The Heljan IC3 Train


November 2nd 2014

Postscript: The following description is how I experienced it. There are a few harsh comments to both Heljan and Togdillen. But it ends somewhat more positive than it begins – especially regarding Togdillen. So please read the last part of the story.

I was at Hobbymessen in Valbyhallen. Togdillen stood there with the Heljan IC3 train. And he claimed that he only had one left for 2-rail systems and one for 3-rail systems.

I “accidentally” bought one for 3-rail systems despite clear instructions from my “private chief of command” against spending large sums of money. I had been looking for exactly that train for months, even though I had been reading about people having lots of trouble with it.

By the way, I was back at the dealer a few minutes later, where I could see that by magic once more there was exactly one for 2-rail systems and one for 3-rail systems left.


Home again, the new train had to go on my layout. Next time, I must listen more caarefully to other peoples bad experience. It is work half-done from Heljan. And my train is second generation, which is supposed to be much better than first generation.

An IC3 train consists of 3 wagons (see Two motorized wagons – one at each end – and a non-motorized wagon in-between that actually shares boogies with the two end-wagons.

Heljan has chosen to make the train the opposite way, i.e. it is the middle wagon that it motorized. The motor is connected to the common boogies via drive shafts. The collector shoe is placed underneath one of the end-wagons.

Even though the motor is driving the shared boogies, these boogies are not directly attached to the wagon. Instead the wagons are just loosely placed above the boogies so that some 2mm long plastic plugs are supposed to keep the entire train from falling apart. And that obviously doen’t work.


It is a strange train that Heljan has produced. I forgot to keep the middle wagon and the two boogies tightly together with my hands when I lifted it from the track. And that warning in the manual seems to be meant seriously. The reult was that one of the boogies shifted a few millimeters with the result that one of the drive shafts fell out. And it was not easy to get back into place.

In addition, one of the small plastic things that is guiding wires between the wagons and that I also suppose shall look like the connection between the wagons in the real world also fell off. That is by the way done by sliding it carefully horizontally into some grooves where it fits right where the drive shaft is stuck into the boogie.


The problem right now is that the wagon that is equipped with a collector shoe weighs almost nothing whereas the middle wagon is pretty heavy. Consequently, the collector shoe wagon de-rails each time I push it ever so cautiously across a particular switch.

I don’t know why it doesn’t go wrong in all switches. But I guess I am going to make it work once I realize how to open up the wagon without breaking it so that I can add weight to it in order to keep the collector shoe boogie into the track at all times.

Or is it the distance between the wheels that is the problem? I have read that there must be between 14,1 and 14,2 mm between the wheels and that several people have experienced that that is not the case on their HEljan IC3. I just don’t think it looks as if that is the problem. When the train is standing on a straight piece of track, there is the same kind of tolerance felt when I cautiously rocks the train from side to side as there is with my good BR216 locomotive.

But I’d better check with a vernier caliper. The standard is here: and there is a blog about the specific Heljan problem here: It sounds as if the measure should be more like 14,0 – 14,1 mm.

Another problem is that the train will not start until it gets at least 30% throttle. I must find out if that is due to a bad engine or if some CV values in the decoder need adjusment.

There is a Youtube video showing a train where the motor has been changed to one from Mashima. But there is no explanation about why or how: From the very few comments, it just sounds as if the original motor became defect and they just found a new similar motor.

It may be the PID regulation in the decoder that has been set up foolishly. It might also be the wheel distance that makes it hard for the motor to haul the train. Or just basically a bad design of the train. I intend to try to fiddle with the PID regulation at some point in time.

An additional problem that has not emerged yet, but which just seems to wait to emerge, is broken wires. I wonder why Heljan is using stiff wires between wagons and for the collector shoe etc.? I would have chosen the soft kind that are more durable to bends and twists. Well. That will have to wait until they actually start breaking.

So at the moment, it is not a good train. But it looks nice (even though the details are not particularly fine – for example no yellow stripe to indicate first class, no interior, handles etc. are non-existent etc.). So worst case, the train might just become a decorative element on my layout. And then maybe from time to time, I can run it manually for a little trip. As it is, there is no way to let it run under computer control.

November 3, 2014:

The distance between the wheels is a bit to much – about 14,2 mm. For comparison, my BR216 is 14,0 mm. I have seen that Togcenter Gentofte is selling wheels for Heljan B-wagons, that will make those wagons run on Märklin track. And Togcenter Gentofte thinks those wheels might also help the IC3 train to run better, although probably not perfect.

But I can only use such wheels on the boogies where the motor is not driving the train. So if I in any instance need to adjust the driving wheels, I might as well adjust all of them. Special tools even exist for that kind of job:  But I think it will turn into a major operation to dismount all whells, adjust them and put them back on the train again.

So I will try out the other good advice from Togcenter Gentofte: Adding a little weight. And he underlined “a little”.

A third thing he told me was how to take the top of the end wagons: Pull out the lower corners of the white part nearest to the middle wagon cautiosly. Then push the white part towards the end of the train.

I had some trouble with finding out where to add weight and how much to add. I was driving back and forth across the switches with the upper part dangling on top. But that doesn’t work, since that dangling upper part makes the train much more unstable. That gives an idea about how sensitive this is to even a few grams that are badly distributed.

Having put the top of the wagon almost in its correct position, I slowly and by hand pushed the train over the offending switch. I observed that it was the end facing the center wagon that tilted a bit as the collector shoe passed the switch. I then placed a 13 mm bolt in that end of each of the two non-motorized wagons. Ét voila: No more de-railing.

imageI do however still not dare to drive fast (only about 75 km/h in model speed). My layout is placed more than a meter above floor level and the train will definitely not survive a plunge into the deep. It would disintegrate to a degree that I would not have any idea of which shards I should glue to which. So my plan going forward is to glue the bolts in place and then put the top of the wagons into place and do some test driving.

