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How to Make Model Trains Run Faster

Everyone wants to have the most exciting and memorable model train setup, no matter what the time of year. The rush of a high speed rail is completely lost when you can't even get your locomotives running at above 40 km/h.

This leads us to the first question that most new model engineers have, which is how fast model trains are supposed to go. Only once you learn the speed limits can you start to break them - and in a safe and responsible way that doesn't sacrifice the lifespan of your engine. It is possible, however, to get your high speed trains up to a quite impressive velocity when you keep them tuned up and know how to run them right - and if you have a signal system that can keep up with it.

How fast do model trains go?

The "appropriate" or average speeds for different makes, models, track gauges, and scales of model trains is a hotly debated subject among many hobbyist circles. While there are plenty of industry standards that can be determined by the layout, cars, or track of the various model railway types, there are definitely personal preferences that can change these numbers significantly. There are also plenty of alterations that model engineers can make on freight trains, maglev trains, and even locomotives built for passengers, which can truly help them push the limits on what is possible with model railroading.

The truth is model trains can run anywhere from 1 to 150 miles per hour. It all depends on how they were made, how they're run, and who it is that's running them. All the factors must be considered in order to avoid permanently damaging your beloved models.

That being said, you can generally expect trains like Shays, Heislers, and other geared models to top out at approximately 15 miles per hour. Switching cars in the yard, on the other hand, needs to be done at 4 miles per hour or less; otherwise, you're risking a coupling at the very least, and a major collision at worst.

While there are some engineers who were just born to go fast, almost each and every one of them still feels inseparably bonded to their locomotives and would hate to see them flying off the tracks and smashing into a million pieces any more than the next person.

How do you calculate scale speed?

Before the days of the internet, it was much harder to measure speed with the various model scales. Additionally, some people prefer their locomotive speed expressed in real-world terms (like mph or km h) while others prefer a small scale that's relative to the miniature world in which their train engine runs (like inches).

Luckily, all you have to do nowadays is run a search online for a model train scale speed calculator to be directed to a number of different digital tools that can do the job for you. All you have to do is select the scale you're working with - such as n scale or HO scale - the distance or time it has to travel, whether it's 1 mm or 10 feet. The calculator will show you your results in inches as well as scale miles per hour and scale kilometers per hour, so it works great whether you're in Europe or the United States. These handy tools have saved hobbyists a lot of time making tedious calculations.

Scale speed refers to how much "scale distance" your locomotive covers in a given amount of time. Since the world your train is traveling in is a miniature one, the miles or kilometers that it travels per hour must also be thought of as miniature ones.

To calculate the scale speed of your locomotive, you have to figure out the equation for your particular scale, carefully time your train as it travels a set distance (such as one scale mile), and then plug that number into another equation to determine the miles per hour. Alternatively, you can measure how far your train travels over a set amount of time.

In either case, it's easy to see why most people prefer to just use one of the many convenient and freely available scale speed calculators that are out there to figure out just how fast their high speed lines are going on their model railroads - and make sure they're not beating any world records.

Why does my model train run sluggish?

One of the most common reasons for a train that just doesn't want to give you the maximum speed you're looking for is a connection that's broken or inconsistent. A stronger power supply is usually what does the trick.

If you're experiencing a voltage drop, the problem can easily be fixed by simply adding more connections. When a standard gauge connection doesn't give you enough power, using a higher gauge often provides noticeable improvement right away.

Keeping your engine clean is also extremely important. Dust is known to be an excellent insulator - which is bad news for an electrical circuit. Even a small amount of dust buildup can cause a noticeable stifling of power flow that's ultimately getting to your train engine, seriously lowering the speed potential.

Why does my model train derail?

Besides sheer breaking the speed limit, derailments can just as easily be caused by a poor track layout. If there are countless hairpin turns one after another, you can definitely expect to see problems when you try to go tearing around them. It's a good idea to inspect every inch of your layout before maxing out the speed just to make sure you've considered all the possible hazards along the way.

Improperly assembled tracks can also wreak havoc on your high-speed locomotive chase. What would've been a minor bump in the road at easier speeds quickly turns into a tragedy when you're blazing down the tracks. A good way to make sure the rails are clear ahead is by running your fingers over them to ensure they are smooth. After that, you can apply a fresh round of lubrication.

Why does my model train spark?

One of the most common reasons for a track that sparks is having using a chemical cleaning solution directly before running your engines. There are a number of solutions to this problem, which might seem small until you consider the amount of damage a single spark can do to your scenery and buildings. The first would simply be to not use chemicals when cleaning, but you can also just wait a little longer before running your engines.

Another common cause for sparks on the rails is an engine that is damaged. If there are any irregularities with the wheels, gears, or rails of your setup, you can experience problems. It's also very important to check over all the tracks to make sure there's nothing blocking the way for your train. The smallest stick or piece of scenery can get stuck in the gears and cause an extremely expensive amount of damage that you don't want to have to pay for.

The best way to avoid sparks is to give your whole track a close inspection before running every time. A happy train is one that doesn't spark when you run it.

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