Model Railroading Projects


Make the most of your model trains!

Model railroading is more than just playing with trains. You’ll find lots of tips and projects for building your own model railroad here – all of our modeling blog features are right here and easy to reference! Whether you are just getting started, confused over command control, or just looking for a fun project for the weekend, you’ll find lots of helpful information on these pages.

Build a Platform – Follow along as we construct a train platform step by step. These techniques will work for a platform of any size or shape. NEW!

  • Basic Benchwork – Build the supports, start the wiring and put down the platform
  • Finishing Touches – Simple improvements to your platform make a big difference in the overall look of your layout.

Understanding Curves – A beginner’s guide to curves and how they’re measured.

Make the Grade – Our train platforms are often flat, but the real world isn’t! Learn the basics of building better hills for your model trains.

Maintain Your Trains – Quick guides to cleaning and lubricating your Lionels for years of enjoyment.

Wiring Your Railroad – From the basics to command control, learn how to hook up your platform step-by-step.

Build a Display Diorama – Learn the basics of building realistic scenery as you create a proper display for your favorite models.

Model a Railroad Bone Yard – Building this interesting industry is a great introduction to the art of weathering your model trains and much more.

Lionel FasTrack Modular Railroad – Everything you need to get started with our modular railroad system from standards for construction to show schedules.

0 thoughts on “Model Railroading Projects

  1. i would like to know if lionel is going to come out with the next dvd of the movie that came out 2 years ago at chirstmas. my grandson is 4 years ago an he loves it he an i would like to see the next step in the movie. thank you

  2. How about having Mike Reagan have a star role in the film ? Just don’t know if it would pass with a “G” rating. He’s a great guy and a huge asset to Lionel. Jim

  3. I have been absent from model railroading for 50 years.I am now anxious to get back in the hobby.What book should I read by Lionel to explain the basics like”how many lock ons to use” and “can I use aZW transformer with modern reack systems ” and stuff like that.THERE ARE NO HOBBY SHOPS NEAR WISEMAN,ARKANSAS AND NOBODY TO ASK.

    • You can start with the wiring pages here on our blog! There are also several good books on the market on how to build your model railroad. We haven’t published one yet, but the market is already full of good information. To give you a quick answer to the two questions you’ve asked here, we’d recommend a power connection every 6 to 10 feet for best performance. (With older track you want to go a little more frequently since you’re likely to have more voltage loss between the loose joints.) And yes, you can use the ZW with all of our modern track and control systems, including our LEGACY control system and FasTrack. Feel free to write back anytime with more questions and look for more modeling information to come. Welcome back!

    • First, which transformer are you using? Is it a Lionel model or something you’ve wired yourself? Since our transformers all plug directly into the wall, there is nothing you could do to wire it incorrectly yourself. What you could be seeing however is not the transformer turning off as you power up, but shorting out. When you power down, the breaker in the transformer resets and you’re “on” again. If this is the case, then you very likely do have something wired incorrectly on the railroad. It could be something as simple as two wires touching or even a derailed train or piece of metal across the track. The hard part is usually not fixing a short, it’s finding it!

      If you want to rule out the transformer, or check to see if it really is the problem, disconnect the wires to the railroad and accessories. Attach a single bulb (you can find suitable bulbs in the 14 Volt range at your hobby shop) to the track leads and power up. If the light comes on as you bring up power, you’re transformer is definately not the problem. If it is, give our customer service center a call at 586-949-4100 or email us at and we can fix it.

  4. Hi lionelllc
    I have modified an 027 automatic switch for constant voltage. I have verified that voltage is on the switch, but the switch doesn’t turn. In your wiring video you just say to connect power and it will work. I checked with a meter that I have 10+- volts on the coils, 1-2 volts each (approx.) on the direction connections, and 0 volts on the closest connection to the electrical cover. Any ideas why this isn’t working?

    • Start by double checking all of your connections to make sure you don’t have a loose wire. Just as important, make sure you don’t have any wires touching each other, or other metal parts of the switch that might be causing a short.

      We recommend 14V AC for the best performance, but 10 should still work. You should see more than 1-2 volts when you press the buttons to throw the switch however – but of course only momentarily. Which leads me back to thinking there is a loose connection or shorted wire somewhere.

