model railroads resources

Model Railroad Questions

The more you know about model trains, the less chance that you'll be taken for a ride (excuse the pun!). Some hobby shop assistants and internet model train retailers just want to sell - and others may misunderstand your needs and sell you the wrong thing for your model train layout. However, in saying that, in general hobby shop staff have a wealth knowledge and are happy to share their model train ideas. Also the more research you do, the better you'll get to know your model train scales, styles and which model train manufacturers you prefer.

How many cars will a locomotive pull?

First you need to consider the factors that determine the length of the train you can run on your model train layout:

THE DRAW-BAR PULL, or traction, of your locomotive is affected by its weight, contact with the rail, traction tires, motor and the power available. This pulling power is measured in pounds and ounces at the rear coupler or draw-bar of your locomotive.

DRAG OF YOUR CARS depends on the number of axles, lubrication of the bearings and if there are track pickups on any of the wheels. The weight of each car is also a factor.

RADIUS OF THE TRACK CURVES is another factor to consider. The smaller the radius the more the drag. A reverse curve, without a straight line between, causes even more drag. Also remember that a clean track will reduce the drag on curves.

GRADE OF THE TRACK can be a major factor affecting the pulling power of a locomotive. Grade is the ratio of distance forward compared to the change in height.

A forward travel of 100 inches with a rise of one inch is a 1% grade. A rise of two inches is 2%, three inches is 3% and four inches is 4%. You wouldn't want anything steeper than a 4% otherwise you could experience all kinds of problems. (no more than a 2% grade for garden railroads).

So, the number of cars a locomotive can pull will depend on a number of factors.

As a summary here is are some important guidelines to get the best from your model train layout:

  • Aim to have a heavy locomotive with adequate power available. 
  • If you want to run really long trains then it's best to have clean track that
    is level or with only gentle curves.

  • Keep your trains well maintained. The wheels on the locomotive should
    be kept clean, traction tires clean, bearings lubricated (including side
    rod linkage on steam). Have the locomotive motor checked regularly.
    Rolling stock should have clean wheels and lubricated bearings.
    Couplers should move freely to maintain alignment.


More details at

Quick Weathering Tip For Freight Trains

Weathering (showing signs of wear and tear) can add to the realism of any model train set, but it needs to be done carefully. One, often overlooked, important consideration is the age of the individual freight wagon being weathered. Not all wagons on a freight train are necessarily of the same vintage or have experienced the same weathering conditions. A freight train could comprise a mix of fairly new and considerably old wagons.

For example a model train layout depicting a mid 1960's railroad might comprise mainly of wagons built around 1950. That would make most of the wagons around 15 years old.

Compare this to a freight train on a modern day railroad layout. Today's freight train might include several brightly colored newish wagons along with a couple of 35-40 year old wagons built around the mid to late 1960's. Weathering of the older 1960's wagons would be different to that seen on the newer wagons.

So, always consider that a freight train is made up of several different wagons of different ages and backgrounds rather than all the wagons on a train being constructed at the same time and experiencing the same weathering conditions.


Solving Model Train Lighting Problems

Model railroaders sometimes experience lighting problems with street lights other accessories being too dim or erratic.

More often than not the problem can be traced to the transformer/power pack. Dim lights are usually a result of too many items drawing power at once.

One solution is to invest in more powerful transformer/power pack or to buy an inexpensive unit and use it only for accessories while a second more powerfu unit runs the model trains.



Wonderful Rail Journeys


More Of Those Tough Model Train Questions Answered

It doesn't matter how long a model train enthusiast has been involved in the hobby, most come up against questions that need answers. Trouble is; those answers are not always easy to find. Searching the Internet, although helpful, can prove to be a big time-waster.

Sheer frustration is what motivated me to write my Model Train Help ebook, as like so many other model train enthusiasts, I found finding answers slow and tedious. I thought to myself, if I'm experiencing these frustrations, then so must lots of fellow enthusiasts. So, I decided to rectify the problem by answering, in simple easy to understand English, many of the question facing model train enthusiasts, both experienced and beginner.

I then set about asking model train enthusiasts what their most pressing questions were. Here are some of the questions they came up with - all of which are answered in the Model Train Help ebook:

  • If I install a larger motor in my locomotive will I be able to pull more cars?
  • What's wrong when a part of the track will not work? How do I go about fixing it?
  • Should I replace my horn-hook couplers with knuckle couplers?
  • What is rust-busting, a talgo truck, "head-end" traffic, a green wave for freight trains?
  • What is meant by "code", as in code 40 track? Is a locomotive change-over the same as shunting?
  • Which rails should I use - brass, steel or nickel-silver?
  • How do I make plastic buildings look real? Why do some buildings look translucent?
  • Should electric feed wires be included every couple of feet or should I solder rail joiners?
  • What is a bridge rectifier and what does it do?
  • When I buy a track switch, what is meant by 'No. 4 turnout' or 'No. 8 turnout'?
  • Running techniques for a locomotive on a reversing loop. What about stopping the loco on the loop and throwing the switch?
  • What is a decoder and can I run an analog locomotive on a DCC system without a decoder?
  • Can I just put a decoder in my old analog engines?
  • Is 'O-gauge' and 'O-scale' the same thing?
  • Is there a right and wrong way to cut track?
  • If I have limited space what should I leave out from my layout?
  • What is a classification yard and how does it work? What are the yard options? Should I have a run-around track and dedicated lead track?
  • What's a Capacitor Discharge Unit and a Solenoid Motor and what do they do?
  • What's the difference between DC and DCC? What do I need to start or convert my analog layout to a DCC system? What's the difference between service mode and operations mode? Can I control turnouts with DCC?
  • What's a booster? Will the ampere rating of a booster and power supply limit how many locos I can run at the same time?
  • What causes a train to short out on a turnout?

So, if you need answers to these or other model train questions then have a look at my website for the Model Train Help ebook.

model train clubs

model trains help ebook

model railroads scenery

scale models of buildings

dcc questions


HO scale track plans book

N scale track plans 

arduino micro controls for model railroads