A bit of a problem...
#1
As mentioned elsewhere, I recently finished some ballasting work on the partial second level of my layout. I used real rock (limestone screenings), fixed in place with diluted white glue, the same as for the rest of the upper level.
Once the glue had dried, I cleaned the rails and decided to run a locomotive over the newly ballasted area in order to check for any problems with ballast in switch point or guard rails. When I turned on the power (MRC ControlMaster 20) and opened the thottle on the handheld walkaround, the locomotive moved, but very slowly and only after turning up the speed control to almost full. I noticed on the separate ammeter, that to achieve that very low speed, the current was at three amps (the maximum amount capable of showing on that meter). I removed the loco and tried a different one, with the same results. I also noticed that with no locomotive on the track, when the throttle knob was advanced, the current showing on the meter increased in the same manner.

The layout is DC-controlled, and I have the ability to use any one of several different throttles, depending on the position of several toggle switches on the layout fascia. The usual throttle is a pulse width modulation type from a local supplier. It's been very reliable, and gives very good speed control and offers the ability to run an almost unlimited number of locomotives at one time (useful for heavy trains on my layout, which has many grades, some up to 2.8% ). The PWM throttle uses AC current from the ControlMaster 20. Thinking that the issue might be with the throttle, I flipped the appropriate switches and instead, plugged-in the MRC throttle which came with the CM 20...it uses DC current from the CM 20. The results were exactly the same: no engine response until the throttle knob was well-past what usually represents running speed, and a maximum draw showing on the ammeter, whether or not the locomotive was on the tracks.

The layout is intended for a single operator, so there are no blocks as would be required for multiple operators. The trackplan is point-to-point (actually multiple points) with an ability for continuous running if lift-outs at the room's entrance are in place - they're usually not, and weren't when this occurred.

In each town through which the track passes, the mainline is doubled, and those tracks are controlled by toggle switches which can kill one or both tracks, as necessary, if I want to run one train past another. The power for dead-end tracks used for industries, in most cases, can also be killed, useful for parking a locomotive while another train runs by. All of the staging tracks have on/off switches, too, as ready-to-run trains are often stored there.
The tracks between towns are, when the power is on, always live, as there are wires under the layout connecting these sections which are otherwise separated by the kill-able double tracks within the towns.

I'm guessing that since the meter is showing a current draw, even when there's no locomotive on a live track, that the problem must be somewhere on those live sections. However, the ballasting work was done on a section of kill-able double track, with no changes elsewhere. There are no tools laying on the tracks anywhere, nothing partially derailed and causing an electrical issue, and no apparent cause for what's occurring - the trains ran perfectly-well immediately before ballasting, as I ran tests to ensure that all trackwork was physically and electrically sound. I also checked the ballast with a magnet, which showed no response - nothing at all within it magnetic, and the same stuff and same application method had already been used previously on other areas, without incident.

If anybody has thoughts on this, I'm eager to hear what you have to say, as I'm stumped.

Wayne
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#2
The ballast may have an iron etc. share and act as a (poor) conductor. I would stick two probes in the ballast and measure the resistance of the new ballast and somewhere else in an isolated old area.
Reinhard
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#3
You mentioned that the section is kill-able. Have you tried Isolating that section? Does the rest of the layout work when that section is isolated? Is it possible to cut gaps in the rails to isolate the new section?

Tom
Life is simple - Eat, Drink, Play with trains

Occupation: Professional Old Guy (The government pays me to be old.)
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#4
faraway Wrote:The ballast may have an iron etc. share and act as a (poor) conductor. I would stick two probes in the ballast and measure the resistance of the new ballast and somewhere else in an isolated old area.

No resistance showing at all for the ballast on any of the layout, old or new. Thinking that the glue used to hold it in place might, at the spots where I tested, be acting as an insulator, I also plunge the tester probes into a container of the same ballast - no resistance at all.


FiatFan Wrote:You mentioned that the section is kill-able. Have you tried Isolating that section? Does the rest of the layout work when that section is isolated? Is it possible to cut gaps in the rails to isolate the new section?

