John Allen track cleaner

You know about the "Roomba" - the floor cleaner that runs by itself without any attention. Well, you can make a track cleaning car for your model railroad that operates on the same principle. John Allen designed a track cleaner car which would operate as a normal freight car on his layout, and clean the rails at the same time. We made one for the Cape Ann.

Materials needed:

Step 1. Relocate stock car weight to underside of roof. Here we used silicone sealant to secure it. (This avoids drilling through the metal weight later on.)


Step 2. Check car weight, add additional weight, if needed, over the trucks - leaving the center of the floor clear.

Step 3. Make the Masonite pad assembly. Cut a 1" x 1" square of Masonite material (while you're at it, make some replacements for later). A 4' x 8' sheet of Masonite will yield 4,608 cleaning pads. Chamfer the edges on the textured side.

Step 4. Epoxy two nails onto the smooth side of each Masonite pad, on 1/2" centers.


Step 5. Drill two clearance holes in the floor of the box car, on 1/2" centers, large enough so the nails slip easily through the holes.


Step 6. Insert pad assembly nails up through the boxcar floor and place the car on the rails. If you did it right, lifting the car off the rails will leave the masonite pad resting on the rails.


Step 7. As the car travels around the rails, the textured surface of the Masonite pad will wipe the railheads and deflect any loose ballast. The pad can rise and fall as needed to follow track height, since the nails will slip up and down through the holes to follow the track profile. If the pad catches on switch points or rail joints, chamfer the edges of the pad some more so it rides up over any transitions. Inspect the pad periodically and replace as it gets dirty.

John Allen did this to a number of cars in general circulation, and just let them clean the rails as they were routed on the layout during normal operating sessions - sort of a "Roomba" for model railroads!

Home • Revised Mar 8 2016