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Graphite on track - clarification please


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To be honest, I don't think there is any substitute for clean track and clean wheels. If you have that then you will get the best running you can get (all other variables being ok).

I see no reason at all that superimposing graphite between a clean steel wheel and a clean nickle silver rail will make things any better. 

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18 minutes ago, Andymsa said:

the tone of the post was not negative at all to graphite

Bold added. By starting your post with .....

 

5 hours ago, Andymsa said:

Oh dear, here we go again

You could've fooled me!!!!  That and the other prejorative terms in your original post were just ripe for being read as "graphite is a bad idea, don't do it", even if that wasn't your apparent intention.

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5 minutes ago, ikcdab said:

To be honest, I don't think there is any substitute for clean track and clean wheels. If you have that then you will get the best running you can get (all other variables being ok).

I see no reason at all that superimposing graphite between a clean steel wheel and a clean nickle silver rail will make things any better. 

:rolleyes: *sighs and goes off to find wall to bang head against* :banghead:

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Contrary to what was said earlier in this thread, graphite is not a particularly good conductor, and it only finds a few specialist uses in electrical applications, arc lamps, brushes in motors and generators etc, where its other properties are more important than conductivity.

 

But, it does help in our application, and the most plausible explanations I've read suggest that it does so by filling microscopic pits and scratches in the surfaces of wheel and rail, thereby preventing those filling with dirt, and in so doing avoiding the micro-arcing that leads to even more dirt.

 

Wheel-rolling-on-rail, especially at very low force, is a very poor interface for conduction. Moving contacts in serious electrical  applications are almost always sliding contacts, to help break surface corrosion 'skin'; even that appear to be rolling or face-to-face on first inspection usually have "wipe" built into them. The wheel-rail contact used for traction current return on real railways at least has high force, and lots of wheels, and is often subject to a tiny bit of slip, all of which are helpful.

 

Kevin (Professional Electrical Engineer - I wonder if its a coincidence that I run three-rail toy trains!)

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12 minutes ago, ikcdab said:

I see no reason at all that superimposing graphite between a clean steel wheel and a clean nickle silver rail will make things any better. 

Nickel rail will corrode and form a non-conductive oxide layer. Graphite doesn’t corrode to any solid form, the oxides of carbon are gaseous. 
 

Andi

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2 minutes ago, Dagworth said:

Nickel rail will corrode and form a non-conductive oxide layer. Graphite doesn’t corrode to any solid form, the oxides of carbon are gaseous. 
 

Andi

 

I was under the impression that the oxide layer on Nickie Silver track is actually partially conductive - unlike the oxides that form on steel track. Rust is also non conductive and Nickle Silver doesn't rust.

 

Science tells us that graphite applied to any bare metal is going to be beneficial in terms of conductivity for as long as it lasts, the key questions with model railway track is does it attract non conductive gunk over time or spread into places you don't want it to go thus causing shorts.

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1 minute ago, phil-b259 said:

spread into places you don't want it to go thus causing shorts.

I found that if it got into isolation gaps it would pretty much immediately burn off. 

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Nickel Oxide is a "Mott Insulator", which means (simplified) that it behaves as an insulator at normal ambient conditions, but can be turned into a conductor by various treatments.

 

Nickel Silver is, of course, an alloy, not pure nickel, so the oxides won't be pure Nickel Oxide anyway. 

 

My personal observation is that nickel silver rail forms a 'skin' if left long enough, but whether that skin is simply oxides, or the result of reaction with other things in the air, I couldn't guess. A tiny bit of dampness in the air will lead to green powder forming, which could be either copper oxide, or nickel oxide.

 

Edited by Nearholmer
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5 hours ago, Phil Parker said:

 

Yet there are many who swear by the method. All the Australians I visited a few years ago did this and it works for them. If you don't like it, fine, but please allow others to have a different opinion. 

 

He's got a different opinion, isn't he allowed it then?

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40 minutes ago, F-UnitMad said:

Bold added. By starting your post with .....

 

You could've fooled me!!!!  That and the other prejorative terms in your original post were just ripe for being read as "graphite is a bad idea, don't do it", even if that wasn't your apparent intention.

 

The here we go again was meant as here we go again with a mass debating session. If one cannot have an opinion  without it being taken the wrong way then as I said in future I will keep my opinions to myself. The aim was to give the OP the other side of the coin view.

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5 hours ago, [email protected] said:

Not everything can be explained by exact scientific research and published results.

For years, scientists proved that Bumble bees couldn't fly, taking into account their weight,

wing size, etc. It was only recently that high speed photography explained it, something to

do with the way they moved their wings, and at a higher speed than originally thought.

 

Unfortunately that is an urban myth.

