Problem with Polar Express Coaches Locked

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Problem with Polar Express Coaches
Posted by Dampfmann on Monday, January 08, 2007 12:26 PM

I am experiencing a problem with my Polar Express coaches.  The wires leading into the carbody from the electrical pick-ups continue to melt.  They get hot enough to melt the insulation on the wires and any plastic parts they come into contact with.  I have had this problem using two types of transformers: a ZW and the cheap one that comes with the RTR train sets.  I have used Fastrack and tubular track.

Before anyone tells me the problem must be with the transformers or the track, let me add one more bit of information to the puzzle-- I have not had this happen to any other, older Post-War lighted passenger cars. 

Has anyone else experienced this problem?  Could this be a mechanical/design defect with the coaches?  I am interested to hear your theories.

 

Sincerely,

Martin

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Posted by lionelsoni on Monday, January 08, 2007 12:40 PM
How many pickups does each car have, both the new ones with the problem and the old ones without the problem?

Bob Nelson

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Posted by Dampfmann on Monday, January 08, 2007 1:27 PM

I'll be able to accurately answer this question and describe the pick-ups when I get home.  Heck, I might even try to post a picture or two.  You gotta try sometime...

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Posted by EIS2 on Monday, January 08, 2007 2:59 PM

The problem must be in the coaches because if you were supplying enough voltage to melt the wires under normal circumstances, the engine would be flying off the track.  I would look for a pinched wire somewhere or some other form of short.

Earl

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Posted by CSXect on Monday, January 08, 2007 3:07 PM
You are drawing too much power(watts) through those wires so there must be an electrical problem some where. A transformer will only supply the amout of power to overcome the "load" being put on it. Eral may have hit the nail on the head, Is it all of the cars or just one? There must be a lot of current flowing through the wire Current(I)x Voltage(V) equals watts which produces heat. Like Eral said the may be a short(high resistance short or intermitent short) in the cars. Is there any circuit boards or is it just a bulb in the cars?
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Posted by EIS2 on Monday, January 08, 2007 4:25 PM

Are the circuit breakers tripping on the power supplies?  Do the lights in the coaches ever actually light?  Make sure the lights are actually in the circuit.  You could also remove the bulbs and see if the wires still get hot.  If they do, that would suggest a short or a mis-wired coach.

Earl

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Posted by phillyreading on Tuesday, January 09, 2007 10:59 AM

Sign - Welcome [#welcome] Dampfman,

If the passenger cars are new I would suggest getting in touch with the warrenty department and asking for help!

The problem may be that the manufaturer used a very small wire that can not take the current draw for the light bulbs, try replacing the wire with a larger size wire and that should help with heating up. Reason for using a small wire is production cost per hundred units sold, if they can save 30 cents a car times 1000 that is about $300.00 savings to the manufacturer, that is done in automotive assembly lines here in the U.S.

Lee F.

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Posted by MartyE on Tuesday, January 09, 2007 11:12 AM

I would suggest this is an isolated incident.  I have the PE cars and run them heavily during the holidays and haven't had an issue nor have I heard of this before in the 3 years they have been out on any of the boards. 

Any more details you could give us?   Are you crossing between 2 blocks that maybe out of pase or not evenly powered?

MartyE and Kodi the Husky Dog! ( 3/31/90-9/28/04 ) www.MartyE.com My O Gauge Web Page and Home of Kodiak Junction!
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Posted by ADCX Rob on Tuesday, January 09, 2007 11:55 AM
 MartyE wrote:

Are you crossing between 2 blocks that maybe out of pase or not evenly powered?

Marty has hit it exactly on this one.  In order to eliminate bulb flickering, the pickups on the PE cars are connected, and are of a small gauge spec'd for the bulbs only, not the loco, the other cars, and all of the accessories & switches using track power, which is what is happening when the trainset traverses blocks set at different voltages.

The easy fix is to install a tiny full-wave bridge(less than 1 amp is fine) powered by each pickup & ground on the AC side, or 2 per car, and tie together the "+" outputs to each other, and the "-" outputs to each other, effectively running the lights on the DC outputs & blocking any back-feeding of current from one truck to the other.

