A Good Quality Locomotive Is Essential

model train layout

steam locomotive on model train outlet

A good quality locomotive will make all the difference…

It can be very frustrating having a locomotive that you need to push to get going, or it suddenly speeds up and falls off the tracks.

A locomotive runs by picking up the electricity from the track through its wheels. The wheels transfer the electricity to the motor, which then turns the gears to drive the locomotive.

A locomotive with poor pickup on the wheels or a poor gear set up will give you lots of problems. As with most things, you get what you pay for… but this is one area you do not want to skimp on. A great operating locomotive is 90% of the way to having a fantastic model train layout.

When buying a locomotive these points are critical:

  • 1) The amount of metal wheels that pick up the electricity – the more the better, but definitely more than 1 set.
  • 2) A good gearing ratio and motor which requires the least amount of electricity to move the locomotive, with a slow but smooth start.
  • 3) Flywheels at one or both ends of the motor to ensure a smooth take off and smooth stop.
  • 4) The weight of the locomotive should be just right to maintain a good connection to the track at all times but not too heavy to make the locomotive sluggish.
  • 5) The length of the locomotive – shorter diesel locomotives are less likely to derail on the curves than longer steam locomotives.

Most hobby shops will let you test the locomotive on their in-house test tracks before you buy.

Test the locomotive forwards and backwards… Check for a nice smooth take off and a nice smooth stop when the power is ramped up or down.

I usually go into my local hobby shop after doing my research online, test the locomotive, and then I know what price to negotiate around…

That tip has saved me nearly 30% of the retail price in some cases…

Buy quality when you buy your locomotives… I guarantee the investment will be well worth it.

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Dan Morgan

Dan Morgan fell in love with model trains at the age of six when he visited an NMRA Convention in Seattle with his father. Forty two years later, his passion remains just as strong. After achieving a successful career in architecture, Dan’s particular interest is within layouts and buildings. With a wealth of knowledge on the subject, Dan loves nothing more than sharing this with others and is delighted in the forum of members who are brought together over the hobby they have in common. Dan lives with his wife Helen in Washington. As a professional painter, Helen has learnt through Dan about Model Trains and they now enjoy working on projects together. The only member of the family who isn’t allowed to join in is their over-enthusiastic Labrador called William who has been strictly banned from the workshop! You can find Dan on Google here!

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Leave A Reply (14 comments So Far)


  1. JIM A
    6 years ago

    I also check MFG websites for refurbished deals. People are afraid of refurbished models but what I have found is that they are better because they have actuall been tested and run. New models come off the line get wrapped and put into a box. This is especially good if you are buying today and going to run later when your layout is done.


  2. Lee
    6 years ago

    As the old saying goes, “It’s easier said than done.” What you say is true through experiance: what is a good ratio, you don’t say; 5 pole skewed armature motor with flywheels – that’s what we read on the engine specs but what does that really mean; Accumate couplers – is that as good as Kadee or any of other couplers and is this coupler compatable with the others; weight of the loco – who and the heck knows? You’re right about one thing, you pay for quality! Oh, wait. It’s made in China. Throw the quality factor out the window. Never mind me, I’m just a frustrated American; however, get technical and let’s talk specs in layman terms for the newbies – please.


  3. Dan Morgan
    6 years ago

    Hey Lee, if you want to discuss the technical stuff in layman’s terms come over to the forum at http://www.homodeltrains.info/forum/ Cheers Dan


  4. Ronald L. ( Ron ) Pierce
    6 years ago

    Great info on what to look for in an engine. But if you don’t have the info on an engine you want where do you get it ?

    One BIG question is; I have been out of R X Ring for 40 years and want to get back and want to look at all the different sizes. With my age 68 & eyes am think On30 but still want to look around.

    Do you know of a web site that shows what all the info is — that is explain what it really means as in: scale, track size, etc. for Z, N, HO, HOn3, On30 and even the larger sizes — etc.
    Thanks, Ron


  5. Michael Sneed
    6 years ago

    Greetings Im Michael an Ho train men for almost 60 years now Keeping tracks clean also helps trains run well Keep a track cleaning car on a train years ago if a loco dint have all its wheels as pick ups Id fix them to do so.
    Most of my steam locomotives are 55 years old and stell running


  6. Michael Sneed
    6 years ago

    Can some one tell me where I can get motors, brushes for a Roundhouse products die casting inc. 2-8-0 Locomotive (16L ) been running from 6/76 till 5/8/2011 I have been tying to find parts on line for this fine running Loco and no luck so far so now she just sits on a siding Help


  7. Dan Morgan
    6 years ago

    Michael, you could try asking in the forum at http://www.homodeltrains.info/forum/


  8. Michael Sneed
    6 years ago

    Thank you Dan,appreciat your help


  9. Lee
    6 years ago

    Advice on bying a good loco is right on.Found out the hard way.


  10. Roy
    5 years ago

    I keep hearing about hobby shops that let you try the loco. I guess that is okay if you have such an animal around. However, what if you don’t?? You just have to go with the luck of the draw. I use these e-mails, and hope for the best.


  11. Frank
    5 years ago

    What to do if no local hobby shop. Have to buy locomotives on E-bay. Been out of the hobby long time so hard to know which engine is a good one. Am going to go to DCC when I buy one. Thanks


  12. Albert
    4 years ago

    Hello there
    Thanks for the articles youve posted in the newsletter they were of great help to me being a beginner in this wonderful hobby

    I reall agree with your point you made about the quallity of locomotives. i have two from one company . the steam lono only pulls 4 wagons at the most if i put any more on it skids . the other a desiel from the same company is ok as it is an 8 wheel drive i dont have any problem with it
    From another company i bought three engines all are working well and are like workhorses i can see the workmanship has gone into these locos they were a bit bot expensive but worth every cent.
    i will be looking for quallity in future rather than price
    thanks once again
    cheers
    Albert


  13. chip kotzmann
    2 years ago

    Some questions not answered by your article that would be helpful to the novice:
    At what level do price ranges start for locomotives with the features you identified?
    Which manufacturers produce this quality, and which manufacturers don’t?
    Base on your comment, I assume two flywheels would be preferred. Are there other motor specific attributes should one consider when looking for high quality? e.g. type of magnet.
    What is a “good” gearing ratio, or what is a bad one?
    Is country of origin for manufacture important? e.g. German, U.S. China.
    When testing before buying should one put the locomotive under load? Is it possible it would perform well without being loaded but display the bad features you enumerate under loaded conditions?
    Thanks for any help you can give me.

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