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Who hasn't had problems in HO with power pickup from the rails?

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  • Member since
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Who hasn't had problems in HO with power pickup from the rails?
Posted by RR_Mel on Tuesday, October 6, 2020 10:14 PM

Surely I can’t be the only HO scale model railroader that has never had a problem with power pickup from the rails, espically running in DC mode.

I started out with hand laying iron rails before brass rails were available and even then I only had minor problems.  I would use fine grit sandpaper on the rails to remove the crud when I didn’t run my trains daily. (I don’t know if it was wet or dry type in 1951 but it was very fine grit, I was 14 back then)

I was able to buy 36” brass sections of HO track after I moved out on my own in 1958 or 59.  Samo samo with the brass rails, a bit of fine grit sandpaper and off they went.

Somewhere in the 1960s I bought a track cleaning car that seemed to keep the rails clean so no more sanding.

I designed my current and final layout (#3) in the late 1980s and used Atlas Flex track for the first time.  I was a little unsure of code 83 track so I used code 100 flex for all of my hidden track where it was hard to get to and code 83 where I had easy access.

By then I had purchased a couple of newer track cleaning cars and like earlier they kept the track clean enough that I never had any problems with power.  Back then of course I was running in DC mode 100% of the time.

Ok now on to the good stuff, I bought a MRC Prodigy Advance² in 2006.  The first thing I did was to rewire my layout to the guru way of DCC wiring and guess what, none of my DC signaling system worked.  That was a bummer, after about 6 months of screwing around with the DCC wiring I ripped out all of the Guru wiring and rewired it back to normal DC operation.  I found if I had just connected the new DCC controller to my existing wiring it would worked perfect in DCC mode.  My signaling didn’t work on DCC but everything else was back working in DC mode.

I replaced my old signaling system with a Rob Paisley system in 2010 and with a little tweaking my signal system was working in both modes.

I’m currently installing my own signal system using optical detection with a pair of Arduino MEGAs and three color LEDs.  I don’t like having to have resistors on the wheels of rolling stock for the signal detection system to work.

I use a relay to switch from DC to DCC to prevent problems so by turning on the MRC DC Sound & Power controller the relay switches the track power from the DCC controller to the Sound & Power, no problem there either.

I just push the track cleaning cars with a pair of diesels first time I want to run my trains and my trains run just great.

Somewhere in about 2008 I bought a CMX track cleaning car and it works better and easier than the older cars.

I would like to hear from others that haven’t had track power pickup problems.


My Model Railroad
Bakersfield, California
I'm beginning to realize that aging is not for wimps.

  • Member since
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Posted by wvg_ca on Wednesday, October 7, 2020 2:26 AM

i haven't had any problems that i can remember .... i was a bit anal when laying the track, feeders every six feet or less, all joints [except turnouts] were soldered ...

ran DCC mostly on this one, second layout, vacum once a year, no real cleaning, glue down some errant trees maybe, that's about it ,,,

layout is roughly fifteen by sixteen feet, era is 1890, so little to no electrical stuff added on ..

  • Member since
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  • From: North Carolina
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Posted by trnj on Wednesday, October 7, 2020 7:55 AM

Some years ago I read an article in MR about "GLEAM" meathod of cleaning track and used it.  Have almost zero problems with engines stalling now and have not cleaned the track in years, even though it is in my garage.  When I first finished the trackwork on my latest layout 6 years ago, I did the "GLEAM" thing--time consuming but well worth the trouble.  My rails shine on the top, still.  I never use grit or sandpaper now--only a tiny cloth with alcohol for any dirty spots, as around trunout frogs.  Even my smallest engine, a Bachmann 44 tonner with Loksound 5 micro, is stall-free, even at speed step one, at 1 SMPH (actually timed).

John in Carolina

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  • From: Reading, PA
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Posted by rrinker on Wednesday, October 7, 2020 8:02 AM

 I've never had a problem (on my last two 'modern' layouts - meaning built with nickel silver track, not brass, like the ones I built as a kid, etc). I don't bother with the brass polish steps of gleaming, I just burnish the railheads. 

