I often do not run for 3 weeks lately and have no problems with sound, lights, engine performance on my 7.5 scale mile 2 level layout with a 1.3% grade oval, 3 lap helix. Either that or I have dumb luck. Seriously, before the double sticky tape, even my Rivarossi berkshires with their traction tires were troulblesome and the track needed frequent cleaning. I have not replace the double sticky tape traction tires for nearly 2 years. Maybe this approach or something like it, including Bullfrog Snot might be the answer.

    Jack S
  12. Cajonpassfan

    Cajonpassfan TrainBoard Supporter

    Soooo, the double sticky tape tires pick up dust and crud and keep your track clean ?????? If that's the answer, I'm puting some on a handful of cars....
    Regards, Otto
  13. ken G Price

    ken G Price TrainBoard Member

    Russ. I live in Clearlake Ca, and finally solved the problem of bad running that I would still have after only a day or two of track cleaning.
    I have my lay out in a garage subject to the same conditions as you have. The roads in the area I am in are more dirt then pavement. So every thing is always covered in a layer of dust.

    To get may engines running as they should I have tried many things besides just a Bright Boy and, 70% alcohol and cleaning every engines wheels every time I wanted to run trains. This got to be a real drag so I spent more time working on they layout then running.:tb-hissyfit:

    The first new thing I tried was Gleaming. This did make it easier to clean the track with a cloth wrapped on a small wood block and 70% alcohol, but not an all around cure.

    Second was No-Ox-ID. I will say this did help a little bit more to get more run time between cleanings. What a mess this was though, even with following directions. Just a little to much and every loose piece of ballast would stick to car wheels and cause problems. I had to make sure the rails were cleaned of all excess No-Ox.

    The third was getting an Aztec Mini Monsoon, and Track Star car with the canvass roller and extra canvass covers. These got ride the crud that still now builds up every so often.

    Now I can just turn on my Digitrax, plug in a radio throttle, punch in an engine, unplug the throttle, and run the enginge. What joy. :tb-biggrin:
    I only have to clean an engines wheels if I notice any lights flashing which is on one or two engines now about once every week or two. There still are siding and yard tracks that need hand cleaning with the alcohol every so often, but far, far less then before. I still seem to get tarnish on the point rails of switches that takes a gentle rub with a Bright Boy then the alcohol. Again far less then before. About twice a month there seems to be one that needs it.

    Running two road engines on MU with both programmed the same also works wonders to eliminate any stalling as there are 12 wheels picking up power to move them over any bad spot.

    So I still have and most likely will always have dust I now have engines that work as they should 90% of the time instead of closer to 30%. As others have stated I also find metal wheels to make a big difference. Plastic picks up crude whit in days of being put on the track where my metal wheels or still clean after months.

    Well, I hope this makes sense and can help.
  14. MichaelWinicki

    MichaelWinicki TrainBoard Member

    Boy, that's a tough one. I own all of the cleaning cars put out by Aztech, which are high quality.

    The problem is that there's dirt/debris and then there is oxidation, which may or may not fall in the same "camp".

    I think many types of cleaning cars can get off the debris. And of course the Atlas/Tomix car cleaner can also vacuum, which is a key component. Myself, I just haul my hand-held Oreck around the room and vacuum the track off in no time.

    As far as oxidation goes, I haven't found any car that will take off the oxidation and keep it off. If you have a larger layout, you'll blacken-up the roller on an Aztech car in no time... Or turn a Bright-Boy black to the point that it's useless unless you sand off the edge.

    And then you check the track the next day and what do you get?

    Black from oxidation.

    Now it's said that this oxidation will conduct power, and it appears that it does. I mean my trains will run when the track is oxidized.

    The problem is that once the wheels on the loco's get covered in black from oxidation then the hesitation begins.

    One thing that I've done is use Labelle Track Conditioner, which may be like Clipper Oil or No Ox.

    You clean the track with this oil (and it does take off a lot of black) but don't totally wipe off all the Track Conditioner. I think it was Joe Fugate who called this "wet track".

    I can tell you that after using the Labelle product, I do not have the issues with oxidation building up on the treads of the locomotives like it did before when I only cleaned the track using dry methods.
  15. SleeperN06

    SleeperN06 TrainBoard Member

    I have an Atlas cleaning car for the track. But I haven’t used it since I changed everything over to DCC. I need to put in a decoder, so lately I’ve been using the alcohol & rag method.
    My problem isn’t the track cleaning so much even with living in the Desert with plenty of dust. It’s the wheels and pickups. I hate cleaning wheels and for me it’s the fine line of having a model railroad or not having a railroad. There has to be a simpler way. I once sprayed a loco with contact cleaner to make it easy and totally rendered it useless. I probably should have read the can first because it melted the plastic.:parghh::pmad:
  16. ken G Price

    ken G Price TrainBoard Member

    I have the same conditions as you have. That is why I had tried all of the methods I stated in my post. I have about 175' of track from staging to staging and about that much in yards and sidings to clean.
    As far as cleaning wheels, I use the paper towel over the track with some rubbing alcohol on the end part covering the track where I will run an engine first one way then turn it around and do it the other way.
    This cleans them fast and easy. With the other stuff done I have to do each any one of my 10 engines only about once every two weeks. I had tried to cover the layout when not in use, but found it to be a pain. I almost never ran trains and still they did not work well when I did.
    All of the methods I have stated in my post here and above have made having an N-Scale layout lots of fun again.:tb-tongue:
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 25, 2010
  17. mtntrainman

    mtntrainman TrainBoard Supporter

    Ken...try a new coffee filter instead of paper towel. Loco wheels wont dig thru a coffee filter. Plus you dont get small towel fibers come loose and possibly get in the works...JMO...:tb-wink:

  18. SleeperN06

    SleeperN06 TrainBoard Member

    Ok just so I got this right, your putting a paper towel or coffee filter on the track completely under both trucks (all wheels) and there still is electrical contact between the wheels and the track?
    We are talking about n scale?:tb-confused:
  19. mtntrainman

    mtntrainman TrainBoard Supporter

    Just one truck at a you still get power from the other truck...then reverse the loco in your hand...and do the other truck wheels. I generally lay the filter across the track. Splash a little 70 or 90% on an area the size of maybe a quarter...where the filter meets the rails. I use a rerailer with the loco setting on it about 6 inches from the filter. Crank up the track power...and move the loco down the ramp. The wheels well start you are holding it back. No real down force on the loco. Just guide it along to the filter. Hold the filter with your thumb on the outside of one rail...your index finger on the outside of the other rail ( kinda like a tunnel portal ;-) . Your finger and thumb pressing down on the filter will stop the filter from bunching up when the wheels hit it. Run the front truck up onto the filter betwen your thumb and finger...wheels spinning. Move the loco back and forth thru the alcohol wetted filter. You will see the filter getting dirty from the grunge off the wheels !! Pull the loco back and move the filter a few silly MM and repeat. You will see the wheel patterns in the filter get cleaner and cleaner. Should only take a few times of rearranging the filter to get some pretty good clean wheel tracks on the filter.

    Pick up the loco...turn it around and place it back on the rerailer...move the filter to a new clean area of it...splash with a litle more alcohol...and repeat the cleaning for the other truck.

    Once you get the knack of goes pretty quick.:thumbs_up:

  20. SleeperN06

    SleeperN06 TrainBoard Member

    Thanks George, i'm going to give that a try.

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