Locomotive Repair


Author: Elliot Davenport
Date: July 12th, 2014

With periodic maintenance most model train locomotives will run for years. However, there will definitely come a time when your locomotive will break down, and this is especially so because of the widespread use of DCC. With that said, being able to repair your own locomotive, rather than having to send it out for locomotive repair is a valuable and time saving skill.

Troubleshooting Problems

However, to have the ability to do anything which is beyond routine maintenance you’ll need to learn how to take your locomotive apart.

Before you begin this disassembly it would be a good idea to place your locomotive on a white towel. In so doing, you’ll quickly discover how much easier it will be to find parts which have been removed from your locomotive.

You may have received or should have received an instruction sheet when you purchased your locomotive.
If you did not, than you’ll have to do a little investigative research to be able to determine how to remove the shell.

The first step involves removing the couplers. Typically, the couplers will have to be removed if they are mounted on the chassis or frame.

They are usually held in place with a screw, clip, or pin.
Ordinarily, with plastic locomotives some type of clip or tab holds the body in place. If you refer to your instruction sheet it should present instructions regarding the disassembly of your locomotive.

If this is not the case, the option to this is to take a look at the enlarged view of the locomotive. This should give you the information you’re looking for about the location of the securing devices.

Incidentally, you may be able to find this information online which should be provided by the manufacture. If, in fact, you did not receive an instruction sheet you may want to try corresponding with company to acquire a copy of this important document.

In any case, to remove the shell, you’ll want to gently pry the body shell away from the chassis, and far enough to clear the protrusions, which will then allow you to remove the shell.

Your primary objective after removing the shell is to be able to access the mechanical components of your locomotive, and it is likely that you may run into a few road blocks before you are able to do so.

There may be circuit boards, lighting, or extra weights which you’ll discover are in the way. Once again, you should refer to the exploded view of your locomotive to determine how to remove these components.

Once you’ve cleared everything out of the way, it’s time to remove the trucks. Having done this you can now begin the necessary repair work on your locomotive.

Tip: Before doing anything after the shell is removed do a visual inspection. Look for unwanted debris such as dirt which has accumulated. Also, check for loose parts, clumps of oil, or fibers.

If you find the latter, use a pair of tweezers to remove the fibers. It might even be a good idea to use a magnifying glass to see things which your eyes may overlook on first inspection. Using a q-tip, clean away any dirt or grime which,may be fouling the operation of your locomotive.

If you should happen to find parts which have broken, the best course of action is to simply by new replacement parts. You can purchase these at either your local model train hobby shop or online.


Electrical Repair

When your locomotive will not run when you apply power the most likely problem is an electrical short. With that said, the first thing to be determined is if power is actually reaching the locomotive. To be able to do this you’ll have to remove the shell to be able to look for broken, loose, or connections which may have gone bad.

After removing the shell, place your locomotive chassis on the track and apply power. Try moving wires a bit because this may uncover the previously described problems.

If that fails you should try removing, or in fact bypassing circuits and your DCC equipment. You may discover that your locomotive will run just fine without these components connected, and if so, you’ve discovered where the problem exists.

There is also a probability that the motor may be the problem, and you can determine if it is by using jumper wires and by touching the motor terminals. Once again, if the motor will not run, you’ve unveiled the problem. In this case, your motor has seen its life and will have to be replaced.


Mechanical Repair

One thing that many model railroaders are not aware of is that mechanical problems are often not caused by use. Sadly enough, the root cause for this type of problem is frequently abuse. If you’re not pulling heavy trains…then the problem has occurred as the result of careless handling when the locomotive is off the track. Almost every locomotive is made too last for many years of use, and care should be given to insure that this is the case.

It is also advisable to keep a close eye on children who may be somewhat rough with your trains even though the abuse is unintentional.

If your fairly certain abuse may not be the culprit for your non-operating locomotive, the solution once more for repair is to remove the shell so that you may inspect the drive train.

If you don’t see any obvious issues, try running the unit so you may check the drive shaft to be certain that there are no problems with the wheels. If you still do not see any visible problems, you should then remove the trucks from the chassis.

The trick here is to isolate the problem, and you can do so by pushing each truck by hand down a section of track to check for wobbling or binding. If that doesn’t expose the problem, try running the motor with the drive shafts removed to check for binding or a bent shaft.

If you don’t know how to fix a part which is damaged….. the best thing to do is to simply replace the part. Your local model train hobby shop will carry a supply of locomotive parts, or you can order what you need directly from the manufacturer. If none of these suggestions work the only other viable option is to buy a new locomotive.