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I have recently dramatically reduced the number of derailments on my Postwar O Gauge tubular track "around the walls" layout. My layout is 35 feet long, and 3 to 4 feet wide. It is essentially a switching layout with 16 switches, 2 independently powered and interconnected main lines, 8 sidings and 1 passing siding. The sidings are also independently powered and interconnected.

Although I've reduced my derailments, I still get an occasional derailment, maybe once or twice every other operating session, which is usually about 30 minutes long.

I also happen to know that some of you have much larger and complex model train layouts than mine, and have a record comparable to real railroads when it comes to derailments, running trains almost every day and maybe having 1 derailment per decade!

I would love to know, my fellow Forum members, about your layouts, how often you have derailments, and what you have done, if anything, to reduce them.

Later on, I will share what I've done to reduce my derailments.


Last edited by Arnold D. Cribari
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I rarely experience derailments on my layout. If any occur, it's because of operator error, not the layout.

I'd think these might help ...

- Make sure the track is flat and level (side-to-side) and track pieces are aligned correctly

- Make sure track connections are tight and a smooth transition from track piece to track piece - file down any misalignments

- Eliminate S curves

- Make sure the layout has sufficient power drops to eliminate any low voltage areas

- Operate at a reasonable speed - no high-speed cannonball express

- Cantilever and fully support any elevated curves

- Run the widest possible curves you can

- Avoid running equipment made for curves that are larger than the smallest curve on your layout   

- Use block/occupancy control to prevent collisions

- Avoid back-to-back switches - always put at least a small straight between switches

- Arrange your consists to eliminate any string-lining

- Regularly clean and maintain your track, switches and equipment 

I'm sure there are other tips, as well


On my three layouts (table, ceiling, and N scale) almost all derailments are caused by car couplers opening sans permission, haha.  I've long ago adjusted troublesome track and switches.  My layouts are large and the mainlines often have two consists that are 15-25 cars long, so the idle cars are bumped by the oncoming consist.  I'm, so far, unwilling to alter (glue or otherwise) the offending couplers closed.  Normally, I simply wrap a small rubber band several times around the drawbar.  Rarely has it been necessary to replace the truck(s).  I've given up trying to figure out how/why these things happen.


Excellent advice by RitchieC and JerryG, and I  appreciate Bluelinec4's humor.

My suggestions for reducing derailments are pretty basic.

Have a good foundation for your track.

This includes solid benchwork, and a level, unwarped surface for what you install your track on (like a good plywood table top). Also, using good quality cork roadbed under my Postwar tubular track helped reduce my derailments.

As RitchieC mentioned, have your track sections fit tight. Also, replace any track pins that even have a little rust on them with clean rust-free steel pins. Doing this will greatly reduce voltage drops that could lead to more derailments.

I've also reduced voltage drops and derailments by replacing track sections and 022 switches where derailments frequently occurred with brand new Menards tubular track and Lionel Postwar 022s in better condition.

I am a traditionalist and have opted to go with O Gauge Postwar tubular track and 022 switches because I like them and they are economical. Also, I only have a half basement and need to use 031 curves for the kind of layout I want to have.

I am mindful that wider curves than 031 will definitely reduce the number of derailments. The same is probably true for the more modern track systems like Atlas and those offered by Lionel, MTH and Ross.

I also believe it's possible to have a great layout and virtually eliminate derailments with tubular track and 022 switches. It's my understanding, and please correct me if I'm wrong, that Marty Fitzhenry had such a layout.


Last edited by Arnold D. Cribari

    For my final layout, I built a guardrail of 1/2" PVC pipe that was 3" tall and angled out from 45-degree fittings and sheathed with foam insulation. It may not have prevented derailments, but it definitely prevented damage.

    Arnold, my layout was also 4' wide, and I used tubular K-Line 042 track on the outside and Williams 031 track on the inside, with K-Line 36" straights. All have close ties like prewar 072 Lionel. The 042 curves allowed me to run a scale Lionel Hudson, a Williams scale GG-1, and a Lionmaster PRR T-1. They might have looked a little awkward on the curves, but hey, they're toys, right?

Thanks for the usual interesting query, Arnold. I rarely have derailments on my layout, most commonly a very light unit (Thomas the Tank) not activating the non-derailing feature of a certain switch, but here's my recent experience with the most serious derailment on my layout.

Had 9 family members over for Thanksgiving dinner, including 5 grandkids. Had planned a "grand unveiling" of the completion of my layout, 8 years in the making. Of course I intended to engage the grandkids in operation of the vintage accessories, which they had done lots before (rocket launcher, log loader, milk car, cattle car, crane, coal loader). Began with rocket launcher, then log loader, then "Moe and Joe". All good.  An 11 y/o asked to run a train, so I agreed to let him run a LionelChief unit with an ABA double motorized configuration on one of 2 parallel main lines.  I deliberately have purchased several LionelChief units for ease of operation with the remote.  I decided to operate another unit on the parallel line, with a TMCC remote.  After a circuit or 2, he must have pushed the horn button and inadvertently activated the rear decoupler instead (same button), so the motorized units separated from the rest of the consist.   When I saw the decoupled units, I told my grandson to move it in reverse, and intended to recouple the units. While I was tending to some of the features of the TMCC unit, the speed on the LionelChief unit was increased too high, which created a derailment on BOTH lines. No damage, but by the time I got all cars back on their tracks, most of the observers left.