 This is why I don't bother with stay alives, my locos all run fine without them. I didn't even power the frogs on the last one, although they were #4s (4 1/2, Atlas). I will be powering the frogs this time, especially the mainline #8s, I don't expect smaller locos to be able to cross a rather large #8 frog with no power feed.

Solid rail joints, plenty of feeders, truly cleaned track (no sandpaper/abrasives) and most of all - NO SMOKING - people OR locomotives.



Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's


Visit my web site at for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

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  • From: Ludington, MI
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Posted by Water Level Route on Wednesday, October 7, 2020 8:27 AM

I don't recall ever having problems.  I clean with a bright boy only when I need to, which is exceedingly rare (twice in 6 years with my current layout which was built with a bunch of salvaged track that has been in use for 25+ years).  I added all the recommended jumper wires to exactly one of my Peco turnouts, at which point I said "this is nuts" and installed the rest as is.  I've cleaned the wheels on one of my locomotives a grand total of one time.  Haven't touched the rest.  I don't gleam, use ATF fluid, or any of that stuff.  My layout is in an unfinished basement with a bare concrete floor and no ceiling other than the underside of the floor above overhead.  I better run now.  I see the guys coming with pitch forks and torches!


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Posted by wjstix on Wednesday, October 7, 2020 9:42 AM

I use Kato Unitrack with nickel-silver code 83 track. I clean the track once in a while, but only recurring problem is with one turnout that some engines have trouble with, eventually might have to replace it but it's in a spot that doesn't see that much traffic so I keep putting it off.

I have a few engines that have a "keep-alive" in them, like a steam engine where I needed to remove some of the factory weights from the tender to fit in the sound decoder and speaker/enclosure. I still have some older steam engines that pick up power from one rail with the drivers, and from the tender wheels on the other rail; a "keep-alive" makes a big difference with them.

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Posted by ROCK MILW on Wednesday, October 7, 2020 10:18 AM

My layout is DC only, and I no longer have track power pickup problems...but I used to. After a couple of weeks my locomotives would begin losing power at various locations on the layout. I would clean the track with a bright boy or paper towel + isopropyl alcohol, and it amazed me how dirty the track was, and how, after two weeks, it was dirty again. This happened for a couple of years. I finally noticed that the mainline tracks were the ones getting dirty every couple of weeks--the less-used yard tracks were and remained clean.

I did some research online and learned that the black 'dirt' on the mainline was likely nickel oxide deposits from arcing between the locomotive wheels and the track. Plus, I have a current-detection based ABS signal system with 1000 ohm resistors on all wheelsets, so wheelsets may also be contributing to this arcing. Note that I cannot see sparks from this arcing, but it must be occurring as the wheels are microscopically bouncing along the rail as the train moves.

After doing more research, I purchased some DeOxit 100% concentrate from Caig Laboratories; it's an electrical contact protector as desribed below:

DeoxIT® D-Series contact cleaner dissolves oxides and sulfides that form on metal surfaces. This restores the contact’s integrity and leaves a thin microscopic layer that protects the metal. Special additives improve conductivity and prevent dissolved oxides from re-attaching, keeping them in suspension and allowing them to be easily dispersed by the mechanical action of the contact.

I applied a thin layer of DeOxit to the rails and immediately the power pickup problems were resolved. The locations where I have a 3% grade get a bit slippery for a couple of weeks, but eventually that resolves itself as the DeOxit is distributed around the layout by the wheels. After about 6 to 8 months I begin to get locomotive power pickup problems again, so I reapply the DeOxit and the power pickup problems are resolved.

I don't clean the track at all between these applications of DeOxit. It has really worked well for me.



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Posted by RR_Mel on Wednesday, October 7, 2020 10:42 AM

Thanks for the input guys, there are so many posts with track cleaning problems I was beginning to think I was the odd guy on the block.

I prewired all my (Atlas #6) turnouts for frog power and never hooked them up, my shortest locomotives are a pair of MDC Roundhouse 0-6-0s and they’ve never had any problems at the frogs.

