I read that if you have a long track you should have a power "feed" every
few feet because of the voltage drop over a length of track, particularly
for DCC. They say to install a "bus" i.e. a piece of wire or copper tape
from which the feeds are taken. But why doesn't the "bus" suffer from the
same voltage drop as the track? Is nickel silver a worse conductor? Or is
the difference because of the rail joints? And if so why isn't it sufficient
to just solder a piece of wire across the joints?
In message , Ed Callaghan
The voltage drop occurs at the fishplates (rail joiners) because the
metal surfaces tarnish causing resistance.
Because the "bus" is made of thick wire. In my case I use household
mains cable, suitably treated so you know it's not carrying 240v.
Rail joints - see above.
It is sufficient. Always assuming your soldering is perfect every time.
And always assuming the wire you use across the joints is heavy enough
to carry the required current.
See the other replies, but yes, copper is a better conductor than
Pure silver is an even better conductor than copper, but is rather expensive
to use on model railways (and it would wear too quickly if used for rails.)
In message , old git
If you melt the sleepers, you're doing it wrong because you are getting
heat in the wrong place. What I do is to tin the wire first, then scrape
the rail with a needle file where the wire is to be soldered. Then I
apply some flux (I use Fluxite, but other fluxes could be used) to the
rail and tin the rail with a small amount of solder. Then I bring the
wire to the rail and apply the iron, which causes the solder on both
rail and wire to melt and fuse.
Periodically I check all soldered joints of wire to rail, as I have seen
a blackbird really enjoying himself trying to pull a wire out of the
baseboard and away from the rail, obviously thinking it was a tasty
I tried soldering wires to the fishplates, but it didn't work very well,
as the rail-to-fishplate friction joint soon deteriorated as a result of
the usual effects of the outdoors on the metal surfaces.
Incidentally, I use a 40-watt iron with a screwdriver-shape blade, which
cost me very little in Homebase. Smaller irons do not generate enough
heat to get in there, do the job, then get out again quickly.
We had a bit of a discussion about this a while ago. Basically, you
want to solder your wire directly to the rail itself since you can get
resistance between the fishplate and the rail giving you a lower
voltage at the track.
To avoid melting sleepers when soldering directly to the track, you
need to make sure that the rail and the wire are clean at the place
you want to make the solder joint. Next, you want a soldering iron
which is up to the job. 25 watt and upwards will usually deal with
Code 100 rail and smaller.
Apart from the wattage of the iron, the bit you use on the iron will
also have an effect on how the joint is made. You want to transfer
as much heat as possible in the shortest time, so a tip that
resembles a screwdriver blade will allow this if you place the tip in
the web of the rail and get a large contact area. If you have a
pointed style of tip, or one with an angled flat on a circular bit,
then you will not really get a large contact area on a rail and it
will take time for the rail to get up to soldering heat, if at all.
It is in cases like this that the heat has time to travel along the
rail and start to melt the plastic fittings close to the join. If
you use a good hot iron with a screwdriver/chisel type of tip, then
you should get a fast joint and heat will not have time to conduct
itself along the rail to the plastic fittings. What also helps is a
small smear of suitable flux on the rail and wire. You can use
liquid flux such as that supplied by Carrs (now C&L), or you can use
paste fluxes like Fluxite or Templers Telux. Make sure you get a
flux for non-ferrous metals which won't cause long term oxidisation
problems. The paste fluxes I mentions are fine for this purpose.
Also, to help get a fast joint, break the soldering rule and carry
solder on the tip of the iron to the joint. The solder on the tip
increases the heat transfer area and ensures a quick joint. You need
to use flux on the joint if you use this method.
It's worth getting a bit of scrap track and trying out some soldering
on it until you get the feel for doing fast joints. It can be done
and all you need is the experience to prove it to yourself. :-)
OK John, but the thick wire is still thinner than rail, is it not?
Don't these points apply equally to the feeder wires (heaviness of) and the
(imperfect) soldering of them to the track and to the rail? I still don't
understand why the bus is better. Is it basically just down to the tarnished
ISTR that Nickel silver which is what most model track is made from
actually has a fairly high internal resistance compared with the
copper used in UK mains cable. The brain cell holding this old fact
also remembers something about nickel silver having a low contact
resistance which I have always taken to mean it lets the current out
easily. Not being an electrician or a metallurgist i may have got my
Talking about track material the MOD may have some phosphor bronze
rail for sale soon.Dean Hill ammunition store is closing its narrow
gauge system. Anybody want to build a large scale set with 2 rail
In message , Ed Callaghan
Yes, but as someone else has posted, copper conducts much better than
The bus is better because it has a lower resistance than the resistance
of the combined rail + bonding wires combination.
After a few years of practical experience you will stop asking questions
like this and just get on with it :-)
The point about feeder wires from a bus is that they are short and
carry the current only for the section of rail they feed. So, even if
they are on the thin side, the voltage drop (being proportional to the
length and current) will not be that great.
Wires across rail joints (with no bus) carry all the current for the
downstream track. Again, each wire is short and the voltage drop will
be small (possibly greater than a feeder due to the higher current)
but the drop is cumulative as you reach the furthest points of the
It's more critical for DCC where the whole layout may be one
electrical section with much higher current than a block DC system
with multiple lower current feeds.
I found when I was a kid in the days a having a nice oval loop with just one
power feed (all tacked onto a nice piece of chip-board covered in cheap and
nasty plastic buildings - oh those were the days!), on the opposite side of
the board I had poor running, and eventually found that this was directly
because of my fish plates.
Later layouts that I started constructing, using various set-tracks, I found
it best to locate all the track on the board, but not tack it down, and then
lift and up each piece of track individually solder wires to the underside
of each and every rail. It was painstaking to a 12 year old, but did the
trick. It was then all fishplated and tacked down.
I too suffered the problem of melting sleepings, so I used a nice needle
file to reshape the head of my soldering iron from the sharp point it came
with to a flattened out screw-driver shape, about 3mm wide. This allowed a
much better control of heat, and using a good multi-core solder I could
"tin" my rail first, then the wire (giving time for heat on the rail to
disperse), then join the two together quickly.
More recently, I use PCB track, but use the same method - finding it easier
to hide a wire connection to the underside of the actual rail rather than on
the side of it, or on top of the sleeper.
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