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Author Topic: dcc, derailments, shorts and EZ track switches  (Read 4434 times)

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« on: May 02, 2009, 10:43:39 PM »

I have heard some discussions about people 'cooking' or 'popping' decoders.
Can a bad derailment lead to a short that will damage a decoder?
Right now I am running a small layout that I finished for the kids.   It is EZ track and I am having a hell of a time with the switches.   I can run deisels without too much trouble, but  the steam engines and rolling stock derail like clockwork on 4 out of the 7 switches.
The kids like the steam (as do I) and I have a few DCC locos on order and planned.  Will I be loosing the magic 'Blue smoke' that makes all electronics function (you know, once the blue smoke comes out, it doesn't work, ergo, it must run on blue smoke.)

Another issue altogether is that the EZ track switches are a huge source of frustration right now..... all track laid, wired, semi ballasted and landscaped and then I started having trouble.  The rivets at the pivot of the switch is loose on  the 3 problem switches. It is so loose that the switch rail moves 1/16" from side to side and causes locos to stall and/or derail.   The point of another switch simply broke off about 3/32" leaving a blunt edge and guaranteed picking of the point.   Examination of the bit that broke and the remainder showed tiny little cracks in the whole thing near the thin end....  Even my 'good' switches get picked often.  I've tried filing/beveling the very tip of the point to help the situation and it is minutely better, but still worrisome.
Help....  I'm getting tired of re-railing rather than running my locos and rolling stock.
I really hate to have to ripp it all up to get the three bad switches out.   Has anyone had similar issues with the pivot rivet?  How do you fix it other than replacing it?
Jim Banner

Enjoying electric model railroading since 1950.

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« Reply #1 on: May 03, 2009, 02:28:15 AM »

A derailment will NOT damage a properly installed decoder.  A properly installed decoder has all its motor and leads isolated from the locomotive frame.  I have run into cases where the wheels on both side of the locomotive were isolated and one of the motor wires was isolated but the other motor wire or the motor brush holder was left connected to the frame.  Everything ran just fine, until it derailed and one of the wheels touched both the track and the frame.  This violated the cardinal rule of decoders - no output shall ever connect to an input when the decoder is under power.  Out came the smoke.

The more usual cause of letting the smoke out is overloading the decoder, either by using one that is too small for the locked rotor current draw of the motor, or an accidental short circuit, usually from an improper or poorly done installation.  An example of an improper installation would be one where the installer failed to insure that the inputs and outputs were properly isolated and an example of a poorly done one would be using electrical tape instead of shrink tubing on joints.  The tape lets go under heat, possibly exposing bare wires when it does so.  If one of these touches where it should not, well, you guessed it, out comes the smoke.

Turnouts can be hard to replace when the base and all the track around them are glued down.  But one trick that can reduce the amount of work is this:
(1) Cut the 6 rail joiners.  A hobby saw, such as the one made by Atlas, allows you to do this without having to remove a whole lot of rail.
(2) If the turnout is electrically operated, disconnect it.
(3) Gently pry the turnout off its base.
(4) Using a file or some coarse (say #60) sandpaper, remove plastic from the top of the base down to the level of the bottoms of the ties.  Tempting as it might be, do not use a power sander.  It will heat the plastic which will then soften and distort.  (Been there, done that.)
(5) Obtain a turnout without a base.  Most Bachmann turnouts can be replaced by their baseless Atlas equivalents.
(6) Cut some rail joiners short enough that you can slide them onto the ends of the turnout rails with no overhang.
(7) Remove the cut rail joiners from the ends of the tracks.  Three will slide off easily.  The other three will have to be pried open with a small screwdriver.  They have a tab underneath that locks them to the track base.  If a firm pull with pliers will not pull them out, you can leave them in place.
(8 ) Drop the replacement turnout in place.  Then use a small screw driver to slide the rail joiners partly off the turnout rails and onto the track rails.  This will be easy for three of them.  If you had to leave the three rail joiners with tabs in place, sliding the new joiners in place on those rails will be a bit harder because you need to get them between the tops of the old joiners and the bottoms of the rails.
(9) Connect the turnout motor if electrically operated.