I have always been meticulous about laying my track and it has really paid off.  Very early on my father had a fit when I came home with my HO scale 0-6-0, he was a Lionel three rail guy to the bone.  He said that the tiny junk (yes he called it junk) would never stay on the track.  Well that was in 1951 and back then the only HO track available was iron rails at 5¢ each or three for 10¢.  The Atlas Fiber Tie Strip was $1.25 for a 25’ roll and I hand laid 40’ of track and never had a derail.

He never said any thing good about my “tiny junk” but he did acknowledge that I did a good job laying my track.


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Bakersfield, California
I'm beginning to realize that aging is not for wimps.

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Posted by selector on Wednesday, October 7, 2020 10:42 AM

I run a double main folded loop with one W/S double crossover and two Peco #6 turnouts inserted.  If I have problems, and it's rare, it will be within 6" of those three items.  Otherwise, my tracks run very reliably, always using DCC.  

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Wednesday, October 7, 2020 10:51 AM

I had so much trouble with electrical pickup on my N scale "Dream House" layout that I swore I would do everything I could to never have those problems again.

It was so frutrating.

1) I relied on the point contacts of the N scale Peco turnouts for power rounting.

2) I only had track feeders every 8 feet or so and there were several track joints after feeder in some locations.

3) Power distribution connections were made with what Radio Shack sold as "Euro Power Blocks" in the 1980s, and these were junk.

4) Power bus wires were 16 gauge and broken at every power bus connector.

5) Track was always cleaned with a "Good Old Bright-Boy", and you cannot go wrong with that. Laugh

These are my corrections, used on three layouts since then (1 N scale, 2 HO scale), and all problems have been solved.

1) I added auxiliary lever switches to my Tortoise switch machines for power routing. The turnout itself is no longer relied upon for electrical continuity beyond the points.

2) EVERY track section has feeder wires attached.

3) Power distribution points are now proper strips with screw terminals and individual wires crimped into spade connectors. No more relying on a screw compressing a bunch of wires together in a hole.

4) Power bus is a continuous 10 gauge wire, unbroken, for the entire length of the layout. Where connections are needed, the insulation is removed and a pigtail lead of 14 gauge wire is soldered to the bus. The bus wire is never cut.

5) Track is now gleamed.

I use Kato Unitrack with nickel-silver code 83 track.

My HO scale code 83 Kato Unitrack is like magic. I can take it out of the storage bin, set it up, and just plop the trains on and they always run perfect. I have never cleaned it, and it is always good.


Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

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Posted by snjroy on Wednesday, October 7, 2020 11:11 AM

My home layout is fine because I use bullet-proof methods, and I learned lessons from our Club's mistakes. One of these mistakes was to create scenes that make track inaccessible for maintenance, like tunnels and tracks that are far from reach. After 20 years of operation, one of the tracks in a tunnel lost power for mysterious reasons. The only solution was to solder an above-ground connecting wire, which nobody can see because it is so far away from the viewers. And don't get me going about these awful derailments in tunnels on the first level of a three-level layout. I just don't go there with my steam locos! No inaccessible tunnels on my home layout, that's for sure!


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Posted by MisterBeasley on Wednesday, October 7, 2020 2:12 PM

Every few months, I started to reliably notice power dropouts in the subway tunnels.  That's how I knew it was time for a maintenance day with the CMX machine.  I've also powered most of my long frogs, and provided lots of feeders.  Given these steps, I have no problems.

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

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Posted by rrebell on Wednesday, October 7, 2020 7:28 PM

No real problems on new layout except a couple of turnouts needed to be tweaked a bit (frogs wired but not hooked up yet), quick bend and all was perfect.                   

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Posted by doctorwayne on Friday, October 9, 2020 12:27 PM

No problems with power pick-up on my DC layout, despite these two wires...

...being the power feed to the entire layout.  There's roughly 260' of mainline, not counting the double track through all 7 towns, nor the industrial tracks in each town, nor the 5 staging yards.  All rail joints are soldered, with insulated gaps, where necessary, for control.

I clean track, in the conventional sense of that operation, only after ballasting or adding scenic material near the tracks.  Otherwise, a walk-around the layout every year or so with the shop vac and an appropriate fitting on the end of the hose does the track cleaning.


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Posted by snjroy on Saturday, October 10, 2020 7:06 AM

I think part of the solution is good control over humidity, temperature and dust. 


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