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Maybe it's been too long since I've spent some time with my trains. I have one of the new 0-6-0 Lionel locomotives. I dug out some old GarGraves track possibly 20 years old, hooked up to a newer Z-4000 set at 17 volts. I was able to get the engine running via Bluetooth. It's just a small oval of track. The middle pickup rollers front and back spark the whole length of the track. I will try some contact cleaner later, but am I not remembering the sparking, due to time and age? Or has that always been part of the experience?

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That sparking doesn't look too major to me.  But there are tons of posts on the Forum about how sparks / voltage spikes can damage the electronics in modern locos.  What kind of transformer are you using?  Does it have a fast-trip circuit breaker?

Also, it certainly couldn't hurt to clean your track.  I've used isopropyl alcohol, but others swear by Wahl hair clipper oil.  Brands of track that have a blackened center rail seem to have more sparking and poor electrical contact.  I would give the track a good cleaning and retest.  My $.02.

Last edited by Ted S
@Ted S posted:

That sparking doesn't look too major to me.  But there are tons of posts on the Forum about how sparks / voltage spikes can damage the electronics in modern locos.  What kind of transformer are you using?  Does it have a fast-trip circuit breaker?

Also, it certainly couldn't hurt to clean your track.  I've used isopropyl alcohol, but others swear by Wahl hair clipper oil.  Brands of track that have a blackened center rail seem to have more sparking and poor electrical contact.  I would give the track a good cleaning and retest.  My $.02.

Good advice re the transformer and modern electronics.

Lots of opinions regarding track cleaning.  I use alcohol, but there is a school of thought that it leaves a residue. Be very careful when using any oil, as it can cause wheel slippage and attract dirt.  A few months ago, the NMRA magazine contained an exhaustive analysis by a chemist; unfortunately, I can't find it at the moment, but I recall that the result did not favor alcohol.  A friend in N-scale, where clean track and good contact are critical, uses CRC 2-26 - it is intended to enhance electrical connectivity. 

I'd also suggest cleaning the pickup roller and lubricating the shaft - if it is dirty or doesn't turn freely, it can spark.

The very first thing you need to do is CLEAN the track until it's spotless then wipe track with a microfiber towel and you will wipe all the grime and dirt and grease come off on the microfiber towel then you WILL NOT see sparks unless you're having dirty wheels or truck issues, if you keep running the trains while there sparking you WILL DAMAGE YOUR CIRCUIT board and there not cheap just a word for advise! you can use Q tips and a good conductive cleaning fluid which you can purchase from an auto parts dealer!

also, it's a good idea to using fast blowing fuses especially if you're using an older transformer.

Alan

Last edited by Alan Mancus
@Ted S posted:

Brands of track that have a blackened center rail seem to have more sparking and poor electrical contact.

Ted,

Many thanks for the comments.  They are very good thought starters, but they also beg the question "To whom?".

With all due respect, do you have hard facts to back this up your claims on blackened rail?  I can't find any in the OGR Forum and I would think that this would be the easiest place to find them if they existed.  The closest we get is that a particular batch of a particular brand of track was made with a blackened center rail that was a little too "blackened".  So, it needed a little scuffing up to improve conductivity.

This is not a blanket statement that all blackened center rail has poor electrical contact, and more importantly, it also not a blanket statement that blackened rail sparks more than non-blackened rail.

Just looking for facts in order to keep newbies, and the rest of us, on track with accurate information.

Mike

With all due respect, do you have hard facts to back this up your claims on blackened rail?  I can't find any in the OGR Forum and I would think that this would be the easiest place to find them if they existed.  The closest we get is that a particular batch of a particular brand of track was made with a blackened center rail that was a little too "blackened".  So, it needed a little scuffing up to improve conductivity.

This is not a blanket statement that all blackened center rail has poor electrical contact, and more importantly, it also not a blanket statement that blackened rail sparks more than non-blackened rail.

Well, for a sample of one, we've seen that the blackened rail on Atlas track can cause issues for some locomotives for our modular club.  OTOH, I haven't seen any difference in running on my Gargraves/Ross track with the blackened rail.

@Ted S posted:

That sparking doesn't look too major to me.  But there are tons of posts on the Forum about how sparks / voltage spikes can damage the electronics in modern locos.  What kind of transformer are you using?  Does it have a fast-trip circuit breaker?

Also, it certainly couldn't hurt to clean your track.  I've used isopropyl alcohol, but others swear by Wahl hair clipper oil.  Brands of track that have a blackened center rail seem to have more sparking and poor electrical contact.  I would give the track a good cleaning and retest.  My $.02.

The Transformer is a 2022 MTH 40-4000 Z-4000.

Last edited by bravada
@Mallard4468 posted:

Good advice re the transformer and modern electronics.

