Micro-Trains Z Track Switch Causing Stalls w/AZL Locomotives

B Varner Jan 21, 2017

  1. B Varner

    B Varner New Member


    This is my first attempt at Z-Scale (Or any other scale model railroading). In the last 60 days I have purchased near $500 in Micro-Trains Z-Scale Micro-Track and switches. Plus 3 different AZL locomotives & 13 pieces of rolling stock. Even though I have restored cars from the ground up, done some lathe work, scratch built functioning firearms, and old camera repair, this Z-Scale has me beat.

    For my initial layout I have 8 Micro-Track switches. If I were to only use a single oval track without turnouts all would be well. However placing Micro-Track turnouts into the system has totally stopped my ability to have a functioning layout.

    Out of the 8 switches: 1 works good, 2 others mostly work (Always work on the straight through with occasional stoppages using the turnout), and 5 do not allow a single train to cross them without stalling, mostly when using the turnout setting. I can provide full throttle and power the locomotive through these switches on many occasions & power through the switch, but anything slower then flat out results in stalling.

    I have read available helpful hints I have found online (There are not many). I have measured, honed, & filed, all spots on the switches that inspection/testing indicates that any jostling of the train occurs when it passes through a switch. I have ensured that the width between the plastic re-railing pieces on each cutout are sufficient to not stifle wheels on the engines. I have spent nearly every day of the last 2 months changing out between switches and going over every one & any conceivable reason that the switches may be causing problems. While the tolerances of the switches are in my opinion, not very good, I see no reason why they now should not function at least most of the time. I do notice changes in the behavior of the engines as I make changes to rough spots on each switch. But, no amount of work allows these switches to become smooth enough to fix the stalling problem. The single thing I notice about the one switch that does work perfectly is that it has the smoothest movement of locomotives/rolling stock when transiting that switch, than any of the others.

    I was beginning to believe that the problem is with the locomotives and not totally caused by the track. When engines stall (Always with one set of trucks at or on the frogs), I can often simply lightly tap on the locomotive, I can see the headlight flicker. Sometimes this causes the engine to move on through the switch. Most other times it results in the locomotive still not moving, or only moving a short distance and then stalling again, still within the switch.

    I am thinking maybe the AZL locomotives have poor electrical pickups that lose contact when the engine is jostled over the rough switches? I have removed the bodies, but cannot see how to remove the trucks from the locomotives to see if they are functioning correctly.

    Finally, please do not just suggest another brand of switch. I want to do everything I can first to work through all possibilities with these switches before I throw away $285 of new switches.

    So here are my questions for which I am hoping someone can provide detailed solutions.

    1) Anyone have knowledge of how AZL locomotives are disassembled? Is it feasible to do so?

    2) Anyone know if AZL locomotives just do not to function correctly with Micro-Trains switches? If so do other brands of locomotives possibly do better with these switches?

    3) Anyone able to provide details on modifications/tuning that can be done to Micro-Train switches to resolve my issues?

    4) Anyone know who specializes in repairing/tuning this brand switches? I would be willing to pay for tuned, working switches from someone who has a good reputation at this.

    5) Anyone specialize in repairing AZL locomotives, or who specializes in modifications to these locomotives to provide better connectivity? If that if fact is the issue.......

    Thanks in advance.
  2. nscaler711

    nscaler711 TrainBoard Member

    I've got two AZL Locos, a GP38 and a SD75M both run fine over the 6 Microtrains turnouts I have... All of them are the standard unpowered turnouts so I'm not sure how you would have issues... And they aren't power routing as far as I know either.... Should be constant power through both sides.

    As for the locomotives most are split frame so if you loosen the screws the trucks will fall out... Its a pretty standard design really. Anymore today N scale is built like that...
    But we still don't know what Locos you have, as F units may differ...
  3. ztrack

    ztrack TrainBoard Supporter Advertiser

    I am sorry you are having problems with the MTL switches. What you are experiencing is an all too common issues. While some don't have problems, most do. This problem is not isolated to AZL locos, but locos from Marklin and even MTL may have issues. We identified the issues with the turnouts in 2005. The design is very stringent on the tolerances. There are two key problems.

    1: The plastic rail guards are too close to the metal rails. This traps a locos flange and forces the opposite flange to ride up and over the frog. Most turnouts are built with a little slop, but these turnouts do not have that play that Marklin and Rokuhan both have built in.

