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Electrical issues after painting track

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Electrical issues after painting track
Posted by nscsx on Monday, January 11, 2021 1:34 PM

I painted my railroad track with rustoleum camo brown spray paint (put it on heavy, a bad habit) and I came back later and remove paint from tops of rails with a razor blade. Then went over that with a bright boy, then alcohol, looks like brand new. Tried running a locomotive on it and it spits and sputters electrically and on some sections of track it just dies and won't run without pushing it with my finger. I tested all the track with my locomotive prior to painting it and it ran fine. I tried 3 different locomotives and they all ran about the same way. I noticed if I applied downward pressure with my finger on the top of the locomotive (weighing it down) that it would stop stalling and make it through the bad area of track. But it spits and sputters on about all of it at least a little bit. So regretting painting my track, been thinking about starting all over...☹️

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Monday, January 11, 2021 1:38 PM

It sounds like there is still a film of paint or residue on the rail tops.

I would try wiping the rail with a paper towel wetted with paint thinner. Then I would sand the rail with 4,000 grit paper followed by 8,000 grit paper or kraft paper.

I hope something works for you.


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 mlehman on Monday, January 11, 2021 1:41 PM

Remember...Paint some, then wipe while still wet with a cloth or paper towel.

Try working the top inside of the rail on both sides of the track. I think you got the paint off the top of the rail, but the sides of the flanges are also important to electrical pickup. That's why when you press down contact seems to improve.

Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

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Posted by MisterBeasley on Monday, January 11, 2021 2:09 PM

If paint gets inside your rail joiners and you depend on them for electrical continuity of power, that's a problem.  More feeders may help.

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

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Posted by nscsx on Monday, January 11, 2021 2:21 PM

There is a wire soldered to every piece of track

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Posted by mbinsewi on Monday, January 11, 2021 2:57 PM

Easy.  Either the solder joints weren't tight, and paint penetrated it, causing a loss of power, and/or you still have a film of paint residue on the track, and now probably some on the locomotive wheels as well.


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Posted by selector on Monday, January 11, 2021 5:21 PM

Wipe the rail top with 600-800 grit paper, then wipe with alcohol.  Yeah, yeah, I know, it will leave little sleeks on the bearing surface.  What counts is if your trains actually, you know, RUN afterward? 

Later, if you want to burnish/polish your rails for a better finish, use the gleam method, or run a clean steel 1.25" washer back and forth, pressing somewhat firmly. 

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Posted by rrinker on Monday, January 11, 2021 8:19 PM

When you clean off the tops of the rails - lean the Brite Boy in a little towards the center to catch the inside edge of the railhead as well. This is part of the bearing surface as well.



Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's


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Posted by trainnut1250 on Monday, January 11, 2021 9:08 PM

This is a common problem. It looks great but won't run. Hang in there and keep cleaning the track. There is likely still gunk on the track that you may not be able to see. You just haven't removed it yet. It can be a little disheartening at first, but the trains will run smooth with more cleaning. BTW: Don't go crazy with the aggressive abrasives, the guck will come off.

Next paint job - clean the rail tops as you go or immediately after while the paint is wet.

In the unlikely event that you can't get the train to run smooth, use a meter to check the offending section - you might have a bad solder joint that makes a connection when you press down on it but doesn't conduct when it is not under pressure.

I usually have to clean the track lots of times when I paint and ballast because I tend to bury the track in dirt and the glue and paint takes some time to get completely cleaned off.

Hang in there,


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Posted by mbinsewi on Monday, January 11, 2021 9:13 PM

(put it on heavy, a bad habit)

And don't put such a heavy coat on stuff.  Most use an air brush.  Even dry brushing by hand would be better.

Your not undercoating a truck.


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Posted by Mark R. on Monday, January 11, 2021 10:19 PM

Definitely clean the inside edge of the rail as well. You'd be surprised how much an engine depends on that edge being clean as well.


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Posted by rrebell on Tuesday, January 12, 2021 9:40 AM

I always use rattle cans for painting track but got heavy handed on one section of new layout (was pre-painting a section that was going over an ash pit), it even loosened the track from the caulk, no problem just pined it in place and let it dry and used a bright boy it and soon it was as good as the rest of thje layout. Now what I have found over the years is you only need a light spray to get the effect you want once ballasted.

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Posted by Overmod on Tuesday, January 12, 2021 9:54 AM

Seems to me one of the 'active ingredients' in Rustoleum was fish oil of some tenaciously gluey kind.  Perhaps rubbing with something like a no-scratch scrubber with Goo Gone, followed by  'lint-free cloth wipe' with the same, would solve his issue?  Grinding with coarse abrasive might just be spreading the film and gouging the railhead.  (I think Bright Boys are the wrong answer already, but that's a different discussion...)

And yeah, be sure to get all the way around the gauge corner to brighten the inside edge of the railhead.  And -- I'm sure you did this, but just in case -- be sure there's no little 'fin' of paint still sticking up on the outside of the railhead to lift the outer wheeltread off the rail...

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Posted by kasskaboose on Tuesday, January 12, 2021 12:29 PM

Does the lack of electrical connectivity matter if DC or DCC? 

It might be something simple.  Is there something causing a short?  I also suggest not doing anything too abrasive with the track.

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Posted by azrail on Tuesday, January 12, 2021 12:40 PM

Before painting I would suggest putting a strip of auto pinstriping tape on the railhead, and remove it just after painting

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Posted by wjstix on Tuesday, January 12, 2021 12:59 PM

I've never thought spray painting track a great idea. Before I put track on the layout, I use Neo-Lube from MicroMark to darken both sides of the rail, using a small brush. Then I paint some of the ties dark brown and some dark gray, leaving the rest black. Once that's done, I use an old worn Bright Boy to go over the tops and sides of the railhead to sure it is clean. As noted, the top and inside of the railhead needs to be clean.

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Tuesday, January 12, 2021 1:15 PM

I know Rob Spangler has reported using Rustoleum Camo Brown on his track and let it dry then scraped it off with a utility knife blade by draging it across the rails.  I tried that and it worked quite well to clean the rails.  Rob has neve reported any issue with power loss on his layout after spraying on the Rustoleum and scraping it off.  Of course you need to make sure the rail is cleaned well.

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