Pick ups for 3 rail conversions

I was asked in the comments to post some pictures of the types of pick ups used for conversion from 2 rail to 3 rail. So here goes.

The first one is a

Hornby M7 converted

using a Marklin full size skid.

Then we have a Hornby London Transport Pannier Tank converted using springy metal with cups on the ends.




A Triang Jinty uses a similar system.







A Graham Farish 0-6-0PT, same idea but execution is a bit grim.







The basic springy metal pick-up as seen on an Hornby N2







A Trix 0-6-0T with an original pick-up.







The conversion of the HD 2 rail 0-6-0T shows each possibility








Above we the official conversion using two small HD pick ups

Then we have the Marklin skate but probably a carriage skate rather than a loco skate








Followed by good old springy wire









As long as the insulated wheels are earthed properly, usually by leaving the 2 rail pick ups in place but connecting then to earth all the conversions run well. The original HD pick ups and the Marklin skid will have a much longer life than any of the bent wire types as the copper they are made of will wear out with running.

Note that all conversions of plastic bodied locos, the Graham Farish one is diecast, result in the three rail pick-up slightly raising the driving wheels leading to inferior traction. If it is possible add weight to improve pulling power but in general a plastic bodied converted engine will not pull more than 2 HD coaches unless you are very lucky. However many of these tank engines run on branch lines and 2 coaches were a normal load.

I have more pictures but they all revolve around the same type of pick-ups.

All of my Wrenn conversions use normal HD pick-ups as they originated from HD and therefore genuine pick-ups will fit easily.

Please add a comment if you want more information but please note that all of my conversions have been bought in, I have not done any conversions myself.


28 thoughts on “Pick ups for 3 rail conversions”

  1. Hi Tony

    As the poster who asked for pictures of pickups, thanks for putting these up. I’ve been pondering this long enough that thee are no huge surprises there.

    I picked up a Hornby LT pannier done exactly the same way as yours (possibly by the same person – I can’t remember where I got mine from). The pickups are actually made from electro-brassed steel paper fasteners with one leg chopped off. (Available from WH Smith!) Unfortunately mine doesn’t have a pickup on the insulated wheels, but I plan to fix that with a little conductive paint.

    I considered the springy metal approach as shown in your last photo when I converted a Triang L1 last month. I wasn’t sure about having something that didn’t have curved sides to the contact part of the pickup (as well as leading/trailing), so I soldered the heads of two brass plated drawing pins to a strip of phosphor bronze. It looks as though I needn’t have gone to so much trouble! As it tunrs out, I made the pickup slightly too short to make it over a diamond crossing, so I need to do a remake. I won’t bother with the drawing pins this time!

    I was surprised to see a loco with a short Marklin skid. I bought a pair of these with a view to using one under the non-powered bogie of a Triang EMU, but thought it might be too short to get across a diamond. Does it actually work OK in your experience?

    Successful use of a Markin skid on a Triang M7 is encouraging. My projected collection has a decided BR(S) bias to it, so I was planning to get one of those and convert it.

    Your point about lack of weight is well made. The L1 runs well but is incredibly weedy compared with a real HD loco. Unfortunately, there is very little scope for more weight as the motor virtually fills the firebox and boiler. There’s lots of space in the smokebox, but no point putting weight there on a 4-4-0!

    The current conversion on the workbench is much more straightforward – 2-rail HD West country to 3-rail!

    Many thanks for the photos


    1. I agree that is is surprising that the short Marklin skate works but it does and very well too. I have just bought a Bachmann 2-6-2T Ivatt tank engine also with a small skate and this works well BUT the skate has been fitted at the front end of the chassis which means that it lifts the front bogie when going over a diamond crossing and it derails 100%. Simplest solution was to run it bunker first and then there are no problems at all.

      This seller on ebay, pazzbutt, has packets of Marklin skates for sale of various lengths. I think that the skate is the best solution as it is very durable and obviously made for the job. If you are converting to sell then the bent wire is the cheapest but doing it for yourself go for the skate and these ones look very reasonable.

      let me know how you get on

      1. I haven’t used the Marklin skates I have in stock yet. I bought mine new from Gaugemaster. They’re fairly cheap new – £5.75 for a pack of two 40mm skates and £2.80 for a single 62mm. The 62mm is earmarked for converting an old-style Hornby Sir Dinadan and one of the 40mm ones for my Triang EMU.

        My version of the bent wire approach so far has been using strips cut from a roll of the old fashioned springy “copper” (actually phosphor bronze) draught excluder. (Hard to get in DIY shops but available on eBay.) It seems to work quite well.


