Track cleaning tips

This month’s Model Railroad Hobbyist has an excellent article on track and wheel cleaning.  Here are a few excerpts….

The author, Brent Ciccone, starts with the question, “Problem #1: My track is dirty and I have an open house tomorrow!”…

I compared cleaning track using a track eraser versus a liquid
cleaner and cloth.  The quickest way, in terms of elapsed time, from dirty track to clean, is the track eraser.  Liquid cleaners required multiple passes before the track was clean. A quick back and forth scrubbing with the track eraser and the track is shiny clean…..

He then goes on to consider:

  • “Problem #2: The track needs a regular cleaning.” (Which liquid track cleaners work best – strong liquid solvents are very effective but one needs to consider the toxicity and flammability of these products before using them.).
  • “Problem #3: Application How to apply track cleaner.” (A lint free cloth or a track-cleaning wagon).
  • “Problem #4: Maintenance. My track is clean. How do I keep it that way?” (Treatments such as hair clipper oil).

He concludes with two interesting sections…

Myth Busting – Scratching the Rails?  The often-reported problem with abrasive track cleaners is that  they will scratch the rail surface and dirt will accumulate in those scratches…..

While the scratch theory sounds plausible, I can see no evidence to support it. I don’t recommend coarse sandpaper, but I would have no concerns about using any of the track cleaning blocks on my track, or on the wheels of locomotives. Until someone comes forward with evidence to the contrary, I would say that this myth is busted!

Looks like my old PECO track cleaner is still OK….  But what is ‘black gunk’ on wheels and track (spoiler – not for the squeamish)?

What is that black gunk and where does it come from? I did some Google searches looking for answers, but did not find many.  In a couple of cases, people have taken track to a laboratory to see what this stuff is….  One analysis reports that a lot of oxides of nickel are present.  A different forum post, can no longer find, found evidence of bits of dead skin cells.  Dead skin cells might sound surprising until you realize that household dust consists of a large proportion of dead skin cells from the occupants of the house and their associated cats, dogs and other pets.  My testing found that strong organic solvents are the most effective against “Black Gunk”, so this does fit with the origins of the “black gunk” being organic material.

I have some spur tracks on my layout where cars are pushed, but locomotives seldom venture on to them.  I have noted that these sidings develop much less black gunk than the active tracks.  These findings support the idea that it is the combination of the electrical current and the rail/wheel interface that creates the black gunk.  In the absence of either, it will not form.  Electrical arcing occurs between the wheels and the rail, and the arcing oxidizes the rail and degrades the dust into black gunk.

Calgary Alberta, Canada, where I live, is very dry with almost desert-like conditions during the winter months. This results in the house occupants (myself, my wife and three cats) having dry, flaky skin during the winter, and consequently there is a lot of dust in the house.  We fight this dust in the house constantly  and I fight dirty track on my layout in the basement all the time.

So now you know…..

About snitchthebudgie

Secretary of the East Surrey N Gauge railway club
This entry was posted in Hints and tips, Inspiration and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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