Monday, 8 April 2013

The Housekeeping Begins


Now that things are progressing with the layout it quickly becomes apparent that housekeeping has to become part of the normal "operating procedures".  It is also a time where trialling of  labour saving devices comes to the fore.

There is an obvious correlation between the amount of track, landscaping and buildings that one installs on a layout and the housekeeping and maintenance that will follow and of course remain.

I figured that I would dedicate some posts to the often overlooked housekeeping subject and hopefully raise some conversation as to my experiences versus what methods the old hands have adopted.

To kick things off...Some time ago I purchased a CMX brand of Track Cleaning Machine. I cannot remember why i made this purchase but my ever decreasing memory tells me that it was on sale at the time and was purchased to take advantage of postage charges on a bigger order I had made from the USA...In reality it was a rash purchase just to fill the box up.  Another issue which attracted me was the fact that there will be several tunnels and some not so easy places to reach when the layout is a mobile unit did have some obvious benefits.

With the amount of track being laid recently,  I decided to read the instructions and give the unit a go.  The unit is essentially a solid brass bogie tank wagon with an all up weight of 151 grams.  The barrel of the tank is designed to be filled with a "solvent of your choice" and through a fairly sophisticated needle valve arrangement the fluid is fed to a pad that has been fitted to a  solid brass sled which through it's articulated attachment to the tank slides along the track to be cleaned maintaining constant contact and the ability to cope with most undulations and irregularities in the track.

The unit comes with  a quantity of  spare pad material which appears to me to just be a type of lounge chair fabric with a corded feel and is cut to length and attached to the brass pad with clips which are not unlike the style fitted to some orbital sanders.

The instructions do not actually prescribe or recommend a particular solvent, leaving that decision up to the user.  Some websites that I visited spoke of using aggressive types of Ketone type solvents as well as Xylene based solvents.  A word of caution here after too many years of  involvement in the bulk petrochemical industry is to stay well away from at least these two family of solvents in the train room environment.  A quick search of the web will outline the potential dangers of these solvents suffice to say that Xylene / Toluene based products contain benzene...a known carcinogen. One web forum advocated the use of Methanol while not stating that misuse of this product can lead to permanent blindness.

Apart from the above...the choice of solvent used also has to be made with flammability of the product in mind as of course introducing a flammable solvent ( sometimes in a confined-space train room ) to a spark generating layout full of trains, lighting , signals etc etc has the potential to create large and small types of hazards.

One other issue that has to be factored in is what effect will the choice of solvent have on the layout detail, track and rollingstock.  Some of the harsher solvents and their inherent vapours will certainly melt or soften some plastics and indeed some solvents will have a fairly un wanted effect on weathering...particularly all of the hard work weatherng track etc could be erased in one foul swoop... While it was not my intention to turn this post into a lesson in chemical technology...A seemingly simple purchase such as this could turn into a disaster unless simple precautions are not taken.

An up to date listing of commonly utilised solvents, solders, fuxes and chemicals in our hobby ( including plain english info and potential hazards...would be timely to be included in say AMRM at regular intervals.

So... with all of the above in mind....I chose to use Isopropyl Alcohol as a trial.  Yes IPA is flammable...but it's flammability is on the low side when compared with other solvents... It is fairly inert in the vapour stakes and it is acceptable to have contact with the skin. One other factor is that it flashes off ( evaporates ) quickly leaving very little or nil residue. IPA can be purchased over the counter relatively cheaply at most supermarkets under the brand name Isocol and while this brand does have additives... the amount is minimal and certainly does not effect the usefulness of the product as a paint thinner, or general purpose solvent and cleaner in the hobby room.

I have now trialled the CMX track cleaning machine over a few days and while the engineering is first class and the theory is very natty indeed... the jury is still out.  I am not sure of it's cleaning ability as apart from a peco track rubber I have not tried any other options for track cleaning over the I have no benchmark to make an accurate comparison.  I do wonder about the damage to pointwork should the pad catch on a blade or the unit is a heavy bugger.

So....what methods do other modellers utilise for track cleaning....I look forward to some feedback and discussion. 


The track cleaning special coming off the branch towards Fish River station.