Some variations that you might prefer:
In step (1), cut right on down through the plastic track base when you cut the joiners.
In step (3), remove both the turnout and its base.  Then build up a new turnout base with 1/4" cork or plywood.  This may or may not be easier than sanding down the old base.  (Can you guess who learned about doing it this way by trying to use a power sander on the plastic base?)

I would suggest trying the above on your worst turnout.  Then you can decide if that is the way to proceed on the other two turnouts.


Growing older is mandatory but growing up is optional.
train with no shame
« Reply #2 on: May 03, 2009, 10:11:00 AM »

mr banner you stated in line (5) of your explanation .that some atlas turnouts could maybe work as a drop in replacement . i did one of the layouts from thortrains  4x8 then expanded to 5x9 . outter loop 22"rad inner 18"rad. in the straight ,i guess you would call the easement there was 4 #5 r and l bachmann wye switches . i was having numerous derails coming into the turnouts usually from the straight to the frog . i found that the rails and ties were loose from the road bed and had positive camber from the straight end to the frog . i eliminated one set of the r and l #5 and the numerous short straight pieces it took to make up the there was peaks and valleys . i was having problems with the sd-40-2 stopping and derailing and the 4-8-4 as well . when i did this my problem stopped . the "MARX" layout was geometrically off by almost an 1"1/4 causing alot of wheel noise  . also hose's from the couplers which i gaged . were catching at the frog and switch . there away to re-anchor them to the grey road bed  . or will an atlas drop in work . so i won't have to trash them . regards mark f     
« Reply #3 on: May 03, 2009, 10:46:02 AM »

I'm not sure why, once we get past the "train on the living room floor" stage, anyone would use sectional track for a permanent layout.  I have used cork roadbed, flex track and Atlas and/or Shinohara/Walthers turnouts for years and have NEVER had the kinds of problems I read about here.  It seems to me that the "easy way out" ultimately becomes a real pain in the caboose.  If you think you don't have the skills to lay "traditional" track, find a buddy to teach you.  I promise it's not hard.  Just my two cents worth.

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« Reply #4 on: May 05, 2009, 12:07:21 AM » try to answer your question of why EZ track:
I guess after being out of the hobby for 25 years, I was a bit out of touch with what's out there.  I'm sure I'd have no problems laying track the way we used to and I questioned the EZ track when I did it.
I guess my reasoning came down to cost and time.   My wife was going out of town for about 8 days and taking the kids with and I my oldest son had recently taken a huge interest in trains.  I thought it would be fun to build a layout for him.  As much as I want to involve him in the building process (half the fun, right?) I know that he is young enough that his attention span might not be up to it and as much as I love it when he helps, it is hard to do some tasks with toddlers.  (He will be more 'hands on' with the next one....)
That coupled with a heck of deal on the EZ track Nickel silver starter pack at the LHS, and my decision seemed easy.   I don't think I could have bought 3 or four switches for what I paid for the whole kit.  The simplicity of "click, click, click, plug, plug, plug" seemed appealing.
One more trip to the LHS yielded another deal on one more turnout and an expansion kit (two more switches, more radius and straights and bumpers) again, for less than the cost of two more switches and I was able to modifiy my track plan for more sidings and spurs.
I layed it out and unpacked some old locos and ran them around the first evening.  Everything worked great.   ( I should have tried a steam engine....)
Within one week (of really late nights)I had built the table, cut in the river, layed the track, built and installed bridge butresses and bridge, built the mountain with exposed rocks and installed portals, added a road, grass and some trees & shrubs and ballasted a good portion of the track and then added a few old buildings that survived several moves and 25 years of storage.   It's nothing fancy and won't win any awards, but for something built from Monday to Monday, I think I did ok.  The look on my sons face was worth every late night.  Most days lately I can't keep him away from it.  I don't think I could have done this so quickly with other options, but maybe....
My biggest frustration is that now he primarily wants to run the steam engines ( I can't blame him; my favorite too) but I have to be constantly putting them back on the track, or explaining that "we can't use that siding because it will derail".
The irritating part is that it looks like it's a simple quality control issue that is causing most of my problems.  The rivets on several (not all) of the switches are simply sloppy and loose and they allow the switching tracks to wobble all over the place at the hinge end. I also have one that has a dead spot from the frog to the switch that only the large engines that span it or have a flywheel and good momentum can cross.  Yet another switch had such a thin fragile point that it simply broke off the tip and left a short blunt edge that wont quite contact the other rail.  Now I can only run through that switch in one direction (just happens to be opposite the flow of my layout and spurs).
It aggravates me that I will have to tear it up and either spend more money to replace what I think were sloppy turnouts and then take the time to rewire, reballast and landscape around all of the areas.  The EZ track tabs are large enough that I envision having to tear up about 6 pieces of track for each switch I need to replace.  I read the earlier suggestions about cutting them out or removing and sanding down the bed and installing Atlas, but again, it's more money, aggravation, time and headache to replace a defective part.

