Wiring Your Layout

Wiring any model railroad can be a daunting task. Since we can’t see it, electricity can be a challenge to understand. And when something doesn’t work, it’s more difficult to figure out why. Like other parts of the hobby however, wiring your railroad is not something to fear. Learn the basics, establish standards, learn as you go and wire as you build.

bus wires

Wiring often looks and sounds complicated, but if you follow these steps you’ll take away the mystery and the mess.

One of our most common questions is, “What do I need to wire my railroad?” Well, that all depends. How big is your railroad? How many trains do you run? What accessories do you have? The number of control switches, block sections, transformers, etc. that you will need will all depend on what you are trying to do. The basic principles however remain the same. While the quantity may change, the systems do not.

We’re going to take you all the way through wiring a model railroad, from starting a basic platform, to adding accessories, to installing command control. The pages within this blog are filled with diagrams, photos and video to make sense of it all. You may not need all of this information, or you may just not need all of it right now. Follow along from beginning to end or jump around to the topics that interest you – either way you’ll find this mysterious wiring monster is less fierce than he’s made out to be.  [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ow52I1cEtqk&feature=g-upl]

The Basicscw80

Conventional Control

Adding Command Control

If you’ve followed the steps above to wire your railroad for conventional control, then installing command control can literally be as easy as attaching a single wire. You can also use your TMCC or LEGACY system to control switches and accessories from other manufacturers. We’ll walk you through the process step by step. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0dpcL–LVc]

Command Control Basics – What is it and what can it do?LEGACY

What Do You Need to Get Started? – Product overviews to build your command control system, including products needed to run both command and conventional control trains.

Installing Legacy – Step by step video tutorials will lead you through the whole process as you set up your basic LEGACY system.

Expanding Command Control – ASC, AMC, ARC, BPC… It can get confusing in a hurry!  This page will help you make sense of all the controller options available as you add to your command control capabilities to do more than just run trains.

Switches

  • ASC and SC-2– Both of these control switches.  Depending on which type of switches you use, one may be better than the other. Which one is right for you?
    • SC-2– The SC-2 is best suited for twin-coil type machines and can be easily wired to Lionel switches as well as other manufacturers’.
    • ASC (Accessory Switch Controller)– The ASC will handle twin-coil machines, but also motors. Here you’ll find wiring instructions for using the ASC on switches including:ASC
      • Tortoise (Stall-Motor)
      • DZ1000
      • FasTrack

Accessories

There are multiple ways to connect your various accessories to command control. For most, you can use the same SC-2 and ASC that also work with switches. For operating and uncoupling tracks, we have the OTC. And for other special accessories, we have the AMC. And of course those 153 devices and insulated outside rail blocks will still work no matter what is powering your trains. You are really limited only by your imagination when it comes to wiring your accessories.

  • SC-2
    • We show how you can wire this versatile controller to use both momentary and on/off contact switches to operate up to twelve accessories.
  • ASC
    • Use and program the ASC to control just about any accessory that requires momentary or on/off activation – up to eight addresses are available on each unit.
  • OTC
    • Use the OTC (Operating Track Controller) to operate your operating and uncoupling tracks from your cab. We provide clear instructions for both uncoupling tracks and operating tracks in both the Fastrack and O Gauge lines.
  • Other Accessories: Watch as we install a receiver in an Atlas O turntable to make it run from your system. These same techniques could be applied to many accessories.

A Sample Layout

blocksSo what do you need to wire your layout? By now you should know what each piece does and what it can handle. This sample layout puts it all together in a single platform to show what you might really nead to convert your layout.

While your layout is probably different from the one shown here, hopefully this sample will help show you the way.

61 thoughts on “Wiring Your Layout

  1. First of all, thank you for this service as it will help to clear up many questions about wiring. My request would be to include American Flyer two rail hook-up’s in this series as that is my preference. I have a Legacy locomotive running with my Gilbert AF and I would like to see instructions pertaining to AF trains, too. Thanks again.

  2. What conflict, if any, would be impose if command was ADDED to turnouts already wired for standard controller operation. In other words, can the turnouts operate in both command and direct modes at the same time?