Lesson learned: I agree with the other suggestions above to avoid/minimize derailments, but when engaging less experienced train operators, give them your undivided attention to be sure you can make any adjustments, avoid any problems especially with speed, and keep them, and any other observers, engaged.


PS: I intend to have a 2nd "unveiling" for Christmas dinner with no derailments!!

H1000: I'm not computer savvy enough to post photos here, but I did send photos and an article to the TCQ earlier this year and am hoping to see it soon. There was a shot of the hand/guardrails in those I submitted. Believe me, I wish I could have posted photos of my layout here, as it was a lifetime achievement - nearly 70 years in the making.

Trackwork and wiring, the two most important parts of the layout for smooth/reliable operation.

I've seen a few layouts with large gaps between track sections and undulating rails.

I've never had a derailment that wasn't operator error, i.e. a turnout thrown incorrectly etc.

One thing I did when building my layout was sighting down the top of the rails at eye level.

I then removed and dips and rises by either shimming or snugging down track screws.

This is especially important near turnouts.

One of my better wrecks.  This happened on my previous layout.  Poor track design, faulty equipment and operator inattention.  Coupler let loose on the first car behind the locomotive.  I wasn't paying attention as the three unit locomotive sped away at top speed.  The locomotive came down a steep grade with a curve at the bottom. Caboose was a sitting duck.  what the lead locomotive didn't take out, the trailing A-unit did.

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My best wreck, by far, happened 7 years ago on my ceiling layout.


It's double-tracked, DCS, 100 ft. long.  I run two consists on each mainline.  Every other Friday, the poker group begins with a 3 hour happy hour.  This time, I got blabby and forgot to start one of the trains on the outside line.  A huge crash and falling boxcars resulted on the right side, near the bar.  Fortunately, the engines are heavy enough to remain aloft.  Five cars fell eight feet to the tiled concrete floor.  Two cars were completely undamaged.  Three were 1977 Lionel Famous American Railroad cars, with cheap plastic trucks.  Remarkably, those cars also suffered no damage, but the trucks all shattered about the floor.  I endured the required ridicule that night, ordered a bunch of metal trucks, and the rolling stock remains rolling.



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Other than the ones we caused as kids (like throwing a remote switch with the train passing over it) deliberately, here is what I found:

1)Switch points that were out of line, or the frogs on the later model O27 switches I had had kind of popped up (not sure why, was a long time ago).

2)Track that had twisted or warped (prob because basement was humid and not temp controlled, or the underlying surface was). Keeping train area relatively climate control helps stop these kind of issues, especially with modern track

3)Switch machines, make sure they are adequately powered.

4) Binding trucks on some cars. Sometimes for whatever reasons the trucks are not free swinging.

5)Wheelset in truck binds or on the other end, too loose. The axle ends get worn, and can move around in the bolster.

6)couplers that are bent slightly off center on the trucks. Not sure how it happened, but had some like that, on curves can cause weird things.

7)Couplers that are too high/low (usually caused by warping, again not sure why).

8)kinked tracks, like tracks that were sort of bent to make it work, because they were perfectly lined up. With flex track, this is also an obvious one.

9) Mid track obstructions that can snag the rollers. Or in the same light, rollers that were too stiff, and if there was a gap in the middle rail, damage to it, will force the car up.

10) Have also seen where things like platform edges and the like are too close to the track (common with accessories). Make sure clearance off the track will allow any of your equipment to get by.

11)Parallel tracks on a curve that are too close together, swing of one train knocks the other off.

12). Bad transformer that caused the engine to surge in speed when blowing the whistle, on a curve area (bad rectifier on whistle circuit?) with PW equipment. Had this happen on a friend's layout a long time ago, forget even what the transformer was. Goes along with slowing down in curves.

13)Binding in engine drivers on power war steam engines. Could be the drivers themselves, or bad bearings on the drive wheels. There is some play that is supposed to be there, if it binds can cause engine to derail IME.

14)rail that has loosened on the ties. This is a lot less prevalent with old style tubular, but if you have loose rail and wheels that are slightly out of gauge, can cause a problem. Wheel gauge is the other part of this of course.

15)Flanges that are too deep for track and switches. This applies to modern track and switches with lower profile.  With this, the wheels would need to be replaced or spun down (which is a lot harder than it seems).

16)Obvious one, equipment that marginally can make your curves. Some engines are rated at O31, but if any little thing is off, they will derail.

17)For trucks with pickup rollers, make sure that the power wire is not too short or somehow got caught or tangled, which limits the swivel of the trucks.

I have a few cars that derail more than others. Especially a set of double decker Williams. I found the truck axel bushings were worn away. Thus, the axels would not stay straight. Checking axel play and that trucks are oiled ensures good operation.

I also noticed a few engines and powered cars may not be totally free moving to one side. Making sure wires are slacked enough for even pull on each way keeps the cars from being pulled off in the corners.

As a note, I run 0-31.

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