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How Electric Train Engines Work

Updated on December 11, 2017

Just how do Electric Train Locomotives Work?

A model train engine works by taking up an electrical charge out of the metal track through metal engine's wheels that travel on the track. The electric power is transferred from the wheels on to the electric motor, which causes the electric motor to run. Details on how a train engine functions only one subject that you can learn more about in greater detail in a resource like Model Train Help.

The train motor connects to the locomotive's wheels through a mechanized drive arrangement. As the electric current turns the locomotive's motor, the train's motor moves the gears which then spin the engine's wheels and thrust the locomotive down the train rails. Not all that complicated!

The exact contact point where the locomotive wheel touches the rail can be quite tiny. This is exactly why it does not take much in the way of dust or debris to obstruct the wheel-to-rail contact. Debris may very well accumulate, so it is very important for you to keep your engine's wheels clean and free of accumulated grime. If the engine's wheels of your engine are dirty, they may not make very good contact with the metal rails, and your engine could very well stall. Bear in mind, plastic train's wheels won't transmit electrical current.

A good toy locomotive needs properly working train's wheels and properly maintained gears. Shoddy performance by a locomotive is often caused by problems with the gears or problems with the wheels. However, there are lots of other things which can cause model train engines to malfunction. That is why it is most important for model train collectors to have a reference book.

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    • funwithtrains profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from USA

      Thanks for your comment, onceuponatime66!

    • onceuponatime66 profile image

      Jackie Paulson 

      7 years ago from USA IL

      My ex hubby and I use to collect HO trains, you know that is a scale if you know anything about trains. So, This hub is great. Thanks.

    • profile image

      electric train sets 

      8 years ago

      Nice hub. I had Lionel 027 gauge as a kid which were a little different. They had a 3rd rail down the center of the track which carried power as well as one outside rail. Was kind of confusing as a kid as I never saw three rail tracks anywhere else.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Just discovered the article and i do agree with mytrainbrain : simple & clear ! Thanks !

    • MyTrainBrain profile image


      8 years ago from Kansas

      Very nice topic and simple clear way of explaining it. I didn't know what you guys where talking about a video for until I finally scrolled down. You might think about moving down the comments below the video so people can watch it. Good stuff.

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 

      8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Thanks for adding the video. It reminds me of the trolley cars I used to ride in Yonkers, N.Y. Sometimes we used to tie the rope from the box so that it would not release and make the trolley lose its connection. The conductor usually yelled at us as we ran away. (Can't do that with trains, I don't think.)

    • funwithtrains profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from USA

      Thanks for the comment William! Yes, very similar to real life. Also, some models based on real-world electric trains that use pantographs (the bars that stick up on the roof of the train to touch the overhead electric line (catenary) can function just like the real-world prototypes. I've added a video below about those types of trains.

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 

      8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      While I never had model trains, I love trains and enjoyed reading this, funwithtrains. It seems the way the model trains get power isn't a whole lot different than using the third rails as the did on the New York Central's Hudson River line.


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