    • In other words you want to have both the remote control button and an ASC or SC-2 hooked up? This should not be a problem with any of the momentary contact switch machines as long as you don’t press the button and the controller at the exact same time. The ASC and SC-2 are essentially push putton switches which replace your finger with a command code from the command base. With the constant voltage machines like a Tortoise, we’d have to test it to make sure it would work properly.

      • This is as I thought. Thank you very much for your fast response. Upgrading my current system will not be an inexpensive job and I want to be sure that I understand completely. I will be moving from 0 to fastrack, including (at this point) non-command fastrack turnouts, beginning this autumn/winter.

        This section and its videos have helped me confirm most of my assumptions and given me a final confidence to move ahead. You have my forever thanks for something I felt was very much needed!

        • Our pleasure! Good luck with your conversion, and feel free to reach out with questions any time. The process can be overwhelming in scope (and budget!) if you try to do it all at once, but just like in this series, you can break it down into smaller chunks and add on as your time and budget allow. Have fun!

  3. Thank you and what a great idea. Please include “tips” as you go along, much like many of the “how to books” on PC’s and software. I am all for the focus on Legacy but hope it addresses TMCC as well.

  4. In your sample laout, I see there are several crossover sections to go from one loop to the other. These are using 2 swtches that are face to face (so to speak). Is it possible to connect BOTH switches to one controller, so the ‘pairs’ operate in tandem ?

  5. Sorry looking for some tehie details too thus ..another question
    What is the ‘Data’ terminal used for on the FT CC Switches?
    (and what does it speak rs485,ttl,other?) Are there any specs on this (yes I’ll sign an NDA if needed )

    • You’ve gone a bit over my head on those questions. I don’t have the information you’ll need here, but I’ll pass the question along and get back to you as soon as possible.

        • Here is a response from our customer service center – I hope this helps:

          It is the data and com line, similar to the command base cable used to drive devices such as ASC/AMC/ARC, etc. The Data terminal is essentially a +5VDC communication line used to drive the old IC Controls line of devices, so a cable does not need to be run from the command base. If a command switch is in a close proximity to these devices you can use DAT and common to drive those devices.

  6. Next question (related to back to back switches)
    I have one section where there are basically 2 loops connected with o36 switches.
    The mainline (outer loop) is an OUT to switch to the inner loop_
    The inner loop is a THRU to switch to the outer track.
    I am using 2 – o32 command control remotes on the mainline, and 2 – o32 std remote switches on the inner loop.

    If I dont use the RSC Lamps, can these be ‘cross wired’ where the outer loop THRU, and the inner loop OUT are one connection (and vice-versa) ?

    Would this cause any problems (eg are the OUT and THRU connections used to feedback voltage to the controller for indications), and is there a way around this ?

  7. We have building a brand new layout which will be quite large. We will only be using legacy. Where can we find help with wiring for JUST LEGACY? Thank you

    • The LEGACY instructions on this page will guide you through the LEGACY installation process. Although not “LEGACY” per se, you’ll still want to review some of the conventional techniques like wiring bus and feeder wires to get the most out of your trains. You can also add LEGACY to your switches and accessories as you go to reduce the up-front costs.

  8. Thank you for your fast response. So if we add LEGACY to our switches and accessories do we just put in either the accessories or operating track and then take that back to where? We have operating fastrack, accessory fastrack, not sure exactly how they work. Also we have a rotary coal tipple, is there anyway we can connect it to legacy so I can operate with a preprogrammed sequence? Thank you so much for all your help.

    • You’ll want to use the SC-2, ASC or OTC to control your accessories and operating tracks with LEGACY. You can find instructions for all of these on the wiring your layout page. You’ll also find instructions for the insulated outside rail track and the 153 switches which can be used to control accessories that don’t need LEGACY control. For example, a crossing signal can be controlled easily with an insulated rail and will be operated by the train – no need to add a manual control unless you want to turn it on and off every time by yourself. For the rotary dumper, you would want to use the AMC (Accessory Motor Controller).

  9. Does anyone have any idea of why Lionel cars with coil couplers are opening on various sections of Fastrack? I am at wits end trying to figure this out. Does not matter which car (any one of them from 1941-1955), or any one particular section of track. It will happen on both my conventional blocks and my Legacy blocks (7 blocks over all). I have tried taping over the shoes on the cars but this only makes a mess of the track, gets caught in the switches (26 Command Control aux power) and does not really address he problem. Thanks for our input. I really do not want to disable all the shoes with the wire cutters.