Tom

There are kill-able sections at every town, for most industrial tracks, and in all staging areas. When the newly ballasted kill-able area is live, a locomotive will run on it, but abnormally slowly with a full-on throttle setting, and with the ammeter showing 3 amps (its maximum reading). If I kill that section, (and all other kill-able sections are still unpowered) the loco won't run, but when the throttle is advanced, the meter shows the same high draw. If I leave all kill-able sections off, I can run a loco on the sections that are not killable, but with the same performance: very low speed at high throttle settings, and a 3 amp draw.
I don't know if it's of any consequence, but the layout is wired very simply following the Atlas book, and using a common rail set-up. Immediately before this ballasting (literally minutes), everything was working well, as it always has.

I do appreciate the suggestions, as the electrical side of the layout is mostly a mystery to me...that's why it was done following the simple outline in the Atlas book, and up until this episode, everything worked as it should.

EDIT: It just occurred to me: could the power source (the CM 20) be failing? I just now tried to run an Atlas diesel, with the usual results. Just to see what would happen, I flipped the switch on the CM 20 which switches from N/HO scale to G scale power. The diesel ran in the same manner, but the CM 20 emitted a not-too-noticeable "click" and the loco stopped. In a couple of seconds, it resumed moving, then another "click" and it stopped again. I flipped the switch back to HO, and got the same results, although the click wasn't as noticeable. I've been reluctant to let the locomotive keep running for too long, for fear that it would trip the internal breaker of the CM 20, given the relatively high amperage showing on the meter. I get the same results with other locomotives and on different parts of the layout, too.

Wayne
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#5
As I was reading the section above the edit the same thought occurred to me: power supply. Do you have access to a different one that you could hook up temporarily?

Tom
Life is simple - Eat, Drink, Play with trains

Occupation: Professional Old Guy (The government pays me to be old.)
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#6
It sounds like you have a short that is draining power to something other than the track.
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#7
MountainMan Wrote:It sounds like you have a short that is draining power to something other than the track.

That's my thinking, too, but I haven't yet found what it might be.


FiatFan Wrote:As I was reading the section above the edit the same thought occurred to me: power supply. Do you have access to a different one that you could hook up temporarily?

Tom

Yeah, I have an old transformer, and I hooked it up directly to the track - the first test was on the track which, when the CM 20 is "ON", is always live. The locomotive ran, but very slowly, as before. Interestingly, to me, at least, is that the power light on CM 20 began to glow, so I'm guessing that power from the transformer was flowing into the CM 20, even though the latter device wasn't turned on. It was, of course, still connected to the layout.

Next, I put the loco on one of the switchable tracks which had been newly ballasted. The switch to that track was in the "OFF" position, so that section of track, despite the common rail, was isolated from any track that is normally powered track. When the transformer was connected directly to the track, and the power pack turned "ON", the locomotive responded immediately and took off at higher speeds than normally used on the layout.

I'm not sure if that means that the CM 20 is faulty, or, if there's something draining power from it, perhaps beneath the layout.

I'll have to have a look there later tonight.

Wayne
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#8
doctorwayne Wrote:Next, I put the loco on one of the switchable tracks which had been newly ballasted. The switch to that track was in the "OFF" position, so that section of track, despite the common rail, was isolated from any track that is normally powered track. When the transformer was connected directly to the track, and the power pack turned "ON", the locomotive responded immediately and took off at higher speeds than normally used on the layout.

I'll have to have a look there later tonight.

Wayne

Try this with the CM 20! Disconnect it and run the wires to that same section and see if the engine runs better. If they run normally, then you do have a short somewhere.

Also, it could be that the glue isn't completely dry. It may clear up in a day or so.
~~ Mikey KB3VBR (Admin)
~~ NARA Member # 75

~~ I wonder what that would look like in 1:20.3???
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#9
Wayne
What is the current draw with no loco on the tracks?

Did you play with any wires while you were ballasting?