    2: The design of the frog is an issue. This is a cast piece that is glued in place. The tolerances can be off on the frog. I have seen it sit high so locos jump when they enter it. I have also seen it inset low causing stalls. Even the dimensions of the casting can vary slightly in width.

    MTL is aware of these concerns and many of us had hoped they would modify the design with future runs, but this has not been the case.

    I do know folks you have modified the turnouts to make them more reliable. This included modifying the plastic rail guards to create a bigger gap. Also, many have reworked the frogs. I have not attempted these myself. But I do hear it can have positive affects.

    Yes, I am going to suggest another brand. Rokuhan makes the most robust and functional turnouts on the market. Full discloser here, I am the Distributor for AZL and Rokuhan, but I am also a retailer for MTL. I know all of these brands extremely well. We do all the QC for AZL locos here in our offices. We test them using Rokuhan turnouts. If an AZL loco cannot go through a Rokuhan turnouts, then it is a problem with the loco, not the turnout.

    You have a hefty inventory of the MTL turnouts. I would suggest this. Try a Rokuhan turnout or two just to see if they solve your issues. I would see if you can modify your MTL turnouts. If they still are problematic, I would delegate them for use on maybe areas of your layout that will not see a lot of traffic. I would use Rokuhan in your high traffic areas.

  4. eaelec

    eaelec TrainBoard Member

    I've had stalling problems like you describe and I use Rokuhan switches only.
    One thing I have found is that longer locomotives with more wheels like the E8 will
    cross switches better than shorter ones such as F3s or F7s. Pairs or triples (A-B, A-A or A-B-A etc.) work even
    better. In Z-scale my motto is "go big or go home".
  5. rray

    rray Staff Member

    I always try to triple head locos, but sometimes I can only double head them. A single loco will always give me trouble if running anything more than a small loop of track. Others often claim they are luckier than I am, but when it comes to reliability for several hours of running, there's always 3 locos on the train.

    Exceptions? Yes, you can run a bullet train or other passenger train with good luck, as long as it's doing a scale 100+ MPH. There are many Z Scalers who run at rocket speeds for reliability, seemingly oblivious to their lack of scale speed. Other exceptions?? Customized gearhead drives or otherwise internal momentum mechanisms or modified for extreme weight / electrical pickup.
    ztrack likes this.
  6. emaley

    emaley TrainBoard Supporter

    I have Rokuhan turnouts and have had very good luck with them. Double or triple heading definitely make for more reliability. My AZL locos generally run well, but the small scale makes them very susceptible to dirty track, wheels, excessive lubrication and problems that larger scales don't experience. I have not had experience with MTL turnouts because of the issues I had read about. Stay with it and you will find the problem. Lots of good people here willing to help diagnose the trouble.

  7. Greg Elmassian

    Greg Elmassian TrainBoard Member

    Z is very tough to start out in. The contact patches are small, track needs to be very clean, and you often have to check the gauge on locos, tweak the turnouts, etc.

    My guess the the frog flangeway depth is not deep enough, and you are lifting wheels.

    All I can say is get an optivisor and watch what happens closely as the loco traverses the switch. It seems it's losing power somehow.

  8. shamoo737

    shamoo737 Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    Building my own switches, there's a always a compromise. I can move the frog really close, and the loco will run over like it's not there. The problem with such tight torerance is not all locomotives will run through it. Some will jump the frog.

    Also, just because it's new track, it doesn't mean it's clean. Always assume new track or loco to be dirty. That means clean the wheels and lightly oil the loco. A track or loco that's been running will be more reliable. I always run my trains couple times a week to keep the track and wheel in good working condition.
  9. B Varner

    B Varner New Member

    Thanks all for the responses! At least I feel better now that I am not crazy. It is amazing to me that the model railroading community is willing to accept such poor quality products from Micro-Trains, and continue to buy them.

    Thanks also for the reminders of the other issues that could compound switch problems: Dirty track. Dirty loco wheels. Etc.

    I was asked what specific locomotives I have. The 3 I currently own are 2 AZL SD75M’s plus 1 AZL PF38-2. I also thought that multiple locomotives might fix the problems. Overall it did not. The most regular result was one of the loco’s stalling and the other spinning its wheels to try and push/pull the other. Of course I was not happy even with the trains successfully passing through the switches because at the times this occurred there was still a very glaring pause/delay & flicker of headlights as the locomotives passed over the switches.

