Sunday, October 1, 2023

Electrical wars, Part 21

This particular post in the series isn’t really one of my classic confrontations with an electrical failure on the layout, but more of the maintenance that needs to be done on the electrical front. (If interested, you can easily find the past members of this series by using “electrical wars” as the search term in the search box at right.) Still, it’s definitely electrical, so I’ll include it.

In preparing for an operating session, I routinely clean all track, then operate locomotives through all switches. Inevitably there are one or more switches for which the point rails aren’t making adequate contact with the stock rails. Of course, the obvious remedy is to clean the inside of the stock rails and the outside of the point rails in the areas where they contact.

In the photo above, taken at the switch into the industrial spurs at East Shumala on my layout, I am using an abrasive stick to clean the areas mentioned. This is just an ordinary emery board, as you see below; as I wear out and dirty the ends, I cut them off to bring fresh abrasive to the end. Over time, of course, the board gets shorter and shorter.

Often this kind of cleaning is sufficient to take care of the problem. But sometimes, as in the case of the switch I am showing here, it did not. In that case, it’s essential to check what’s going on, using a multi-meter. With that tool, I was able to isolate the problem quickly.

What I found was that the rail connection leading into the switch was not conducting consistently. (Yes, this was one of those super-annoying intermittent faults.) It was the rail nearest the camera in the view above. A little work with moving the rail joiner restored consistent conduction. Had that not worked, I would have soldered a jumper wire across the joint. 

Then, of course, the ultimate testing tool is a locomotive. Meters can mislead,  but not locomotives. (Of course, I am just talking electrical here. Locomotives can have faults of their own, like dirty wheels, but if the locomotive is running well, it’s the final test of track.) So after any work like this on a switch, I run a locomotive back and forth at different speeds to verify that the problem is fixed.

With this work, I restored dependable electrical behavior in this switch, needed for an upcoming operating session. As it turned out, this electrical problem, though quite real, was not the entire issue with this switch, but dealing with the remaining problems, which weren’t electrical, will be the subject of a separate post.

Tony Thompson

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