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Discussion Starter #1
I'm starting to run my new layout and the black stuff on the rails surprises me in it's quantity. What is it?

I'm using Atlas Flex track. I painted the rail and ties, but polished the tops of the rail with bright boy.

It can't be oil or grease as I haven't oiled or greased anything. When an engine hits some that hasn't been recently cleaned, it slows down or loses power completely, sometimes only momentarily. I clean the track and next time through it's fine. But it quickly builds up again.

I'd like to figure it out and eliminate, or at least reduce the occurrence.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Deane
 

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I have the same conditions on my rails. All you can do is keep cleaning it.

I bought a track cleaning car that cuts down on major cleaning to once every three weeks or so as long as I make a couple of passes on each track once a session with the track cleaning car. The cleaning car really takes a lot of the oxidation off of the top of the rails, but it doesn't get all of it. It does allow the trains to run non-stop though, so that's something.

It's oxidation and you can't stop it. I tried some track cleaner called ZipRail. It didn't do anything more than hand cleaning or the track cleaning car could, and in fact I think it may have made things worse.

For hand cleaning I use a rag and an anti-static/cleaner mixture that is a commercial computer product. It does a good job of cleaning the rails. I wish it was permanent.
 

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As MichaelE says, it's oxidation. The only way to stop it would be to enclose your track or layout in an air-tight container and remove the oxygen.

The good news is that, if you're using nickel-silver track, the oxide conducts electricity, so it isn't necessary to remove small amounts ts of it. I run a rag dipped in denatured alcohol over the rails once a week, and that keeps it under control.
 

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NEVER clean track with a bright boy. It leaves micro gouges on the railheads & it WILL collect dirt & oils So you have to keep cleaning ad nauseum! You'll have to "polish" the railheads to get rid of the gouges. Then clean them with isopropyl alcohol. Then coat the railheads with CRC contact cleaner. It only takes a small dab on the rail then run your trains around your layout. The wheels will carry the cleaner to all the rails. Many people have said they rarely if ever have to clean the track again!
 

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After cleaning you could try just a few dabs of cheap transmission fluid. A few dabs will spread around the track and help keep it clean. Its been years since I've cleaned my track.
 

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I can't use any petroleum based product on the rails. I have up to 2.5% grades on the mainlines and a steep 5.5%+ on the branch mountain line.

When I tried the ZipTrack cleaner the ÖBB 2143 was having a hard time with traction in a couple of spots.

Other than that I didn't think it worked all that well and was a PITA to remove.

I remember one time I used Mother's Wheel and Mag Polish on the entire layout. The rails looked like mirrors. Unfortunately, I found out it was the wheels and pickups that needed cleaning more than the track.
 

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I can't use any petroleum based product on the rails. I have up to 2.5% grades on the mainlines and a steep 5.5%+ on the branch mountain line.

When I tried the ZipTrack cleaner the ÖBB 2143 was having a hard time with traction in a couple of spots.

Other than that I didn't think it worked all that well and was a PITA to remove.

I remember one time I used Mother's Wheel and Mag Polish on the entire layout. The rails looked like mirrors. Unfortunately, I found out it was the wheels and pickups that needed cleaning more than the track.
I spread ATF on my rails a couple of weeks prior to dismantling the layout; I had nothing to lose, and I was curious. I wiped a soaked cloth in several places, wanting to go overboard a bit, and I let my BLI Class J 4-8-4 hauling a few cars spread it around the tracks for half an hour. My grades were in the 3.5% range. I had no pauses, no spinning, no electrical dropout, nothing that I could pin on the ATF. I was surprised.
 

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my personal preference is to some product that doesn't leave any residue that can attract dust , i don't have a fancy heat exchanger, or a fancy plug in air filter for the furnace / ac unit ...
i also stay away from cleaning items than can leave scratches in the rail heads, so far it's been pretty good ..
i also have [mostly] intermountain metal wheelsets
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Needless to say, I'm following this thread very closely. There are some really good thoughts posted.

I'm a bit hesitant on adding any petroleum based products to the track. While I've continued to give a lot of thought to Lemonhawk's post regarding ATF, I still can't get over the thought of "oiling the track".:eek:

The black coating tends to slow the engine consist down. I clean it off with 91% alcohol and there is no slowdown following the cleaning for a while. It isn't dark grey or anything, it's jet black.

I've ordered a can of CDC from Amazon. Amazon is much easier than running around with more than a foot of snow on the ground and 3 degrees temperature.

