The NEW home for the "OLD" Tutorials Tip & Tricks

Tutorials, Tips & Tricks -->>

Tutorials, Tips & Tricks -->>


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Cleaning Track For DCC

Clean track has always been an important part of trouble free operations.  It was important on DC but absolutely critical with DCC.  Poor track conditions will make even the best decoder run like a tired dog.

If you are into sound...  Get busy.  Nothing is more annoying than a listening to the startup sequence of an EMD 567 every two feet.

I have heard of a hundred different ways to clean the rail and keep it clean.  Everything from sand paper to transmission fluid.  There have been countless "automatic" track cleaner designs and tools developed over the years.  And hey, lets face it, it is probably the most dreaded chore of the hobby.  Second only to ballasting the track.


Every model railroader has the probelm.  Many say the have the fix.  I will not say I have the fix.  I will only say this is what I do.  Your mileage may vary.


First things first.  I clean the rail once or twice a year.  I do not run as often as I would like to today as I am still building and working more than I get to play so traffic is light.  And that is only after I take care of family matters.  First things first.  Most of my fleet has plastic wheels, the engines are 1990's Atlas and Life-Like, and the track is split between Altas Code 80 and Kato.  The layout sits in a semi-sealed garage that is generally not opened to the elements but is not permanently framed closed.  Nuthin' fancy. 


In the 70's and 80's while rolling HO, I used a polishing block and a Bachmann E80MC filled with their special cleaner.  This worked OK since the staple Athearn Blue Box was a horse.  They ran through anything.  The old Rivs and Bachmanns struggled so you had to hand polish whenever you wanted to run one of those.


In the 90's and early 00's I used to use a Bright-Boy and and occasional mopping with Goo-Gone.  I never really cared for the scarring of the railhead and mess of the Goo.  I always kind of felt like I was going to gring the head straight off the rail!

Then I went to DCC and N scale around 2005-ish and have been using this process since with what I feel are great results.

I will say that I have not tried every piece of modern cleaning equipment nor have I tried every notion, potion or bottle of snake oil.  I have tried a variety of techniques.  I stick with the ones that work for me and leave the rest in history.

So, that said, here is my process.

First, once every year or two or three, I polish the rails with an electrical contact cleaning block. 


Yes it is hard work but nothing beats a good hand cleaning.  The electrical contact cleaning block is designed for use in industrial maintenance applications to clean and polish the commutator rings of heavy duty electric motors.  They are perfect for our application becasue the clean and polish but do not scar the contact surface of the rail.  A scarred rail head has less contact surface available to contact the wheel tread and it will hold dirt causing more conductivity issues.

Once polished, I vaccuum the Right-Of Way and wipe down the rails with a rag soaked with 70% Isopropyl Alcohol to clean up any oils and debris that were pushed around by the polishing process.  Finally I add a light coating of CRC 2-26 to the rail head and allow it to air dry.  The CRC 2-26 acts as a sealer to protect the new finish and also as a conductivity enhancer that improves crrent and DCC signal transfer.

I do all of this only when I start having issues with stalling on the sidings, spurs and yard tracks.  The last time I made this much effort was when I had the whole thing down for a major reorganization in 2009.  So, we are going on about three years now.

To keep the main line running smoothly, I have a cleaning train that cycles around once or twice a year.  The train has the following consist and is arranged in the order listed:

  • Aztec Eliminator with Crayotec Roller
  • Aztec Monsoon Cleaning Car with Canvas Roller and 70% Isopropyl Alcohol
  • Aztec Eliminator with Canvas Roller
  • Buffer Car
  • Buffer Car
  • Buffer Car
  • Buffer Car
  • Centerline Cleaning Car with Toweled Roller and CRC 2-26

I let the train cycle around several times with the Centerline car running dry to mop up and grime and liquid that is still present as it passes.  I remove the dirty towel as required and repeat until the towel stays fairly clean.  Then I turn off the Aztec Monsoon car and put a shot of the CRC 2-26 on the towel and run it around a few times, adding additional CRC 2-26 as required to lay down a really good coat.  Then I park the train and let everything dry out for a day or two.

Hope you find this to be as effective for you as it is for me.  I rarely have issues with stalling on my pike.  When I do, it is a loco problem and not the track. 

And remember...  Model Railroading is FUN!