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1 hour ago, Andymsa said:

 

The here we go again was meant as here we go again with a mass debating session. If one cannot have an opinion  without it being taken the wrong way then as I said in future I will keep my opinions to myself. The aim was to give the OP the other side of the coin view.

 

It read as a world weary "Why is this being discussed again" to me and several others. The whole of RMweb is a debating session, there are very few definite answers to any problem. That's the fun of it. You are welcome, even encouraged, to have a different opinion, just not to suggest the discussion others will enjoy is beneath you. 

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17 minutes ago, Phil Parker said:

 

It read as a world weary "Why is this being discussed again" to me and several others. The whole of RMweb is a debating session, there are very few definite answers to any problem. That's the fun of it. You are welcome, even encouraged, to have a different opinion, just not to suggest the discussion others will enjoy is beneath you. 


sorry if I don’t have the eloquence or the skill of using the queens English, it was meant as a joking comment but I guess some are more sensitive.  No topic is ever beneath me.

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2 minutes ago, Andymsa said:


sorry if I don’t have the eloquence or the skill of using the queens English, it was meant as a joking comment but I guess there are a sensitive souls here. No topic is ever beneath me.

 

That's why most people uses emojis, you cannot express, in just the written word, all of the 

inflections the voice has, or the facial expressions we naturally use.

The emojis 'take up the slack', and make it much harder to misinterpret the intended meaning

of any post, you should try it next time, it could have saved us all a lot of wasted time!

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4 minutes ago, [email protected] said:

 

That's why most people uses emojis, you cannot express, in just the written word, all of the 

inflections the voice has, or the facial expressions we naturally use.

The emojis 'take up the slack', and make it much harder to misinterpret the intended meaning

of any post, you should try it next time, it could have saved us all a lot of wasted time!

Fair point 

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I can only Add my own observations. My layout is out in a Cold ,sometimes damp, dusty workshop. I sometimes dont get out there for weeks, sometimes months to run trains. Before using graphite I would pretty much have to clean the track every session, if left for more than a week with the track, in between sessions going from bright/ shinie to dull.  Cleaning methods varied from light rub over with the back of a piece of hardboard ( rough side down) sprayed with a mist of IPA ( not the beer !) If left for a week or so, to a track rubber gently run round, followed by the hardboard/ IPA ( Still not the beer) If A month or longer.  I tried an Artist's Graphite stick borrowed fron SWMBO'ds artist box, Applied AFTER a good cleaning session, (Rubber then Hardboard/ IPA). I found my cleaning sessions have dropped from Every Session to less than once a month, and Most times this actually involves no cleaning, just a re application of the Graphite which TBH I THINK is more a case of 'Dusting off' rather than cleaning ?

 Ive noticed also a marked improvement in running of some older locos with tired, rough , scarred wheels. I tend to leave one old 08 Diesel shunter out on the layout all year round which I 'Bomb Round' after cleaning, just to check things are running and the other day I decided to give it a service (not been done for a year , tut tut) I saw that the wheels had a coating of Graphite dust, and UNDER this coating the wheels were quite dirty, YET said loco still ran quite well BEFORE cleaning ( bear in mind this is the first loco I run so it probably picks up more residue than anything I subsiquiently run)

 

  In closing all I can say is in my less than ideal environment, Graphite WORKS for me, cutting down on cleaning quite conciderably which was a bane anytime I thought I would have a quick session 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Mattc6911
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1 minute ago, Andymsa said:

and has anyone used it with gradients and long trains? Ie slipping

Ravensclyffe has barely any level track, almost the entire scenic layout is some form of gradient although not steep, around 1 in 100 on average. Yes I run long trains. 36wagon MGR trains, 10+ coach passenger sets, 25 wagon Freightliner trains. No evidence of slipping at all. 
 

Andi

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1 minute ago, Dagworth said:

Ravensclyffe has barely any level track, almost the entire scenic layout is some form of gradient although not steep, around 1 in 100 on average. Yes I run long trains. 36wagon MGR trains, 10+ coach passenger sets, 25 wagon Freightliner trains. No evidence of slipping at all. 
 

Andi

Thanks,

 

im talking more about helix gradients, but good to know about long trains

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I don’t know why rubbing graphite on the railheads works, and tbh I don’t really care much, certainly not enough to get into a debate about it or argue the case against anyone who says it doesn’t work.  It does on my layout, but I have taken considerable care with my tracklaying and rail joints to ensure that they are as level and smooth as I can get them, so my running was pretty  good to begin with.
 

