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Reg H
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All you DCC gurus, I need serious help.

I have NEVER had so many continuity problems in my layout wiring. Prior to the installation of the current DCC system I have always used cab control, and we are talking 50+ years of history in HO, O and On30.

I am going nuts.

The track is clean.

All rail joiners are soldered.

Every stretch of rail between rail joints has feeders connected to a large gauge bus.

My total bus length is way inside Digitrax guidelines.

The only place I stray from DCC orthodoxy is that I route frog power through the points. But I am not having trouble there.

I will start a train out, it will run for a ways and stall. I clean the train (again) and away it goes, until it stops again.

Re-cleaning the track helps, sometimes. Sometimes a loco will run through a stretch fine forward, and stall in the same place, every time, in reverse.

In one spot the loco stalls right over a pair of power feeders!!! Sometimes. Cleaning the track at that spot helps one time. Next time through that stretch it stalls again.

All this whiz-bang technology might be wonderful, but if I can't run trains it is pretty useless.

I am just about to rip out the DCC and go back to cab control. Which is more work than I would like to do.

I need some ideas.

Reg

Si.
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Hi Reg :wave:

Are you getting the correct Voltage on the track, from the controller ?
Have you got a multimeter to check this ?

If you can leave the meter connected & try running a train...
...you might be able to see something useful on the meter.

:moose:

Si.

Reg H
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Thanks, Si. I will give that a try.

Reg

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Hi Reg,I have suffered similar problems in the past,despite popular believe,I found the rail can be to clean causing DCC problems.What I do about twice a year is place one drop of light oil on my finger tip,then run my finger along the top of the rail for about two metres(6 feet) then run a loco on the track to spread the small amount of oil.This idea may disgust or horrify many modelers,but it does work(at least with our climate).This idea is worth a try before ripping out the DCC :old dude:..........cheers Peter.

Herb Kephart
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I Have done the very same thing, way, way back in the days when I thought that rails should be powered. I used ATF (auto transmission fluid). Don't forget that the other side of the connection, wheels, must be clean also.

Now, all that nonsense is in the past. And NO, I don't push the loco around by hand, or pull it with a string-----

Herb

Reg H
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Out to the garage to grab the multimeter.

No multimeter.

Must be in the hangar.

Jump in the truck and dash up to the airport.

Open the hangar, rummage in the tool box and retrieve the multimeter. A digital RadioShack unit I have never liked.

Back home and down the basement.

Check the track. 0 Voltage.

Hunh.

Maybe its the batteries in the multimeter.

Upstairs to the battery drawer. Six 9 volts, a HUGE package of AA, several C-size. No AAA.

Off to the hardware store to buy batteries.

Got to the store and decided to chuck it and buy an analog multimeter. The old fashioned kind with an actual needle.

Back home and down the basement.

Fourteen volts everywhere. I thought it was supposed to be 17 volts.

Break out the Digitrax instruction materials (last resort). Can't find where I read it should be 17 volts.

But it does say, in several places, make sure the wheels and track are clean. I have cleaned the track to within an inch of its life.

Wrestle around and figure out a way to clean the wheels on the loco.

VOILA!!!

Problem solved. It even runs great on track that hasn't been cleaned in weeks.

Call the grandkids to the basement and run the train back and forth a few times.

Everybody is happy.

:)

Reg

PS: I have NEVER cleaned the wheels on a 1/4" scale loco. But then, my previous foray into 1/4" scale was standard gauge and those locos seem to weigh about 10 lbs each.

Si.
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A few words from the Web concerning oil.

- - - - - - -

Organic compounds such as octane, which has 8 carbon atoms and 18 hydrogen atoms, cannot conduct electricity.
Oils are hydrocarbons, since carbon has the property of tetracovalency and forms covalent bonds with other elements such as hydrogen, since it does not lose or gain electrons, thus does not form ions.
Covalent bonds are simply the sharing of electrons.
Hence, there is no separation of ions when electricity is passed through it.
So the liquid (oil or any organic compound) cannot conduct electricity.


Oils conduct electricity minimally under normal conditions, which makes them useful as insulators.
The extent of electrical conductivity depends on the concentration of impurities.


Lubricants are normally only slightly conductive and therefore can work as insulators in transformers or switches.


Best Answer: That's a big no.
The same chemical properties that make it so oil and water don't mix makes it so oil cannot conduct electricity ... ever ! In fact.