    I have done just about everything to these switches possible in order to modify to the point that they are acceptable to me. I must be more rigid in my requirements them many others. When I was 10, the object was to see how fast a train would travel around a track. Now, if I cannot get equipment to function at or near realistic scale speeds, I will move to another hobby. I am always amazed at the poor quality some are willing to accept.

    The single thing I have not done yet is to call Micro-Trains. This I will do, but I do not expect them to send me 5 replacement switches. I will likely now purchase another brand of track & switches to see if they are any better while I continue to fiddle with the Micro-Train switches.

    I think I was just lucky with the 3 out of the 8 that function halfway reasonably, because I cannot point to any specific fix I did that caused them to function. It seems that correcting one rough spot or switch stalling point just induces another issue into the switch so that I have ended up chasing issues. Rarely to have all resolved & end up with a functioning switch.

    My biggest frustration is that the internet had been of less help than I would have expected. Seems like those who have had similar experiences would be yelling at the top of their lungs. It also is sad that there are just as many others who report this brand of switches are mostly fine. I guess that is why I saw so many videos on YouTube showing the trains whizzing around the track at tremendous speeds….

    Seeing the need for more detail about these switches, I have recorded by efforts. Once I have decided that I will waste no more time on Micro-Trains, I am going to create an online, detailed accounting of the issues I encountered & how I attempted to resolve them. Hopefully done in a way that will be available to generate traffic so others can know before they purchase from Micro-Trains, the tremendous frustrations faced with this product.

    At least I now have something to serve as a tiny round display track under the Christmas Tree during the holidays each year…….. I wil keep trying and maybe find a magic bullet fix!
  10. B Varner

    B Varner New Member

    I just read my post above. I now see that it reads like those who have not had many issues with these switches either do not know what they are talking about, or worse yet, accept sub-standard results. I am sorry for this reading. I understand that there likely are many out there who may not experience problems. My whole point is the frustration with the very high percentage of individuals who have experienced many problems. Apparently to the point of moving on to other brand products. If you have not had problems or have successfully resolved your problems, more power to you. Thanks!
  11. Greg Elmassian

    Greg Elmassian TrainBoard Member

    There's nothing wrong with your posts, you are telling it like you see it.

    I'd really check your wheel gauge too, this can be wrong often, so 2 people have the same loco and one is great and the other a problem child.

  12. SJ Z-man

    SJ Z-man TrainBoard Member

    Z, ~40% than N, the multitude of manufactures (some with their own multitude of manufacturers) can lead to tolerance issues. NMRA does not have a standard for Z, more just a recommended practice, since it started in 1968. Yet the market share continues to rapidly grow, thanks to AZL and märklin's continued contribution. Visit and Altenbeken meet in Germany and see what really can be done. But, we live with few main suppliers. It is more of a hobbyist segment, with many come and go small suppliers. Must of us except a hiccup here and there while running but we have heard of many that have frequent or specific issues. There are a lot of that only run a shows. Many of these modular layouts are 20x20 to 50x50' and we run all day with 50+ car trains with few problems (mostly Engineer error). As for the internet, for a 4% of the model railroad market, and typically <10% Forum user, there isn't a Google plethora of answers. But that is why we still have TrainBoard, Yahoo Z scale group, AZL forum, Facebook and others world wide. We try and share and help. Off my soap box.

    You have done well at relating the mechanics. Watching closely, from track level; sliding the loco thru or, 'feeling' the loco while rolling thru. You should also watch the rolling stock (once you get the loco thru), as a string of cars should show you what might be going on.

    Gauging is a potential large issues (we often find a loco, or two that doesn't like a turnout, bridge crossing, etc.) Märklin is the gold standard. Everything they make will run. But metal wheels help - a lot and, 2 axle rolling stock does too. Rob @ Z track pointed the #1 issue we had early on with the MTL turnouts was the black guard rails. However, we are talking about (.002-.005") too close to the stock rails. Couple of swipes thru with a jewelers file and off we go. There were some cast Point assemblies where the Through (straight) rail was a bit bowed in. That pinched a few locos here and there. The Frogs, a bit height, like Rob mentioned but not really stallers.

    Truck pickup performance *will* be your next issue. MTL uses wheel wipers. AZL uses axle point pickup. The AZL axles are like a shear end rod and fit through a hole in the metal pickup, (outside the wheel, inside the frame). In the GP38, this hole is *sloppy* and is likely the issue. The axles just float around too much so without enough weight or load on the loco, it runs worse. This loco, by the way, was from their original incarnation *years* ago, adding a recent mechanism to the way back when shell. Unfortunately, the frame casting was of poor quality, breaking, bending while holding, etc. and *many* had motor contact issue . . until you pressed on the shell (presses the light board down). So don't use the GP38 to solve the turnout issues. AZL knows this issue so no need to pile on.

