Do your trains run out of power?

Here’s a question that keeps getting mailed in again and again – so I thought it a good idea to publish. Please post your answers in the form at the bottom of the page:

“Hi Alastair. I have problem which one of your contributers may be able to help with.

My layout is not digital but has three separate tracks each one having its own power supply, all goes well apart from one track which will run for about half it’s distance then it runs out of power, switch it off for a few minutes and off it will run, again for a short time, very annoying.

I have checked all connections, all flitch plates, made sure all track is clean and that my locomotive wheels are clean.

The other two tracks continue to run fine no problems at all and yes they are all fed from the same supply. I have also changed the transformer to no avail.

Help please

Ray”


“A short night view of the Layout with a track cleaning car running.

Small New England town with a quarry , lumber yard, farm, oil terminal,

An some night paving no going on.

Still a work in progress .lights,roadbed , etc.

Frank”



That’s all for today folks – thanks for all the comments on the latest print out scenery.

Surprisingly, I got a few mails asking if it really is made from sheets of paper that are printed out.

Well, yes, the clue’s in the name: print out scenery. You just download, print and stick together. Here’s some pics of them:

Today is the very last day for the launch price, so if you want to grab this offer and save $5 you can grab it here.

Here’s the page with more details on the wooden barn and stone cottage.

1. You print them out and stick ’em together.

2. They print out at HO scale. For N scale, reduce by 50%.

3. For O scale, increase by 48% (here’s one of the houses in O scale)

4. Print as many, and make as many as you like.

Business as usual next time.

Best

Al

PS Beginner’s Guide is here.

38 responses to “Do your trains run out of power?”

  1. John says:

    I have the same problem as Ray! 3 tracks, not connected, running on their own transformers. 2 tracks work perfectly but the 3rd rail runs out of umph part way round. Everything clean, or so I think.

    waiting in anticipation

  2. Jan says:

    Have a look at the section of your wires and increase if needed the number of drops…

  3. Eric says:

    Ray. I use DC on my layouts as well. Never had that problem myself but if your none working track links to either of the other tracks I would suggest a short, make sure all joining lines are insulated so they cannot short out, you could add another power link as running just one link to your tracks is asking for trouble I always link in twice at least to the same track that allows much better running performance. If you have two links to that track check the polarity is the same best idea is to disconnect one link and see if it is the same.
    If you are getting a short the power unit will cool and reset itself which would account for resuming running after cooling down.
    One other thought, if you have a set of points where the problem seems to occur it could be dirt on the point contacts.
    Hope this helps.
    Eric (Leeds) UK

  4. Dave Roberts says:

    YES! Layouts do run out of power. Usually, because of poor or inadequate wiring from the very beginning. Good wiring practice works regardless of using DC or DCC – it’s all electricity!

    This is especially so if you are using DCC. In this case you need to calculate the “Current Draw” for each section of the layout. If it is more that the power unit can supply then you need to split the layout down into smaller sections.

    I have written several articles on this very subject for my Model Railway Club members which may be of use.

  5. Dave Roberts says:

    That will teach me to read the whole of the post! Tut! Tut! With a DC system you should have a separate power transformer for each track and each track must be electrically isolated from any others.

    The problem comes when you want to change from one loop/track to another. This iss where Isolated Sections and the “Crossover Section” comes into play. You need to put one locomotive into an electrically isolated section and then have somewhere that can be powered from another, switchable supply.

  6. Dave Roberts says:

    I would suggest looking at wiring the layour with a Bus Wire goins all around the layout. That way, you can pick off another power supply wherever you need one.

  7. John N Frye says:

    Ray,
    You need to see if the power supply is switching off or the track has a poor connection someplace. Get a 12V lamp (like used for testing voltage on autos) and when the train stops, check with the lamp. If it lights, bump the loco and see if it moves. Sounds to me like your power supply is the problem.