PS When I ballasted a bit of my layout, I managed to get one point so that it wouldn't flip unless I moved it right at the pivot. Probably wouldn't create your problem.
David
Moderato ma non troppo
Perth & Exeter Railway Company
Esquesing & Chinguacousy Radial Railway
In model railroading, there are between six and two hundred ways of performing a given task.
Most modellers can get two of them to work.
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#10
I just spent the last 2 1/2 hours inspecting all of the wiring under both levels of the layout. All wires to toggle switches were solidly connected, with none touching one another, and all wire connections to the track are solidly soldered in place. I found no bare wires touching any others, and no debris on the track or in the turnouts. Everything appears to be as it should.

I also disconnected the CM 20, and substituted the old power pack in its place (this takes the walkaround throttles out of the equation). I activated a section of track in that immediate area, and a locomotive on that track responded the same as it did when the CM 20 was in place: the loco moved, but extremely slowly - no meter reading because it's connected to the CM 20, but I'd guess it to be a similar 3 amps.

The trial with the old power pack connected to track controlled by a separate ON/OFF switch (isolated by gaps at both ends) resulted in normal running, so whatever the problem is, it must be within the tracks running between towns, as when track power is on, those tracks are always live. Attempting to run a train on them, whether power is supplied by the CM 20 or the old transformer, yields the same results - slow running and high current draw.

BR60103 Wrote:What is the current draw with no loco on the tracks?....

David, with no loco, and the throttle knob off, no current draw, and with no loco and the throttle knob turned up, the ammeter shows 3 amps.

BR60103 Wrote:....Did you play with any wires while you were ballasting?....

No, all of the wiring was done long before ballasting, and the track had been used regularly - I wanted to be sure that everything worked before adding ballast.

BR60103 Wrote:...When I ballasted a bit of my layout, I managed to get one point so that it wouldn't flip unless I moved it right at the pivot. Probably wouldn't create your problem.

I was pretty fussy about ballast application, and made sure to apply plastic compatible oil to the ties over which the points move. After flipping them back and forth a few times to distribute the oil, the points were parked in a mid-throw position. After the ballast and white glue had dried, I went over the track with a light and an X-Acto knife to remove any ballast in places it shouldn't be. All of the turnouts function as they should (manual operation) and I made sure to scrape any dried glue from the points and stock rails where the two meet.
All of the ballast work of that session was on track controlled by fascia-mounted toggle switches, and the test mentioned previously, with the CM 20 off and the old power pack hooked directly to the newly-ballasted track, resulted in normal speed operation. I don't think that the ballast work has anything to do with this problem, it just happened to occur right after ballasting

Wayne
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#11
Can the oil on the turnouts be causing the problem?

Tom
Life is simple - Eat, Drink, Play with trains

Occupation: Professional Old Guy (The government pays me to be old.)
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#12
Sounds like the oil may be the problem as Tom mentioned.
Mike

Sent from my pocket calculator using two tin cans and a string
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#13
Wayne, have you checked the whole layout or are you just looking at the new addition? There could be a misplaced tool elsewhere causing the problem.
Charlie
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#14
I've always done oiling of turnouts before ballasting, and have never had a problem caused by it, but I'll have a look and see if I can clean up any excess. Usually, all traces of it have disappeared by the time the ballast glue has hardened.

And, Charlie, yeah, I've checked the entire layout and can't find anything unusual - no tools or fallen-off parts on the track, and generally no debris at all, as I've recently vacuumed most of the track, usually the only track cleaning procedure needed other than that cleaning needed after ballasting. No disconnected wires underneath the benchwork, or anything else unusual apparent.

Wayne
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#15
I think it is time to separate the wiring into parts and isolate the failure.
The usual way is to split it in halve than the failing halve into quarters etc. Connect the ampere meter to the power pack and watch when the current goes back to normal.
Maybe a very first test with the power pack only, two wires and a sectional track with an engine to be sure the power pack and it's surrounding is fine.
Good luck! It's a nasty bug.
Reinhard
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