Hunting Electrical Gremlins

Sigh, electrical gremlins, the worst gremlins. something you can’t see, and have to spend ages poking and prodding with a multi-meter looking to see if you can find the electrical short, and looking for bad solder joints or other issues. Electrical things are not one of my strong suits, I understand it, but I am just not comfortable messing around with them and at finding problems. At some point, I’m going to have to have a more electrically minded friend over, as I seemingly just can’t find whatever it is at this location, and I think I desperately need a second set of eyes and hands on the problem. This is the first switch coming out of staging for the CN end of the layout, and this is me starting the process of trying to get the layout to actually operate reliably. Parts of it are starting to look decent scenically, but at the end of the day, I want to be able to run trains reliably, and have people visit and operate and not have them fighting constant little problems to have an enjoyable experience. So far, I have found a missed track feeder, and maybe a bit of extra solder in the track gap, but nothing which is the smoking gun. It is frustrating, as i don’t run trains nearly as much as I should, and I would like to get better at resolving these issues myself, but without some guidance, I feel I am constantly shooting in the dark guessing, and doing that I start to run the risk that I will create a new or bigger problem trying what I think is a fix to the issue.

Something in this switch is causing a stall/snag and I have not been able to figure it out.

The video below shows my SW1200RS running through the switch. Its hard to see, but you can see the lights flicker, and definitely see the stall/jump going through. It is much more pronounced in this direction. It happens with different locomotives to different degrees, but everything has a stall of some sort in this area.

So on we go, I will continue to search for the issue among the many ongoing layout projects, hopefully someday sooner than later I will be posting to celebrate finding the issue and resolving it.

15 thoughts on “Hunting Electrical Gremlins

    • I don’t know, I can’t figure out if it’s a problem with a narrow flange at the frog or not getting power on the closure rail. I can see a flash for a short on the Frog Juicer when watching it, but it’s momentary and I don’t know enough to know if that’s a normal behaviour or not. I’m stumped, but I will muddle on carefully trying to find a solution.

      Stephen

      • Are you using a hex frog juicer? Do the other frogs controlled by this juicer work fine? If so, try swapping the wire for this turnout’s frog with the wire for another turnout’s frog and see if the problem moves to a different turnout. If it does then the juicer has a problem.

      • Another thought: were the gaps in the rails around the frog cut with a jeweller’s saw? Can you run the blade through those gaps again to make sure nothing is bridging them that might interfere with the frog juicer’s operation? Even running a single edged razor blade into the gaps might help. Also, try scraping / cutting the PC board ties around the frog again to make sure nothing’s bridging them – like a sliver of the copper clad.

  1. Oh man, I’m with you on electrical issues. I tend to lean heavily on more feeders than needed. Especially before and after switches.
    On another note – you have a youtube channel, very nice! Someday, maybe I’ll get over the fear of not being perfect and hating the sound of my voice!

    • Lol, I hate the sound of my voice too, doesn’t sound like what I hear in my head talking when I hear it on video! I try to avoid any commentary from me in the YouTube videos!

      Stephen

  2. I’d love to drop by and help. Finding these problems can be frustrating.

    It’s amazing how easy it is to bridge those gaps in the PC board ties. Even the smallest whisker of metal can bridge the insulation gap cut.

    Setting aside gaps in the ties, there might be two places where a turnout could short when there’s a train in it:

    At the points if they are close to the stock rails and then a train with wheels gauged narrower could be creating the short when the backs of the wheels contact both points at the same time. You mentioned this happens to different models so maybe this isn’t an issue.

    At the frog, I like the idea of chasing through the rail gaps that isolate the frog. Maybe those rails expanded.

    If these are powered with a frog juicer maybe disconnect it from the turnout to rule that out. This would rule out a problem with the frog juicer itself and the frog since neither would be powered in this test.

    Does it short if only the frog is occupied? I couldn’t tell from the video if the short starts when one truck is in the points and the other truck is in the frog.

    It can be resolved and it will totally be figured out.

    Chris

  3. I had that with some (or all?) of my handlaid turnouts. I couldn’t get anything to behave, running the trains a little faster got them over the gap, but that’s not a solution. Perhaps you could consider;
    1) a keepalive (I believe that they are the cure for many sins).
    2) I got a couple 5ish turnout frog juicers, and hooked them up to my turnouts and the problem went away.

  4. also, is it a ‘short’ or a stall?
    Shorts stop the engine, and my digitrax command station beeps a lot, until I remove the engine
    stalls mean that the engine just kinda stops, and sometimes starts up again if I look at it, or maybe not.

  5. After looking at the pictures, I’m wondering if the upper right hand gap at the frog (going to the siding) has closed, thus causing the frog juicer to ‘cycle’ briefly causing the engine to ‘stutter’ when the second power truck enters the frog.

  6. I strongly recommend inserting something between the rails at the frog joints. Even clear 0.05 styrene would be fine, and certain would work for a test of the situation.

  7. As the aforementioned friend who built the switches, I can provide a bit of background.
    – All turnouts were built with FastTracks jigs
    – All PC board ties are double-gapped
    – Insulating rail gaps were made with a jeweler’s saw.
    – One thing that I do with all of my switches is check them with a multi-meter after finishing assembly. This allows me to check for any gaps that have been bridged, or if anything hasn’t been fully gapped.

    I was talking with Stephen about this earlier, and I wonder if the issue is due to a tight or wide gauge here rather than an electrical issue. Tight gauge could cause the flange to ride out of the flangeway, while wide gauge could cause the flange to ride up onto the guard rail.

    At some point I’ll go pay him a visit with my multi-meter and an assortment of files. We’ll get it sorted. (I hope.)

    • Honestly, the more I am looking, the more I am thinking it’s right gauge. There are a couple of other spots on the layout where it is tight, I fixed one today by moving the guard rail on one of the road crossings to broaden the gap and give a little wiggle room for the wheel set where it was previously being forced to pop out of gauge.

      I have, gotten about as far with this particular switch as I’m probably going to without making a mess of it, so am moving on to fettling other areas on the layout where there are various electrical or derailing gremlins happening.

      Stephen

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