7 Ways to Eliminate Model Train Derailments

HO scale model railroad.

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Are you frustrated because your model trains derail from time to time?

This was a major frustration for me. I would fix one section of the track and the next day the train would derail on another section.

It frustrated me to the point of wanting to give the hobby away..!

A smooth running model train is a dream for most model train beginners. But it is actually quite easy to achieve with a little attention to detail.

Here are 7 ways to stop your model train derailing:

1 – Ensure every joint on your track is level, aligned and properly fitted.

Sounds like common sense? But poorly assembled track joints are the worst offenders for derailing model trains.

Slide your finger across the joint. It should feel level with the gap between the tracks kept to the absolute minimum. I solder my joints because this stops any problems with expansion and contraction opening and closing of the joints.

With a small file I am able to create a continuously level track and have a beautifully smooth running model train.

2 – Check your track gauge on joints, turnouts and frog assemblies.

Another common problem for model train derailments is incorrect track gauge. A tight track gauge will cause the wheels to climb up and derail off the track.

A wide track gauge will also derail your model train as the wheel flanges can not span the track properly. The gauge can be adjusted using a soldering iron to gently heat the rail, moving the rail to the correct position and allowing it to cool.

3 – Check your switch points for sharpness when they switch.

Some new switch points can be fairly blunt on the movable section where it strikes up against the stock rails. This can grab on the wheels and cause a model train derailment.

A small file can be used to gently smooth the moveable part of the points to allow a nice smooth transition. Remember to check the gauge in both positions.

4 – Check all your model train couplers.

A snagging coupler will cause model train derailments. Some new carriages can come with unpolished couplers which can catch and force derailments.

Clean off any rough edges and adjust the couplers for proper centering. The manufacturers usually provide these instructions.

5 – Add extra weight to your freight cars.

I find that most freight cars are too light and sometimes all the wheels do not contact the rails equally. By adding a small amount of weight to the cars your model train will run smoother and you will eliminate derailments, especially on the tight radius’s.

Just make sure you add the weight as low as possible to the car and in the centre, keeping a low center of gravity.

6 – Check all your wheel sets for proper operation.

Wheel sets that are out of gauge, not aligned or moving freely will cause your model train to derail. Check your wheel sets and make sure that your carriages are not crabbing and forcing the wheel flanges into the rail, making it prone to derail.

The carriages should rock freely to take up any small imperfections in your track.

7 – Lubricate the squeaks.

Sometimes the smallest drop of light oil will cure a problem with your model train derailing. An unlubricated or snaggy wheel, or coupler, can cause a slight tip over, or jar, which usually forces the wheel flange to snag the rail and derail your model train.

Oil attracts dust and can damage paintwork, so make sure you use only the smallest amount required.

Now you have no reason to put up with your model train derailing.

It usually comes down to a small bit of maintenance from time to time. With the quality most manufacturers are producing today, and some ongoing maintenance, you can make model train derailments a thing of the past.

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12 Responses to 7 Ways to Eliminate Model Train Derailments

  1. Dan says:

    # 8 – don’t let your 5 year old operate your model trains at full speed around tight corners…

  2. Robert McCracken says:

    I have a question. I have just recently started a new HO layout. I have many old freight cars with different couplers. I want to convert them all to new, modern couplers. There are so many to choose from, I would appreciate any recommedations you may have.
    Thanks,
    Bob

  3. Dan says:

    “I have a question. I have just recently started a new HO layout. I have many old freight cars with different couplers. I want to convert them all to new, modern couplers. There are so many to choose from, I would appreciate any recommendations you may have.”

    Hi Bob

    Basically any of the new couplers are great, just make all the couplers the same. What brand are your freight cars?

  4. Ken says:

    Good tips. I am just starting out and will welcome anything you can offer.

  5. Ron says:

    I have a question. I have been modeling model trains since I was little and I recently bought a 5-unit articulated double stack well car. I run my trains on 18″ radius curves, but the first and last wheel sets derail. How could I fix this?

  6. David Ellerton says:

    If certain rolling stock derail while travelling in one direction , try turning then around the other way .
    As for example a brake coach say it de rails whilst coupled with the brake end facing inwards , so by turning it around so the brake end faces at the back of the train . Yes it sounds odd but it does happen also certain wagons and coaches don’t like be coupled together in the train formation . Yet coupled apart in the same formation run fine with no de railments . The trick here is to make a note not to couple them together a sticky label on then usually does the trick .

    This may sound odd but try it and it works , yes you will have checked every thing on the item before you do this .

  7. Roscoe says:

    Just a short comment on using styrafome, I have used styrafome from the beginning, and then some times I will use old screendoor screen to cover over the styrafome so that I use less mudd.I use wall joint compond (perfatape mudd for sheetrock) to cover most of the seanery over the styrafome, It works very well and is realy inexpensive. You call also put your molded rocks inplace while your laying down the mudd. and you can doany sanding if you need to smooth out anyplace you need.

  8. Billy G. says:

    I have just cleaned and lubed everything on a loco that I have (wheels, motor, gears). When the motor is connecected DIRECTLY to a power source it all runs smoothly. On the track it runs with the “go-stop-go” jerkiness we all hate. The track is clean and I have no problems with other locos. The loco is a Rivarossi U25C. Wheel flanges and gauge are within limits. My question is, what are some of the reasons for and the solutions to “herky jerky” loco movements?

  9. Dan Morgan says:

    Billy, come over to the forum and ask there. It is much easier to have a conversation. Best Regards Dan

  10. Fred says:

    Item #7 brings up a question I have. I have an N scale layout in the planning stage and have been wondering from the start which type/brand/etc. oil should I use for wheels etc.?
    Is there a “one size fits all” oil or do I need several diferent oils for various uses?

  11. Rick says:

    Instead of using a light oil for the wheels and couplers I use a small amount of graphite. This way the wheels never gum up from the dust and oil, they always run smoothly. Good luck all with your layouts, Rick

  12. Scott says:

    I have mixed different brands of couplers without any problems. I have converted from the old style horn hook to knuckle couplers. The biggest issue is keeping the coupler height and trips pins at the correct height. I recommend getting a KaDee coupler height gauge and some of the insulating shim washers, available in .010 and .015 , use the washers to shim the trucks if necessary. You can also purchase special under-shank or over-shank couplers for situation where a shim can not be used.

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