    If you have an old-school analog voltmeter, you can check the electrical continuity through out the turnout. You can use a light bulb or LED too. Do not use and Digital meter as it has a very high impedance so will find any voltage.

    I suggest you get an MTL Coupler Height Gauge. There is a Flange gauge (bottom of image) that has a notch for the wheel flange. The flange fits with just a few thou slop. During investigations, I found that if the we flange is dead center, all is well. just touching the side wall, was detectable when running. You could machine one, but for $10, it might be the reference you need. Also, Nn3 has a metal standard that's about right too.


    We're here to help. It's not a perfect world but we can usually solve it.
    I also have an N scale layout with many members and lets not get me started on that.
    Kez likes this.
  13. woodworker19

    woodworker19 TrainBoard Member

    I have 13 MT switches with minimal problems. Haven't noticed a difference between AZL or MT locomotives running through them. I don't know if vintage comes into play. I bought 11 new from Z scale internet dealers in the fall of 2014. I did need to hit the top of the frog with a couple of file strokes on one. I did have an issue with 1 of 2 used that I picked up on e-bay. Stalling would happen when turned to the divergent route. I opened the bottom and cleaned the contacts in the roadbed with a few swipes of a pencil eraser. Stalling went away. switch contacts.png

    Sent from my 2PS64 using Tapatalk
  14. shortpainter

    shortpainter TrainBoard Member

    The metal slider that Woodworker circled in his image was the main problem for my MTL switches. I took the slider out and bent it into a slight curve to add some pressure to the contact surfaces. This completely eliminated the consistent stall I was getting. It sucks that nearly all my MTL switches have needed modification to become reliable. The good news is they have stayed reliable once the work was done.
  15. Greg Elmassian

    Greg Elmassian TrainBoard Member

    Kez likes this.
  16. Garth-H

    Garth-H TrainBoard Supporter

    B Varner It is unfortunate that you had to go through the learning curve this way but it what many, if not most of us have already gone through as you can see, from the comments. Micro Trains turnouts can be tuned but it is something we all went through whether we were using Marklin or Micro Trains turnouts. There have been some better solutions along the way some that have disappeared due to being hand crafted and while whey worked great took even more work to incorporate and make work on our layouts. For running trains if that is your focus at this time there is only one that seems to top the list in my estimation and that is Rokuhan, I can take my 2 ft x 4 ft show layout I use to promote Z scale and show what is possible, with a double main ling and and over and under figure 8 loop and I clean the track the day before the show and after setting things to run at the show I don't have to touch anything whether I run DC or DCC. No the scenery is not over the top my water is still not great, but my building are lit, the ditch lights on my gp35 shine bright, even on DC and the FRED on my rear car are the things that attract the crowd, not the tie spacing on my plastic road bed track and keep them coming back to my trains which are not racing around the layout. The most common comment other than, it is so cute, is I never knew Z could operate like that. I have a big box of Micro Trains track and turnouts and I was able to get my 3 x 20 ft home layout to work but not to the level of this 2 x 4 ft show layout, and it was constant work to keep it working. Over time I have swapped out the Micro Trains for ROkuhan and the Micro Trains the track is still under my bench in a box. Rokuhan is to Z what Kato Unitrack is to N, for running at shows hard to beat. I have a small layout in Nn3 with hand laid track and turnouts using Fasttraks tools and parts. Nn3 uses the same track gauge 6.5 mm and it runs well but the maintenance is very high and lots of work to be it together,but this is rivet counter type of track work. I do not take this to regular train shows only to the local narrow gauge meet as there is lots of fiddling and 0-5-0 movements
    ViperBugloss likes this.
  17. SJ Z-man

    SJ Z-man TrainBoard Member

    On the bottom open view from Woodpecker, that small bronze strip in the lower left of the circle was just pressed in on many that we had. When the track was weathered, the paint wicked between the rail and contact and most have dried thicker, spreading the contact. It all worked well for days, until weathered. So that may be a weak contact point too. The crossover jumpers at the bottom were spot welded, so good contact reliability.
  18. B Varner

    B Varner New Member

    Thanks for the great reply's guys! I just walked away for a few days (Before I damaged everything is site). I will get back to some re-testing and tuning later in the week. I believe I have tried everything that has been mentioned, except using an analog voltmeter. But, trying to do the corrections in a sort of assembly line manner for each of the switches was probably not the way to go........ I will start from scratch and go through one at a time again to see what I can correct.

