Fixing erratic Lionel Fastrack

Lionel Fastrack is popular, and in some ways it improves on earlier Lionel track. Unfortunately it’s also more prone to manufacturing defects. Here’s how to fix Lionel Fastrack.

If your new Lionel train slows down at some point on the track, or it has trouble tripping your accessories, you’ll have to either return your track, or do a fast and easy DIY repair.

Fastrack is ideal for carpet layouts. If you have continuity issues, you can fix it yourself with some aluminum foil. Image credit: Roy Luck/Flickr

Remove the piece or pieces of track where the train slows down, or the piece adjacent to your misbehaving accessory. Flip the track over, and you’ll see several tabs that hold the metal rails to the plastic roadbed. Try to wiggle the pins a little. They shouldn’t move much, if at all. If any of them feel even slightly loose, slowly and carefully pry the pins up with a slotted (flat-blade) screwdriver. You want to straighten the tabs completely, but work slowly so you don’t break them.

With the tabs straight, the rail should raise up slightly for you. You don’t have to raise it very much. Now take a small piece of clean aluminum foil (a piece the size of a thumbnail should be plenty) and stuff it into that opening with the screwdriver or some other small, pointy object, like a toothpick. If the foil balls up, that’s fine. You want to insert it completely, but not so far that it rattles around–the majority of the foil should stay in contact with the pin. Don’t use too big of a piece, because you’re just trying to close a small gap. When you reassemble, the bit of foil should squish down into whatever gap is there, just enough to let the power flow.

Now you can push the rail back into place, mashing the foil down as you go. If it won’t sit level with the other rails, you used too big of a piece. Either fish the piece out and try again with a smaller piece, or stuff the piece in a bit further.

Once the rail is in place, flip the track back over. To secure the rail, you have two options. If you’re not so confident in your work, twist the tabs slightly with a pair of needlenose pliers. The twist will hold the rail in place without risk of breaking any tabs, since it stresses the metal in a different place, keeping metal fatigue at bay. You’ll be able to get away with disassembling and reassembling at least a couple more times this way.

If you’re confident in your work, slowly and carefully bend the tabs back into place.

Repeat the procedure for any piece of track with loose pins. You shouldn’t notice any difference in the track’s appearance, but the once-loose pins shouldn’t wiggle any more.

While aluminum isn’t the best conductor of electricity, aluminum foil is a readily available household item, and it’s a far better conductor than air.

After tightening your pins, reassemble the track and try running your train again. If it still runs erratically, you probably have at least one more track section with one or more loose pins.

While you could return any bad sections of track for replacement (Lionel customer service is far better than any customer service I’ve seen in the computer industry), I find it’s much easier to just fix the track myself. The cost of materials is negligible, and it takes maybe five minutes.

I use a circle of Fastrack around my Christmas tree every year. Fastrack has some advantages. I like it because it keeps carpet fuzz out of my trains, and it keeps grease, oil, and dirt from the trains off the floor underneath. But last year I noticed my train was always slowing down in one corner, and I didn’t like that because I didn’t like having to constantly adjust the throttle. This procedure fixed all that, and I haven’t had any problems with it since, as long as I clean the track, or better yet, treat the track so I don’t have to clean it.

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