    John

  8. First thing I would do would be to attach a voltmeter to the tracks near where the problem occurs… Lost cost meters can be found for under $20…

  9. Bob Durino says:

    Digitization is an independent system for MR, and subject to problematic or intermittent anomalies if the underlying trackwork, electronic, and electrical infrastructure isn’t properly installed. In other words, a small oversight will compound itself exponentially with added complexity.

    The three donuts powered with one power pack control unit is more than enough to do this job. Three power pack control units, properly isolated at the track level and at the electricity toggle switch on your control panel will fix one aspect. The other part of the problem might be the positioning of turnouts routing train movement. You might have built a phantom reverse loop, easy to do with an analog electricity routed mode railroad (MR).

    What to do? Get a voltmeter, “Electricity For Dummies” and figure out where the voltage drops. This is a short, and it is caused by a miswired toggle switch, assuming a six lead, three states, on, off, or neutral condition.

    Next, cheap turnouts often times are not insulated, high-end and better-engineered turnouts are. Shinohara produces a strong turnout product line. These turnouts are self-isolating either in tandem alignment or non-tandum alignment and it assumes trackwork mis-installation. All turnouts routing electricity to parallel zones must be isolated at the entry and exit zone location. All turnouts must be wired for tandum track direction inhibiting a short. Said with less jargon and more gut, your turnouts got to “thunk” together. Absent “Thunking” the sound of alignment, shorts occur.

    One last thing. There is no substitute for basics done basically right and basically right installation of track and electric power routing will support analog and digital train control systems. Why? Because at the fundamental level of its design it is a binary and this means a positive and negative pole position or on/off. This binary is in all things great – atomic bombs, and small – light switches. Considering the extremes, model trains fit-in quite nicely. Good luck.

  10. Bob Shipley says:

    Ray- try adding another drop at the opposite point to the existing one. Sounds like voltage drop to me. Very nice layout.
    Bob

  11. Mark says:

    Frank – great looking layout. Thanks for sharing it with us. – Mark

  12. Steven says:

    Ray,
    I am no expert, but if the section looses power and then it comes back on, I would suspect a circuit breaker in the power supply. Get an electrical tester and check for exit voltage at the power supply. If there is no voltage and then it comes back on, you have a short somewhere and the circuit breaker is resetting itself. Now to find the short and what is causing it.
    But first things first.

    Steven

  13. Peter Gladman says:

    Hi Ray, have you tried using one of the transformers from one of the other tracks that run ok. If the problem persists then your wiring is at fault.

  14. Tim says:

    Sounds like you’re getting low voltage for one reason or another that’s causing too much current draw and overheating causing a thermal protector somewhere in the system to open up. I would check the voltage across the track and look for a low spot Could be leakage, voltage drop or just a bad connection. Good luck.

  15. may want to clean your track, I had the same problem until I started cleaning the track on a frequent basis. Also clean the wheels on the loco’s and rolling stock, it is somewhat irritating, however it has to be done .

  16. Bill says:

    A bad or poor connection that heats-up due to increased load will break the connection. As it cools, it reconnects. When the power shuts off, use a test light starting at the power pack and proceed along the wiring conections. It is not a common problem, but hard to find.

  17. Mark says:

    To Ray’s question – While reviewing the answers given, me-thinks too many assumptions have been made – points, cross-tracks, loop interaction and or connectivity. The idea of loops shorting to other loops is assumed that these loops are interconnected. That was not a given in the problem statement. Further, if one loop is over-loading due to a short with another loop, it only stands to reason that he would be experiencing the same problem on the loop to which it is shorted. Electricity be ‘fickled’ at the best of times.

    In addition, Ray states that he has tried different power supplies on the loop and the same issue occurs. This tells me that the problem is not with his power supply. I do agree that something is causing the offending loop’s transformer to “cut out” due to overheating and the most likely cause is a low-level short or possibly an overload on that loop. His comment about sourcing power to his transformers from the same source is good information but may be somewhat confusing in the analytics.

    My first question to look for resolution to his problem is this. Is the transformer that is feeding the troubling loop only being used to provide power to the track or are there other accessories, such as lights, etc., connected to it, as well? If so, disconnect everything but the track from the transformer. If it runs through its paces without a problem, look for the offending accessory.