    I have my layout, which uses the six switches, and a test track which consists of a basic very small oval with turn-out(s) to do the tuning on. I have found that often I appear to get issues fixed, only to move the same switch onto the layout and have it work very poorly or not at all. Or, it works one day, and I move the track for some reason and when I try it again, than it will not work.

    The one thing I did do is to purchase a single Marklin turnout. I know that most are suggesting the Rokuhan, but I have a shop here in the Kansas City metro area that carries Z-Scale, and the only two brands he carries is Marklin and MTL. Anyway, I plugged it into my test track of MT and straight away ALL three of my engines function correctly over this switch, in both directions, straight or through the turn-out, at any speed! So, at this point I do not know if I was lucky, or if I could expect this from additional Marklin switches. I am now contemplating how to proceed with this information.

    Irregardless of the above Marklin switch results, I will be giving the MTL another go. I am sorry this post will be long but I wish to go through each item raised in these responses, many of which cause me to have additional questions:

    1) Nscaller711 said that the AZL loco’s trucks can be removed by unscrewing the two sides of the loco once the body is remove. SJ Zman says that the AZL GP38 uses an axle pickup, where MTL uses wheel wipers.
    So, is there a way to modify the pickup on such AZL loco’s to increase the reliability of the contacts? Is there anyone who will do this for other? Or, is it better to just stay away from AZL locos? Would it work to place some of that putty like weight material in the body to add weight to the GP38-2 to help the pickup function better?

    2) I noticed that with my 2 SD75 AZL locomotives, they do not run at the same speed. I have double headed them for short periods on time pulling a 13 or 14 car train, but need to know if I am going to burn out one or the other because they do not run at exactly the same speed when separated?

    3) Several mentioned checking the gauge of the locomotives. How do I do this? Is it gauge between each other? Is it the gauge (width) compared to the track? Is it a specific width I should be measuring?

    4) Greg Elmassian mentioned the frog flange way being not deep enough. I use Prussian Blue (An old style machinist tool) for smearing onto the track points and then running the loco over the switch. The Prussian blue will be gone on those spots where the wheels of the locomotive touch the track. They do not touch the valleys of the frog…..

    5) SJ Zman, you suggested a flange/coupler height gauge. The one pictured is for N Scale. I assume they make one for Z?

    6) Woodworker19 suggested hitting the roadbed contacts with an eraser. Shortpainter stated he added a slight curve to the slider. I have added the bend to all my switches (I think?) but did not “clean” the contacts. I will try that. Tuner cleaner as Greg Elmassian mentioned is a great idea. I have some and used it before. Will try it here!

    7) SJ Zman, you said you “spot welded” the contact points. I do know that on at least one of my switches, the contact was/is lose from the bottom of the track. I guess I am not good enough soldering? How did you get into that small area to tack it together without milting all the plastic?

    8) One final question. I have order some Atlas 24” Z-Scale flex track to play with. Anyone had any issues attaching this track to any of the brand switches??????

  19. B Varner

    B Varner New Member

    Sorry, one important thing I did not mention. In my layout, I have 2 spots where the turnouts are connected to each other. Meaning that there is no track between the turnout of one switch, to the turnout of another. This obviously adds to the complexity of the stalling. Any words of advice on such turnout setups?
  20. ddechamp71

    ddechamp71 TrainBoard Member

    Should not be an issue. I have on my current layout a cross-over that involves 4 turnouts, paired two by two. My trains crawl at the lowest speed at 3 scale mph without a hitch, provided track and locomotives' wheels are reasonably cleaned. But true, on this layout I'm using the best turnout brand I've ever seen, Wright's. True simple turnout style, power routing, bended points and not hinged, no plastick roadbed, no mechanism (they're powered with undertable Tortoises). Unfortunately this crafstman gave up when beeing struck by health issues, I don't even know where he is now.

    Myself, after first having purchased a bunch of MTL turnouts, I quickly gave up using them as I had many stall issues as well.... I came to the conclusion that waiting for possible power routing future Atlas turnouts, currently the best way for me is building my own samples using Fast-Tracks templates.

    bostonjim likes this.

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