  5. OK, I decided to just put Track AC back on, but not by reconnecting the original wires, but by using my new connector wire. I get the correct voltage to the feeder pair by touching the test rod on my wire, but when I touch the feeder wire on the coil I get 0 volts. (we are talking less than 1/8 inch away and the voltage is not carrying). Is there an invisible coating or something on the coil feeder wire? It is somehow not letting voltage to the coils. Your thoughts please…
    ps I can send a PIC if you would like to see?

  6. Of course you know what I am about to say. Go figure. I seem to remember in one of the videos that a coating was mentioned. I actually did rub a hot iron up and down the wire but I guess that wasn’t quite it. Yes, with the scraping it worked. I tested 9.8v on the coil. It really snaps. I believe in the video 14 volts was mentioned as optimal. My cw-80 is still default factory putting out 10 volts. the .2 drop is nothing as I have a jury rig of patches to test this thing.
    Another follow-on question, if you don’t mind. I decided since it is working, I backed a train into the switch from the turnout side and the switch set to straight. The switch snaped OK but as soon as the caboose wheels touched the switch track, I got a bunch of sparks and a buzzing sound that didn’t stop until I reversed the train off the switch. Thoughts on that one please?

    • Hi, just another footnote to help with your answer. I reconnected Track Power instead of acc and everything worked as it did before the changeover. ie. no sparking or buzz sound. This one I’ll bet has to be a ground issue. I’ll await your comments.

      • Sounds like you’ve got a short. If you are using different power sources, my first guess would be that the two are out of phase. Now that you know your switch is working, I’d recommend hooking everything up the way you want it for the layout. Often those jury rig wiring jobs can produce a lot of accidental shorts as well.

  7. You were right. It was a short. I had ground from accessory on the same jumper termination where I cross-connect my toggle (ribbed wire) to the switch (inside terminal on the switch) which is ground from the track. Is it better to have Accessory ground or Track ground on that connection?
    But I am troubled a bit about the buzzing (of the solenoids, I think?). It sounds awful, kind of like my gateman which is OK for him because of his job- warning. Suggestions?

  8. We have an 8×7 ft rectangular layout and use command contol. The only things wired into cc is the track which uses a 20 volt transformer, the older kind with two levers and the sc2 for the uncoupling accesory. Can we wire the track furtherest from the transformer to the other track post on the same transformer to boost the power on the far side of the track?

  9. Lionelllc
    I have my switches all converted to Accessory voltage and working well, abeit they buzz alot. I am working on a capacitor-based solution for that. I’ll pass that info along when I have it working.
    I do have a question on the operation of the Lionel 027 1122 remote switch. To be specific a right hand 6-65122. How does the switch cut the voltage after it is applied with the Track voltage version, after the first car activates it when a train passes? There doesn’t appear to be any other control circuits in the switch, I don’t think.
    So, why when the fixed Accessory voltage, which again is only applied when requested, continue to drive the switch coils on a passing train’s subsequent cars when the track voltage version does not? There must be more to this than meets the eye.
    I would like to add as a side comment that the switches do work very well on the fixed voltage.

  10. This is a request: I got back into lionel after giving it up in 1985, I started p again in 2008 with fast track, i am 79 years young. I have not been able to find any books with sample layouts. Can you help me to find a book on fast track layouts?

      • An orient express would be a great train as well…..offer several different locomotives to operate with it as locomotives were changed at each national border if I am not mistaken.

  11. I would love to see the Pennsylvania B-6 switcher brought back with full command control. The 1989-90 locomotive is FANTASTIC. but could be made better with TMCC including coil couplers.

  12. We could use a suitable size turntable for O-gauge use the old Marklin HO turntable as a guide including indexing and flush mounting to the tabletop. Make it compatable with ALL track styles Fastrak, Tubular and Super-O and big enough for at least a scale Hudson

  13. Would love to see a blog post about replacing older Lionel light bulbs with LED bulbs. It is a complicated topic and one I’d like to have some “official” guidance on before switching anything out.

