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Thread: Clean track?

  1. #1
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    Clean track?

    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.

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  2. #2
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    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. #3
    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. #4
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    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.

    Russ

  5. #5
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    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. #6
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  7. #7
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    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. #8
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    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.
    Respectfully,

    David

    Our Future is in our Hands!

    Modeling the ATSF from Winslow to Barstow


  9. #9
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    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.
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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Siskiyou View Post

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