Single diodes in-line with the center rail pickups will work too, for half-wave current to the lights.  This is probably what Lionel should have done had they considered this possibility.

Rob

Rob

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Posted by lionelsoni on Tuesday, January 09, 2007 12:20 PM

I was hoping to get a response from Martin (Dampfmann) before diagnosing this; but he seems to be gone.  If Marty is right, this would be an example of the sort of bad stuff that happens with that kind of operation, against which I preach all the time.

If one is adding bridge rectifiers to lighted cars, I recommend also putting in an electrolytic capacitor to keep the voltage up over any interruptions that do occur.  In fact, I find that only one pickup works pretty well with a rectifier and a capacitor and have removed pickups to reduce the drag on some of my cars, although there is some chance of a car's lights going out when the train stops.

Bob Nelson

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Posted by Dampfmann on Tuesday, January 09, 2007 12:21 PM

Okay, here is some more information.  I don't have an extravagent layout... yet.  Until I get to that point I am running my trains in ovals around a 4' x 8' table.  Each oval is its own block.  The most voltage I run any train is about 16 volts.  Any faster and they start flying off the track. 

Again, I am using a ZW transformer and have not had this problem with any other cars, just the PE coaches.  I have had the wires burn using both O-27 and Fastrack. 

I contacted Lionel about this problem and they told me to take the coaches to the authorized repair shop in my area.  The woman I spoke to on the phone in the "tech dept." was of little help at all. 

I took the cars to the local repair facility.  I haven't heard back from the hobby shop about what they think is the cause of the melted wires.  When I do, I'll pass this information along.

In the mean time, I think the gauge of the wires is too thin.  They are about as thick as a piece of angel hair spaghetti.  It certainly isn't as thick as the wiring on other post-war cars I have.  If you have PE coaches, do yours have wire that is equally as thin.  (I'll have to measure the exact gauge when I'm at home).

Still puzzled...

Martin

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Posted by lionelsoni on Tuesday, January 09, 2007 12:27 PM
How many pickups does each car have, both the new ones with the problem and the old ones without the problem?  Are the tracks of the two loops connected?  Do you run trains across the gap between loops while one loop is powered by one transformer output and the other loop powered by another transformer output?

Bob Nelson

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Posted by brianel027 on Tuesday, January 09, 2007 12:39 PM

Martin, here's a shot out of the dark since you've already got the for repairs.

I'm a low-end do-it-yourself expert. Yes, I agree the companies do use very thin wire. It is not always the gauge of the wire, but the amount of actual stranded metal inside the wiring. There are times where the outside of the wire looks good, but inside there's a break.

This happened to me once and might have been your trouble. Pop the roller pickup assembly off the car using a straight edge screw driver. It pops off quite easily. On the underside you will see two strips of copper metal riveted to the pplastic assembly. One piece goes to the roller pickup of the center rail and is folded with a small slot for the roller pickup. One piece is longer and goes to the wheel axles on each side of the plastic assembly.

Notice each piece of copper has a fold: The one for the roller pickup is on the far back end. The other has the fold midway alongside the other piece of copper for the roller pickup. Two things could be happening here. One is the the wire soldered to the wheel axle pickup has either solder or a couple strands of wire that is touching the other pickup. The other is that the fold of the axle pickup copper piece is making contact with the other center rail copper piece. If the fold on the axle pickup is angled, it is possible for the roller itself to hit this when the train is on the track. Intermident contact between these two piece might not be enough to short the train or trip the circuit breaker, but it could VERY easily heat up the wires very quickly.

This happened to me once, and I bent the pickup contacts a little and the problem went away immediately. I strongly suspect this could be your problem.

brianel, Agent 027

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Posted by EIS2 on Tuesday, January 09, 2007 1:33 PM
 Dampfmann wrote:

Okay, here is some more information.  I don't have an extravagent layout... yet.  Until I get to that point I am running my trains in ovals around a 4' x 8' table.  Each oval is its own block.  The most voltage I run any train is about 16 volts.  Any faster and they start flying off the track. 