    My second questions relate to the type of wiring used from the transformer to the “flitch” plate (I assume that is your power connection point). Is that bonded together via molded insulation? How is it attached to the layout? Is it stapled? If any of the answers to those questions is yes then I would recommend the following. Run two independent/individual wires from the transformer to the “flitch” plate. Use two different colors to make certain you can maintain your desired Direct Current polarity to the track. Make certain that the gauge of the wire being used is suitable for the intended load. Secondly, do not use staples to secure your wiring to the layout. The smallest nick can cause a low level short that could overheat your transformer. In addition, you might add a second feed source to your loop.

    Finally, since you didn’t state it, I will assume that you have not tried the Loco and its rolling stock on another loop. If you do and it overloads that loop, you have found your problem. The Loco is pulling too much against the capabilities of your transformer and it is overloading, overheating and thus cutting out.

    Either way, whatever you find out, please let us know. Mark

  18. Terry Miller says:

    Is it really the track that runs out of power…or the engine? Do engines that run correctly on the other two tracks have the same problem when used on the trouble track? If they do then the problem is the power source….if not, then there is an engine problem. I doubt if an accidental phantom reverse track has been introduced into the layout but if that was the case the engine would’t run at all–anywhere on the loop.

  19. Kevin says:

    Hello Ray! I’m an electronic tech by trade. On my layout I drop power 2 or 3 different places spaced evenly around the track and in some cases even more depending upon how long the track run is. This minimizes any voltage drop over long distances as well as if there are any problems in the joints. Also, I have seen bad rail joints that will cause a similar problem because the rail joiner may have a loose fit instead of a tight fit. These problem areas I usually solder the joint together as it is usually discovered after I have ballasted the track. Hope this helps and good luck.

  20. Don Jennings says:

    Are you running all three track on one power supply? If you have locomotives on all three tracks and are operating them at the same time, that is your problem. Not enough power to the tracks. The locomotives are draining the power.
    Don’t run all three at the same time OR use another BIGGER power supply to run them. OR again, have a power supply for each track.

  21. Rod Mackay says:

    Very sound advice from Mark, start by trying the locos on other tracks to narrow down the problem. I take it that a flitch plate is what we call a fishplate over here, the joiner between rail sections? If you’re relying on just these to carry the current round the circuit you may be adding a lot more resistance, as those slide-on fishplates do get tarnished with age wherever air can get at them, if you have an old, heavy loco on that circuit and it’s trying to draw a lot of power through such high resistance contacts at the far side of the circuit, maybe that’s what’s tripping your cut-out.

    Frank, very pretty, but when the lights are shining out through the house roofs you’ve got them way too bright! All the best,

    Rod

  22. bob says:

    quite a while back you showed a tool I have been looking for over a year and cant find. I live in st Louis, mo. in the states. it glides over the rails and it is used to fill the track with gravel. I don’t know what it is called but when I tell the store worker, he knows what I am talking about but don’t carry it or know where to get one. I have even tried to make one out of wood and it just don’t work. I believe it was Dave that showed it in one of his emails. can anyone help?

    bob

  23. Bruce Webb says:

    ray you have two possible causes. 1. your loco could be pulling more power that your transformer can handle , like a loose connection or dirty connection some where in the loco. or 2. you have a high resistance connection some place in the loop. Have you tried to run the trouble loco on another loop if your problem remains then you have a high resistance connection in that loco. if it runs ok then it looks like a loop problem, i.e. track joints frayed wire (some strands broke) or any thong else that is not right. you may have to solder all joints. things like that. I may be wrong but after reading your question several times it looks like you covered every thing else that could cause this problem HAPPY HUNTING
    Bruce

  24. Tony Tesoriere says:

    To Bob, Micro mark carries the ballast spreader you are looking for.