Lots of opinions regarding track cleaning.  I use alcohol, but there is a school of thought that it leaves a residue. Be very careful when using any oil, as it can cause wheel slippage and attract dirt.  A few months ago, the NMRA magazine contained an exhaustive analysis by a chemist; unfortunately, I can't find it at the moment, but I recall that the result did not favor alcohol.  A friend in N-scale, where clean track and good contact are critical, uses CRC 2-26 - it is intended to enhance electrical connectivity.

I'd also suggest cleaning the pickup roller and lubricating the shaft - if it is dirty or doesn't turn freely, it can spark.

I think I read a similar article that favored contact cleaner, but having haunted this forum for a bit, the subject of how to clean track is akin to talking politics and religion lol.

@Alan Mancus posted:

The very first thing you need to do is CLEAN the track until it's spotless then wipe track with a microfiber towel and you will wipe all the grime and dirt and grease come off on the microfiber towel then you WILL NOT see sparks unless you're having dirty wheels or truck issues, if you keep running the trains while there sparking you WILL DAMAGE YOUR CIRCUIT board and there not cheap just a word for advise! you can use Q tips and a good conductive cleaning fluid which you can purchase from an auto parts dealer!

also, it's a good idea to using fast blowing fuses especially if you're using an older transformer.

Alan

Thank you for the warning, the last thing I want to do is kill a new engine.

Sparking is the enemy, but it happens. You need clean track, clean wheels, and clean center pickup rollers.

There is more that can be done to reduce sparking and reduce that black gunk that builds up on the rails as the result of sparking, thus reducing the need to clean the track, the wheels, and the center pickup rollers. It is a "secret" that has only been known since Linn Westcott wrote an article about it in 1965.

I have been using the inexpensive NO-OX-ID "A SPECIAL" for two years with great results. If you decide to use it, it must be applied correctly. See this article for a full explanation.

To follow up on my earlier post, I found the track cleaning article in the NMRA magazine.  It was written by Paul Welsh (an engineer - doesn't say what kind) and it appears in the April 2023 issue. 

The article includes microscopic views of dirty wheels and an extensive analysis of various abrasives and liquids that people use on their track, while avoiding the old wives' tales and religious fervor that often accompanies this topic.  The Cliffs Notes version is "don't use abrasives (including bright boy), don't use oil of any kind, and be sure to leave the rails completely dry when done".  He uses a weighted car with a soft pad.  After cleaning new track with lacquer thinner and wiping it dry, he runs his cleaning car dry on a regular basis.

Since the subject of track cleaning seems to be an emotional issue, I doubt that the information will change many minds, but I think the article is worth a look as it is the most thoroughly-researched treatment of the subject that I've seen.

Here is a past thread on this often covered and never solved topic: track cleaning | O Gauge Railroading On Line Forum (ogaugerr.com)

@Tom Stoltz gave a nice summary

Track cleaning has been gone over so many times, it is hard to believe there is yet another thread.  But anyway, the whole article on non-polar cleaning (plus graphite) is well worth reading:

https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws...ne/index.html?page=9

For a good discussion that's on OGF, try this one.  You will find links to a lot of interesting reading on the 2nd page:

https://ogrforum.ogaugerr.com/...eaning-wheels?page=1

Seems like most of the common cleaning methods are not that good.  Not to say they don't sort of work, but you can do a lot better.  No matter what you use, always finish with mineral spirits and a little graphite on the rails.  You won't be sorry.

Tom Stoltz

in Maine

To be fair, this was not started as another thread about track cleaning, although it seems to have devolved to that. The question started was about sparking and it was asked if dirty track was responsible for the sparking. Clearly we need clean track and I thank everyone for the continued disscussion of how to do that cleaning. But dirty track does not cause sparking. Sparking causes that ugly black gunk that is difficult to clean from the rails and the wheels.

Sparking is caused by transmitting electricity through the track to the wheels and center rail pickup rollers. So the perfect way to solve sparking is to go with deadrail. However I am not ready for that, yet. So I need something that reduces the sparking now. Interestingly enough, AM radio broadcasters have the same problem with their radio transmitting towers. Their solution was known to Linn Westcott and he successfully applied it to model railroad track way over 50 years ago. NO-OX-ID "A SPECIAL" is not a cleaner and it should not be treated as such. I appreciate what everyone has to say about cleaning track and I am sure that evey few years I will use that information.

So please, don't anyone tell me more about cleaning track now. I would much rather hear about ways to reduce sparking and that ugly black gunk. I have been using NO-OX-ID "A SPECIAL" for over two years with great success as a spark reducer. Are there other success stories at reducing sparking and that ugly black gunk without having to do frequent cleaning?

To be fair, this was not started as another thread about track cleaning, although it seems to have devolved to that. The question started was about sparking and it was asked if dirty track was responsible for the sparking. Clearly we need clean track and I thank everyone for the continued disscussion of how to do that cleaning. But dirty track does not cause sparking. Sparking causes that ugly black gunk that is difficult to clean from the rails and the wheels.