I am surprised that you can get anywhere close to 16 volts running a conventional engine.  I'm wondering if you might have a problem with the engine that it is requiring such a high voltage.

Earl

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Posted by Dampfmann on Tuesday, January 09, 2007 8:36 PM
I have some digital pictures to share. I read the "How to Post Pictures" thread at the beginning of the forum, but it didn't make much sense. I'm rather new at this so can anyone give the "For Dummies" version of posting pictures. Right now they are on my camera, but I can easily move them to iphoto. What's next?

As far as the copper contacts, I didn't see any loose wires or anything else that might cause a potential short. When I took the top of the coach off and peered inside, I found more fried wires. I want to post the photos so you can see the actual wiring for yourselves.

Someone inquired about crossing between blocks/ovals. Nope. Each oval is independent-- no crossing over. Nothin' too exciting.

Martin
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Posted by traindaddy1 on Tuesday, January 09, 2007 9:06 PM
Dampfmann: No solution from this "older" guy but I agree with your comment about "Lionel Tech" as I have almost given up on talking to them. If anyone has an answer, it's the guys (and gals) on this forum. Good luck!
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Posted by trigtrax on Tuesday, January 09, 2007 9:45 PM
I doubt the gauge of the wire is too small. Lamps in this voltage range normally pull about 100 milliamps. If you're melting insulation and plastic you've got a short somewhere.
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Posted by ADCX Rob on Tuesday, January 09, 2007 11:00 PM

 Dampfmann wrote:
I have some digital pictures to share. I read the "How to Post Pictures" thread at the beginning of the forum, but it didn't make much sense. I'm rather new at this so can anyone give the "For Dummies" version of posting pictures. Right now they are on my camera, but I can easily move them to iphoto. What's next?

As far as the copper contacts, I didn't see any loose wires or anything else that might cause a potential short. When I took the top of the coach off and peered inside, I found more fried wires. I want to post the photos so you can see the actual wiring for yourselves.

Someone inquired about crossing between blocks/ovals. Nope. Each oval is independent-- no crossing over. Nothin' too exciting.

Martin

Now it sounds like you have a dead spot or compromised center rail connection somewhere in the loop for the PE, as it certainly seems that the power for the loco & smoke unit is being drawn through the car wiring at some point.

Try running just the engine at a fairly low speed around the layout and see if there are any obvious power drop-outs.  There could be loose pins or connections on O-27 or FasTrack. 

Rob 

Rob

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Posted by lionelsoni on Wednesday, January 10, 2007 8:58 AM
Last time:  How many pickups does each car have, both the new ones with the problem and the old ones without the problem?

Bob Nelson

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Posted by Anonymous on Wednesday, January 10, 2007 10:38 AM

 Dampfmann wrote:
I have some digital pictures to share. I read the "How to Post Pictures" thread at the beginning of the forum, but it didn't make much sense. I'm rather new at this so can anyone give the "For Dummies" version of posting pictures. Right now they are on my camera, but I can easily move them to iphoto. What's next?

As far as the copper contacts, I didn't see any loose wires or anything else that might cause a potential short. When I took the top of the coach off and peered inside, I found more fried wires. I want to post the photos so you can see the actual wiring for yourselves.

Someone inquired about crossing between blocks/ovals. Nope. Each oval is independent-- no crossing over. Nothin' too exciting.

Martin


Martin,
You need a host for your pictures.

What you need to do is save the images to your HardDrive. Then goto http://www.imageshack.us/ they are a free image host.  Download and install the toolbar.  Then you will click on the 'Upload' button.  Select the images you want to upload and they are there.  Imageshack will also give you the codes to copy and paste into your forum post so your images display in the post.

Hope this helps.

Brent

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Posted by ADCX Rob on Wednesday, January 10, 2007 11:08 AM

 lionelsoni wrote:
Last time:  How many pickups does each car have, both the new ones with the problem and the old ones without the problem?