    • I love the idea of LED replacement bulbs especially for the large aluminum passenger cars. Ideally the strips of LEDs could be mounted with double stick tape or a mounting flange that fits into the extrusion above the windows and has a pair of bayonet fittings like the original light bulb so the lights do not blink going over switches.
      For the “Baby Madison cars” Southern Crescent, Blue Comet, Alton Ltd etc double stick tape and a pair of plugs that fit the existing light socket would be great.
      Reminder the OLD smoking caboose needs the correct factory specified light bulb to function correctly….No LED there

  14. How do I wire a MTH(Rail King) crossing gate with lights to my Fastrack insulated track, the problem is the gate has 5wires and I do not know where the white,yellow,blue wires go. I will run the gate from a accessories transformer. Do I need ITAD or 153ir controller?

    • Depending on which Lionel catalog you reference, Standard Gauge is 2 1/8 or 2 1/4 inches between the outer rails. The discrepancy comes from how the measurement is made. It measures 2 1/8″ between the inside edges of the rail and 2 1/4″ center of running rail to center of running rail.


      • Thanks Ed, Please send me more types of rails and width available. this will help me in design and selection.
        where i can find details of how to plan a layout? is there any web page available where i can get information.


  15. RRtrack software with the correct libraries is great for planning in both O and Standard Gauge for me. Look in Classic Toy Trains and O Gauge railroading for a link to their website.


  16. How would I go about putting a passing siding and a relay on a fastrack layout activating the two switch on either side to operate multiple trains on the same loop?


  17. Get your hands on an early 1950s instruction book there is a square layout that requires 2 pair of remote switches and several insulated track sections you can have 2 trains control each other….there is a similar reverse loop on each end layout as well….might take a little creative engineering to get it to work with fastrak

  18. I would appreciate a number of Fastrak items not made….Single crossovers both r and L and a Double Crossover aka Scissors switch and possibly a Double slip switch I know of people who have fabricated double crossovers out of 4 O-22 switches as well as 4 O-72 (711 or modern equivalent) as well as Super O

  19. When Lionel going to start making more cars in the USA. I understand that some are made here but only a very very few. I and my grandson are just getting into model railroading. I am a big proponent of items made in our country and I am teaching my grandson the same. If it’s made in China I refuse to buy it at any [rice!

  20. We do have options….I bought two older Walthers kits….Beer Can tank cars and am equipping them with Lionel sprung trucks. Cans will be one 12oz and one 16oz Diet Coke can. I was thinking of building a set of polyurethane passenger cars….the 1930s heavyweight 20th century limited from American Standard Car company with full interiors and LED strip lights in the roof clerestory. Will use either Lionel of K-Line 6 wheel passenger trucks I was also thinking of building Q Car trolleys and subway cars with Lionel compatable trucks and couplers and do the same with MTS brass bodies


  21. Hi
    I am just getting back into model railroading but Here in the UK O gauge three rail isn’t as popular as OO/HO or G gauge. The only Lionel dealer is in the Midlands of the UK which is quite a distance from where I live. (Essex) My question though is Should a CW 80 run a GP 9 with the AC/DC motor? this is supposed to be a “New” unused model I bought from EBAY the Number on the box is 6-8477. I think it may be a gearbox as the motor runs well off load. Any thoughts please
    I am getting used to the fasttrak system and really enjoy the crew-talk.
    I have seen the road system which is no longer produced which is quite a pity as it adds more realism to a layout any thoughts on re-introducing it?


    69 old and senile still learning

  22. Can some explain the difference in all the tubular track switches? I’m trying to run all O gauge (no O27) and I’m having a hard time finding switches. A lot of the online stores sell the right or left hand O31 turnouts but not both. Some places it’s on back order. It seems the 6-14062 and 6-14063 turnouts are the most recent (per the 2014 Lionel catalogue) but no one online seems to stock them. I also see the 6-5132 and 6-5133 in some stores, but like I said you can only seem to find a left or a right but not both. And then I see O22 switches that supposedly have a 31″ curve? How does that work? Does the 22 in the O22 mean something different? Why are there so many switches and why is it so hard to find them?

  23. The 022 switch was the standard O gauge (O-31) switch since 1938? There had been minor changes in design over the years, the biggest in 1950 when bulbs changed from screw base to bayonet base. Any pre-1969 switch will work for you….most work better than the latest incarnations.


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