For the beginner in the model railroading hobby there are a few problems that arise.
One of these problems are the trains derailing which can be very frustrating to the point that leads many beginners exiting the hobby. I know when I first started in the hobby I was plagued by derailments, to the point of almost giving up.
I dreamed of having a smooth running layout, and if you are reading this article then I know you do as well. The truth is it wasn’t hard to achieve after a bit of attention to detail.
Here are 8 ways to make derailments a thing of the past on your own layout:
1. Check to make sure the track is laid down properly.
One of the most common reasons for trains derailing is poorly fitted track joints.
Take a second look at the joints in your track, they should feel level when running your fingers across them, with the gaps between them kept as small as possible. A good tip is to solder the track joints together as this prevents the rails from pulling apart with the vibrations of the trains running across them. After soldering the joints together take a small file or sandpaper and flatten the joint out for a level, smooth track.
Soldering the joints will also help with the conductivity of the electricity powering the trains as this establishes a better circuit for the current to pass through.
2. Ensure the gap (or gauge) between the rails is consistent throughout the track and especially at the track joints.
If the gauge isn’t consistent thought the track then this can cause derailments. If the gauge is too narrow then the wheels will ride up the track and your train will jump off the track. The same goes if the gauge is too wide the wheel flanges can’t span the track properly which results in too much sideways movement leading to a derailment.
You can correct the gauge of the rails by gently heating them up with a soldering iron and moving the track the desired direction, and allowing to cool off slowly. Care must be taken so you don’t create more damage than there was. With a little bit of practice on an unused section of track you will get the hang of correcting the problem areas on your layout.
3. Ensure sharpness of the switch points while switching.
New switch points can have dull edges on the moveable section where it makes contact with the stock rails, which can grab the wheels and cause a derailment.
By using a small file you can smooth the transition between the rails for buttery smooth transitions at the switching points. Be sure to check the gauge at both positions of the switch as you did on the rail joints to ensure the gauge is correct.
4. Make sure the couplers on the cars and locos are smooth.
A coupler that isn’t smooth can cause derailments, by the coupler snagging on rough edges. This is normally the case with new cars, due to the manufacturing process which can sometimes leave rough edges on the couplers.
To help the couplers move more freely with one another, clean off any of the rough edges that may be present on the couplers. This can be done using a small file or fine grit sandpaper. The trick here is to just remove the rough spots to make the couplers move more freely with one another.
After cleaning up the rough spots, be sure to adjust the couplers for proper centering and height. The manufactures will usually provide instructions on how to center the couplers properly.
5. Add weight to the freight cars.
Some freight cars are just too light resulting in the wheels not contacting the rails evenly. To correct this you can add a small amount of weight to the cars. Which will make them want to stay on the track better. This also helps the cars in tighter turns. Adding weight to the cars will also let the cars travel more smoothly over the track.
It is best to add the weight in the center, and as low as possible to the cars creating a lower center of gravity. This also helps top heavy cars stay on the track as well.
6. Wheel alignment can also be a possible cause for cars derailing.
Just like on an automobile if the wheels are not aligned properly, or if there are worn out parts on the carriage can result in the wheels wandering all over the place making your trains skip off the track.
Ensure that the wheels are the correct gauge (distance apart) and that there are no bent/ worn out parts in the carriages. If the pivot points on the carriages are not moving freely this can also cause derailments especially on turns. It is also important to make sure the carriages are not crabbing (crab steering/ working against each other) which can result on the flanges being pushed into the rails, making the wheels ride up and come off the track.
7. Proper lubrication.
Proper lubrication of the wheels and couplers are extremely important for a smooth running railroad layout. A small drop of oil can make a huge difference on a wheel or a coupler that’s hanging up. If parts can’t move freely where they need to then things lock up and cause problems. Those problems of course being your train derailing.
Make sure to not go overboard when oiling parts as it can get messy, as well as attract unnecessary dust. Not to mention it can also cause damage to paintwork as well.
8. Dust / debris on the track.
Not only does dust on the track hinder the conductivity of the power being delivered to your locomotive, it can also cause derailments. To avoid this problem clean the track regularly with a paper towel / cloth. You can also use a track cleaning car to clean the track while the trains are running around the layout.
When making scenery around your layout sometimes the glue can drip on the track if you don’t mask it off prior to making the scenery. Small drops of glue can create bumps on the track which can derail the trains.
By following these 8 simple steps you can create a smooth running railroad without frustrating derailments. It all comes down to taking your time and setting things up properly, as well as doing regular upkeep on the cars, locomotives, and track.