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Thread: Newbie (??) question

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    Default Newbie (??) question

    I've been at this for over 2 years and I still come up with 'newbie' questions! So...I have Kato unitrack throughout my layout, exclusively. It's not like the old days in the late 60's and early 70's with the old Atlas track that would corrode over time, this stuff stays pretty darn clean from a contact standpoint.

    However, lately I'm noticing a black something or other when I wipe my fingers down a section of rail. I've tried wiping it all clean with paper towel, but there seems to remain this black whatever it is. I wonder if it's interfering with traction. I have not oiled my locomotives or done anything like that. Any ideas? Is this 'normal'?

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    I see it on ME flex all the time. There's too much at the start of basement season to get decent conductivity so I clean it off with a tight-weave cloth and rubbing alcohol and it leaves black streaks on the cloth. Paper towels work but leave too many shreds behind; I cut up an old dress shirt.

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    It could just be oxidation?
    Did someone say whitcomb?

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    I bought a bright boy recently and it's pretty good at getting the black off the rail heads along with paint, glue, whatever.
    WAAAAGH!! Wait, wrong hobby. TRAAAAAAIIIINNN!!

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    I don't recommend using a bright boy on Unitrack. I read there is some special coating, Use rubbing alcohol or WS Tidy Track Cleaner.
    "It's not whats best......It's whats best for you"

    Gary

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    I believe much of the black is caused by micro-arcing as the current conducting wheels run along the rails. Dust - there is always dust - and tiny amounts of oil account for the rest. Even though you haven't lubed your rolling stock, the factory does. And you will lube eventually, I hope.
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    Quote Originally Posted by P-LineSoo View Post
    I've been at this for over 2 years and I still come up with 'newbie' questions!
    15 years here and I CERTAINLY don't have answers to everything. In some areas of the hobby I am total noob too. Model Railroading is such a faceted hobby that it's nearly impossible to become good at all of it. So, if you don't know something, feel comfortable asking, because I guarantee there are others that will want to know the answer too.
    Bronman - "Trains and Legos... you can't have too many of them."

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    Thanks guys, I'll probably do exactly that...get some alcohol and fashion some sort of big swab to clean the rails with.

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    And to answer your original post, I use CRC 2-20 (find it at Lowes, Home Depot, etc) sprayed onto a cotton swab, clean about 15' of rail, switch ends of swab and do another 15'. Two swabs cleans all of my track currently. Then I run a loco or two to move CRC 2-20 around (you want a thin layer). I sometimes wipe off with an old cloth.
    This works very well for me.

    I recently put a decoder in a Tomix track cleaning car and tried it out. Don't think I am going to go back to the swabs. The track cleaner was WAY more fun.
    Bronman - "Trains and Legos... you can't have too many of them."

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    There is lots of stuff in that black gunk.
    Oxidation, residuals from vapors in the air (cooking,cleaning, aerosols), dust, dead skin, pet dander, rubber from traction tires,wheel plating wearing off, etc. etc. etc.
    Is it normal?
    Yes, it is.
    I use 90% isopropanol alcohol on a dryer sheet or cottoncloth on both track and wheelsets.




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    I wrap a piece of cloth (cut from an old sheet) around a small block of wood, squirt on some lighter fluid (naptha), and wipe the top of the rail.
    track-cleaning.jpg
    Just be careful to not snag the turnout points.

    The same cloth and lighter fluid are used to clean loco wheels as well.
    wheel _cleaning.jpg

    Details are here:
    https://gulflines.blogspot.com/p/tra...-cleaning.html

    Regards,
    Ron

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    I use a CMX cleaning car and 90% isopropal to clean the track. Does an amazing job. You can use alcohol and any lint-free cloth to do the same thing. Don't use paper towel. It's both abrasive and will tear on the rail joins.

    Brite-Boys are abrasive cleaners that clean by basically taking sandpaper to your track. Not recommend. The only time I use them is when I have a TON of gunk that alcohol won't dissolve.

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    I've observed and messed with this 'stuff' for years, here's observations if not necessarily a solution:

    1) The 'black stuff' "gunk" is a combination of oils, dust, nickel-silver oxidation, and carbon. It's rather visible when it builds up on the treads of MT wheelsets, when it's thick enough you can actually scrape it off and study it.

    2) What's amazing is how bad it can be and still work. The oxidation part is at least 'more conductive' than brass rail is, which is why all N track is NS not brass. But a pile of dust, oil, and carbon isn't. So you can have what looks like perfectly clean track, run your finger down it, and still come up with black streaks. That's just the oxidation. Don't sweat that stuff.

    3) The mix of carbon/dust/oils/crap is the real enemy here, not just for rails, but also for wheels. One discovery I made is that the marginal nature of electrical contact is confirmed to make sparking, which results in carbon, which is different from oxidation. One way to reduce the carbon is dumber and simpler than you think, reduce the voltage; i.e. less sparking. I was able to prove this by lowering my input voltage on transistor throttles, reducing the amplitude of the voltage spikes, and it made an EPIC difference in track cleanliness. I've also proven this on our HO display layout in the business, which runs nearly constantly. You want to keep that speed down to prevent arcing; there's a sweet spot to hit where the train activity actually wears it off the head of the rail as fast as it accumulates.

    4) Weight matters. Your heavier locomotives and cars with metal wheels can effectively bulldoze the stuff off the railhead, focusing on a really small footprint of contact. I have areas of my hidden track that I literally run a 'plow train' of original ABBA Kato F7's that are bricks-on-rails, and just run them back and forth many times. That does the job. I literally have spots that I haven't physically cleaned for YEARS, and only the 'plow train' gets in there. Meanwhile, in my industrial track where I have my tiny four-wheel lightweight critters, track has to be just absurdly clean, all the time - light weights and low speeds.

    5) Wheel cleaning is a real PITA. Mine will build up to the point where the only solutions are either to dump the wheelsets out in an ultrasonic cleaner, scrape them, or replace them. I have the buffing wheels in my Dremel that I use to polish metal wheeltreads at medium speed right on the car, that's quick and easy, but the plastic ones are another matter. The 'gunk' really impacts rolling friction, I've measured it, a train with a lot of gunk will have about 30% more drag before cleaning than after. When I can't drag 30 cars up a hill, it's time for another wheel cleaning, and it's usually pretty bad.

    So I don't sweat the oxidation, I do sweat the gunk, and I actually clean the gunk with 1000 grit paper on custom-cut and shaped wooden sticks off the railhead. I have track that is now 30 years old and still shows no ill affects of that, so while it sounds awful it doesn't seem that way, what's really happening is I'm doing it fairly infrequently just to deal with the REALLY BAD buildup and not worrying about typical oxidation at all because that will literally reappear instantly. That grit fills up so fast that you can even examine the railhead under magnification and there's no scratches. What you're really doing is bulldozing the gunk off the top and pushing it off, in microscopic quantities, to the inside and outside of the railhead.
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