If only the switches were of higher quality, I would be thrilled with the product.  Is Bachmann aware of these loose rivets?  It looks like a simple press adjustment gone wrong.   
And how much cost would it add to the cost of the switch to recess the point into the main rail like Atlas?    The feather edge on the Bachmann swithces are not only fragile , but they still do not lay flush enough to not get picked on a regular basis.  ( I have tried filing them to a bevel and it doesn't really help...maybe a tiny bit, but by no means a good corrective action.)
Now, try to tell an almost three year old that his train layout is going to be out of commission for a week or two while I tear it up.   (and try to tell my wife that I need to spend $120-$150 on switches to replace ones that are only a month old).   (I may have to wait for them to go visit the mother-in-law again.))
(almost tempted to start from scratch, but not sure my wife would like that option due to $)
Bachmann does so much so well, why can't they make a better turnout?  I'm in it for the long haul, but I wonder how many other people get turned off to the hobby by bad experiences like this.
If anyone has any other suggestions, I'm still pondering the best way to attack this mess.


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« Reply #5 on: May 05, 2009, 01:09:38 AM »

My whole layout is EZtrack and I have 10 turnouts. I can say that I have experienced none of your problems. I run all  steamersand the only problem I had was due to turnouts having a little twist in them created by the base . I solved the problem by ensuring that the turnouts were fastened securely to the layout base. The rest of the track  requires fastening only here and there. I hope I helped.

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« Reply #6 on: May 05, 2009, 02:07:55 PM »

The table is level and the track is fastened.   I don't think the problem is in putting the track down.   The main and most obvious problem is just simply that the rivets are not fully pressed and the rail is loose and floppy at the hinged end.   No matter what my track layout looks like, I don't think anyone can argue that that is a good thing....
That and the tip of the switch point never really gets very tight to the rail and gets picked often by pilot and trailing trucks and occasionally cars.
Obviously it would be preferrable to use large radius turnouts for steam or any large locos, but I am using what came in the starter kit.

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« Reply #7 on: May 12, 2009, 10:53:58 PM »

Ok, I'm still limping along with way more derailments than I'd like.   As of lately I haven't had much time to deal wioth this, but would like to address it soon.

First off, Can I get a Bachmann turnout replacement? (the 18" radius ones that comes with the 'starter packs'?   I would love to be able to just replace the turnout on the roadbed.  It seems it would be easiest; just cut the connectors, unscrew & lift it off and put the new one on the roadbed.  ( I did not ballast any more than the edges around the switches)  This would avoid having to tear up 4-6 pieces of roadbed/track.
The trouble is, I can't find the switch alone anywhere.   Can someone at Bachmann tell me if I can get just the turnout sans roadbed?
« Reply #8 on: May 12, 2009, 11:06:25 PM »

a quick check of the online catalog make me think ez-track is all Bachmann makes.  I don't see track sold alone like Atlas or Peco...  You may have to make a trip to the LHS and hold turnouts against a section of ez-track, visually comparing them to find a match. Failing that pick up a replacement and remove the trackage and then transplant it as you describe....

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« Reply #9 on: May 13, 2009, 12:47:41 AM »

In areas where I have elected to not use EZtrack turnouts I have used Atlas remote switches I shimmed them to the right height using bulk cork sheet
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