In the last few months, the DCC system on Hedley-Junction started to fail... First, it was Rapido's SW1200RS locomotives acting funnily. For some weird reason, when we started using these locomotives, some issues with decoders started to appear. Other locomotives on the layout at the same time started to have serious problems. Motors acted weirdly, producing unhealthy noises, then, we loss control of them. Some would be be running perfectly forward but would run full speed at step 1 on reverse. Worst, for some, you could control the sound but they were idling, unable to move.
Then, I started to run some brand new locomotives from my collection and they would perform fine. A reset was performed on the DCC system and a few locomotives. Finally, all battery from the control cabs were replaced. It kind of worked, but we couldn't salvaged the SW1200RS which are, for the foreseeable future shelf queens until investigation kick off.
It was a really frustrating moment. Coming back from the lockdown, restarting the club meeting and feeling the mechanical aspect of the layout is crumbling apart was disheartening at best. So much efforts to reach that point wasn't fun at all. We are now embarking in a program to reset decoders, readjust each locomotives, clean and lube them. Two years of semi-hiatus wasn't great for the layout.
Also, over the last year, a strange chemical process started to attack the nickel-silver rails. Corrosion similar to rust started to pit the rail surface. Dark brown and black, these spots couldn't be removed by chemicals or polishing. A small test section polished with 320 grit sandpaper removed some spots, but they reappeared quickly. We all know sandpaper is never a solution anyway.
This corrosion creates all kind of issues with the locomotives. It's particularly problematic with sound equipped models. So far, it seems Athearn Genesis geeps are performing the best. I may be warming toward newer Athearn products to be honest. I'm not a fan of the flimsy details, but I have to admit after a two year hiatus, they are still performing brilliantly. However, most other locomotives aren't so lucky.
We've been investigating the rails using a magnifying glass and lots of micro abrasion can be seen. To be frankly honest, in the early days of the layout, our methods were coarse like many beginners and we didn't care enough for our rails. Now, we pay the price. However, the corrosion issue is strange. Temperature and humidity conditions didn't change since the early days of this layout. The spots appears everywhere, but are much more present in Villeneuve yard were a lot of ballast was glued down using powdered resin wood glue. I've wondered if this could have created a chemical reaction, but it doesn't seem to be a likely cause.
At the end of the day, fighting this corrosion is almost a lost battle as the last few months have proven. We do our best to keep track clean, but there is a limit to what we can achieve. As we speak, we have started to equip a few stubborn locomotives with keep alives. This isn't my first choice solution, but it certainly improves greatly performances by making the locomotives run flawlessly.
With these lessons learned, I know I'll take more care with rails on Monk Subdivision. Live and learn, once again!