    • There is no likely electrical reason for the problem. More probable is that the coupler springs themselves have simply weakened with age. You could try replacing the springs on the couplers. An easier “temporary” fix is to hold the knuckles closed with a small rubber band. We’ve used this trick several times on our display layouts as a “just in case” when the trains have to run for hours or days unattended.

  10. I am just getting back into Lionel model railroading. I purchased some fastback and fastrack switches. Everyitme the loco rolls over the middle of the switch it stops. This happens on both switches, it appears that all the rail connections are as they should be and the wiring and jumper is correct. Am I missing something?

  11. I am changing from tubular track to FasTrack. To get started, I just want to replicate my tubular layout in FasTrack. My tubular 022 switches each had original controllers but also had 2 wires from one 022 directly to the other 022. This way one switch was activated by the train passing thru the other (as shown on page 89 of The Big Book of Lionel 2nd edition). So here is my question. Can Fastrack switches be wired together to do this, and if so what are the wiring connections required?

    • YES, red and green may be connected between switches. Both switches will activate simultaneously ( either by switch remote. or by passing trains)
      SIDE NOTE(s):
      >>You can also configure switches front to back (one thru and one not thru.- like a crossover where one is a thru and the other is a turn ) in this case cross the red and green between the switches to achieve simultaneous switching to the correct tracks)
      >> The Yellow lead is for the Indicators, and should be kept separate ! When using in a crossover front to back configuration, select the appropriate yellow for the remote indicator (one will be red/green the other green/red)

    • You can add track-powered accessories to your LionChief set using track power as you would with a transformer controlled set. The only caveat to this is that any accessory wired to the track must have bulbs rated for 18V. Your LionChief power supply has adequate power to run the train and a few small accessories without any problem. If you want to power the accessories directly (not from track power) then an additional power supply should be purchased. We recommend separating accessories and train power regardless of what control system you use if you are going to have several around the layout. Our 6-32923 Accessory Transformer will work well for this. You can find more specific tips for wiring the different types of accessories here on these pages.

  12. I am starting a new first layout, if I plan on using the Lionel Legacy Control, can I power the track with a constant 18volts right from the transformer? Do I still need to add control blocks as in older layouts? Are the new engines equipped with the Trainmaster and Legacy controls completely self controlled and not relying on the variable voltage from the transformer,as long as I have a constant 18 volts to the tracks ? I plan on using all new updated engines. I need to know if all I need to do is provide a constant 18Volts to the track and of course the one wire from the Legacy control.

    • Yes, all you need is 18 volts to the rails. Your TMCC / LEGACY locomotives can be controlled independently using the cab with a fixed 18 volts. There is no need for any blocks. They will also work with conventional variable-voltage transformers if you should ever take them to a different layout that doesn’t have command control.

  13. I have a loop layout approx 60′ in length. I ran a bus wire around the entire loop and connected feeder wires approx every 10′. I’m having problems with the train slowing in some sections and actually coming to a complete stop in one point. Do you have any suggestions to fix this problem? BTW, I’m using a lionel GW-180 watt transformer

    • John,
      I’m not sure what operating system you’re using. Here at the office (we’re on Windows) all I have to do is right click anywhere on the article and the select “print.” The print out is in a word document form, not formatted like the web page, but all of the photos and text are there.
      Thanks!

  14. Racking my brain:
    In regards to my operating track section, Lionel 6-12054, which works fine using track power in both the uncouple and unload modes (using my operating box car), I prefer to wire it to a constant 14V power supply to my CW80 watt transformer via the accessory terminals. Unfortunately, I’m having difficulty getting my operating box car to function. The uncoupler still works fine, but not the unload feature. All I did was remove the red lead from under the track and connect it to the 14v supply per your video blog. The uncoupler still works fine, but the accessory rails do not. With my multimeter, I notice that one set of accessory rails (upon pressing the unload button) energizes to 14v, but the other set of rails maintains a constant 1.5 v approximately. When I re-hook up the red lead back to the track for track power, everything works fine again. One set of accessory rails energizes to 14v while the other set de-energizes to 0v and the box car operates just fine. Any idea why there would be a difference just by re-directing the red lead to accessory power from track power. BTW, the track is brand new, as is the transformer and I didn’t mess with any other wires on the operating track. Also, I did notice that my operating track upon removal of the beveled roadbed has 4 sets of three copper terminals which I do not see in the instruction manual or in your videos. It appears to be wired with red (hot), green, and black wires at each location for some function that is beyond me. Is this operating track different or are they all the same? thanks

