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Model Railroading > Broken switch ... can it be repaired?

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Date: 05/07/19 10:41
Broken switch ... can it be repaired?
Author: CliftonRailMuseum

So to set the background on this situation, I purchased this layout and my skill level is novice.
Whomever designed this layout really never thought much about doing track repairs. The lower level has a reverse loop and is unfortunately constructed such that it is nearly impossible to get to the lower level. The boards for the track are continuous and access to the rails on those boards is nearly impossible to reach. The rails are so high up against the next level that you can't see them without using a mirror and even then access is very, very tight.

So, the turnout on the lower level reverse loop is broken. I believe it to be an Atlas turnout but I'm not certain. It's operated by a Tortoise. The hinged point has come undone and the point on the sleeper ties where the actuator slides is also come lose from the small metal clip. I'm hoping to attach some photos (done with mirrors I might add). 

I'm certain I can get the joiner and "squared" end of rail reconnected without too much problem other than cussing a blue streak at having to work in such a confined environment. The bigger issue is reattaching it to the clip on the actuator. I don't believe I can realistically reclip it because I just don't think I can get to it well enough to do so. Alternatively, can I superglue the rail to the clip? Or can I tack it with solder (and not melt the plastic actuator throw where the clip is mounted)? Or am I really screwed and going to have to cut it out and replace it altogether?

Date: 05/07/19 10:58
Re: Broken switch ... can it be repaired?
Author: fbe

It will be easiest to just replace the entire switch.

Date: 05/07/19 11:04
Re: Broken switch ... can it be repaired?
Author: UPJeff

Looks like a Walthers turnout.

Jeff Smith
Lakewood, CA
RailMaster Hobbies

Date: 05/07/19 11:08
Re: Broken switch ... can it be repaired?
Author: CliftonRailMuseum

It might be.

Cutting it out is going to be a bear. You just can't get up into the layout from above this section to do any cutting.
It's my absolute LAST choice.

I can try to fix it and it not work and still cut it out in the blind, but I REALLY don't want to do that if there is any other alternative.


Date: 05/07/19 11:42
Re: Broken switch ... can it be repaired?
Author: spsunset

So much fun . I have repaired a switch in N scale in an easily reachable space but a bear to replace.
I would place your rail pieces where they need to go ,check with your mirror and superglue.
Make sure the rail contact points still touch rail .If the frog is powered so much the better.
Best of luck


Date: 05/07/19 13:16
Re: Broken switch ... can it be repaired?
Author: CliftonRailMuseum

OK. I wasn't sure the SuperGlue would hold the lateral force.


Date: 05/07/19 21:49
Re: Broken switch ... can it be repaired?
Author: SP4360

Looks like it would be easier to cut out with a dremel, it doesn't take up much space and as long as you cut it as close as possible to the length of the new switch, you should be able to use a rail nipper to fine finish the length of the cut. Just cut it as close to the center of the existing joints as possible.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 05/07/19 21:54 by SP4360.

Date: 05/08/19 04:14
Re: Broken switch ... can it be repaired?
Author: acltrainman

I had that happen the other day and fixed it bu resoldering the rail. Was easy as I had no overhead clearance problem. Worked fine now. I placed 2 toothpicks and resoldered, works great now.

Stanley Jackowski
Valrico, FL

Date: 05/08/19 04:42
Re: Broken switch ... can it be repaired?
Author: SPDRGWfan

I haven't done it myself, but many, when converting their DC Walthers turnouts to DCC friendly have to separate the points from the all metal tie-bar.  They replace it with a PC board tie-bar and solder the points to it.  Might be resistance soldering may be needed here as lower temp to avoid melting palstic.

I would definitely think that turnout can be repaired for sure.  It all depends on the methods and if you want to do it vs. buying another.