The train is however still not approved for anything else than manual driving below the mentioned speed.

imageDo I regret my purchase? No. That train belongs to my layout. And it is fun to have a train that I actually often ride in the real world. But I wish that it had been produced by a company such as Roco or Märklin. In that case, it would have been much more reliable.

November 4, 2014:

I re-iterated the test driving from yesterday. Still without problems. I then glued the bolts and took the pictures shown above. I hope the glue is strong enough, even though it is not epoxy. But we will see.

If the bolts seem to sit tight tomorrow, I will assemble the IC3 train and put it aside so that I can get on with building my layout, adding signals, rebuilding my old Märklin Santa Fe and then my Lima MR for digital operation.

November 5 – 14, 2014:

It has been a sad period regarding the IC3 train. What a piece of shit.

The decoder is from Lenz. But not just any decoder from Lenz. It is their very first decoder. And it has no capabilities whatsoever to regulate the motor. That is definitely a huge part of the explanation why the train either doesn’t start or at least stops in the very first switch or curve unless it travels with at least 50 km/h.

And even though the bolt trick made it possible to pass switches, there is another problem: The drive shafts are falling off each time the train has been driving a couple of rounds on my tiny oval. And it is still very difficult to put back into place.

The problem is that the train is simply not assembled. The wagons are just placed loosely above the boogies. I have complained to togdillen and he has sent me some plastic thingies that I don’t know what I shall use for. Latest, he has asked me to come to his shop in Vanløse, which is 25 km away, so they can have a look at the train.

I have decided that now it is enough. That train is simply not designed in the right way. It will never run. I will go to Togdillen and get my money back. Or maybe I will find another type of locomotive from an other vendor.

November 15, 2014:

Today is Saturday, and I got time to go to Togdillen. That was what I call good service. He pretended not to hear that I wanted my money back. Maybe he actually did not hear it? Or maybe he just understood it as I would like to return the train and get another one of the same kind instead? At least that was what happened.

And it was an entirely different train. It looks like a new train. It doesn’t have this yellow/brownish glow from exposure to sunlight that the first one had. And the boogies are actually screwed to the middle wagon.

In fact I got the impression that he was kind of sorry to have sold a used train, that didn’t work, but falls apart. He said something like he didn’t understand it. Whatever “it” means?

I also told him about the problems with driving slowly. And immediately he fetched an ESU LokPilot 4.0 and mounted it in the train. Yes!!! Just he cure I had also thought of. Now just for the price of nothing.

Back home again, the train had to go for a ride. Onto the layout. Sloooowly round one way. It worked!!!!!!! Slowly the other way, It was able to do that too. Then we make it harder where the first train de-railed consequently. And here the pleasure stops. The new train de-rails too. Al of I sudden, I feel an urge to say a lot of less nice words very fast. I have not tried the hard spot in the opposite direction yet. I got so sad that I sat down and wrote this in my diary instead.

On the other hand, now I know the bolt trick. Maybe I should try that again? Maybe with a little less weight in the beginning? Or maybe this time, I should do the wheel adjustment instead?

At least, I sense there is basis for success this time.

By now I have tried the hard spot in both directions. Several times with different speeds (but no high speeds). Nu mishaps. But the train stil kind of wrigles its way across the switch. And there is also a tendency for the wheels on the axle closest to the center wagon to lift up. Both symptoms seem to point to a need for more weight – i.e. the bolt trick.

But that will have to wait. Until further, I will only feel hapiness for owning an IC3 train that is able to run. And then carry on with building S88N modules and to make the computer control work.

The following pictures show the first train.

The decoder is from Lenz. The very oldest one without motor control and all in all a miserable piece of electronics. The new train has the best of the best instead, i.e. an ESU LokPilot 4.0:


All three wagons are only loosely put on top of the boogies. On the new train, the boogies are screwed onto the middle wagon, which prohibits the drive shafts etc. from falling off:

I have placed a bolt to add weight in order for the train to be able to pass switches. I have not done so on my new train, since it is not absolutely necessary, even though also the new train has symptoms indicating that it might still be a good idea to add weight:

The motor is placed in the center wagon and hauls the train via two drive shafts – one for each boogie. That is the same in the new train, but with the difference that the drive shafts do not fall off repeatedly:img_1629

A look inside the wagon where the collector shoe is placed underneath. As it can be seen, numerous wires are lead through the train. They are the stiff kind that may break after relatively little time. But then I am going to have to solder new softer wires instead. Also note the relatively little realism in the model: No interior, red windows, not much detail, not even the yellow stripe to indicate first class. And that is even though other Heljan models are very nice:img_1627

A look at the entire train:img_1624

A closer look at the poor way to lead the wires between wagons:img_1649

May 9, 2017

After more years where the IC3 train has just been standing on a shelf, I have re-iterated the test driving. The result was that now the drive shafts drops out of their bearings after a few meters.

But at Hobbymessen, the very sae sales person that sold the train to me originally asked me to give it back for repair. As he said, they only want satisfied customers.

I have done so, and they have obtained another satisfied customer.

They have exchanged the unstable plastic drive shafts with metal ones. They are somewhat noisy. And the train does not run as well as for example a Märklin or a Roco product would. But as long as I keep it out of narrow S-curves, it works.

I can only recommend Togdillen. They can do magic. But only buy Heljan products if you can live with “second-best”.