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Rokuhan Shorty starter set woes


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Hi everyone!



Been lurking here for a month or two, learning from you guys while preparing to do a little suitcase project in N. My question, however, is about Z.


During my time with the N scale stuff, it occurred to me how much more 'space' I could have with a Z scale layout, so I ordered a shorty starter set (the NEX one) from Plaza Japan, just to test the waters. It arrived and ran/runs like absolute crap. The track looked terrible on unpacking and 


Basically, the little shorty set will not run reliably on anything but the maximum speed setting. The little RC004 controller has slow, medium, fast. On medium, it jerks around and eventually comes to a halt, usually on one of the admittedly very tight mini curves, but it should be made for this. At the slowest speed, it will barely run. By the way, what genius thought it was a good idea to make a controller that can only bring the train to a stop by placing a tiny knob at a not very firm spot in between forward and reverse? Anyway ...


So, I am asking you good people for some tips on how I could get this thing to run as intended. I see youtube videoes where it does, although I don't know if they were prepped.


What have I done:


* Complained to Plaza Japan. They sent a replacement motor unit. It performed even worse than the original unit and one of the bogie covers actually was undone and had to be glued to stay in place. Received part store credit, but obviously reluctant to buy more Z Shorty stuff at this point.


* THOROUGHLY cleaned both track and wheels, probably 5-6 times. The last time I did this, I kept going until a test of a tissue rubbed hard into the rails came away spotless. Then cleaned the wheels in the same manner. At this point, the set actually ran beautifully at all speeds, except in reverse at the slowest speed. However, every time I clean the track, the set runs quite well, until about 12 hours later when it goes back to being binnable. It cannot be right that Rokuhan tracks needs cleaning every day. It is neither humid nor dry where I live and there is no environmental factor that would affect the tracks. In fact, the N scale track right next to it that has never been cleaned runs just fine at all speeds at all times.


* Tested controller with N scale locomotive - a Kato Pocket Line 11-109 motored steeple cab. It runs perfectly at all speeds. Even at the slowest setting of the little RC004, it crawls ultra slowly but smoothly up and down impossibly unrealistic height differences.


* Tested both Z shorty engines with Rokuhan RC03 controller at very slow speed. This works, but that controller has problems of its own that I will make a separate post about, so not conclusive. However, 


* Reassembled the track multiple times. When the set arrived, the track pieces looked like they were made of scrap metal and were just thrown in the box with rubber bands around them. Some of the joiners were so out of whack I had to bend them into normal shape before the track could even be put together. Reassembling was required for the train to run at all, at any speed setting.


I suspect the track is the issue, but I would really like to hear what you guys think and what I could do to try and get some stability from this set. I really want to dive deeper into Z, but not if I can't get an office novelty starter set running.


All thoughts welcomed!

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This all sound quite mysterious. Track doesn't come out of the factory dirty and with damaged rail joiners, thus the only explanation that makes sense to me is that the set has been used before and not in a caring way.


If the railjoiners are at fault the train should obviously experience problems at the same places every time it happens and the same if there's a problem with the conductivity of a certain track piece.


You didn't mention the rail feeder... Is the contact good there? What about the cable itself?


A video and possibly close up photos of possible problem spots (train and track) might help identifying the problem.

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It sounds like the track may have been not new. That’s very odd coming from a Japanese shop like plaza, but from what you say does not sound new. Packaging is pretty important in japan and I wouldn’t think rokuhan would just throw rubber banded track loose in a box with other stuff, specially in a starter kit. Would expect at least a moulded plastic tray. But I’ve never purchased any rokuhan.


bent rail joiners says somebody played with this first. Rail should be nickel silver. Rokuhan track I saw years ago in person was all very nicely done and bright, shiny nickel silver.


connection to the track or cable/plug definitely could be an issue as Swede notes. Was it the same track connection/cable for the two controllers? If it was and it worked with the rc03 controller then that would point to an issue with the rc02 controller.


on cleaning track and black gunk, best to use non polar cleaners on the track to prevent the micro arcing that can be created with polar cleaner residue on the track that then creates the black gunk from micro arcing. Isopropanol, ethanol, and water are not great cleaners in this situation. Something like wd40 contact cleaner really is best.




A video running (just upload one to youtub) and some pictures of the rails and rail joiners would be helpful.



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Thank you both for your thoughts and suggestions. It actually put me on the track to figure this out and I am satisfied I now know what is wrong. As you both hinted at, I am 99% convinced it is the track. It was pretty nasty on arrival (did have a plastic tray though), with several misaligned rails and multiple joiners that were bent or/and pushed in too far to make a secure connection. It also had what I would describe as a significant layer of grime or residue on it. The little NEX couldn't make it through half a curve without derailing before I made adjustments.


Meanwhile, the controller works great with a N scale Kato locomotive, and the Z NEX Will run with an RC03.


This tells me the track is so mangled that it has poor current running through it, requiring the higher output of the RC03 or the max speed of the RC004.


I will consider the track a write off, as it is on closer inspection full of faults and provides a very bumpy ride. I will though give WD40 a try before I bin it (and remember the tip for future cleaning), but plan to order a new set of tracks next time I have more stuff to order from Japan.


With that, I consider the case closed.


I hadn't even considered the set might be a return. I somehow doubt it as my time in Japan tells me they cannot stand returns and would not sell one as new. It was the last available set though. Who knows!


Thanks again

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Bummer sounds like a pre-used pack of track. I kinda don’t see them using a rubber band if it had a little moulded tray, but maybe the track was small enough they could slip out with some jossling.

On the wd40, that’s not the regular wd40 lubricant, it’s wd40 brand contact cleaner. The lubricant can make the track loose traction and this is an issue already for smaller scale trains. Folks do use some cleaning oils (like clipper oil) and transmission fluid to clean track and it works but some end up with a lot of traction loss, especially on grades. The contact cleaners tend to evaporate most all of the cleaner on the surface and pits.



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Yesterday, I read someone that was suggesting using soft woods, like the wood of a BBQ match. The picture was quite convincing, as the wood had picked up a lot of black gunk.

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Point of the non polar cleaners is it leaves little residue compacted to polar alcohol and water which stick better in the micro crevasses and then cause the micro arcing and thus the black gunk (metal oxides made from micro arcing). Using polar cleaners gets you into this loop of just creating the black gunk.

Cotton cloths work well as on your finger you can really go at the inside edge of the rail well where you have the most gunk build up and the electrical current flow.



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Thanks Jeff for the WD40 update. I took a screenshot for reference and will try to hunt it down. The micro layout I'm planning has very steep inclines so I'll definitely need all the traction I can get. Important difference!

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I may be a little late in reply as you may have already resolved this. I started with the RC004 controller as well and ditched it quickly, it performed terribly. I built a DIY PWM controller and it runs rather well (on flat surfaces as well). Have you tried using another controller? 

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The trick is to avoid any abrasive materials when cleaning the track! They leave liitle scratches and crevices in which dirt accumulates faster than you´d expect! Burnishing the rail witch a piece of metal (shaft of a screwdriver) and polishing afterwards with a mild metal polishing compound will help. It´s a quite tedious job, but all you have to do after that procedure  is to clean the track with a soft cloth or tissue.

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