Getting Started with Model Trains: 5 Tips to Pick a Locomotive

If you’re just getting started with model trains, you should know that a quality locomotive is key. A good one will make all the difference in the world. Here are 5 tips to pick a good locomotive.

If You’re Going to Skimp, Don’t Do it on the Locomotive

I’m not made of money. So I like to save when I can. My wife calls it being cheap. (I would call it being sensible.)

However, if you’re getting started with model trains, don’t skimp on the locomotive. Nothing is more frustrating than having a locomotive that you need to push to get going. It’s worse if it suddenly speeds up and falls off the tracks.

Getting started with model trains

A locomotive runs by picking up the electricity from the track through its wheels. The wheels transfer the electricity to the motor, which then turns the gears to drive the locomotive.

A locomotive with poor pickup on the wheels or a poor gear set up will give you lots of problems. As with most things, you get what you pay for… but this is one area you do not want to skimp on.

A great operating locomotive is 90% of the way to having a fantastic model train layout.

So with that in mind, let’s get to the 5 Tips.

5 Tips to Picking a Good Quality Locomotive

When buying a locomotive these points are critical:

  1. The amount of metal wheels that pick up the electricity – the more the better, but definitely more than 1 set.
  2. A good gearing ratio and motor which requires the least amount of electricity to move the locomotive, with a slow but smooth start.
  3. Flywheels at one or both ends of the motor to ensure a smooth take off and smooth stop.
  4. The weight of the locomotive should be just right to maintain a good connection to the track at all times but not too heavy to make the locomotive sluggish.
  5. The length of the locomotive – shorter diesel locomotives are less likely to derail on the curves than longer steam locomotives.

Most hobby shops will let you test the locomotive on their in-house test tracks before you buy.

Test the locomotive forwards and backwards… Check for a nice smooth take off and a nice smooth stop when the power is ramped up or down.

I usually go into my local hobby shop after doing my research online, test the locomotive, and then I negotiate the price. That tip has saved me nearly 30% of the retail price in some cases.

Conclusion

Buy quality when you buy your locomotives… I guarantee the investment will be well worth it.

If you would like more info or are looking for a good starter Resource, check out this website on Model Trains for Beginners.

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