What's worked best for our club operations are a combination of
1.) I run a track-cleaning train around the layout before every
It consists (pun intended) of a loco or two pulling a single CMX track
cleaning car that's loaded with mineral spirits (paint thinner). The
liquid drips onto the contact pad at a rate of about one drop every
ten seconds, and the moist upholstery fabric on the bottom of the pad
loosens and picks up a lot of the dirt/oxidation that's accumulated on
the track between sessions. (We settled on using mineral spirits as
the best compromise between stronger solvents such as acetone -which
clean the track a bit better but are far more unhealthy for you to
breath- and water-based solvents which are much less effective and
can take circa 20 minutes to dry before the track should be used.
However, if you're cleaning track in a small room with little or no
air circulation, the water-based solvents would probably be a
healthier, um, solution.)
Trailing the CMX car are two (2) Centerline track cleaning cars that
drag heavy brass rollers surrounded by coils of Handi Wipes, cut to
fit. The Handi Wipe coils absorb/wipe up nearly all of the residue
left behind by the CMX car, and by the end of a cleaning session both
the CMX car's pad and the rolls of Handi Wipe have become filthy
black; which demonstrates how much crud was on the tracks to begin
with. (The Handi Wipes are replaced, and the CMX car's fabric pad is
cleaned after every session.)
2.) We require that each train pull at least one "sled" car that
*looks* like a normal car but which has a small ( 1" x 3" ) Masonite
slab riding along rough-side down on the railheads. These serve to
pick up whatever crud is deposited on the rails between formal
cleaning sessions, and the sled pads also end up black by the end of a
6-hour operating sesson; which goes to show that dirt/oxidation can
build up while you are operating, not just between sessions.
A few quick swipes with 120-grit sandpaper serves to clean the sled
blocks before the next operating sessions, and the Masonite isn't hard
enough to scratch the railheads; which would cause the track to get
dirty again even faster.
3.) We ask -but don't require, because enforcement would be
impossible- that our members clean the wheels of their locos and
rolling stock before every operating session. Most of 'em do; and it
helps a lot.
4.) We encourage our members to run metal instead of plastic wheels on
their rolling stock, as plastic (at least some sorts of plastic)
wheels seem to get the track dirtier, faster, than do metal wheels.
When you put all of these things together we've noticed a striking
contrast in how well our trains run these days compared with the
"before"; with no more hesitations/stalls due to the locos momentarily
losing contact with the rails. In DCC mode the difference is even
more striking, and we feel that we've got the dirty track problem
licked so long as we keep up the cleaning routines.