I haven't examined the wheels on the cars yet. That's next. Someone showed me a wheel cleaner a year or so ago at the hobby shop and said I should have one once I got up and running. Anyone with experience with powered wheel cleaners? At least I think it was powered, perhaps not.

Deane
 

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I'm starting to run my new layout and the black stuff on the rails surprises me in it's quantity. What is it?

I'm using Atlas Flex track. I painted the rail and ties, but polished the tops of the rail with bright boy.

It can't be oil or grease as I haven't oiled or greased anything. When an engine hits some that hasn't been recently cleaned, it slows down or loses power completely, sometimes only momentarily. I clean the track and next time through it's fine. But it quickly builds up again.

I'd like to figure it out and eliminate, or at least reduce the occurrence.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Deane
When you clean the rails, much of what comes up later that day is a charcoal grey oxide. If you can scrape stuff off the wheels, mostly plastic ones, or at spots near a frog, that's organo-solids that have been 'cooked' by arcing between pickup metal tires and the powered rails, or by metal flanges on wheels bridging between charged rails of opposite phase/polarity, again, almost always at frogs. It can happen, also, where rails dip unduly, but undetected, and where the same arcing takes place.
 

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91% isopropyl alcohol on a soft rag (old t-shirt) for the rails and elbow grease -- works for me.

But be aware that if there's grime on the rails, it gets "on the wheels" too.

I don't worry about it on the cars, but it DOES need periodic cleaning from the loco wheels.

The easiest way I've found to clean loco wheels (at least for diesels) is to:
- Take a piece of paper towel.
- Fold it so it's just a little more than the width of a 6-axle truck.
- Soak a small section with alcohol, lay it on the track.
- Turn loco power up to 60-75% or so.
- Set one truck down on paper towel, other truck on bare rail.
- As the wheels spin, gently "massage" the truck on the paper towel, moving it back-and-forth and side-to-side to get the flanges, too.
- Repeat for other truck.

You'll be surprised how much dirt comes off on that paper towel!

Seems to me there's -something- about dcc (higher, continuous voltage, perhaps?) that leads to loco wheels getting dirty more quickly. I could be wrong.
 

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NEVER clean track with a bright boy. It leaves micro gouges on the railheads & it WILL collect dirt & oils So you have to keep cleaning ad nauseum! You'll have to "polish" the railheads to get rid of the gouges. Then clean them with isopropyl alcohol. Then coat the railheads with CRC contact cleaner. It only takes a small dab on the rail then run your trains around your layout. The wheels will carry the cleaner to all the rails. Many people have said they rarely if ever have to clean the track again!
I've been using a bright boy for years to clean paint and adhesive off the rails. Unless they changed the material recently, it's made of a hard rubber like the old typewriter ink erasers, and try as I might, under 12x magnification, I don't see any evidence of scratching or gouging after using it.

If you're concerned about scratches, though, burnish the rails. Take a large steel washer, place it on the rails with the rounded edges down, then press down firmly and rub vigorously back and forth about half a dozen times. Make sure the power is off when you do this!
 

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The oxide is formed by the electricity going from the wheels to the track or vice versa. As the electricity goes from the wheel to the track a tiny spark happens and what is left is carbon on the track as the wheels continue to roll. You could try putting a bit more weight on the loco to keep all it's wheels firmly on the track and that will help. However the only other thing I've found that works is alcohol on a rag. Just regular rubbing alcohol will work and you can see what comes off the tracks if you use a white rag. You will also get the same black gunk off your wheels and all the wheels on all your rolling stock. Take a wet rag and put it under the wheels on one side only. Turn the loco on and hold on to it while the wheels spin on the alcohol dampened rag. You'll see the black carbon come off the wheels pretty fast. Also check to see if the wheels are all at the same height by setting the loco on a very flat surface. A piece of glass or a mirror is good. The spark between the wheel and the track only happens if there is a very tiny space there that allows the electrical arc. That spark creates the carbon and the wheels spread it all around the track.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Norgale, that's an interesting analysis. The fact that the black appears to be non-conductive would probably confirm a carbon residue. It's my assumption that carbon is non-conductive.

I've been puzzled by the non-conductivity, something I can observe by the fact the engines slow down as if they are having trouble getting power. If I then clean the rails, they sail right through without slowing down.

For test engines, I'm using a consist made up of Athearn Genisis F3 diesels in an ABBA arrangement.
 

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Try and add a little weight to your engine to make it set down on the track better. Otherwise all that stuff is just slow natives.
 
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