A classmate of mine saw a video of a mineral oil submersed computer and I'm slightly skeptical about the idea, he wants to build one.


The very same characteristics that makes it a good lubricant also makes it a good insulator.
Engine oil does not conduct electricity because there are no charge carriers in it.


Oil does not have the free electrons necessary to conduct electricity.
The mineral oil is non-conductive, so the electronics do not short out.


:brill:


Si.


Not known for great traction either.


:f:

oztrainz
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Hi Reg,
give graphite a go first- look for a Progresso Woodless pencil or similar at your local art store - you are after 2B of 4B grade GRAPHITE pencil. Caution - There is a charcoal pencil that looks similar. You need the Graphite pencil.

This will keep both your track and wheels clean - The real advantage for graphite appears to be at thin layer thicknesses after its application to clean track. (Look up "graphene") Graphite appears to actively inhibit micro-arcing and the formation of "black gunk" (oxides) on both the railhead running surfaces and the wheel treads. As evidence, I post this photo of a wheel set that hasn't been cleaned or needed to be cleaned after 5 years running on graphite treated rails.



Yes you can see a wear pattern but there is no evidence of oxides and no build-up on the wheel treads. With clean surfaces like this wheel tread, conductivity is maintained between each wheel and the rail it is running on. This reduces both the incidence of wheel cleaning and track cleaning by at least a factor of 2 and in some reported instances to over a year between track/loco wheels/wagon wheels cleanings.

To get the best advantage out of graphite, you need to -
1 - Clean your track well (you've already done that
2 - Clean your locomotive wheels (the aim is to get volts from the rails, through the wheels to your decoder and motor)
3 - Clean ALL you wagon wheels well ONCE (Q-tip and white spirit has worked well for me in scales from N to O)
4 - Apply graphite to each the top and inner running faces of the rails in front of your locomotives. (so that when you run trains the clean wheels will run through the graphite)
5 - Run trains all over your layout (this distributes a THIN (as in almost molecular thickness) layer of graphite around all the tracks
6 - anywhere there is a hesitation, apply a light swipe of graphite for about 2" to 4" before and after where the hesitation occurred and run more trans over this stretch of track. After 2 or 3 passes this stretch of balky track should no longer be "balky".

To show how difficult it is to apply graphite, check out the following video https://youtu.be/VPaVM7h2fno Remember to do each rail.

Now some limitations -
A - If you are running your locomotives at their limit of adhesion you may have to back the load off slightly. (Method - cut your load in 1/2 and then gradually increase your load until the locomotive starts to slip. Then back your load off slightly until your locomotive no longer slips. One of the Canadian clubs that runs multiple locomotives, multiple mid train helpers and 100 car plus trains up 2.5% helixes has reported a little or no reduction in tractive effort from their locomotives and have reduced track cleaning every month to once in 9 months.
2 - A grade is a grade - The impact of the grade on the amount of wagons a locomotive can tow far outweighs the influence of any rail surface treatment.
3 - Graphite at the rails cannot fix any mechanical binds in the drive train. If you have a dodgy mechanism, you have a dodgy mechanism that must be repaired before you can get the full benefit of graphite and better conductivity at the wheel/rail interface.

Now having seen earlier that you are now running, give the wheels of your wagons good clean and give graphite a go - you might be pleasantly surprised how much more time you can spend running trains rather than cleaning track ;)

Last edited on Sun Nov 13th, 2016 07:09 am by oztrainz

pipopak
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Also remember to clean where the pickup wipers rub the wheels and the wipers themselves.
Jose.

Si.
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Graphite ... :thumb:

Oil ... :doh:

Herb Kephart
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Sorry Si

Oil works! Works on catenary wire also.

I guess that I just cussed out the electoprotons and scared the bejabbers out of them.

Shove THAT up your nuclei !!


Herb

Salada
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I don't (yet) have eneough track length to worry about wheel cleaning so I cannot argue against the catenary/&for track "oilers" but Si is totally correct re: the insulating properties of oil. Oil can also encourage micro organism growth over the long term; all oils eventually oxidise, thicken & entrap dust, bacteria etc. to form a grungy sludge.

John (oztrainz) : I've never seen a graphite stick like that used by Prof K in the video. Does it have any other (Brit friendly) trade names that you know of please ?

Reg: I'm glad you've fixed a very frustrating problem.