Now moving onto the new sections of trackwork.

The CMX unit... The filler cap is located on the right of the tank ( with sealing O ring )... The other knurled knob adusts flow through the needle valve to the pad sled....The pad retaining clips are also visible.

The underside of the unit showing pad material and general construction.


  1. Rod

    I have one the Centreline cleaners but use it irregularly. I also purchased an Atlas cleaner that is to be tested once the track work & surrounds are finished. The idea of that one is that it has different pads to clean the track along with a fine graphite pad, which is recommended to use once. There is also a tank to use cleaning fluids, but the best part is that it also has a small but powerful vacuum cleaner within the clip on bits. The downside is that it needs a decoder such as a TCS, DP 2 to operate the various parts along with it needing to be pushed by a locomotive around all the track.

    My current preferred method though is to use a Peco track cleaner to gently go over the track first primarily to simply polish the rails.

    I then use some CRC 2-26 on a small piece of cork off cut glued to a bit of 38x18 timber to rub over the track, & a small shot of the CRC to the track, in front of the first train to run over the layout.

    While the CRC is a lubricating oil, it also has the benefit of helping with electrical conduction. I have yet to experience any problems with engines slipping as a result of the oil, & at the same time, I find using the CRC, also provides exceptional electrical pick up assistance with no problems in that area.

    The last train over the track at a given session, I run with a Noch No. 60157 Track Cleaner, attached to the axle of the last 4 wheel vehicle, which cleans up any residue from the session.

    The CRC is used by pretty well every member of the weekly group I am part of & they all swear by it.

    There are a couple in the group who have the same CMX machine while others have the Centreline items, & they are happy with them, but still prefer the CRC for overall trouble free operations.


  2. Rod

    Like Colin I use a Peco track rubber about once every four months over the whole layout. I also have the same Noch cleaning 'brushes' which are clipped onto the axle of a couple of K wagons. I also occasionally use a small amount of CRC 2-26 applied in several places around the layout directly to the rails for about 5 cm, this gets spread by the Noch cleaners and normal wheel action. Don't apply the CRC directly to the Noch cleaner as it will destroy the glue bond of the fabric to the plastic. Also don't use CRC 5-26, way to oily.

    On a related subject I have installed several TCS KA2 'Keep Alives' to my steam locos to assist in smooth running, steam locos being more prone to pickup issues than diesels. However, the track must still be clean, they are not a remedy for dirty track as the loco will stop when the KA2 cannot recharge itself.

    Ray P

  3. Col & Ray,

    A hearty thank you for sharing this info... Your input while being very useful for this scribe may well factor into other modeller's layouts. The more I think about it I should tabulate a table of hazardous products used in the train room & submit to AMRM for consideration. I am aware it has been touched on before but a more complete, logical and plain english approach may be more practical... Anyway again I thank you both for your learned comments & advice...Of course any other contributions from yourselves and others is appreciated.
    Regards, Rod

  4. Rod

    Thanks for that & the subject of toxins & oils has always had me wary of trying out such things. When the fella's at the group meeting spoke about the CRC 2-26, I scoffed at it owing to the likelihood of the oil residue & affect on the pulling abilities of loco's fully expecting them to slip to a stand at half their normal load.

    I was glad to be proved wrong. There is also one other item or actually several that I also have handy, & that is pieces of off cut 38x18 pine with strips of felt stuck to them.

    I use these as a means to polish the rails after any work around the particular area, or any longish operating lay offs, it clears the dust off the track & with the rail head being shiny, it means any gunk is very noticeable, which is then cleaned with the Peco cleaner.

    I have two spots that are either in tunnels or at a lower level, one of the felt rods is around 2 foot in length, & that allows me to reach all the hidden areas of the track from both ends of the section. Good cheap options.

  5. Rod

    My pre-operation clean is to use a 50mm paint brush and holding it by the tip of the handle and lightly drag it all around the track to remove any dust, similarly to Colin's felt on a stick method.

    I have been using CRC2-26 since the days when Bylong was exhibited (1979-1980). After many years I ended up with a build up of grey 'gunk' on point blades which ultimately didn't help electrical continuity but a spray of elctrical contact cleaner soon resolved that. Now I keep it to a minimum and away from point blades.