    2. Hi can anyone tell me where I can get a dublo 2 rail west country converted to 3 rail happy to pay ..but reluctant cock it up myself thanks

  2. I have recently taken an interest in three rails after seeing how it can be used for a simple automated system.
    I reckon the best collector must be one relying on gravity. Any spring system is going to to create some upward force, so reducing the potential traction force.
    However, in practise I realised that the bent brass strip was the quickest and easiest way. It obviously works best on nice old fashion heavy chassis. I created one gravity system and fitted to an old Bachmann chassis. All the extra weight means it actually works quite well.
    My efforts to date can be seen at http://threerail.tripod.com/home.html
    The ringfield motor bogie worked fine, except I had to use the bogie back in two rail guise on an HST I was selling.
    I have couple of other chassis to convert soon.
    Must confess to using Trix track at present as it insulates the outer rails. However I also have some Dublo track, lovely stuff, and will use it without automation. I think a nice reverse loop layout.
    Still working on collectors. I need to design a nice compact gravity system for lightweight bogies. Have a few ideas; hope to create something that works.

  3. I have tidied up the site a bit more and added some more of my efforts. Now that I have an assortment of converted chassis I will work on automated sites, and bodies for the chassis. Still some work required on small gravity collectors though.

  4. I also used the “bent wire” method to convert my Bachmann 4Cep & 2Epb for 3 rail running.

    Brass paper fasteners work an absolute charm and thankfully the weight of the Bachmann motor carriage provides enough downward force to ensure good running.

    Haven’t tried the Marklin skates yet but may need to invest in some for future conversions.

    I’m also in the process of converting my locos to DCC!


    1. Andy,

      I would love to have a 4Cep converted to to 3 rail running – would you be prepared to convert one for me?

      Please email me direct on dublorunneratgmail.com convert at to @ when emailing


      1. I’ll have to think about that one! – I think I’d rather sell mine on and buy another rather than risk wrecking someone else’s brand new pride & joy!!! – It was bad enough when I accidentally shot the A1 controller into full reverse on the test track on my kitchen table and the entire 4 car set flew off the end and hit the floor.

        When converted did mine I was really nervous – up to that point all my previous repairs or conversions were items bought as spares / repairs or just non-runners. The Cep was brand new and boxed and there was a fair bit of trial & error before I finally got it running well.

        At the moment I’m still in the process of converting my stock to DCC, plus building a new layout in our house, plus modifying my original “portable” layout to DCC ready for showing next year!

        Next time I’m up in the loft I’ll get some pics of it running.

  5. hi

    A few months ago i´ve contacted dublorunner abouth the my hd locos and how to put them working, I leave a hd controller ond a electronic shop to be repaired however the tecnician there still did not do the repair due the old of the device, is it possible to build a new controller using new parts , but having the diagram wiring of the circuit, does anybody do somthing like this?
    Best regards
    Paulo Jacinto

    1. Hello,
      Old Dublo controllers are likely to have problems with insulation breakdown due to their age. Any rubber covered wire will have to be replaced for a start. The transformers are also not in accordance with modern regulations. This is possibly OK, if you are aware of the risks and take them on yourself, but I doubt that any repairer would accept them. Possibly a specialist in old radios?
      Electricity is dangerous and any risk should be avoided.

      I would recommend a modern power unit, but not all are suitable for older motors. The unit requires a maximum output of at least 0.7 amps at 12V DC.

      Best regards,
      David Simmons

  6. I’ve noticed that Hornby two rail engines and rolling stock have different couplings than the earlier HD 3-rail couplings. Do they work with each other? How difficult is it to convert the later type to the earlier type? Is it possible to buy replacement HD3 couplings or do you have to make them yourself?

    1. Hornby Dublo and Trix both used Peco type couplers during their heydays in the 50’s and 60’s. Prewar they had used different couplings. Their biggest rival, Triang used a tension lock type coupling. The two were not compatible. When Triang bought out Hornby Dublo they changed to their tension lock coupling on any of the models that they continued to make including the Triang Wrenn versions of the Hornby Dublo engines. Triang produced two convertor wagons, a black coal truck and a horse box wagon which had a peco coupling at one end and a tension lock at the other. Replacement HD couplings are available from http://mtrains.co.uk/ Converting tension lock to peco type is not straight forward as they have very different fixing arrangements.

  7. Hi I note from the entries above that the Bachmann 4CEP and EPB units have been successfully been converted to 3 rail and I have been pondering doing much the same myself.
    A possibly ignorant question!
    Has any issues been found with the finer scale wheel flanges fitted to these units and their ability to “hold the road” on Dublo track?
    If so, do you need to replace all wheelsets with some others? Is that practical? I run modern production rolling stock but find that it is essential to replace the wheelsets with Wrenn or similar as they will not negotaite points and crossings.
    Any thoughts would be most welcome.

    Best wishes
    Geoff. H.

