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chris

Track Bonding

7 posts in this topic

Maintaining electrical continuity on a model railway is important and it's a bit trickier when your track is open to the elements. In all the excitement of building the first section of your garden railway you won't think twice about the electrics as your train runs beautifully on shinny new track, but a few months of weather later and your trains will be stuttering to a halt. It won't be the dirt on the rail surface that has caused the problem, but the absence of power in the rail. Outdoors, rail joiners (fish plates) are for keeping your tracks aligned, they cannot be relied upon to make an electrical connection. When your railway is in your garden you must bond all your track joins.

To bond two rails together you need to connect them with a wire soldered to the end of each rail. This is how I go about it.

Preparation

I do as much as possible indoors because I find it easier to solder sat at a table rather than stood in the garden.

I find it best to start with a new box of track, a fresh clean rail is much easier to solder than track that's been exposed to the climate. Open the box and take half of the track out.

I then slice the chairs off the end sleeps (both ends) of all the track to make room for the rail joiners.

I then fire up my soldering iron (please watch a few YouTube videos on caring for a new iron before you start using your new one).

Soldering

With a hot iron I "tin" the outside of each rail between the 2nd and 3rd sleeper. I use a flux pen on the rail side and lead free solder (both from Maplin) and my 40 watt temperature controlled iron. How hot? as hot as needed (up to 425ºc when working outside). Tinning is the process of soldering a small amount of solder onto metal, this prepares the metal ready for you to make the join. With practice you will be able to tin a rail without heating the metal up too much, but to start off with you will find the plastic chair and even sleeper will melt a bit.

For wire I use 5amp fuse wire. I pull a length of it between my thumb and sandpaper a few times to remove the tarnish and then I solder it to my tinned rail. I leave a tail of wire about 6cm long ready to be joined to the next rail. Sometimes I'll have bonding tails on both rails on both ends (4 wires) sometimes I'll just do one end (2 wires).

When I can, I'll join a couple of lengths of track together inside and bond them up, I can still carry them about without a problem.

Outside

Once outside I find it relatively easy to solder a bonding wire to a tinned rail. I haven't had to solder two tails together, yet.

This all works fine for straight track. When it comes to bends you will have to cut your track to length so you won't be able to tin straight from the box. Which is why I only do half a box when I open it.

As I said at the start. I do as much as possible indoors because it's a lot lot easier working at the kitchen table than on your hands and knees (or on an 8" shelf) in the garden.

Bonding or Bus

A second approach to powering the track is to have a bus cable running under your track. Each length of track is then connected (solder and wire) to the "bus bar". This way of working is more popular on indoor railways because you solder to the bottom of the rail and run your wire straight though the baseboard making it very hard to see. Outdoors you want as few holes as possible in your baseboard so you still get to see the wires as you do with bonding.

A bus bar does have the advantage of being one continuos wire without any breaks in it so you know that it's going to have power along its full length and if you use a chunky enough cable you won't have to worry about resistance in rails and bonds or with voltage drop. I have a bus bar, but only make use of it inside my shed and for a lift out section at the top of the garden.

The collective advice of this forum is bonding rather than bus.

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Thanks for the reminder about this little job which I am actually doing now after 6 years of running. Droppers already in when originally laid are still doing their job but having made the big mistake of using the fishplates for continuty for the rest its now all faltering all over the place. Just glad that I am not on my hands and knees for this almighty task. In total about 3 scale miles of track to get sorted. Should keep me busy for a few weeks when the weather is nice to us garden railway runners. Until this has been completed no running on the GGR.

Ian

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Cheers for the topic Chris. This is definitely something I need to do this year. I guess I have been lucky that so far everything is still running ok, but I know it will deteriorate. I have a slight concern that I have not tried soldering since school, but your advice has given me some confidence! As the track has been in the garden for nearly a year now, anything that may prove a challenge? I guess I may need to clean the rails before starting to solder.

Andy.

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AndyR,

First task I would say,is to clean the sides of rails for any soldering, otherwise you'll have problems making a true contact.

As for relying on fishplates for continuity, this is definitely a no no out of doors. And I'm the last to give advice on this as I have probably only soldered two or three rail joints, but the point was driven home again the other day after some rain. One circuit was completely dead for half of the layout. By tweaking at fishplates with pliers and tiny screwdriver I managed to shift their position slightly, and Hey Presto, the electrics flowed again. Rain water brings debris etc between the plates. Even wind,(we constantly have to fight against sand particles).

So now, I have given a priority to bonding the rails, even though my soldering skills are abysmal. It's taken a couple of years to reach this decision but now I'm going to do it with every replaced piece of track. ..Crikey! That's like a delayed New Years resolution!

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Hear hear, Chris! I did my bonding exactly as you described, during tracklaying last year. However I managed to miss a couple of joints, and they now require a tweak every time I run. When the rain finally stops, I'll be out there with the soldering iron!

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Don't forget to look at the very similar Bonding Track thread that has developed in a different part of the site:

 

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