Regards, Michael

NathanO
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Atlas, Bachmann, Peco, and USA Trains all have lubricants that are Conductive compatible.

Nathan

Salada
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Thanks Nathan, that's interesting.
Perhaps based on a mix of oil+graphite ?

Regards, Michael

oztrainz
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Salada wrote:

John (oztrainz) : I've never seen a graphite stick like that used by Prof K in the video. Does it have any other (Brit friendly) trade names that you know of please ?

Regards, Michael


Hi Michael,
have a look at https://www.amazon.co.uk/KOH-I-NOOR-Progresso-Woodless-Graphite-Pencil/dp/B00H8Z2WS8/ref=pd_lpo_229_tr_img_3/252-2133528-8009713?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=SWKQW3P3D3880WC8D7M2

These are the ones that I use. These have a plastic sleeve around the graphite. Just one of these pencils is a lifetime supply, so you can afford to give one to a mate or two.

I find the 2B and 4B give best results but the others are also very effective. The trick is to notch the end of the pencil and hold the pencil at an angle so that you can apply graphite to the top and inner (gauge) face as you swipe it along the top of the rail. A light to firm pressure is all that is needed. The aim of the game is to leave "a smear" of graphite along the top of the rails, not to grind the graphite and rails through the baseboard. ;)

Last edited on Sun Nov 13th, 2016 07:48 pm by oztrainz

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Glad it works now, conductivity problems are the worst!

--James

Si.
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" all oils eventually oxidise, thicken & entrap dust, bacteria etc. to form a grungy sludge."

Yep ! :f:

" I've never seen a graphite stick like that used by Prof K. Does it have any other (Brit friendly) trade names that you know of please ? "

Hi Michael :wave:

I haven't seen the Profs. video...
...BUT !
If you search on eBay for the 'Koh-I-Noor' brand...
...they make SUPER BIG artists clutch-pencils, amongst other things.
Quite nice kit !

They sell 6-packs of 1/4"ish & other sizes, refill sticks, El Cheapo !
They also make VERY CHUNKY and soft/dark, graphite hand-held sticks as well.
Up to Grade 6B I seem to recall.

This is also a good alternative for coupler-pockets, to the Kadee product 'Grease Em'.
Sand a bit orf on some emery & BOB IS YOUR UNCLE ! as they say in China !

:moose:

Si.

Reg H
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Thanks, guys, for all the advice. What started out in frustration has ended in an entertaining, and informative, little thread.

I am going shopping for the Koh-I-Noor pencils. Sounds like the ticket to me.

I also need to rig up an easy way to clean wheels. Back in HO days I used a cradle I made from a chunk of wooden gutter and some soft fabric.

Try finding wooden gutter. I don't remember what kind of fabric I used except it was soft and had some give to it. My locos were all diesels then, too.

I think I might work up some kind of cradle using packing foam. It would be easiest if I could lay the loco completely on its back.

In the latest round I just laid the loco on its side on a couple of pieces of 1/4" square spruce. Doable, but awkward and risky to detail and paint.

One note of interest...I was under the impression that for the consolidations and the ten-wheeler the tender trucks contributed to electrical pickup. They certainly have electrical contacts.

But, apparently, not so. No matter what I did I couldn't get any action using the tender wheels and the drivers. I had to make all contact through the drivers.

Reg

Salada
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Thanks to John & Si; something else to go on my shopping list.

Reg: are you referring to Badman's consolidations ? Mine certainly pick up via the tender, as do the MMI K's. Are your tender to loco wire connections & plugs/sockets OK ?

Regards, Michael

Reg H
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The railroad is now entirely operational. Well, almost. A critical switch machine decided to pack it in.

I will be interested to take it apart and figure out the failure point. But I have an idea. Switch Master has you solder the actuating arm (you really need to go their web site to understand how this works) to the output shaft. The output shaft, which carries some plastic gears inside the case, is steel. It takes a lot of heat to get solder to flow on steel. I did the first two switch machines according to the instructions, but all subsequent machines I attached the arm to the shaft with JB Weld. The machine that failed is the very first one installed.

I stopped in at the Elma Variety Store (which is an institution around here, if they don't have it, it probably doesn't exist) to look for graphite pencils.

Sure enough, they had a set. It consists of two fine point wood pencils, three woodless pencils, and three graphite sticks.