Date: 05/08/19 06:36
Re: Broken switch ... can it be repaired?
Author: ChrisCampi

The thing is none of us can really tell from the pictures how much overhead space you really have to work with. Twelve inches and you could probably solder the point back in. Six inches and cut it out with a dermal. I see lots of glue but can’t quite tell if the rail joiners are soldered or not. Your using a mirror so it’s got to be tight but what tools do you think you could get in there? If the joints aren’t soldered, I would cut the turnout in half, gently pry each half up and slip it out. Clean up as much glue as you can and install another number 8 in its place with new rail joiners slipped over the turnout rail so that they can be gently pushed onto the existing rail with a small screwdriver.

Maybe you have an option for better access on either side of the turnout where you could assemble a section of trackwork on the work bench by soldering some flex track to a new turnout and working a few feet from either end of the damaged one.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 05/09/19 13:05 by ChrisCampi.

Date: 05/08/19 08:10
Re: Broken switch ... can it be repaired?
Author: CliftonRailMuseum

The first picture is from above with an iPhone stuffed up in there. The top space is 6-8 inches max and there is a vertical board on the left that wouldn't let a high clearance car (like an autorack) thru. It's really, really tight and perhaps the biggest issue is the lack of visibility. You can't get your head up in there to see what you are doing, hence the mirrors. The problem with mirrors is the reverse image really plays with your head. You're doing everything in reverse of what you see and that doesn't sit well with most of our brains, so it's a challenge in its own right. I'm skill challenged anyway, so this just compounds that.

As I see it, from the great experienced opinions here, my plan of attack will be to: 
1)  reconnect the point rail where the joiner came off and solder the joint  
2)  open the switch to ensure proper angle and contact with the main rail and then stabilize that position with a toothpick in the actuator bar 
3)  try to tack solder the rail to the metal base plate (I haven't been able to get the clip over the rail) being careful not to overheat. I purchased a small battery operated soldering iron that is about 6 inches long with the hope that it will allow sufficient manueverability to let me get to the spot.  
4)  if I can't get into layout enough to do (3), then I will forego the solder and attempt to anchor it to the actuator bar with some type of quick set epoxy. I'm afraid SuperGlue won't have the lateral strength necessary to have a lasting bond. 
5)  my last option will be remove the turnout and replace it, but with the reverse loop there are some gap issues that will more than challenge my novice status especially given the tight work space ... so it's my very last choice. 

I'm on the road now and will be all next week so I won't get to this for a while. In the meantime, I'm just avoiding the undertable reverse loop. I'd video the process and put it on YouTube but I'm not sure I can edit out all the swearing at the bozo that designed this  

THANKS to all for the great insight and advice. Now who volunteers to do this  ;) 

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 05/08/19 09:06 by CliftonRailMuseum.

Date: 05/08/19 12:42
Re: Broken switch ... can it be repaired?
Author: Josta

I would drill out the rivet holding the metal base plate to the throw bar, and let the lower piece of rivet fall in the hole visible in the picture.

Then, on your workbench solder the switch point rail to the metal base plate, back the way it was.  You wouldn't have to worry about heat damaging the plastic here as the rail and base plate are removed from the switch.

After reconnecting the hinged point with a rail joiner, glue the metal base plate (with rail) back to the throw bar.  This way you have a much larger area to make contact between the plate and throw bar.  I think superglue will work here especially with the larger area.  Or, try E6000, which is truly my favorite overall glue, which will also give you more working time to be sure everything is lined up.

John Acosta
Big Bear Lake, CA

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 05/08/19 12:43 by Josta.

Date: 05/08/19 17:51
Re: Broken switch ... can it be repaired?
Author: CliftonRailMuseum

I like that idea. How long do I have with E6000 before it sets? I need some time but I don't want too much time as I suspect this whole thing is going to be hard to keep aligned.

Do you think I could find a screw small/long enough to put it thru the hole where the rivet was? I have some 3/4" track nails that might fit if I could put a "curl" on the top to keep it from moving around too much? It might not be pretty but nobody's going to see this anyway. Heck, I can barely see it to work on it.

Just thinking out loud. 

Date: 05/08/19 23:55
Re: Broken switch ... can it be repaired?
Author: TCnR

Agree with Walthers / Shinohara later style turnout, they were just discontinued and are getting to be hard to find. I've had this happen a few times and I was able to repair them in place but certainly not with those constraints.

