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How to clean inside Lionel tubular track

If the outside of your Lionel track is rusty or dirty, there’s a chance the inside is too. Here’s how to clean inside Lionel track.

The condition of the inside of the track is the standard reason people give for discarding old Lionel track rather than trying to fix it. But if you’re willing to put in some effort, this problem, too, is fixable.

One thing that works to your advantage is that the entirety of the inside doesn’t have to be clean–just the half inch or so on each side that comes into contact with the track pins.

Removing track pins

The first order of business is to remove the track pins. Believe it or not, if you give the pin a tap in with a hammer, then pull on it with a pair of pliers, it comes out fairly easily. Just don’t smack the pin too hard, or it will go too far into the track, and you’ll never get it out.

Cleaning with a brush

To clean it out, use a miniature abrasive brush, such as these available from McMaster-Carr. A .094″ brush should be about right. You can either spin it by hand or, to speed up the process, chuck the brush into a drill or a rotary tool. Wear eye protection if you do that.

Cleaning with a drill

If you don’t want to order a brush online and can’t find one locally (I wouldn’t expect you to be able to), you can use a drill bit. A 3/32 bit is about right for O27 track, while 7/64 might be a bit more appropriate for O31 and Standard Gauge track. There’s little harm in stepping down to 5/64 for O27 and 3/32 for O31. Measure a half inch on the bit and mark it, so you don’t go any further than that. Otherwise, you run the risk of damaging the crimped portion of the track that holds track pins in place.

Chuck the bit into a drill, insert it into the end of the track, and spin the drill at low speed. Work slowly and gently, so as to avoid deforming the rail. Periodically back the drill out completely, stop, and check for dirt. That’s how you’ll know it’s working. It should only take a few passes to knock out the dirt and rust.

Finishing up and preventing future problems

To aid conductivity and inhibit re-rusting, I recommend working a bit of Rail-Zip into the inside of the rail. It’s best if you use the track immediately after cleaning, because then you can just put a drop or two of Rail-Zip on your track pins and insert them. The insertion process takes care of one side, and when you assemble the track, Rail-Zip on the pins of the adjacent piece will take care of the other side.

More tips

I have more tips for fixing Lionel track if you need them. Here’s how to make replacement insulators for the center rail, some general repair advice, and how to test the track when you’re done.

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