    1. Geoff. One reader has converted a Bachmann 4CEP to 3 rail. I have very little experience of running modern rolling stock on my layout. Just about the newest Hornby rolling stock is Margate production and this works fine. I did buy a modern Hornby passsnger giards van because it looked so attractive but basically wouln’t run on my layout. I have never bothered to change the wheels but it might be worth a try. I do have two Bachmann Mk1 coached which are about 4 years old and these run with out any problems at all as does the 2-6-2T Bachmann loco which I bought recently. Not much help I know but that is my experience

      1. Hi. I have had a fair degree of success converting modern production rolling stock running on HD 3 rail track. The trick seems to be using Wrenn pin point type wheelsets which I have found often just push in where the”as fitted” ones were. Dapol wagons from former Dublo lineage lend themselves particularly well to this. It also fairly straight forward to remove the “as fitted” couplings and replace with HD types as the moulded features are still there to accomodate them.

        A word of caution though. Modern production coaching stock whilst running well on replaced wheelsets, may not clear electric points as the underframe detailing may foul the motor/solonoid assembly on HD track.

        Hope this is of some interest.


        Geoff. H.

  8. Acquired a converted tank engine for £10 at Harrogate Toy Fair today. GWR 0-6-0, make unknown as pretty old. Motor up into cab.

    Anyhow it has a pretty neat conversion with some nice round headed pick ups. On close examination said pick ups turned out to be two brass headed paper clips, the sort you push through a hole and turn back. Obviously long legs.

    Have yet to try it out, but obviously used and looks very neat.

  9. I’ve chickened out with my conversion of a two-rail Triang diesel shunter to three rail.
    I used an LMS pattern brake van with longer wheelbase and a pickup skate from a burnt out 0-6-2T. A short lead goes to the loco. It does give me the correct coupling though.

  10. Still working on three rail conversion ideas. On holiday in Spain discovered a paper filing ideas that looks like it could make a good conversion system similar to HD non steam locos. It is a plunger system.
    I have tried this system relying on gravity as all the springs I can find lift the loco off the track without an excessive weight load. Just wondering if anyone knows a source of light touch coil springs, or suitable wire for self winding.

    web site is a new endeavour and is ‘under construction’

    1. I have progressed with my ‘Spanish’ paper clip pickup. As OD is 5mm they fit nicely in the readily available OD 6mm tube. Interestingly man at little tool/model materials shop in Keighley recognised the ‘spanish’ paper clips as evidently some lawyers use them. Still not seen them on sale so maybe a specialised supplier.
      Anyhow fitted a couple of the pick ups to an underground ernie chassis and so far on the short test track they work under gravity only. Yet to be tested on curves and points, or for that matter photographed.
      Slightly off topic I cut open some old computer leads and found the internal thin wires ideal for model rail work, and plenty of colour varieties. I also broke up some old mice, the ones with the balls! On a couple there is a small spring loaded rest wheel that if the plastic roller were replaced by one from brass might make a good pick up. Further investigations needed.


  11. Hi All.

    It’s been a while since I first experimented with three-railing Bachmann EMUs (and the DCC project was abandoned long ago) but I now have three functional units – two EPBs and a CEP.

    Although the brass paper fasteners work reasonably well, I found that they were a bit too fragile and required regular tweaking to keep them working properly. However after one unit derailed and bent one of the pickups (which I hadn’t noticed) it then jammed itself between the third rail track joints and pole-vaulted an entire EPB off the track.

    I fitted brand new Märklin skates to each unit a while ago. I haven’t needed to replace the wheels but I found that due to the variances in speed, I couldn’t get two units to remain coupled in any formation, they either uncoupled or derailed so I experimented with Kadee couplings.

    You can see the results here:




  12. I have just tidied up my free three rail site. As one does not get owt for nowt it takes a bit of time. New bit is pictures of Spanish stationary clamps that look good for three rail collectors. Also a few extra links including a Trix site with a way of making DIY three rail track. For Trix big wheels but worth a look.

  13. Regarding using old Hornby Dublo transformer-controllers, I used the one with the handle for many years until one afternoon I noticed an unusual smell and smoke coming out of it. Quickly disconnected and dropped it out the bedroom window!
    I now use a Gaugemaster that is for O gauge. Worked satisfactorily for the past 8 years and I heartily recommend them.

  14. Managed my first trials with the ‘spanish paper clamps’ and they do work. However, isn’t there always, it is important that they are as near to the centre of the axle as possible. My first effort had them too far in front so that on an HD small curve it duly shorted out. Bringing it in closer to the axle seems to work. So far only on a short test track and old Bachmann chassis without much ballast weight. looks promising though. Trying out some Trix fibre three rail as well. Not a patch on HD.


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