Perhaps slide the rail joiners off or cut them with a Xacto-saw, then lift the switch out, do the work on the bench? Definitely the kind of work that calls for an Opti-visor or similar. My problem was the plastic ties and/or the plastic throw bar melting, the soldering iron at the Layout is not the best.

If the repair doesn't work, you're halfway to putting in a new switch in anyways, if you can find one. I've regressed to picking up the previous design on EBay and then adding four saw cuts close to the frog to isolate the frog and prevent shorting due to the older throw bar design. It's not perfect continuity in all cases but it's fairly close.

+ my approach would be to saw cut the the two rail joiners at the single track end, then wiggle the four remaining rail joiners out of place, letting the switch motor rod drop out at the same time. Looks like some RTV or hot glue holding the track down, either dig it out or slide an Xacto saw under the tie strip and work towards the glue, you may loose some of the cork material. I've done that level of surgery on the layout before but without the space issue. At one time I had thought hot glue on hidden track was a clever idea as well.

You may be able to extend the track out of the problem area while you're at it, certainly some Mission creep but maybe the long term fix and perhaps a good time for it. I had planned on a tight helix like that but quickly changed to more of a stacked spiral for a number of reasons.

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 05/09/19 00:13 by TCnR.

Date: 05/09/19 04:24
Re: Broken switch ... can it be repaired?
Author: SPDRGWfan

TCnR Wrote:
> Agree with Walthers / Shinohara later style
> turnout, they were just discontinued and are
> getting to be hard to find. 

Indeed.  I've noticed certain Walthers turnouts are getting much harder to find on eBay and prices are going up vs. only a few months ago.

Date: 05/09/19 08:12
Re: Broken switch ... can it be repaired?
Author: Josta

You'll have about 5-10 minutes with E6000 before it starts to set.

Not sure if a screw would work; it'd drag on the bottom of the tie.  I think gluing is your best bet; hold it in place with extended handle thumbtacks.

John Acosta
Big Bear Lake, CA

Date: 05/14/19 21:46
Re: Broken switch ... can it be repaired?
Author: CliftonRailMuseum

Put my ears back and got this done today. Had to resolder the joiner to the point rail and then I elected to SuperGlue the point to the switch slide plate. The clip on the back side of the plate was broken off. I couldn't see it until the rail was removed so re-clipping it was not an option.

As pointed out before the work space is very limited and visibility is a real issue because you can't get your eyes above the roadbed. I used mirrors and practiced working backwards before I moved forward with reattaching the rail to the slide. 

Because of the limited work space and the difficulty in holding the rail in the proper location while attempting to glue it and desperately wanting to avoid getting glue on the switch slide mechanism, I elected to go with SuperGlue. Much to my surprise it did the job. I'm not sure about durability, but I guess I'll find about that as time goes along. Right now it functions perfectly and all is well my layout underworld.

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Date: 05/15/19 12:35
Re: Broken switch ... can it be repaired?
Author: CliftonRailMuseum

Still shot
The bottom rail in the photo is the one that required the repair.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 05/15/19 12:37 by CliftonRailMuseum.

Date: 05/16/19 14:49
Re: Broken switch ... can it be repaired?
Author: tq-07fan

That you got this to work so well is amazing! I talked about your situation just last night at our N scale group as our one guy is using KATO Unitrack on the underneath parts of his layout and in his helixs, in part in case anything fails like this it can be replaced much easier. I will let them know you got your turnout to work. Good job!


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 05/16/19 14:49 by tq-07fan.

Date: 05/16/19 18:01
Re: Broken switch ... can it be repaired?
Author: CliftonRailMuseum

Thanks. That's a GREAT idea about using modular, quick connect track in the hard-to-get-to parts of the layout.

I bought this one so I didn't have the luxury of making decisions because whoever designed this with SO much under-table trackage with such grossly limited access should be shot at sunrise. It's blatantly obvious the designers/builders knew they would never have to work on the layout after it left the build site.


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