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Black Stuff on my Rails

  • I was having trouble with my locos getting around the layout smoothly. They kept getting stuck. So, did some research and bought a Brightboy. Scrubbed my rails shinny then ran the trains. Better, but still acting up. I thought it was my electrical, I thought is was my locos - if I had any hair I would have pulled it out in frustration. Then I happened to run my fingers across the top of the rails and found there is some sort of black, possibly oily, substance on the rails. Some alcohol (for me and the rails) and a rag, and cleaned all of the black stuff off. Now, trains run like they should.

    The question? What is the black stuff I cleaned off my rails? 

    On YouTube at It's My Railroad

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  • Several possibilities:

    • If your track is quite new it might still have a residue of the draw-die lubricant applied during the manufacturing process.
    • Lube oil plus dust.
    • Airborne product - hair spray, deodorant or just about anything that comes in an aerosol can.

    It only takes a tiny amount, plus the wheels of a few passing trains, to foul a lot of rail.

    Bright Boy is abrasive, which means that it leaves microgrooves on the railheads.  Rail that has been 'gleemed' is burnished smooth, and seems to stay much cleaner with little effort.  In HO, it's also possible to run a car fitted with a John Allen slider (free-floating block of Masonite that rides the rails - the car only provides guidance) to keep crud from collecting.  I don't know how practical that would be in N scale.  My own 9mm gauge (HOn30, or more accurately, HOn762) rolling stock is far too small to accommodate one.
    Solvent cleaning works, but the solvent evaporates and the crud eventually comes back.  Cleaning the rails is one of those 'Energizer Bunny' things - it just keeps going and going.  John Allen sliders only automate part of the job.  You still have to clean the sliders regularly.
    Chuck (Modeling Central Japan in September, 1964)
  • Yep, my rails ARE new and your description makes sense. It also occurs to me that part of my layout sits directly beneath a heater vent. So, when then the wife cooks or uses hairspray, there's a chance a thin coat of black stuff will continue to build up. 

    Guess i better keep plenty of alcohol and rags around...


    On YouTube at It's My Railroad