Adjusting Model Train Layout Switch Machines And Ground Throws



The objective when throwing your switch points is to move one point away from the stock rail while pushing the other against the opposite stock rail which must result in holding it securely.  There are two ways in which this can be accomplished, and they are through some type of remote control or by doing it manually.  To maintain these components isn’t particularly complicated.  If you insure that they are free of dirt or other types of debris along with adjusting them properly you should eliminate future problems.

As you may have already deduced, adjusting a ground throw is a pretty easy task.  What is of importance is that the points need to push firmly or securely against the stock rail when you throw them for a certain direction of travel.  The problem here is that your train will split a switch if the   points come up short.  There are a number of reasons related to why this may happen, and the more common reason is the result of ballast or some other type of debris that may have worked loose which could have possibly worked its way into the point.  You can check for this problem by removing the ground throw and then by sliding the throw bar manually or by hand.  If you can see that the points are not seating properly to the stock rail, this confirms that either some ballast or dirt is not where it should be.  

There is also a possibility that the debris may not be visible to the eye as it may be wedged alongside or under the throw bar.  In spite of the challenges this may present for the removal, the best approach is to use air to get the job done.  This of course will require the use of some type of air compressor while you work the throw bar in a back and forth motion.  Make sure that you do not use a high level of air pressure when doing this.  If, in fact, this technique doesn’t work, you should then try moving the throw bar back and forth.  Eventually, the foreign material will work itself free.  There is also a possibility that the debris may have worked it’s way into the ground throw mechanism.  If this is the case, you’ll have to remove it the old fashioned way and pick it out by hand.  In any case, after you remove the debris you can then reinstall the ground throw.

There is one other possibility for your source of trouble, and that may be that your ground throw simply needs to be adjusted.  If so, just move it in the proper direction and secure it once again.  

Where adjusting your points or ground throw is a relatively uncomplicated process, the reverse is true when it comes to adjusting and maintaining a remote turnout mechanism. The reason for this is because you going to have to deal with electrical, mechanical, or a pneumatic mechanism.  Again,  if your experiencing issues with the point throw, you should disconnect the throwing mechanism and then check the points and throwbar for foreign materials.  If this is the case follow the recommendations which were previously described.  The next thing you should do is inspect your source of remote power.  If electricity or air is actually not reaching the mechanism you need to check your power source or possibly your control panel.  If these two are working properly, then take a look at the mechanism itself.

Before adjusting a mechanical throw you’ll need to determine what type it is.  It doesn’t really matter if you’re using a choke cable or a lever type mechanism because there should be a type of adjustment to lengthen or shorten the linkage.  By using this adjustment you’ll be able correct any point throw problems.

How To Adjust Mechanical Remote Throws

These are typically located below your layout so it is important to insure that nothing interferes with the linkage such as wiring and other types of layout components away from your mechanical throws and make sure that these other items are properly secured.

Try to avoid getting oil in any parts that move or slide.

Always remember to use a light touch when operating these type of remotes.

Electric Motor Controls

Dealing with this type of control is much more challenging because there are several different ways for throwing points.  More than one model railroader uses the Atlas twin coil switch machine and most likely because it comes standard or can be added to their line.

Where these are mounted on a layout is of little importance as the real problem involves the fact that there is little that the average modeler can do to adjust them.  The reason for this is because the working components are enclosed and the cover is secured with rivets.  If something does work its way into this type of component the only thing that you can do is remove the unit and work it manually in an effort to dislodge the debris.

As model railroader gains experience they’ll most likely move beyond the standard snap track turnouts and there are there are a number of different types of switch machines and mounting options which are available to choose from.  Whichever the modeler selects is strictly a matter of personal preference.

Many manufacturers build there own versions of the twin coil switch machine and can be mounted under the layout itself.  The better of these of have much sturdier components and have a way to adjust the throw bar linkage.  There is a drawback with this type of machine because most will move the points in a quick and sharp snap which may loosen stock rails and knock point or stock rails out of their standard adjustment.

With that said, its good to know that there are a handful of slower moving switch machines that actually move the points more slowly, which is more typical of a prototypical machine.  This slowness is much easier on the truck structure.  

There is also a type of switch machine that uses air to throw the points.  The chief benefit with this type of machine is that it allows the modeler to throw turnouts with out running wires.  The drawback is that air lines must be run instead.

Keep in mind that whatever type of machine you decide on, each will have it’s own specific maintenance requirements, but the manufacturers will most likely support these machines with replacement parts.

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