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3 Things That Can Go Wrong With Your Model Train, and How to Fix Them

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There could be a variety of reasons why your model train stutters or doesn't run at all.

Model train hobbyists invest a lot of effort into building and running their coveted models. Unfortunately, sometimes problems can creep up that can compromise the operation of the prized vehicles. Thankfully, there are ways to troubleshoot these issues to make sure the model train is back up and running smoothly again.

Here are 3 things that can potentially go wrong with your model train, and how to troubleshoot them.

1. The Train Occasionally Stops Running

There could be a few reasons why your model train suddenly shakes and shimmies on occasion while jetting along its tracks. For starters, identify if there is an issue with the layout or a particular train. Give a locomotive a test run around every section of the track. Try to pinpoint if there is an exact spot along the track that seems to have problems, then test run all your trains over it.

Do you notice that the issue happens with many different trains, or is this problem limited to just one particular train? If the problem presents itself only in one single train, then more than likely that specific train has an issue that needs to be resolved. If that's the case, consider having it repaired by a professional. It could be that the train has a flaw known as 'split-gears' or is experiencing an engine burn out. Whatever the case may be, a good repair shop should be able to fix the problem.

On the other hand, if the issue seems to be exhibited on all of the trains, perhaps there's an issue with the track. If that's the case, you may need to simply clean the track. Particles like dust, dander, cat hair, and sawdust can interfere with the movement of the trains. Wiping the tracks and train wheels with white spirits, rubbing alcohol or specialized cleaners from the local hobby store can clear this debris and help your train run smoothly without juddering.

2. The Train Won't Stay on the Track

Occasional or frequent train derailment can be caused either by the train or the track. If you notice that it is the same locomotive that derails at various spots along the track, it's likely the train itself that is experiencing problems. There could be an issue with the power or wiring in this case. Loose power connections will cause a variety of problems, including sluggish movement to no movement at all. This seems to be more common with layouts that are not permanent and are regularly rearranged.


Sometimes a thorough cleaning of the track and the train's wheels are all that's needed to get the locomotive running smoothly.

Check to see if the wires are securely connected to the track and the power supply. Look for any loose or tight wiring, or any split ends. Make sure that all wires are connected to the appropriate terminals. If that doesn't solve the problem, a specialist may be needed.

On the other hand, if many locomotives are derailing in the same spot, there's probably something wrong with the track. Be careful how the track is put together and laid out, and make some small adjustments to see if a change in layout alleviates the issue. Or else, a thorough cleaning job may be all that's warranted.

3. The Train Doesn't Run at All

If the train isn't running at all, there could be an issue with the engine, electrical wiring, or power supply. Your challenge is to figure out which of these components is the culprit.

Check to see if there is a broken power supply, or if you simply forgot to turn on the electrical outlet. A complete shutdown could be caused by an electrical circuit short or a break in the power supply. In that case, you might be better off calling an electrical specialist if dealing with wiring is not your strong point.


The Bottom Line

Issues with derailments and inadequate train movement happen from time to time. Regular maintenance and occasional troubleshooting are all part and parcel to the hobby. Be patient, and investigate every possible avenue to uncover the source of the issues. The more you deal with these issues, the better you'll become at both identifying issues and possibly solving them on your own. In the worst case scenario, call in the experts to make sure your trains and track get the care and attention required.

Visit us at T&K Hobby 
for a tremendous selection of model train sets and supplies.

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