I adopted the 2B stick as my main applicator. But I also took the 2B woodless pencil and narrowed the point down so it would fit between the switch points and stock rails. I cleaned all the points and applied a bit of graphite to the points and stock rails to preserve that path.

Only time will tell for sure, but, at this point, the graphite pencils are the ticket. Locos are running better than they ever have.

Now I just need to replace a switch machine.

Off to the Switch Master web site after I complete my Administrator duties.

Reg

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Reg,
I'm glad you got everything figured out. If this ever happens to me, cleaning loco pickup wheels will be my first thing to check beyond dirty track.
That's the advantage of a short mainline, I think, in that a large layout can hide a bunch of things that can go wrong.

Reg H
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Lee B wrote:
Reg,
I'm glad you got everything figured out. If this ever happens to me, cleaning loco pickup wheels will be my first thing to check beyond dirty track.
That's the advantage of a short mainline, I think, in that a large layout can hide a bunch of things that can go wrong.


Lee:

Oh yes. That is why this layout is both small (relatively) and simple. But even small and simple can have its adventures.

But it only took me about a half hour to clean all the track and switch points and apply some graphite.

Reg

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I tried to show our model RR club how the graphite thing helps. After 5 years I quit trying. Yeah, I know, quitters never win.

Si.
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Some more thoughts on GRAPHITE ! :mex:


An interesting 'solution' ( literally ! ) of soft 4B graphite & alcohol ...


... Graphite 'solution' applied by brush


:moose:


Si.

Bootlegbar
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Another source of graphite powder is auto parts stores. They sell it in little tubes in powder form for locks and such. 
Stephen. 

Reg H
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Si:
That is a great approach.  Combine it with the information about graphite in powder form, and it is killer.
Since I started using graphite (and even then only one application) I have had zero contact problems.  
I have another big problem that surfaced last night.  I haven't been in the basement much in recent weeks, what with the kitchen project and other stuff going on, so the layout has been neglected.
I went downstairs last night to get a razor blade (scraping off blue masking tape...part of the kitchen project) and discovered that a plumbing shut off valve was leaking from the packing gland...right onto my curved trestle!!!! 
I put a bucket under it last night, but I need to get a new packing washer today and get that fixed this evening.  
I am hoping to be able to salvage that trestle.  A lot of damage has been done. It took me six months to build.  
Reg

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Punishment for working on dwelling project instead of what you should be doing--working on the layout

Herb

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Hi to all: You do not have to spend money on hard to find expensive graphite pencils. A carpenters pencil available at any hardware store will work fine and will probably outlast you.Ron Dz.Homewood, IL

Reg H
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Herb Kephart wrote: Punishment for working on dwelling project instead of what you should be doing--working on the layout

Herb


+1
Reg

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Reg H wrote: I am hoping to be able to salvage that trestle.  A lot of damage has been done. It took me six months to build.  
Reg

Think of it as weathering......like a colossal thunderstorm.
;)

Last edited on Wed Apr 5th, 2017 03:32 pm by mabloodhound

Robert Comerford
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Reg, I have been using both graphite (lock lubricant) and light machine oil successfully for decades as a spark suppressant/contact improver. Both indoors and out.
The graphite method was as a result of the findings of a well known Australian modeller who when moving to the then new Triang TT range in the 50's became frustrated with the poor electrical performance. He found a solution in a suggestion from a local long time O gauge modeller who used powdered graphite to solve the same problem with some cast loco wheels.
This modeller later moved to N gauge and continued the practice that had worked so successfully in TT.His layouts ran reliably with no attention month in month out unlike the rest of us.

Use of a light machine oil such as Wahl hair clipper oil came about as a result of article in a US magazine in the 1970's. Hundreds if not thousands of modellers have used that method since with similar results.

Indoors I normally use the graphite method but outdoors I have given both a try.
Outdoors I first tested with just a clean track to define a baseline for performance. A day or two at best before signs of hesitancy started.
I initially thought the graphite was the longer lasting solution but repeating the tests a year or two later with a little more oil than the first tests proved to change my mind. I am now using the oil outdoors.

I am happy to trade a little adhesive performance of my locos for weeks of trouble free running.

cheers
BobC

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I find that ATF (automatic transmission fluid) works well, availability is a lot better than Whal--or , for that matter Whale--oil.

ATF has a detergent in it that may help, I dunno, but it works "a treat' and with graphite probably works even better.