He doesn't give the identity of the older cars, but the PE cars have pickups on each truck, and they are connected in parallel with small gauge - 22-24 - maybe even smaller wire.  It's been a year since I've had a roof off of one.

Rob

Rob

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Posted by Deputy on Wednesday, January 10, 2007 11:54 AM

Martin: Whew!!! I must say I am a bit shocked by the wide range of advice you have received on here. Let me ask...you say you contacted the warranty department at Lionel and they told you to go to a repair station. Have you heard anything back from them? This whole thing with weak wires has been discussed before with other Lionel rolling stock. I was searching for a New York Central bay window smoking caboose recently and received warnings from forum members about problems with bad wiring. Here's the post by csxt30:

"I have the new NYC green Bay Window coboose & I will caution anyone on these cabooses as the wires in them, for lights & flasher & smoke unit, are so thin in diameter that all the wires in mine burnt to a crisp in only a week ! They need to be replaced with a larger diameter wire for sure if running in TMCC. I was not running mine in command at the time & they burned up. The dealer said I must have derailed it & burnt the wires up, but I didn't even have a switch on my layout at the time nor did it ever derail. It is a great looking cab though, just no lights or anything in mine now."

http://www.trains.com/trccs/forums/927312/ShowPost.aspx

So Lionel is becoming notorious for this problem. I guess Underwriters Laboratories needs to have a look at this stuff. Or perhaps the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Someone buying a toy train should NOT need an electronics degree and have to rewire and install components in order to provide a safe toy for his kids to play with. Be advised that if this stuff is under warranty and you rewire it, you will VOID your warranty. And if this thing causes a fire and injury and you rewired it, Lionel will NOT be responsible.

If you don't get any satisfaction from Lionel, I suggest you contact these folks:

http://www.cpsc.gov/

There is a place there to report an unsafe product. But first, I would make sure the rest of your layout is correctly wired and everything else is working properly. Wink [;)]

Dep

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Posted by Dampfmann on Wednesday, January 10, 2007 2:39 PM

After much trial and error, I've finally managed to figure out how to post pictures. (Although I'm probably still doing something wrong!)  The pictures look a bit large, but that's the size Photobucket suggests for msg. boards.  Take a look and let me know what you think.

This is a picture of the wheel pick-up assembly.  There are two of these on this car, one for each truck. 

This picture shows most of the car interior.  The bulbs/sockets are on either end.

One half of the interior wiring.

One last thing... the older coach, "Newark," only has one pick-up.  Someone asked that question a while back.  Hope that info. helps.

Again, thanks to everyone for taking this problem seriously.

Martin

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Posted by Birds on Wednesday, January 10, 2007 4:58 PM

My Lionel O-27 5 car passenger set from 2005 only draws 1 amp total.  Each car pulls about .2 amps.  Wire rated for .2 amps is something like 28 gauge wire if I remember correctly.

Are you using in-line fuses from the transformer to the track?  If so, what amperage, and are they blowing?

Have you measured the amp draw of the cars on the track with a Volt Ohm meter?

I had a situation where greasy pins (not dirty track) combined with loose track joints was enough to cause a spike in the amps drawn on a section of the layout.  The result was blown in-line fuses and pitted pickup rollers.  I cleaned the pins and made sure the connection at the pin was tight and the problem cleared up. 

Chris

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Posted by BobbyDing on Wednesday, January 10, 2007 5:15 PM

Could you tack a light bulb between the two roller pickups of a car (removing the existing bulbs). When/if you hit a short, the bulb should lite. At least you can narrow down if it's the entire track, the car, or just a spot on the track.

Just an idea.

 

Bobby

 

 

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Posted by lionelsoni on Wednesday, January 10, 2007 6:16 PM

Did the lights ever work?  I wonder whether one of the trucks could have been wired backwards compared  to the other.  Can you verify that the center-rail pickups are (were) wired to the same wire nut?

Bob Nelson

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Posted by ADCX Rob on Wednesday, January 10, 2007 6:50 PM

Martin, those are great pics - and they tell the story.

Somewhere on your layout there is a voltage potential difference between the two center rail pickups.  The only melting is the direct connection between the two rollers.

