Beginner in need of help - cleaning track.

Hi folks,

I'm really new to model railroading and I am dealing with some used pieces of track.

I have a few track questions to start:

1) What's the best way to clean track and to keep it that way?

2) Does anyone have suggestions on where to buy new track? (Either online or near Toronto).

3) Are there any real differences in brands? Concor? Atlas? Does it really matter?

I'm sure I'll have many more questions after these :)



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If it's brass track, it's not worth the trouble. If it's nickel silver track, it may be. So for starters:

a) Is it sectional track? Then you have to decide whether it's worth your while to clean stuff that costs $1 a piece or less brand new. Flex track will cost around $3 a yard - again, is it worth your time to clean it up?

However, having decided that you want to clean it up, here goes:

b) What's on the track that you want to remove?

Tarnish: use a good metal cleaning/polishing paste according to directions.

Old ballast and glue: scrape off as much as you can with a small screwdriver (it helps to file the blade so it fit between the base and the rail head.) Caution: you can scrape off the plastic spike heads that hold the rail to the ties. Then soak in water for an hour or so, and scrub off residue with a brush.

Rusted steel: Use steel wool to get the worst of the rust off. You needn't worry about the sides of the rail, rust there is protoypical. Use fine emery cloth (600 grit or finer) to polish the railhead. Remove the rail joiners, and file the rail web and base shiny bright before re-attaching the railjoiners.

Any full service hobby shop that carries HO trains will have HO track. Let your fingers do the walking in the yellow pages.... The GTA and Golden Horseshoe have many hobby shops.

Online sources: too many to list. Use your browser's search engine. Be aware that shipping costs may eliminate any apparent price advantage of the online shop over your local hobby shop. Besides, it's a lot more fun to browse a real hobby shop. :-)

Almost all HO sectional track is made with code 100 rail (it's 0.100" high.) Track with a plain tie strip from different manufacturers is totally compatible. There is no difference in quality (except for turnouts.) Track with a plastic base from different manufacturers is not compatible.

Just keep 'em coming!

Unsolicited advice A: If you do visit a hobby shop, pick up a book that describes building a complete layout. You don't have to build the layout described in it, but you will learn a lot about the techniques and methods.

Unsolicited advice B: think about visiting or joining a model railroad club. There are several very good ones in the GTA/Golden Horseshoe area. Or visit a show. Upcoming shows that you might want to visit:

Mar 3: Cobourg ON at the Lions Community centre adults $4, seniors $3, children $1. 10:00am to 4:30pm

Mar 17-18: Kingston ON "Rail-o-Rama". Ambassador Hotel, 1550 Princess St, 10:00am to 4:00pm. Adults $5, seniors $4, children $2

Mar 18 and Mar 25 North York ON York Ry Modellers open house. Info at

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Watch for the Toronto Model Railroad Show in November. It's usually at the International Center on the airport strip.


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"DeeTee" wrote in news:1171363546.785248.243340

Ah, the old cleaning track debate. Here's what I've learned:

  1. You can't keep track clean forever.
  2. Avoid abrasive pads in cheap rail. They'll do more harm than good.
  3. Most surface grime can be easily removed with an ordinary eraser.
3a. The harder stuff requires the use of a Bright Boy or similar device.
  1. Some track types respond well to the use of silver polish. Polish your rails and you might just get 3-6 months out of the one cleaning. (YMMV, I had a fairly clean room for my layout in the first place.)

Mike's Scale Rails in Peoria, Illinois and the Valley Roundhouse in Spring Valley, Illinois. They're only what, 7 hours and in a different country?

Seriously, though, look in your yellow pages for "Hobby Shop" and call a few. Some are RC car hobby shops and don't carry train stuff. Also, check the site (You may want to call first. I drove

5 miles south to find an address that turned out to be the owner's house, not his shop, which was about 8 miles north of there.)

The biggest difference is in the composition of the rail. Different manufacturers have different ideas on how to do the ties underneath, too, but that's as big of deal as you want to make it.

Have fun, and enjoy your hobby. :-)


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Here's how I clean the track on my N scale railroad:

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Bill Bill's Railroad Empire N Scale Model Railroad:

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History of N Scale:
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Railroad Books, Toys, and Trains:
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to 1,200 sites:
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If you are dealing with a pile of loose sectional track that looks old and fugly, you might try running it thru the dishwasher with lots of dishwasher detergent and hot water. This will get grime, dust, and water soluble glue and ballast off, the plastic tie strip ought to come out looking better. Don't try this on an old fiber tie strip, the fiber is NOT water proof. On the other hand, you might just lay it down, get the trains running, and then paint it. The rail wants to be rust brown (except the rail heads) and the ties want to be about the same color. If you don't have an airbrush, try a spray can of red or dark grey auto primer. Or brush paint the rails and ties. Once laid, track also wants the rail heads cleaned periodically for good electrical contact. Periodically means as soon as the trains stop running smoothly, a matter of days to months, depending upon various obscure factors. You take a rag or a paper towel, soak it in something, and rub the rail heads until they look bright. "Something"

  1. GooGone, a citrus based solvent from the housewares cleaning dept at the market. It's acid and will actually make tarnish revert to real metal.
  2. Alcohol, aka shellac thinner at the hardware store. It will dissolve most greasy scum and it won't attack paint or plastic. Evaporates cleanly and leaves no oily residue behind.
  3. Mineral Spirits, aka paint thinner. About as good as alcohol, leaves slight oily residue but it doesn't hurt anything.
  4. Various witch's brews sold in your friendly local hobby shop.

