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North East Trains
Review and Photos By George Brown, OGR staff
Twin pad track cleaning car for 3-rail operation: Metal construction with plastic detail parts. Base car with plastic trucks and without detail parts, $49.95; Base kit with plastic trucks and unpainted detail parts, $59.95; Deluxe with detail parts and die cast trucks, $69.95; Deluxe with detail parts, die cast trucks, track cleaning fluid, and extra pads, $79.95. Extra track cleaning pads, $2.95/dozen. Hand built in USA by North East Trains, 18 Main Street, Peabody, MA 01960. Phone: 978-532-1615; Fax: 978-532-2282. Web site: netrains.com
Track cleaning is the project that I enthusiastically <yawn> undertake right after dusting all of the editorial CCRR's [Carpet Central Railroad] rolling stock and vacuuming the train room carpet <yawn - groan>. Actually, clean track is one of the major keys to reliable and consistent train operation, right after good electrical power distribution and connections to the track.
For several years, I used mechanics rags moistened with contact cleaner to manually clean each of the three tracks on our layout. This method worked rather well, or so I thought, but it took a while, and as the Carpet Central Railroad grew with new reversing loops, yard and team tracks, accessories, and buildings, some of the main line track between the yards and the train room wall got rather difficult to reach. But I persisted with manual wiping and spectacular gymnastics to reach the hard-to-reach track that is, until my wife Kitty suggested that we get a track cleaning car, several times (on some points, I can be rather thick-headed).
Of the several track cleaning cars advertised in OGR, the North East Trains car appealed to me with its dual pads for wiping the rails plus I liked its decoration details that gave it the appearance of a maintenance-of-way car, which it is. So I ordered one, the deluxe car with die cast sprung trucks, plus extra pads and an 8-ounce bottle of track cleaning fluid.
With a natural-finish frame made from 1/4" x 2 1/4" x 8 5/8" aluminum bar stock, the car has a solid and hefty feel, plus at 1 pound and 6 ounces, it has the weight to hold the rails. Hex head machine screws hold the deluxe model's die cast trucks to the frame. These trucks are modern roller-bearing style with all-metal thumbtack couplers; they roll smoothly and track solidly.
Components on the top of the frame are strictly cosmetic but they really add to its appearance, especially the reproduction plastic diesel generator of Lionel searchlight car fame. On my car, a figure that appears to be pushing a cask with his foot is hand-painted, as are the tool box, kegs, and a large tank. Although the tank is a dummy, apparently some folks in the past thought it was functional since the instruction sheet advises not to attempt to remove its cap. An indestructible piano wire handrail is at each end of the car.
The car's working components are two cleaning pad carriers made from aluminum bar and plate stock. A pair of 1/4" shank hex-head cap screws, riding in precision-drilled holes in the frame, suspends each of the pad carriers under the car, where they are free to "float" up and down against the rails. On each carrier, a thick 2 1/4" x 3 1/4" felt pad wraps around the bar stock with its ends clamped between the bar and plate; two cap screws hold each carrier assembly together. Pads are fairly easy to change using a 1/8" hex wrench or driver, but you have to be careful to not over-tighten the cap screws into the pad carriers. The clamping plate is fairly soft aluminum so an over-torqued cap screw can chew into it. A tip for pad replacement using a short piece of masking tape to initially hold the ends of the pad together on its carrier makes reassembly a snap.
Before the car's first cleaning run on the CCRR, I pre-cleaned several months of accumulated oil and grime from the rails using my traditional manual and gymnastic method. Then, following North East Trains recommendation, I moistening the forward pad with a bit of the Life-Like track cleaning fluid that was included with the car, leaving the rear one dry to wipe excess fluid from the rails. Actually, the car is bi-directional whichever pad is moistened runs as the forward one. The car went to work, running several times around the CCRR's outer loop, behind our workhorse Southern Pacific NW-2.
How well does the car clean the rails? Well let's just say that after its first run, I was aghast at the grunge that the car took off the already "cleaned" rails. After changing pads, I ran the car around the line again -- this time the pads remained fairly clean. Two more pairs of pads traveled over the rest of our track and it was really clean, possibly for the first time in many years.
Initially, I was a bit concerned that the felt pads might tend to hang on some of the rougher joints in our tubular track, or on switch points or frogs. My concern proved to be unfounded, as the pads neither snagged nor picked anything. It also helps that the lower front and rear edges of both carriers are beveled. I did find that a wisp of powdered graphite applied to the tops of the cap screw shanks, where they ride through the car's frame, seemed to help the pad carriers follow the continual irregularities in our track.
The car's instruction sheet states that just about any cleaning medium can be used to clean the top of the rails, including Scotch Brite abrasive pads, although they strongly advise against using sandpaper as it can take plating off the rail head.
With the North East Trains track-cleaning car, a drudge chore has turned into fun operating sessions, with a track-cleaning work train.
For more information or to order, please stop by our store at
18 Main Street, Peabody, MA 01960
or call us at (978) 532-1615
Questions or comments? email us at