Locomotive Maintenance

As any model railroader will tell you, the hobby of model railroading is a very special and unique pastime.  If there is a problem, it is that our layouts are not static displays, as is the case with many other types of hobbies.  Rather, model railroading is a dynamic hobby and hobbyist put a great deal of effort into making every thing about their layout and trains look as realistic as possible.  Another irritating issue is that external forces are continuously working to deteriorate everything we’ve created or make our trains inoperable.  This is particularly so for our locomotives.  In fact, the moment the wheels touch a model train layout’s tracks and turn, outside forces begin to work on the locomotive.  Because of this, some fundamental skills are necessary to perform basic locomotive maintenance.

One thing which is helpful is although there are many different manufacturers of locomotives, almost all locomotives share the same components and are built in the same way.  To be able to maintain your locomotive effectively you should be familiar with what each of these components are.  They include exterior components, mechanical components, and electrical components.  Most manufacturers will provide you with a list of these components and you may also be able to access this information online.

When performing basic maintenance on your locomotive there are several things which you should check and they are as follows:

1.  Firstly, even if you’ve purchased a new unit you should inspect your locomotive, and this would begin by removing the body from the chassis so that you may look for obvious problems.  Where almost every manufacture does a great job of making their products, you should check to see that there are no loose parts, or if something was broken during shipping.  Next, check to make sure your locomotive was in fact lubricated.  Also, while the body is off, you should place your locomotive on the tracks and run it.  This will give you an opportunity to be sure that all of the moving parts are operating correcting.

2.  Next, check the wheel gauge….Here you want to check depth and fit of the wheel flanges in the notches which are provided.  Also, follow NMRA standards when doing this inspection.

3.  It’s also very important to check your locomotives couplers.  You should also do this by using NMRA standards.  Most importantly, check the height with the NMRA gauge.

4.  Finally, as previously mentioned test run your locomotive.

Routine Maintenance (Diesel)

Not unlike other similar machines which have parts that move, there is a need to perform maintenance from time to time to insure that it runs well.  Another factor to consider is the location of your layout, because this will play a direct role in how frequently and what type of maintenance you’ll have to perform.  For example, if your layout is located in a room of your home or in a basement that you keep clean, less maintenance will be required.  Conversely, if the area your layout is in is an area where there is a higher level of dirt and dust, the maintenance interval will be more frequent.

These are the more important things to do when maintaining your diesel locomotive:

1.  Keeping your wheels clean is important and should be done often.  The most expensive locomotive will not run well if it’s wheels are not clean, and this is especially important if you’re using a Digital Command Control system, as the signals are received by the decoder which is located inside of your locomotive.  Detecting problems is simple because you’ll notice that your headlight may be flickering, or your locomotive will stall or hesitate as it runs.

You can clean the wheels of your locomotive by removing or scraping the dirt which has accumulated with a wire brush or a knife.  If your not interested in doing this manually there are manufacturers who make something called a Loco Driver Cleaner.


2.  It is imperative that you lubricate all of your locomotives mechanical parts.  Keep in mind, that a small amount of lubricant is all that is necessary.  Your bigger problem is dirt which will accumulate over time in the lubricant itself.  This actually happens with any type of lubricant, and so the trick is definitely not to over do lubricating your locomotive.  You may have noticed that when your locomotive came from the factory it was overly lubricated, and the solution to this is fairly involved.  You see, the best way to deal with this is to actually take the drive train apart and start over.

3.  In some instances your locomotive will not run as it should even though you’ve been dependably checking and cleaning your wheels, and you have insured that your locomotive is properly lubricated.

To deal with this problem you just might have to do a little tweaking to your locomotive.  One thing you can do is to tear down your drive train which isn’t  all that complicated.  After you have taken your drive train apart, the next step is to wash all of it’s parts in a warm soapy water solution and then let them dry thoroughly.  While you take your drive train apart, you should check each of it’s components to make sure there are no problems.  Finally, re-lubricate the working parts with a thin film of lubricant.

You may have notice that your locomotive actually runs smoother as the result of a lot of use.  This is simply because the mechanism wears in.  You can help this along with a new locomotive by speeding up this process.  By applying a reasonably small amount of a product called Pearl Drops which is a dental product, to the gears of your drive train you should discover that your locomotive will run much smoother.  The trick here, is to run it for several hours after you apply the product.

Incidentally, if you own steam locomotives the maintenance requirements are much the same as for a diesel locomotive.

Bonuses: Download and Print a FREE Building made with Model Builder Software Get your copy today and start building!

Control Tower 1

Control Tower 2