Maintaining Your Model Train Layout



Most model railroaders invest a tremendous amount of time in building their layout to the highest of standards which is typical and understandable.  However, it is just as important to develop a planned and well thought out maintenance schedule that is at the same high level for your layout as well.  Maintaining your model train layout will insure continuous, enjoyable, and rewarding long term use, and prevent a multitude of unwanted and unnecessary problems from occurring.

The first priority which must be achieved from the very beginning is a well constructed layout.  The model railroaders efforts to maintain their layout are all but wasted if they constructed their layout poorly and with improperly installed components.  This problem is easily avoided because there are an abundance of books which are available both online and offline to guide the modeler in the construction of their layout.

One could confidently say that model railroaders take great pride in the appearance of their layouts, and also develop maintenance schedules to avoid potential future problems.  Unfortunately, the most conscientious of railroaders eventually develop some sort of unwanted problem.  Parts or components which are installed simply wear out over time, and the modeler must then decide to replace or repair the part.  Most often it’s best to elect to do the latter.  With that said, one must still consider whether this is the best choice which is done by considering the cost for repairing a faulty component versus simply buying a new part.  Time must be taken into consideration as well.  Is it cheaper to buy a new part or repair the old one?  In some instances time and cost isn’t relevant as would be the case with a worn out turn out point.  The part may not be that expensive, but if the scenicking  is completed with ballast and other types of scenery which have been added to the layout, the best option may be to go ahead and repair the worn out part rather than disturb the surrounding scenery elements.

Keeping Your Layout Clean

Your layout’s environment is a controlling factor in determining how often you will have to take measures to keep your layout clean and dust is your worst enemy.  If possible, when selecting your layout room it should be one that is climate controlled and the room should only be used for model railroading.

If, in fact, an environment like this is not available, and you have a small layout you may want to consider covering it with a plastic drop cloth when not in use.  These type of drop cloths are typically made of thin material which will prevent damage to your layout, and better yet they only cost a few dollars.  If you have a larger layout you can invest in more plastic sheeting which will accomplish the same goal for this type of layout as well.

Basements are one of the more popular choices for model train layouts, and can be a huge problem because of how the high level of dirt which filters down through the overhead floor.  A solution to this problem would be to install some type of ceiling installation such as drywall. plywood, or paneling.  If this type of measure is unaffordable you may want to purchase polyethylene plastic sheeting and staple it to the ceiling.  If your layout room has a concrete floor which most basements have, you may want to cover it with carpeting or linoleum to hold dust down.

Always keep in mind that dirty track will always lead to problems.  This is especially so if your using a Digital Command Control system.  It is always a good policy to clean your track when you clean your locomotives wheels as this only makes good sense.  If your wheels are dirty they will transfer dirt to your tracks and vice versa.

The signs and symptoms for dirty tracks include excessive sparking between the locomotive wheels and the track, headlights that flicker, hesitation, jerking, and stalling.  If any of these conditions are present you have a number of options to choose from for ways to clean your track and they include the following:

1.  You have the option of manually cleaning dirt off your tracks by using an eraser type cleaning block.  One of the more popular of these types of cleaning blocks is called Bright Boy and is sold by Walthers.

2.  You can also clean tracks by using what are know as liquid track cleaners, and there are a variety of these which are available through various manufacturers.

3. Another choice is by purchasing a track cleaning car and there are a number of choices for these as well.  

Clean Your Scenery  

Don’t forget that the dust which ends up on your tracks also settles on your scenery, and it will coat everything on your layout.  Keep in mind that you can dust or clean hard scenery in the same way as you dust your structures.  However, its important to remember that any material or objects that are loose will be sucked off your layout along with the dust(if your using some type of hand vacuum or vacuum cleaner).  

Fortunately, foliage is pretty porous and has the ability to absorb quite a bit of dust before it begins to show, and this quality is actually an advantage.  Cleaning foliage is somewhat difficult, and one of the few options you have is directly related to how securely you’ve attached it to your layout.  If it is quite secure you can try taking a small brush and tap the foliage lightly to dislodge some of the dust that has accumulated.  You might also try misting your foliage with a little water from a spray bottle which will remove some of the outer dust and make the deeper dust less visible.  Using these methods is one of personal choice because there is always a possibility that damage may occur with items that are this fragile.

The scenery which is most challenging is water features which will require much more attention compared to anything else on your layout.  Not only will water features show dust, they will also show smudges and fingerprints.  Try using a damp cloth dampened with a mild detergent to remove these unwanted deposits.  Then follow by wiping the feature once more with a cloth that has only been soaked in water.

Cleaning Structures 

The one place where dust is really noticeable on a layout is on structures.  You should remove this dust by lightly brushing your structures with a small brush, and you can also try using your vacuum cleaner hose which should be done with care.

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