Sparking is caused by transmitting electricity through the track to the wheels and center rail pickup rollers. So the perfect way to solve sparking is to go with deadrail. However I am not ready for that, yet. So I need something that reduces the sparking now. Interestingly enough, AM radio broadcasters have the same problem with their radio transmitting towers. Their solution was known to Linn Westcott and he successfully applied it to model railroad track way over 50 years ago. NO-OX-ID "A SPECIAL" is not a cleaner and it should not be treated as such. I appreciate what everyone has to say about cleaning track and I am sure that evey few years I will use that information.

So please, don't anyone tell me more about cleaning track now. I would much rather hear about ways to reduce sparking and that ugly black gunk. I have been using NO-OX-ID "A SPECIAL" for over two years with great success as a spark reducer. Are there other success stories at reducing sparking and that ugly black gunk without having to do frequent cleaning?

So I went to add NO-OX-ID "A SPECIAL" to my amazon cart and it showed I ordered it 16 months ago. I must have ordered it after the last "cleaning" thread I read and forgot lol.

The track was purchased 20+ years ago, and has never been used on a layout. I doubt there is more than a few hours on them over their lifetime. Thus I assume age, not run time, is my affliction. I wiped half of it with WD-40 contact cleaner with a towel, lots of black fouling.

Thank y'all for setting my mind right, sparking bad. And thanks for the various links to cleaning.



With all due respect, do you have hard facts to back this up your claims on blackened rail?  I can't find any in the OGR Forum and I would think that this would be the easiest place to find them if they existed.  The closest we get is that a particular batch of a particular brand of track was made with a blackened center rail that was a little too "blackened".  So, it needed a little scuffing up to improve conductivity.

This is not a blanket statement that all blackened center rail has poor electrical contact, and more importantly, it also not a blanket statement that blackened rail sparks more than non-blackened rail.

Just looking for facts in order to keep newbies, and the rest of us, on track with accurate information.

Yes.  My experience is similar to GRJ's, namely that on some vintages of Atlas track the blackening interferes with electrical pickup, and for maximum reliability it should be removed.  The original poster's video is too dark to see what type of track is being used, and whether that could be a contributing factor.

But my worst experience was with 2001-vintage MTH RiteTrax.  I don't have photos or videos because that was 22 years ago, before I owned a digital camera.  I also can't  / won't duplicate the experiment because not only did the heavy blackening interfere with conductivity, it got all over the rollers of every loco and piece of lighted rolling stock!  I was able to sand most of the blackening off the track.  But after a season-and-a-half of frustration, I took a loss and put it all in the dumpster, rather than passing that frustration on to someone else in the hobby.

During the last 35 years I've probably spent over $100,000 on O gauge trains and accessories.  Taking into account inflation, interest foregone, etc., that might equate to $250,000 today.  I used to be what you might call an "early adopter."  Almost everything was dissected on the workbench within a week of purchase, and often subjected to detailed tests.  I've been a member of this forum for 23 years.  If I post, it's because I don't want anyone else to have to relive my disappointment and frustration.  I often encourage readers NOT to take my word for something, and experiment for themselves.  If they prove otherwise, I'm not ashamed to admit when I'm wrong.  So, if you doubt my claims then by all means try it for yourself.

@Ted S posted:

Yes.  My experience is similar to GRJ's, namely that on some vintages of Atlas track the blackening interferes with electrical pickup, and for maximum reliability it should be removed.  The original poster's video is too dark to see what type of track is being used, and whether that could be a contributing factor.

But my worst experience was with 2001-vintage MTH RiteTrax.  I don't have photos or videos because that was 22 years ago, before I owned a digital camera.  I also can't  / won't duplicate the experiment because not only did the heavy blackening interfere with conductivity, it got all over the rollers of every loco and piece of lighted rolling stock!  I was able to sand most of the blackening off the track.  But after a season-and-a-half of frustration, I took a loss and put it all in the dumpster, rather than passing that frustration on to someone else in the hobby.

During the last 35 years I've probably spent over $100,000 on O gauge trains and accessories.  Taking into account inflation, interest foregone, etc., that might equate to $250,000 today.  I used to be what you might call an "early adopter."  Almost everything was dissected on the workbench within a week of purchase, and often subjected to detailed tests.  I've been a member of this forum for 23 years.  If I post, it's because I don't want anyone else to have to relive my disappointment and frustration.  I often encourage readers NOT to take my word for something, and experiment for themselves.  If they prove otherwise, I'm not ashamed to admit when I'm wrong.  So, if you doubt my claims then by all means try it for yourself.

Well I think that answered his question and concern.

Thank you @Ted S for your contribution here on the forum. I rely on people like you as well as many others here to help me progress in this wonderful hobby I just recently got into (5 years or so). I have hopes to pay it forward someday.

Brad

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