Model Train Express - Articles & advice for model train enthusiasts

Troubleshooting model train problems

For some people troubleshooting problems is a source of enjoyment for others it can be a nightmare. Its important to take your time and slowly go over each of the potential causes so you can narrow down the problem and it down and resolve it. Here are come common problems and ways you can diagnose and fix them.

Train won’t run at all

Do other trains run – if you have access to a second train test to see that it also doesn’t work. If it does run then you have a problem with your train and it will need to be repaired. Alternatively you can try your train on another layout, if it runs then you have a problem with your track.

Is train placed correctly on the track – sometimes a train may not have be placed correctly onto a track. You can test that a train has been placed correctly on a track by rolling it backwards and forwards, if it rolls freely then it’s sitting correctly on the tracks.

Are lights or other accessories working – if your train has lighting or sounds and they are still working then power is successfully being delivered to your train. As the train is getting power the reason for a train not running is a problem with the motor.

Check the power supply is working – the best way to know for certain if your power supply is working correctly is to use a multimeter. If you do not know how to use a multimeter take your power supply to your hobby store, they should be more than happy to help you out.

Check the track and wiring – if possible set up a small test track separate from your main layout. This will allow you to determine if the train not running is due to a problem with the track or with your train. You should also check each piece of track and the wiring to make sure nothing has come loose.

Train not operating smoothly

If your train is constantly slowing down and speeding up either the tracks are dirty or the wheels of your train are dirty. Track can be cleaned using a light abrasive pad (not steel wool) and track cleaner, wheels can be cleaned using a pencil eraser.

Train stopping or slowing at certain parts of the track

Problems that occur on a certain section of track are caused by two things, either a dirty piece of track or low voltage. Start out by removing the area of track that is causing problems and clean with a track cleaning solution and light abrasive pad, if that doesn’t resolve the issue you may have low voltage in that area of the track.

As track gets further away from your power supply the voltage drops weakening the flow of power. If the point that your train slows is the furthest point from your power supply then your power supply may not be strong enough for the length of track you are running. This can be resolved by purchasing a better power supply or running a second set of wires from your power supply to the track.

Train frequently derails

Going too fast – different trains will be able to handle different speeds so if you are having a lot of derailments try slowing down. Trains have the most problems going around corners, if you have especially tight bends and long carriages ensure you slow right down.

Dirty or damaged track – dirt, stones and damaged track will also cause a train to derail. You should periodically inspect your track for signs of damage and make sure the rails are free from any debris.

Train problems – trains will derail if they have damaged axles or couplings. Axles can be inspected by turning the train upside and spinning the wheels looking for any signs of imbalance. Coupling needs to connect to one another at the same height, check that all cars coupling sit at the same height. Also check the coupling are free to move from side to side and are not loose in any way.