I prefer Goo Gone, but the other stuff works too. After cleaning track, you really want to clean the wheels of all your rolling stock. A paper towel soaked in "something", and laid on top of a spare piece of track will get the wheel cheese off your wheels when you roll the dirty wheels over the damp paper towel. I would avoid the more active organic solvents such as MEK or acetone lest they attack the plastic.

David Starr

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David Starr

in article 45d21fd7$0$97242$, Puckdropper at wrote on 2/13/07 12:30 PM:

Stuff deleted...

Bright Boys are abrasive, but I use them anyway from time to time.

If you want to clean by hand, I suggest Flitz Metal Polish (in the tube); it is safe for food service applications, so it is non-toxic (their stainless polish is NOT non-toxic, by the way): see here:

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And check out the FAQ.

I put Flitz on an piece of cloth wrapped around a wooden block and stretched tight. Not to much so that it doesn't slop over on the sides of the rail. Then I use a separate similar cloth to wipe the product off. The rail heads will be SHINY and there is a corrosion resistant coating left which does not show, attract dirt or inhibit electrical conductivity. If you get the product on the sides of the rail, it will turn green, so you do need to remove it pretty quickly. I use a stiff paint brush (small size) on which the bristles have been cut short to make them stiffer.

Automated solutions: there are several. Many recommend the Centerline track cleaning cars with product like GooGone or Aero Locomotive Works Track Cleaner. If you go with GooGone or similar, get all metal wheels since I think that GooGone softens plastics an can stuff dirtier than when you started. Centerline's web site is here:

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I've also use the Aztec cleaning cars, but not with fluids. I use the Cratex rollers (pretty much the same as a bright boy) and/or the canvas rollers between Flitz treatments to get miscellaneous dust off the track. I like the Aztec quite a bit. There web site is here:

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Miniatonics makes a product called Electrak Clean II which is an electrical approach to cleaning. The stuff is installed in a F7B unit and runs on a 9v battery. It is pretty effective. I push it around preceded and followed by the aforementioned Aztec cars to mop up the carbonized guck which the Electrak produced when it zaps dirt.

I've also used the MNP cleaning car, which has a pair of motorize undercar rotating felt pads. It is effective as well and I've used it to polish the track after Flitz applications. Their web site is here:

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As part of keeping track clean, you need to keep locomotive and rolling stock wheels clean, too. For locomotive wheels, I like the Kadee cleaner:

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For rolling stock, use metal wheel sets if you can; plastic attracts and spreads more dirt around; also, metal looks and sounds better and the cars roll more easily.

Hope this helps.

Reply to
Edward A. Oates

Important tip: make darn sure you clean the track well after using steel wool. Any little bits of steel wool left over can get picked up by the engine and cause a lot of headaches.

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Everyone else has weighed in on the "how to clean it" part.

Though I would add: I've never used steel wool on track due to the possibility of the motor magnet attracting the loose pieces into the locomotive and works. Various other cleaning products are out there that work reasonably well. Think kitchen abraisive pads and the like. Your local hobby shop will have something that is the owner's favorite product.

As to keeping it clean, one sure way of doing that is lots of use. If you are modeling in HO scale, see if you can get one of the older (1980s or early 1990s) Athearn diesel locomotives.

1) they pick up from all wheels, so they are rarely stopped by dirty track 2) they have flywheels so that even if they are stopped by dirty track they will continue to move forward anyway and usually not stop due to a dirty spot 3) the metal used to make the wheels is an alloy that really grips the rails and gives good traction, but also collects dirt from the rails. If your Athearn locomotive ever starts to operate as if it were on dirty track take a look at the wheels, and you will be amazed at how much dirt they have accumulated from the track.

Thus, to clean an HO mainline or other through track with an Athearn locomotive, just let it run in circles for a while (if that is possible on your layout design) with a train behind it. Cleaning the grit out of the wheels is a fairly easy process that can be done with a small screwdriver, and is much less time consuming than cleaning all the rails by hand.

Reply to

DeeTee skriver:

Roco track cleaning car and Roco "rubber".

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Reply to
Klaus D. Mikkelsen

Try George's Trains on Mount Pleasant Rd. in Toronto.


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A couple of places in the Toronto area where you can get new track: I usually frequent North Star Hobbies on the south side of Dundas West, just west of Highway 427; also go to Credit Valley Railway on Queen Street in downtown Streetsville. There's also George's Trains on Mt. Pleasant south of Eglinton

Reply to
Roy & Lynn Williams

Hey folks, Thanks for all the info and advice on cleaning track.

I should have been more specific about the type of track and what needed cleaning, but now I'm prepared for whatever comes my way.

Everyone's been really helpful and your experience is making things easier and more fun for me.



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