    Ray P

  6. Rod,

    Thanks for your post. Since Christmas, I have been using the Woodland Scenic tool. I put a brief summary on my blog a few months ago. ( In reality, it is not much more that the stick and pad method that Col describes. I usually use it before every operation.

    To date, I have found the track cleaner to be very effective although, I can't say the same about the wheel cleaner. The one thing that doesn't appear to be very effective is the fluid that comes with the product. My use to date has concentrated on the rubberised pads, similar to a pencil eraser and softer than the peco track cleaning pad. I clean the track with dry pads, cleaning them frequently with white spirit or the Woodlands fluid. I was initially concerned about the effect of the white spirit on the pads but to date, there has been no degradation. This arrangement seems to be working well although I am starting to notice a bit of slight gouging in the pads.I am planning, but have not got around to trying the CRC product.

    The beauty of this product is the flexibility of the handle and the ability to reach into more confined spaces. The other advantage for me is that the length of the handle keeps my hand above most of the scenery such as power poles.

    cheers Phil

  7. Phil,

    Thanks for your input...I have had a look at your wheel/track cleaning post. Very informative. Appears the CRC may well be worth a look if all of the support is anything to go by. So it would seem that there is no foolproof method for loco wheels etc...I note the layout is coming along nicely...Congratulations on the progress.


  8. Phil

    Thanks for the reminder of your post, & as track cleaning is a big issue with many remedies & expensive tools/machines out there to take hold of our wallets in the open position, I admit to some scepticism with regards to the Woodlands wheel cleaner as I tend to think that if loco wheels get the large glug type build up, then something akin to the Peco brush cleaner used on a set of rollers may be the better option or even having a raised two section length of track with a gap in the middle for one of the drivers to sit in space, & have them rotate slowly under power, with a felt pad held against the wheel with some metho, or even the CRC applied to pad, it would be a slow process though in order to do each wheel,

    When I moved here I did a clean of old track, & other items using the CLR product which did a good job in clearing away muck off track, & did not damage the rail either.

    The hand held track scrubber is almost similar to what I use except the benefit of the swivel handle, I do think it would be possible to make something similar with the 38x18 pine, using some timber plugs to make a rotating handle connection. Will need to think on that.

    The use of the timber bits in various lengths & amounts of felt allows me to get to a lot all the track for my purposes although a couple of spots are a bit difficult, but for me, the best part of using felt is that you can buy it in rolls, & other sizes at hardware shops, I avoid the cheap pink/red types sold in the $$$ shops & much prefer the grey type that has adhesive backing on it for the major work.

    I also have a couple of the felt wood cleaners around 6" long with felt attached to the whole length on one wide surface & on one side. The wide surface will do both rails at the same time, while the side felt will do one rail but allow you to angle the timber to the inside of the rail & not just to the top, it also is better on points with the main facing leads needing the edges be given the attention,

    The use of a piece of cork glued to a small piece of the same wood, is also a help, I spray the CRC 2-26 onto it & rub the easy accessible areas with it, & also I also do prior to operating sessions, what Ray has suggested with a light spot spray of the CRC at strategic locations around the layout.

    I tend to apply those spot sprays at sections outside any point areas, & based on the direction of the first train to run over the section.

    If you have a Repco shop around & a member of the NRMA you will get 10% discount, & they will order it in as its not a normal item at many shops, including auto & electrical ones.


    1. Just an edit in here is an old link to the Litchfield station review of the Atlas cleaning machine as well as a couple of others that I mentioned originally & finally a utube video of one, also a few other links to video track cleaning


  9. I've been using my CMX with Isopropyl Alcohol for about 12 months now. My layout is about 800 feet and has around 60 turnouts. The cleaning pad material has never caught on any points or in any other caused any issues to my NCE-DCC controlled layout.

    I did make one minor alteration to the wagon....I removed the 2 conical shaped coil springs between the cleaning pad and the wagon proper. I can't recall why I did that (it seemed like a good idea at the time).
    Bill Roach

  10. Bill,

    Nice to hear from you....would appear great minds think alike!!!