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Just curious here. ( small back story to set up my question.) I have been running  all my engines lately and I take realy take meticulous care of all my locomotives. Dispalying them and maintaing them too running them. Some locomotives get run a lot others very little. I have over 60 + now. Not often, but every once in a while I will pull an engine off the shelf that has seen very little run time and has been bought new by me and run it. Once I got a lionel sd60e first responders engine and rarely used it much. Took it down off my shelf to run it and the main rcmc pcb board when out that day. 

That issue leads me to this post and question. Do our new electronics such as pcb control boards and various other electronic boards that control things in our engines have a shelf life so to speak? Are there elctronic componets on those various boards that go bad over time? I know mth ps2 have componets that go bad over time. With new engines always being released with newly designed eletronics.  some very older models that still have parts available from say lionel for example. Is it worth getting the parts? 

Are our trains especially locomitives a dont spend the money on parts unless it breaks kind of deal? I realize this is a broad subject that has many variables,but I wanted some thoughts and opinions anyway. 

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Batteries go bad and leak and eat away their surroundings.

Capacitors degrade and can leak and eat away at their surroundings.

IC/Chips can have acceptable manufacturing imperfections that can get exasperated over time.

All the above cause issues for the retro-computing scene and apply just the same to our train electronics.

I'm sure there are others as well  - and this is discussing JUST shelf life - not operational life.

Till the caps fail? So 20-30 years +. I've got TMCC stuff from 1995-1997 that still works fine, and MTH PS2 3V stuff from 2004 that works great as well. The less shorts you have the better. Current spikes can kill electronics pretty quickly. I've never had something I haven't run in months just die from being operated (well yet, knock on wood).

FYI: The MTH PS2 models that tend to spontaneously fail are the PS2 5V boards from 2000-2003/2004ish. The PS2 3V stuff from 2004 up has been pretty rock solid. PS2 5V boards were built around the time of the "Capacitor Plague": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capacitor_plague I've seen several PS2 5V boards killed by blown capacitors. I've also seen several TAS EOB boards built in the early 2000s where the motor FETs died and took out the whole board (burned up traces).

Before someone chimes in on the durability of prewar or postwar trains: if you remove the electronics from a modern locomotive it is more mechanically robust than pretty much 60+ year old train. If modern locomotives came with a mechanical E-unit they would run and run virtually forever with no maintenance (i.e. no need to clean commutators or replace brushes/brush springs).

well no components  can last forever! and if there stored in high heat areas it WILL make the electronics fail more frequently! Also just because you let or store your engines for long periods of time is not actually good either because capacitors can dry up internally especially if stored in extreme temperature changed hot  to cold or freezing , to plus 130 degrees F  or cold to hot.

the more often you run your electronic the better because they come up to normal operating temperature ! some failures you'll get is w hen you store your engines for long periods of time and if there is a cold solder joint from when the engine electronics was made may not show up but because the temperature swings you get in storage expands and contractions the cold solder joints have opened up enough to make the board not function. that's why you might have a again that you never ran but stored in temperature changes environment ! and it does not work the next time you open the  box and it wont work! both Lionel and MTH have both sold many engines that have cold solder joint that fail. and no components were defective just a cold joint !

one of the reasons why the first ps2 5 volt boards failed was the components were driven to there maximum current capacity. the amplifier were driven to overload. if you ran ps2 5 volt boards to max volume and while starting up you could see the current increasing while during startup or PFA announcements, if you turn the volume down a little then it was ok!

Alan Mancus

Last edited by Alan Mancus

With certain exceptions, the shelf life of electronic components will likely exceed your shelf life!  If you research the storage life of most electronic devices, it is a staggering number.  One issue you will run across is oxidation of contacts, especially the tin contacts on IC's in sockets and tin connector contacts.  However, this is usually remedied by removing and reseating the IC or connector.

Most component life studies concentrate on solderability of components not yet used in a product.  That relates to my comment above about oxidation.

The one obvious exception for long lived electronics in the model train arena is the MTH 5V PS/2 boards, they do seem to have a limited shelf life. The 5V PS/2 boards have been known to up and die for no reason after being in storage for some time, and also when powered up after a very short period.  This has happened in significant numbers.

