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How to Repair Lionel Train Tracks

Lionel toy trains operate smoothly over clean and aligned track.
model railroad image by pearlguy from Fotolia.com

Lionel toy trains run on O gauge and O27 gauge three-rail track, and today’s hobbyists can chose between traditional O gauge and standard O gauge track when designing and building an electric train layout. Standard O gauge track features a realistic appearance with numerous railroad ties and larger radius curves while traditional O gauge uses tighter radius curves with the familiar toy-like appearance of tubular construction. Both types of train track are desirable and durable, and even neglected track that is dirty, bent or rusting requires just a few minutes and a few simple tools to clean and repair for use on a Lionel toy train layout.

Inspect the track for dirt, rust and damage. The train track carries the electrical current from the power pack to the trains, and must be clean and aligned properly. The center rail carries the electrical current while the two outside rails guide the wheels of the train and provide the ground to complete the circuit. Rollers mounted to the underside of Lionel engines, tenders and specialty cars pick up the electrical current from the center rail.

Clean the train track using a light coat of penetrating oil. Spray a small amount of oil on to a clean cotton cloth, and wipe the rails to remove dirt and grease. Use a second cotton cloth to dry the train track. Lionel recommends using a utility knife or similar tool to scrape off any stubborn dirt or grease. For rusted rails, use a piece of 150-grit or finer sandpaper to lightly scour the track, followed by a cleaning with the penetrating oil and cloth.

Crimp any loose pins. Three metal pins, inserted at one end of each section of track, transfers the electrical connection to the next piece of sectional train track. The pins should fit tightly inside the tubular rails. Loose or rusted pins can inhibit the electrical connection, causing the train to lose power and stall. Use a pair of needle-nose or diagonal pliers to crimp the rail flanges tightly around the pin. Replace any broken or severely rusted pins.

Check the rail ties. Each piece of Lionel traditional O gauge train track uses three metal ties to keep the rails aligned properly and to secure the track to the layout, while standard O gauge track has many ties with clips to keep the rails in place. Inspect each of the clips holding the rails to the ties, replacing any ties that are missing or deformed. The center rail uses a small piece of cardboard or rubber to insulate the rail from metal ties, preventing an electrical short-circuit between the three rails. Replace any worn or missing insulators.

Straighten any bent or kinked train track. Using needle-nose pliers, apply light pressure against any kinked or bent rails, gently easing them back into their original position. Lionel train track is flexible, and proper alignment is necessary to reduce engine and car derailments.

Things You'll Need:

  • Lionel toy train track
  • Needle-nose or diagonal pliers
  • Fine grit sandpaper
  • Penetrating oil spray
  • Cotton cloth


When storing Lionel toy train track, apply a light coat of oil to the surface of the rails to prevent rust.


  • Do not use steel wool to clean Lionel train track. The metal fibers from the steel wool can break off and adhere to the rails. The magnets within the Lionel toy train engines can attract the metal strands from the rails, causing internal damage to the motor.
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