Herb

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Herb, ATF is also sold in small containers as Railzip in model railway shops.
I have never used it myself but have seen how well it works on a long running HOn30 exhibition layout that did the circuit for some years.
The owner said he preferred it to Wahl oil but I have never done a comparison test. Maybe when my tin of Wahl oil is empty I'll get some from my mechanic? The tin is about 1/4 full and I bought it about 1981 so not sure if it will outlive me :>)
cheers
BobC

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A simple test performed by a Member of an automotive & electrical Forum I sometimes look at :-



- - - - - - -



Electrical Conductivity of oil: myth de-bunked



One of the distinguished members of this group asserted a claim that oil is conductive. Always having held the belief that it was insulative I decided to test the distinguished members theory.

My belief was based on anecdotal evidence based on observations I have made over the years, ie... ignition coils are filled with oil, diodes in oil cooled alternators are immersed in oil and solenoids in electronic controlled transmissions are immersed in oil with no ill effects to the electric system.

Using controlled conditions I assembled together a digital volt/ohm/ammeter, a sample of engine oil, transmission oil and water and an automotive battery.

The three test liquids were put in paper cups. I tested for continuity in the three samples with the ohmmeter starting with the lowest setting and progressively switching to the highest most sensitive settings.

Result: water passes current at some of the higher resistance settings while the 2 two respective oil samples did not have any continuity, even when the meter was on its most sensitive setting.

Test two revolved around using the three samples and attempting to pass current thru them from the automotive battery while measuring current with an ammeter set on it's most sensitive scale.

the expected result was obtained: electricity will flow thru water, the oil samples did not allow any measurable current to flow.

I came up with two conclusions based on this test.

1. Oil is in fact an INSULATOR.

2. I have too much time on my hands.



Si.
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What cleaning fluid does the largest model railway exhibition in the world (Miniatur Wunderland) use ?

Answer :-  NONE !

They use only track rubbers & vacuum cleaners on their 12 kilometers of track.


Here's what they say :-

" The reason why we dry-clean is quite simple.
Any fluid leaves some residue on the tracks and the chance to completely dry the track is minimal.
Damp track however, is a magnet for dirt and dust which in turn is picked up by the engines and that results in higher maintenance of rolling stock.
We tried it and had to state that some wagons picked up that much dirt that the wheels didn't turn anymore.
Some engines just barely were able to pick up current due to dirty wheel boxes. "


L:

Reg H
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Si:
No big surprise there.
Why get involved in all these "magic" formulae.   I did the straight graphite approach.
I had been fighting a losing battle with connectivity problems (which is what started this thread). I was having to thoroughly clean track before every operating session.  Even if things had only sat for a day.  Even after cleaning the track I was having spotty problems.
My one and only application was months ago and equipment still runs flawlessly.  So simple. Get the graphite sticks. Rub 'em on your track.
Reg

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For many years, I used the "latest"thing in track cleaning ideas...Wahl clipper oil, ATF, graphite, Brite Boys, and even read where some ACTUALLY used steel wool! Crazy! I tried some liquid contact cleaner on my little DC Gila Tram and it worked, after a fashion. The "dragger" cars work for many, I rigged one up for the Gila and it worked OK but it limited the tonnage that the loco could pull.
Everybody has their favorite and best way to clean track, variety is the spice...
But I found my solution some years ago and it takes care of all the contact problems.

I will leave you with that...
Woodie

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I still remember (not too fondly) my first layout with code 100 brass track on fiber ties, built in an non-AC room. Oxidized track was just one of the issues...
Jose.

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Don't know about  how graphite works, but oil is not to make the rail or wheel more conductive, it is to prevent the oxidation that makes the joint less conductive---and who here has the rail mileage that Wunderworld has? Yes, oil may collect dust, but most of it gets pushed off the railhead by the passing wheels. And if the crud builds up on wheels, you are probably using too much. Not doubting that graphite works, just wondering how it keeps the corrosion at bay. One time not too long ago I put some graphite on the overhead wire. Not that I was having trouble, just thought that I would improve something that wasn't broke. Guess that I put too much on (it was mixed with a thin oil/solvent that dried) and it completely insulated the pantograph from the wire! Pushing the car through the spot gave a wonderful display of sparks. Had to sand the stuff off the bottom surface of the wire. But the coating was far far thicker than what rubbing with a pencil would leave.

Moderation? NAH!

Herb


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