  15. Lionel Fastrack Wiring

    I have a total of 28 command control fastrack that want to start wiring up to a central location. I am going to wire in the switch lever and also use command control. As per the Lionel Fastrack book I am going to use the Radio Shack 12 position terminal strips (274-677). I am going to use separate power for the switch (not track power). So with the power feed and switch lever wiring that is a total of 6 wires going to the terminal strip, so I can wire two switches per terminal strip. So here is my question, according to the Lionel book they talk about using 22 gauge wiring, can I get away using Cat 3 6 wire (3 pair) wiring which is 24 gauge instead of the 22 gauge? I am concerned mostly about the power handling of the 24 gauge, will it be alright or do I need to use at least 22 gauge?

    • If the length of your run is not very long, you should be ok with 24 gauge, but we would still recommend 22 if you’re going more than a few feet. If you already have the 24 gauge wire, you can hook up your furthest switch for a test. If it works, you should be fine for all. If not, at least you’ll know before you wire 27 more!

  16. I am just getting used to 3 rail track, it has so many advantages over my garden railway (G gauge) 2 rail, reverse loops are a breeze. Thanks Mike for the instructional videos, just love the April Fools ones, Brilliant

  17. As a newcomer (setting up for son for Christmas), I am hoping someone can answer what is probably a very simple question (but I do not want to assume and burn a house): If I want to say double a 40 x 60 Christmas train layout, with a few cars and a dual motor diesel, is going from a CW 80 to a CW 180 enough or do I also need to run busses? Like, one bus on the opposite side if it is a symmetrical layout for example? I experienced the obvious when I set it up normally with no busses and just the CW 80…….the diesel had trouble starting and slowed when furthest away from the power source. Thank you!

  18. This is my soon planned figure-8 layout, which also gives my LionChief 18 volt DC Polar Express train the ability to reverse (reverse loop) its forward direction by using 4 remote switches (2 left and 2 right). The 4 switches are connected to the sides of the figure-8 as shown in this link, thereby creating and sharing track in an outer loop: http://www.trainz.com/skins/Skin_7/images/trackplans/phonebooth.jpg I am new to this concept of blocking, but in my opinion, since the center rail does not appear to change, do I need to block anything? The outer most and inner most rails will change, according to the forward direction of the train however, so I just thought I should ask the experts here before I connect everything up next week and possibly blow up my son’s Christmas present. All advice and comments are welcomed please!

  19. GENTILEMEN, I AM A LIONEL TRAIN FREAK LIKE MOST 1950’S KIDS. I HAVE LIONEL TRAINS THAT DATE BACK TO THE 30’S AND THEY ALL WORK. THE NEWEST TRAIN SET THAT I HAVE DATES BACK TO 1953. HERE IS MY QUESTION. WHAT WIRE DO I USE TO WIRE A 022 SWITCH AND A O72 SWITCH TRACK FROM A LONG DISTANCE? THE FLAT 3 WIRE CONTROLLERS ARE ONLY 4 FEET LONG WHEN YOU BUY THE SWITCH. I HAVE A ZW AND A KW TRANSFORMER. I LOVE YOUR PRODUCTS. THANK YOU FOR WANTING TO BE A KID AGAIN. SINCERLY, AL DIFABIO

  20. So I am planning a double track shelf system that measures 40′ by 28′ around a rec room. I have kids…so I am going to have both lines totally separate, crossing over each other via a trestle at the midway point of the longest walls. In other words, there will be 2 totally separate track systems so there is no chance of collision. That being said, can I use the Lionel Legacy controller on 2 totally separate tracks? Or do I have to use 2? Thanks in advance.

  21. I am having trouble with the fast track and getting enough power to the track from the transformer without the wires getting hot. There is power to the track but not enough to move the train around the track. I have checked all of the connections and it is new track. The train will start moving slowly and then just stops. Please help me with this problem as I am at a stand still and need an expert to help me ouG

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