How long do you run trains? Do I need to be concerned about long run times

This coming Sunday at church I have been asked to run trains for the kids while our yearly Christmas special is going on. There are two Christmas trees in the church foyer that I placed track around. Standard gauge on one side and O-Gauge on the other. My plan is to run the MTH Ives National Limited set and the Lionel scale Polar Express. I have never run any train for 4 hours straight before. Should I bring additional engines to split the time? Do I need to be concerned about overheating?

Scott Smith

Original Post

Usually what I do Scott when attending a show is in addition to the engines I want to bring/run, I bring a back up in case one fails or has issues. Thankfully I haven't had to go that route yet but it can't hurt. When running with the Trackers, the engines will get warm but nothing crazy and I've yet to see an engine fail at a show due to overheating. 

Four hours should be no problem for trains that are well-maintained, but bring a backup in each gauge. 






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I have been giving my scale Polar Express a real workout over the last month.  Last month, I ran it at a Greenberg show for nearly 6 hours straight two days in a row, and since Thanksgiving, I have been running it 4 hours straight on the six nights (so far) I have gone to the Pittsburgh Independent Hi-Railers setup at a local amusement park's holiday light display (Kennywood Holiday Lights).  No problems so far.  Looks like the scale Berks are as well-made as the 1:1 models.



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I wouldnt worry about it. You may want to turn off the smoke unit(s), but other than that, if its properly greased and oiled, and not pulling an overly heavy train, I dont think 4 hours would be a problem at all.

Like everyone else said though... if you're worried, bring reinforcements.


"Of course we know its O-gauge or no gauge." -- Sheldon Cooper

When we run at Pershing square, we rotate the trains out after about an hour since there are a few of us running. I typically bring multiple trains. Running for four hours once in a while is OK provided the locomotive is properly lubricated, not run too fast, not overloaded, and the smoke unit is off or refilled as needed. I did lose a speaker on a 5-volt GP7, though, but that's unrelated to the run-time.

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I recently ran a Railking Y6B for 24 hours straight, and frankly that was no big deal for it.  I routinely run my trains for 3-4 hours at a time: whenever I'm in my trainroom I just like to have them running, so whenever i am working on something at my bench or on the layout, if it won't interfere with my work I set two or three running for the duration of the time I am there.


I keepwheels clean and things checked and lubed and have never had any problem due to long runing times.  My experience, for what it is worth, is that once a modenr loco runs four to six hours with no prolblems, its probably going to run hundreds of hour more with no problems . . .  

Originally Posted by Lee Willis:

My experience, for what it is worth, is that once a modenr loco runs four to six hours with no prolblems, its probably going to run hundreds of hour more with no problems .  

I don't know Lee, it seems your recent experience is that locomotives frequently die at your place.

But always within a couple of hours of taking out of the box, new.  These are the failures I have had in the last, say, two years.

Lionel U30C#1 - 2 hours

Lionel U30C#2 -would not run when new - worked for quite some time, but it fixed itself - sat on a shelf for six months, now runs

MTH GP9 - about 20 minutes

MTH 241.A - about two hours (fixed)

MTH 999 - not even an hour, could not fix

MTH RTR 4-6-0 - very soon after starting to run, could not fix

Lionmaster Big Boy - runs sloppy and irratically after about 800-1000 hours of flawless performance - I think it's just worn out.

BTW - this is out of about 25-30 new locos.  Keep in mind I that, counting the 241.A I fixed, I am 17 for 17 high-end (Premier or Legacy/Vision) locos - I had to repair one, but all seventeen run perfectly. (I know the 999 was technically a Premier loco from MTH but it cost me less than $500 and I never thought it was even close to being in that same category with the vision hudson and MTH 241.A).

When I campained my display layout, it included a three track staging yard and a reverse loop.  The layout was 4'x12', the yard was 2'x12.'


We'd run trains through the reverse loop at 15 minutes, then back into the yard after another 15 minutes, then bring out another train.  While that one was running, we'd remove the inbound and add a fresh outbound.  Each consist was formulated ahead of time.


This was done more for visual variety rather than mechanical reasons, although we'd also have spare locomotives and cars, just in case.


Yeah, it took 16 separate trains for an 8 hour show, but it never got boring!



our club is in a public place that is open 5 hours a weekday and six hours a day on weekends.  most of us usually run our engine for an hour and then switch to another and let that engine rest, then start that one back up.  some however let theirs run the entire 5 or 6 hours.

My experience both with post war and modern units (bit more limited with the comma nd control types) is that as long as they are maintained right, are lubed and cleaned properly, they should be able to run for 4 hours or more without problems if they aren't running too much load on them. I agree, turn off the smoke units if you can, and run them at a normal operating speed i.e not full out, and they should be fine. I agree, though, that it would be wise to have backups just in case, for example, if an accident happens or a power surge or something wreaks havoc.

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There have been quite a few topics in the past regarding this subject.  The underlying theme is that Williams engines are the most dependable (simple design, metal gears).  Some of the posts were from museum layout owners.

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When I've hosted our O gauge club at my home layout, I've had the same engines/trains running for up to three hours non-stop.  That said, when we hold public functions on our club layout, I'll bring several engines in the same road name and rotate them out every hour.


I'll also note that if I plan on running engines for an extended period of time, I'll always perform a complete lube and oil of them before hand.  Better safe than sorry.  I also keep a maintenance log of exactly when an engine was serviced and what work was performed.



Our museum open houses run four hours every two weeks. The same train often runs for the entire time with no problems. I would echo the recommendations to make sure the trains are cleaned and lubricated (rolling stock as well, you don't want a loud squeak), turn off the smoke units unless you are prepared to refill them often, and bring spares. 


The two trains you are suggesting should be fine. Some early TMCC engines and almost anything with QSI electronics can overheat if they are run too long or with too heavy a load. QSI reverse boards are notorious for melting if overloaded. 


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