Improving Your Train’s Performance

Performance Enhancement

Rail Tales can often improve the performance of your locomotives and rolling stock. However due to time and other restrictions, Rail Tales can no longer work on anything other than Marklin, vintage Lionel, and trains bought from our store.

Couplers: Older rolling stock and locomotives were typically equipped with primitive coupler devices (known as ‘horn’ couplers in HO and ‘Rapido’ couplers in N) that do not look realistic and never functioned particularly reliably. Also many modern trains with ‘knuckle’ style couplers have flimsy devices that eventually break. Rail Tales can replace this equipment with modern spring loaded knuckle couplers to keep your cars together. Prices vary widely depending on the complexity of the job. Some we can do for you in the store while you wait with parts off the shelf. Some require specialized parts and are more difficult to install. With a few basic tools and a little patience, you can do this yourself.

Wheelsets: Nearly all older trains and more than half of modern trains have plastic wheels. These work fine in N scale (although metal wheels are better) but for HO and O scales, they should be replaced with metal wheels for better performance and a cleaner track. We sell the upgrades and can show you how to install them. These are normally an item the customer can easily replace at home.

Trucks: Many trains, old or new, have flimsy ‘trucks’ (the thing that holds the wheels and attaches to the bottom of the train car). For better performance and appearance, these can be replaced by upgraded trucks (which also typically include better wheels). This is often a very simple operation that the consumer can perform at home but it does require the correct truck set which Rail Tales will help you pick out. Sometimes installing an improved truck is more challenging and better left to us. Typically a new truck set can be installed for $10.00 even in challenging cases. With a few basic tools and patience and ingenuity, you can do this yourself.

Lights: A great many locomotives, most in fact, come with some sort of working headlight. Real trains typically also have some combination of ditch lights, number board lights, reverse lights, cab lights, flashers, and more. We can add these to your locomotive and we can add interior lights to your passenger cars and caboose. We can also replace existing lights with brighter ones or ones that are the right color. Costs vary depending on what is being installed in the model but estimates are free. New lights can be as low as $12.00 installed. If you are comfortable with electronics and have the ability to solder, you can do this yourself.

Recommendation: we prefer to use Evans brand LEDs for lighting upgrades. These are cheap, forgiving, adaptable, and last forever.

Power Pickups: Older trains often don’t have very good electrical pick-up systems to convey power from the track to the motor and other working parts. Rail Tales can improve the pickup systems. Costs vary depending on the model but estimates are free. Expect to spend at least $40.00, so not every model is worth this modification. This is difficult to do yourself and can go terribly wrong. We can explain the procedure but if you are not very comfortable with working on your trains, don’t try this.

Motors: Many older trains, especially old hand-built brass models, don’t have especially good motors in them and would be greatly enhanced by the installation of modern ‘can’ style efficient motors. Costs vary depending on the model but estimates are free. Expect to spend at least $60.00, so not every model is worth this modification. This is easy to do in cases where a motor replacement is made for a specific train but is otherwise challenging.

Digital Systems: This topic is covered at our Going Digital page.