Rob 

Rob

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Posted by Dampfmann on Wednesday, January 10, 2007 9:12 PM
In response to several inquiries... (Remember, I'm relatively new to this whole enterprise so excuse me if it seems I'm asking a lot of questions or need you to further explain something).

Chris, I do not have any fuses installed in-line between the track and transformer. It sounds like I should. If so, what amperage should I use? Also, why would loose or greasy pins cause the spike in amperage?

Bob, yes, the lights always worked. As a matter of fact, they still light. Also, I can verify the melted wires are indeed coming from the center rollers and they tie together at the same yellow wire connector.

Rob, can you explain how to check for the "voltage difference between the two center rail pick-ups"? (I have a voltage meter.)

Dep, I haven't messed with any of the wiring so as to potentially void my warranty. I haven't heard back from the repair facility yet. I just took the damaged cars to them a week ago so I'm going to give 'em a little more time before I contact them. See below concerning contacting Lionel or the CPSC. I need more data.

Getting back to one of my original intents for creating this post...

Am I the only one having this problem or have others had trouble with their PE cars? Is this an isolated case (luck me!) or indication of a broader problem? Let me know if anyone hears of similar cases involving these coaches.

Dep mentioned you shouldn't need a degree in electrical engineering to operate these toys. Sure, I enjoy this problem solving challenge, but I couldn't agree more with him.

Martin
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Posted by ADCX Rob on Wednesday, January 10, 2007 9:46 PM

 Dampfmann wrote:


Rob, can you explain how to check for the "voltage difference between the two center rail pick-ups"? (I have a voltage meter.)
Martin

The easiest way is with a single bulb - & nothing else - wired directly between the 2 rollers and supported up where you can see it as the train travels your layout.  Try a 6 or 8 volt bulb,  run the entire consist as you have been.  The bulb should be out/dark at all points, if/when it illuminates, the fault is between the two rollers of the car on the center rail.

Rob 

Rob

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Posted by Birds on Wednesday, January 10, 2007 9:49 PM

Martin,

I don't recall any folks posting problems with PE wires melting.  Yours is a first for me to read about.

In-line fuses help to protect your equipment if there is a short on the layout.  The increase amp draw to the track will blow the fuse and kill the power to the track.  I purchased a 10 amp in-line fuse holder from Radio Shack and use regular fast blow fuses in it.  Here is the link to the fuse holder: http://www.radioshack.com/product/index.jsp?productId=2102786&cp=&origkw=fuse+holder&kw=fuse+holder&parentPage=search

I went with a 10 amp holder because I am using an old Lionel KW transformer and it can put out 10 amps.  One can use any size fuse up to 10 amps in the holder.  I originally started with 7 amps, because I wanted an extra margin of protection.  When working correctly my passenger trains draw about 4 amps total (3 for the engine and 1 for all the cars).  In my case using a 7 amps was good because the fuse kept blowing, and that told me there was a problem somewhere on my layout.  If I had been using a 10 amp fuse it would not have blown because the short was under 10 amps total draw.

Greasy pins and loose track were the cause of the short.  The grease on the track pins prevented the track from making a good connection when put together.  The current couldn't flow as well as it should.  The loose track allowed the track to separate a little and this made a small gap.  When the center pick up rollers passed over this gap they would momentarily lose a connection and then make a connection at the full 14 or so volt level.  This would cause sparking and pitting of the pickup roller.  Even though it was only 14 volts it was enough to do some damage to the rollers.

While I can't be sure of the cause of your situation, it is possible that the wires may be getting beat up instead of the pickup rollers.

I have found a digital volt ohm meter to be very helpful when working with the layout.  You can check for voltage drops along the layout, or check amp loads.  I measured equipment I have under good conditions on one or two of the long 40" sections of straight track.  This told me how many amps the engine and passenger cars draw under normal conditions with track that does not have any joints or gaps at 14 volts.  Anything outside of those numbers while running the layout lets me know there may be a potential problem.

There is an answer to the situation.

Chris 

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