Sunday, October 3, 2021

A Track Cleaning Train

 As we all do, the search for a good and easy way to clean track can cause us to try all sorts of things. Of course, one way is to use the Peco track rubber or other brand, another is to use what used to be known as an ink rubber (eraser), a slight abrasive was bonded in the rubber. I have noticed that these are very hard to get anymore which is a pity as they were better than the Peco rubber. I am not going to get into the argument about the abrasive rubbers scratching the rail head as my track is long past protecting from that potential issue.

One thing I have always done is to use a 38mm paintbrush and drag it along the track at about 45 degrees to remove dust which I believe is a major part of dirty track. Combine dust with some conductivity fluids and you make the grey stuff that builds up on the wheels. Anyway, that's my theory. The dust by itself can also cause erratic power pick up and running. I will use the brush if I haven't run the layout for a few weeks.

In regards to conductivity, I started decades ago by using CRC 2-26, an electrical conductivity spray, this certainly works well but must be applied sparingly and away from grades. I applied it to about 50cm of each rail on level track in several places around the layout as well as on the point blade and stock rail contact areas of points.  I did find many years later that it can build up to a slightly sticky form at the point blade contact areas and start to restrict blade movement. This was rectified with an application of enamel paint thinner on a cotton pipe cleaner. This is how I enhanced conductivity until I started looking for other ways several years ago.

The next trials involved the use of graphite pencil sticks which seemed to work well but also had to be kept away from the layout grades. These can be found in art supply shops.

My latest efforts involve a geared motor rotating a cleaning pad against the rail tops. This motor is built into an NSWGR 48 Class HO model that runs as a dummy with another diesel locomotive, usually a Trainorama 44 Class. Behind the diesel locomotives are several wagons that have other track wiping and cleaning fittings.

Here are some photographs that show what I mean.

A white metal Protype BCW with an abrasive rubber (from Walthers I think)
The middle wagon has a piece of 1mm cork mounted on the Dust Monkey brush
Noch also makes the axle mounted Dust Monkey brushes

The cork disc and the cork on the Dust Monkey have a small amount of CRC 2-26 electrical conductivity fluid applied to them before operating. The CRC 2-26 can also be applied to the rails in a number of places around the layout to rejuvenate the cork. Any buildup of the grey dirt from the track can be cleaned from the cork carefully with some enamel thinner. Be careful not to saturate the cork with the thinner as it may cause the glue holding the cork on the plastic to soften. I use a cotton pipe cleaner to clean the cork.

The 48 Class has a piece of grey sponge mounted behind the leading cowcatcher to wipe the dust away before it can get on the locomotive's wheels and cause problems. I am still looking for a small brush arrangement to replace the foam.

The motor that spins the cork disc is a 1000 rpm geared 12volt DC motor that can be found here (at the time of this post of course):

On ebay


On Aliexpress

The body of the 48 Class is an old Trax body and the chassis of the 48 Class is made of several 3D prints. The non-powered 48 Class bogies are from the early Trax 48 Class and I have used two of them. They clip into the 3D printed chassis the same as they did on one end of the Trax 48 Class. It was lucky that I kept the Trax 48 Class chassis' when I made new mechanisms some time ago. See the blog post here.

The prints were done on a 3D filament printer except for the fuel tanks which were done on a resin printer. The fuel tanks might work on a filament printer with appropriate orientation and supports.

If anyone is interested and has an old Trax 48 Class body and a couple of the non-powered Trax 48 Class bogies then here are the STL files of the chassis parts and the fuel tank side (two required).


Chassis Motor Bottom Support

Track Cleaner Disc

48 Class Fuel Tank Side

The chassis parts were printed flat on the bed of the filament 3D printer.

Of course the adventurous could always design and print the bogies and use the white metal bogie side frames if they are still available.

The motor sits relatively loosely in the centre square hole and the square part below the chassis is glued into the chassis to retain the motor. The fuel tanks screw onto the chassis and retain the body. The disc slides onto the motor shaft which has a flat keyway. The disc can move up and down under its own weight but a small piece of foam is used to apply slight downward pressure. Too much pressure can stop the motor from rotating. The longer two box shapes can be used for some weight and/or a place to put the DCC decoder. Although my 48 Class isn't fitted with a Keep Alive as yet it would be a good addition.

Various trial materials were used on the disc - 2 types of material, cork,
2000 grit Wet and Dry and the last one has glue on it from a covering I removed
Under chassis view showing a piece of foam that exerts
a slight downward pressure on the disc.
View of the chassis, body and two fuel tanks that retain the body.
View showing motor sitting in the square box mounting.

1000rpm 12 volt motor

The decoder has Back EMF which can assist in keeping it spinning. The decoder is not in a DCC consist with the 44 Class as it needs to run at full speed. Any decoder with Back EMF would be suitable. The 44 Class is run slowly to give more cleaning revolutions of the disc on the rails.

Finally, this method of making a track cleaner could be applied to any other dummy model diesel by designing and printing an equivalent style chassis, etc.

Here is another motor and gearbox style that could be used. The link was good at the time of this post.

If your diesels are having intermittent power pick up issues then have a look at this earlier post where I put forward a theory about it and solve it with some easily fitted power pickups.


DavidV said...

A very useful article Ray. Just cleaning my rails after many many months and always thinking about better ways to tackle the work.

John Gaydon said...

Hi Ray,

very interesting information here. As you know I have lost much sleep over this subject. I have finally removed all of the Inox MX3 / CRC 2-26 off my tracks after months of cleaning and now my 38's can again tackle the 1 in 50 grade with a 7 car HUB set. I swear I will never use this stuff again. Using CRC WD40 Contact cleaner it appears that slowly my trains are performing better. It is supposed not to attract dust and I think it actually works! The Fleischman track rubber which I am told doesn't affect the nickle silver rails definitely cleans too. I have also found that good old cork does remove grime from the tracks even without any fluid. Therefore I would suggest that your 48 class spinning wheel cleaner is a great idea and should work. Anyway this gives more food for thought. Incidentally a pencil eraser removes the gunk from the cork pads!

Terry Flynn said...

Hello Ray,

I'm still using Inox to 'condition' my track, and only occasionally clean local spots of track with excessive dirt build up using a pencil type eraser or a piece of floor tile cork. I have not cleaned any wheels for about 20 years. Yes the rail head is often black, but it still is conductive. By using the AMRA carriage mass standard combined with free rolling carriages,removing bogie springs from steam locomotives and testing grades and curves before building my layout, I get reliable running. My experience is the same as you with locomotive pickups, though I also use Inox to lubricate the locomotive bearings and I have found this is good enough for my 44's so far, though, I must admit my 44 does have a storage capacitor in it.