It has always been apparent to me that, for as long as RTR steam locos have rigid fixed wheelbases, which I expect them to continue to do for the possibly 20 years left of my life, as providing 3-point comensation in volume production is too expensive, the key to good running is to accept the limitations of such chassis and give them all the help you can.  Firstly, the trackbase needs to be rigid and either level or, if there are to be gradients, that the tranitions into them are gentle enough for your longest chassis to cope with.  Secondly, track needs to be joined smoothly and level to the next piece without doglegs.  Thirdly, electrical contact at every interface must be as reliable as possible.  Fourthly, plastic wheels, and traction tyres of any sort, are anathematic to cleanliness and conductivity. 
 

If, like me, you run DC control and require your locos to be able to run smoothly and steadily at low speeds, and start or stop smoothly and predictably as well, is is also essential that these interfaces, railhead/wheel and wheel/pickup, are kept clean and are reliable across the full extent of the sideplay allowed each pickup axle. 
 

To focus on the railhead, cleaning this can be done in two basic ways; firstly by abrasive devices or secondly by wiping with solvent based liquids that dissolve the dirt.  The dirt is a mixture of loco lubricant, microscopic particles of nickel silver from the rails and wheel plating, carbon deposits from electrical arcing, and contaminants from ballast, PVA, paint, and atmospheric pollution.  Abrasive attacks on it will shift it by main force, but even abrasives designed for the task will form microscratches on the railhead, which will become worse with each cleaning; these will look a bit like those valleys on Mars if you view them under an electron microscope (of course, we’ve all got a few of those kicking about on the worktable...).  The dirt will collect in these mega-canyons, and more cleaning will be needed; vicious circle. 
 

Attacking the crud with solvents basically dissolves it into a liquid form, which spreads along the railhead as a thin film which eventually builds up to a degree that abrasion is needed.  This is because the solvent evaporates before you can wipe it off no matter how quick you are; another vicious circle. 
 

My running has improved and I need to use the above cleaning methods less since I started using graphite in my rails about 18 months ago.  I initially applied it to a specific area to establish if performance was better in that area; very quickly established that it was and applied it to the entire layout.   I still get an occasional stall or hesitation, and it is cured by rubbing with the graphite stick. 
 

I can only suggest that, if you are a doubter, you have little to lose in trying it out in a controlled experimental way.  The basic principles of good running are care in trackbase, track laying, eliminating all but metal wheels and all traction tyres, and keeping things clean, but graphite will give you better slow running.  

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5 minutes ago, The Johnster said:

Abrasive attacks on it will shift it by main force, but even abrasives designed for the task will form microscratches on the railhead, which will become worse with each cleaning; these will look a bit like those valleys on Mars if you view them under an electron microscope (of course, we’ve all got a few of those kicking about on the worktable...).  The dirt will collect in these mega-canyons, and more cleaning will be needed; vicious circle. 

Interestingly the last time we discussed this there were some photos taken under a microscope that showed the surface of a rail that has been cleaned with an abrasive block is smoother than that supplied by the manufacturer. 
 

Andi

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While I have seen a graphite pencil working well, I had also seen Wahl Oil ( used for hair clippers)  on a gradient & it worked better with it.

 

USA modelers for years swore by the oil & on my layout, I run a Roco abrasive wagon around most main line tracks once every three months to remove dust then put a couple of drops of Wahl Oil on a few rail heads & let locos move it around.

 

About once a year or longer, I then spend a day or two or three cleaning all wheels, give the track a good clean with a Roco track rubber then apply oil again for the next 3 monthly period  - my layout  ( 12 x 20Ft requiring 5 operators) is used at least 9 hours a month  with almost every bit of track used in intensive operate sessions.

 

Other modeling mates use track cleaning cars with IPA , kerosene , Track Magic or many other forms of cleaning - what they find the best for their layout.

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10 hours ago, spikey said:

 

 

 

BTW, just for the record I don't tolerate plastic wheels (or for that matter traction tyres), I clean wheels whenever they need it, and there are no significant gradients on my railway.  And ref what causes build-up of black gunge on wheels, I well remember reading a learned article (which I feel certain was linked to off RMWeb) not all that long ago which convincingly argued that arcing was  a significant factor in the formation thereof.

 

 

With arcing only occurring when there is poor contact. If a clean wheel is in contact with clean track, it will not arc, because arcing is electricity jumping a gap to maintain continuity.

 

Good to read that you don't use plastic wheels, including traction tyres. They are common causes, which is why I mentioned it before.

 

Most modern RTR locos have multiple pick ups, either double bogie diesels or steam locos with tenders, often with pick ups (from time to time, we read of modellers disconnecting tender pick ups, due to the extra friction - the aim being to increase the number of coaches hauled). If the pick ups are adjusted correctly, there should be no problem of picking up power and so no arcing.

 

As others have suggested, dirt & other pollutants may be an issue in the railway room. Or perhaps uneven track.

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