  25. Burch Ouellette says:

    R a y
    One thing you can check is to remove the train from the track and turn the power supply up fully. Check and see if the Transformer still trips out. That would indicate you have a trac wiring problem or a partial short somewhere on that Loop.

  26. brian gibson says:

    hi ray it seems to me that you are using a controller on the defective circuit with a under rates auto cutout in line to fix fit a new cutout with the same rating as the other controllers that will work ok i use 5 amp rated cutouts and everything works ok except when overloading ie using two or more locos through the one controller the cutout trips, cools down then works ok till it trips again with the same losd on line

  27. Colin Freeman says:

    Hi, I wonder if you could help me, I have a Flying Scotsman tender Drive which runs erratically, jerks if you like, it is a made in Britain ring field 3 pole motor. which I have tested it off the track and it runs fine, but on the track it doesn’t I suspect the rear two wheel pony, being part of the problem, as on this model there is no copper connecting strip which contacts the loco wheels, all the eclectic is transferred from the tender through the eye hole in the rear pony of the loco which has a fine spring and the pony slides forward and backwards I am suspecting that the fault lies there but I have no idea myself, I would appreciate any help on this problem, I’m not a well knowledge rail enthusiast Kind regards Colin

  28. Ken C says:

    All three power supplies need to be isolated from each other. The easiest way is to use insulated rail jointers between each power supply controlled area. One question, I suppose trains can be run from one power course to anothet? If do this creates more possible problems like those experienced with reverse loops in opposite polarity than what is intended or needed. More would have to be looked at if you wish to run regularly from one power area to another with multiple trains. This whole situation would be so simple with DCC.

  29. Robert Rolfe says:

    Ray
    I do not know if this is the shortest or longest track, however if it the longest track your wire is most likely too small as I had a problem like that on my first layout as I went with the wire size suggested in an old Atlas book. On the longest track the engine would stop, turn off power for a few and it would run again for a few. Now I use 18G wire and have no problems and also put power and common connections at several locations on all sections, OH ya this is DC.
    NV Bob

  30. Dave says:

    Hi Ray
    Does the 3rd circuit give a problem only when the other two are operating or does it give problems even if there is no power used on the other two?

  31. Ian McDonald says:

    I am no help Ray, I do believe the answer is in the above comments. nice layout Frank thanks for sharing.

  32. Rob Hedval says:

    I use a 9 volt battery and put on the rails by the stalled engine and move it away in front and behind it to see where it loses power! Make sure you disconnect the power supply that feeds it first!

  33. Kelvin Bland says:

    I am with Eric. It looks like a short circuit and your power supply shuts down to protect itself: then restarts after a few minutes when it hopes the short has been sorted out. Try using a simple circuit tester (two wires on a 12v bulb) and check all positions where there should not be power. Slow and frustrating I know but good luck. Kelvin.

  34. Everett E Osborn says:

    Ray: did you try the engine on a different loop to see if it would do the same symptom?

  35. Mark Johnson says:

    Ray – I’m not going to add anything because it’s all been said, but you really should have a multimeter.

    Bob- That autoballaster is made by Proses and should be available by mail order from any good supplier.

    Colin – that model of Scotsman has issues with the drawbar. One side of the motor picks up power through the tender. The other side of the motor picks up power from the loco and this is fed through the drawbar to the tender where the motor is. If you turn the loco upside down you’ll see there are 2 copper strips under the drawbar that are supposed to pinch the pin on the front of the tender. These will tarnish over time, so clean them up on the pin side and make sure they do pinch the pin tightly. Problem should be sorted.

  36. Bob Batten says:

    Try to add some additional feeder wires to your track about every 3 – 6 feet. That has helped my layout.

  37. Mark says:

    Ray,
    Did you ever find the solution to the problem. If so, would you post it here or have I missed it?
    Mark

  38. Marty says:

    Frank,
    Nice looking layout, love night shots. Just my luck that paving crew would be working outside my house all night. One suggestion, paint the insides of your lighted buildings black to keep them from glowing. You only want the light to shine through the windows, not the walls and roofs. Can anyone say “Haunted House?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *