Model Train Express - Articles & advice for model train enthusiasts

Eliminate model train derailments

Having trains that constantly derail is a frustrating experience that most model railroaders will encounter, especially if you are operating a smaller scale or older trains. The good news is derailments can be fixed by addressing several common causes of the problem.

Derailments are caused by either a problem with the track or a problem with your train. You can eliminate track problems by running a second train along your track. If the secondary train doesn’t derail you more than likely have a problem with your train, if it does derail you’ll need to inspect your track for potential problems.


Track problems


Loose rail joints – it’s not uncommon for rail joints to become loose over time. You can check for loose rail joints by running your fingers over the track looking for any points where the track doesn’t line up evenly. If the track is joined correctly but the rails still don’t line up you may need to use a file to level them out. If a section of your track comes loose on a regular basis you can solder the joint to prevent this happening in the future.

Faulty switches – one of the most common cause for derailments is a faulty switch. First you need to ensure that wheels are not coming off the track before hitting the switch as this is not a problem with the switch but rather with the preceding track. Switches need to be sharp to correctly guide the train wheels over them, blunt switches can be sharpened using a file. Also check the switch is moving to the correct position and not getting stuck.

Dirty tracks – small pieces of ballast or debris that have come loose can easily derail a train. To remove debris from your track use a small soft bristle brush and run it along the inside of both rails making sure there is nothing caught underneath them.

Train problems


Faulty couplers – couplers that snag or don’t line up at the same level will cause problems. If you are running carriages that are new they may need to be worked in to ensure they move freely and are center aligned. Couplings also need to sit at the same height as one another, if required adjust the height so both couplings meet at the same level.

Faulty wheelbase – wheels on both locomotives and carriages need to be in alignment. If wheels are not aligned correctly they bind against the track and can jump the rails. All wheels should also spin freely, if any wheels are not spinning freely apply a small amount of lubricant. If lubricant doesn’t loosen the wheels you’ll need to have them replaced or repaired.

Freight car weight – model freight cars are often not heavy enough to stay engaged on the track at all times. If this is the case small weights can be added to the inside and fixed into place using double sided tape. The weight should be placed in the center so that it’s distributed evenly over both sets of wheels and doesn’t affect the center of gravity.