Why does my locomotive not work?

Why does my locomotive not work?

By Roger Heid

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This is one of the most frequently asked questions, by beginners and advanced users alike. The question reflected in the blog title is only one of them. The list of all the variants of this question I heard of, for the past 60 years, could fill a blog all by itself.

This needs to be broken down into categories. Is the loco brand new, fresh out of the box, or have you had it since the beginning of time and it suddenly quit? Is it the only loco you have, or do you have umpteen others? Are you operating an analog system, or is your layout of the digital ilk? Did you buy it brand new from a reputable dealer, or did you find it in a ditch? All this, along with other issues, comes into play before a solid answer or solution can be arrived at.

During the recent years, most all questions are about digital locomotives. The complex electronics drastically increase the possibilities of malfunctions to occur, as compared to a strictly analog locomotive.

Let us say you just got a brand new digital starter kit. You hook everything up according to the instructions in the owner’s manual, but the locomotive does not run. The first thing you need to do is to check if track voltage is present. You do need a voltmeter. A model railroader should not be without one.

If the track voltage is absent, double check the wiring and check if the power supply puts out any voltage. Also check if the controller appears to be functional. Does it respond?

If the track voltage is present, you need to check that the loco is properly entered into your control device, whatever it may consist of. As a rule, instructions are found in the owner’s manual. You may have to repeat the entering procedure as you may have made a mistake during the first attempt. If you are new at this, patience is of virtue. With persistence, you will get used to the proper procedure.

If all seems to be well, so far, the problem is narrowed down to the locomotive itself. During shipping, sometimes things come loose. This is not unheard of. If you are mechanically inclined and have some knowledge about electricity in general, you may carefully remove the loco shell or housing by following the instructions in the manual. You need to avoid damage as this could void the manufacturer’s warranty. Look for something obvious.

If this does not produce any results, you need to contact your dealer to obtain warranty return authorization. If you bought it used, you will have to find a servicing dealer in your area.

Now, you may already have a functional layout and at least one other locomotive. Confirm that the other loco runs. Then you check if the new loco is properly entered and take it from there.

In some cases, beginners opt not to buy a starter kit; they purchase all the needed components separately. Sometimes, the power supply is inadequate, it doesn’t have enough power, or it may be the wrong type.

Sometimes a locomotive that has been sitting idle for an extended period of time refuses to run or it may run for a short stretch and then quit. Corrosion and hardening of lubricants are most likely the cause. Usually, a good cleaning and a lube job will bring your loco back to life.

There are blogs about locomotive maintenance and lubrication, and information about power supplies. Read up on these blogs. They can help you to answer most of your questions yourself.

If you need to post a cry for help about a malfunctioning locomotive in the Forum, the post should include the make and model, info about the age of the item and a concise description of the problem and symptoms. Every bit of information you can give will simplify the research needed to help you out of your dilemma. It will also shorten the time it takes as we do not have to turn around and ask you for more information. We will be more than happy to help you the best we can.


Please, do not post questions in the Blog System. Go to the Forum under the appropriate topic.

Thank you.

Happy Railroading!

One Response to Why does my locomotive not work?

  1. Herb Tuttle says:

    I have an old Fleischmann FS Italia steam locomotive #1368 with the red stripes. When I first got it I lubricated the gearing and oiled the wheel bearings. However when I ran it smoke came from the inside of the Lok. I took the motor out and cleaned it. It is Flm motor # 58. I don’t know if the motor is burned up or just the roter. That motor was used in many 60′s vintage lLoks. Can I replace it with a #58 motor from another Lok or must I have the same motor from another 1368? Does Flm carry that motor as a repair part? the Lok is in excellent condition otherwise. It is a fairly rare item on eBay. Can you help, please?
    Herb Tuttle, Virginia, USA P.S. My 19″x17″ layout is all European with all Flm Profi track & turnouts. I have about 40 Loks, mostly Flm, some Roco, Trix and Mehano.

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