Although others dispute it, I believe a significant part of the issues with stuff manufactured in the time period that the 5V PS/2 boards were made was the Capacitor Plague that caused a ton of premature failures of electrolytic capacitors.  The story goes that several manufacturers swiped the design of some Japanese capacitors, but didn't get the whole story, and they cranked out millions of defective capacitors that failed rather quickly.  I suspect since model trains can sit in the box for years, we got to enjoy some of those failures years later than the rash of computer failures I saw in the early 2000's.  I actually replaced all the caps on a number of motherboards to rescue them, but it was a royal PITA.  Over half of all the PS/2 boards I've seen that have failed had one particular cap brand that was obviously in distress, it's the WINCAP brand.  Whenever I see one of those on a 5V PS/2 board, I replace it with a quality capacitor.

With certain exceptions, the shelf life of electronic components will likely exceed your shelf life! 

Over half of all the PS/2 boards I've seen that have failed had one particular cap brand that was obviously in distress, it's the WINCAP brand.  Whenever I see one of those on a 5V PS/2 board, I replace it with a quality capacitor.

Well, I take some real comfort from the first point (!) and the second one is news to me but I can see what its effect is.

GRJ also mentions oxidation/deterioration of contacts and I've seen that with volume pots and sound chips on TMCC boards after no more than a couple of years' storage (in temperature but not humidity controlled conditions). Fortunately, while replacement/alternative parts have been available, I have not had anything reduced to shelf queen status.

@Lou1985 ......

Before someone chimes in on the durability of prewar or postwar trains: if you remove the electronics from a modern locomotive it is more mechanically robust than pretty much 60+ year old train. If modern locomotives came with a mechanical E-unit they would run and run virtually forever with no maintenance (i.e. no need to clean commutators or replace brushes/brush springs).

trying to stem off the inevitable flood of replies?...that was good Lou!!....

Pat

Last edited by harmonyards

Some thoughts....

The RoW sound system from 1990 used a single memory for each sound.  The memories were guaranteed to hold their data for 10 years.  Interestingly my sound systems still work 30 years later.  It has a lot to do with the many variables mentioned in the above [GRJ] post.  

One of the additional factors is the initiation of RoHS (Reduction of Hazardous Substances) standards.  This demands the use of lead free solder.  Tin solder has the odd ability to grow tin whiskers,(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whisker_(metallurgy), thus shorting out otherwise operational boards.  I spend a lot of time in my introductory MEMS (Micro Electro Mechanical Systems) class explaining RoHS and teaching methods to work with lead free solder. 

Lou N 

 

Great info, thanks guys. Another short story. I have a legacy lionmaster big boy that needed a dcrd driver board. This engine was from about 2010 or so I think.  This week I just got another lionmaster legacy big boy this one has whistle steam. Got it here off the foresale board from another ogr member. It smoked great btw, but even better after servicing the smoke unit and cleaning up all the funnels and parts. The whistle steam feature especially works very well in this engine. 

So I finnaly decided to repair my old lionmaster legacy big boy after it being down for at least a year. So I could run it along side my new to me legacy lionmaster bigboy. Thankfully lionel still has parts for most liomaster engines on their repair website.

 This engine repair is another reason I asked this question and started this thread topic. Some locomotive we all have are as one poster stated earlier tmcc or older mth ps2 5 and 3 volt electronics. When going to lionels parts web pages I see a few unavalible parts listed for even legacy models not that old. Not sure how manufacturers make spare parts decisions. What to have instock and how many. It seems that while lionel and others have what seems like thousands of parts for thier engines. It never fails that the one part you need is no longer available every so often. 

Now with a large and ever growing collection of engines not to mention all of the other stuff needed to enjoy this great hobby. Changing scales or hobbies is not in the card for me. Besides I just plain love ogauge trains. So just like the real railroads keeping our engines running is all part of the hobby. This is why now with mth closing and lionel always introducing new board technology. It got me to thinking and re assessing my engine collection and parts inventory. 

Other than traction tires, smoke resistors, smoke wicks and occasional misc. Parts keept from older broken engines I once had.  I have only gotten a major part if the need arised. Now I am thinking that some pcb boards such as fan control and early ac smoke regulator boards maybe worth having spares of in case years down the road the parts are not available. I woud get only the ones needed for my specific engines. A just incase so to speek. That is if lionel has them still available. So my engine fleet will never hopefully have an engine that does not run as it should years from now. 

 Just one more reason I got curios and started this topic. Thanks for all your repiles and input on this. 

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