Accessory Activator Track / Insulated Outside Rail

One of the easiest ways to hook up many of our accessories is by insulating one of the outside rails. For FasTrack users, the Accessory Activator Pack (6-12029) is all you need.

The activation track uses two track sections with an insulated gap on one outside rail. Both of these gaps need to be placed on the same rail to create the insulated section.

For traditional O and O-27 tubular track users, you’ll want the insulated rail track (6-12840 and 6-12841 respectively). This activation method works well for many single animation and illuminated + animated accessories. It’s best use is in locations where you want to activate the accessory not only when the train is immediately in front of it, but approaching and departing as well. It will not work on dual-animation accessories like signals, but can be made to do so with the 153E switch. The many different grade crossing signals and gates we offer are perfect examples.

Here’s how it works. Both outside rails are wired to AC Ground. The inside rail is AC Hot. Only the inside and one outside rail needs to receive power for the train to operate. The metal wheels and axles of your Lionel trains act like a bridge, connecting the two outside rails even if both do not receive power directly from the power supply.

insulated outside rail

The insulated rail is shown at the top of each track section. When the train’s wheels complete the circuit, AC Ground is supplied to the other rail and the attached accessory.

The insulated outside rail section, or block, removes that outside power source to one rail between two gaps. A single wire connects this insulated rail to your accessory. Note that it does not matter which rail you use, but generally the rail closest to the accessory is chosen for simplicity. The other lead from the accessory is attached to the AC Hot terminal (or bus) from you power supply. The accessory will not work until the circuit is completed by the wheels of the passing train.

Note that by phasing your transformers and using a common ground between both your accessories and your train power, it is possible to wire these accessories so that they will activate even if the train is stopped on the circuit. This means if you stop your train on the road crossing, the gates will stay activated! Just one more advantage to phasing your transformers.

Extending insulated track

You can remove the common rail bus on any FasTrack section to increase the length or change the shape of your activation block.

You can make the activation section as long as you want by extending the insulated section. FasTrack users can use the 6-12027 Extender track to do this. You can also modify other curve or shorter straight sections to further customize your activation section by simply removing the bus bar between the outside rails on the base of the track.

To follow the set-up process completely, just follow along with this video:


0 thoughts on “Accessory Activator Track / Insulated Outside Rail

  1. Can this same technique be used to control the distance between two trains on one track? If one track piece is insulated/depowered and treated like the accessory, and an insulated/activation rail is created 180 halfway around the layout, I’m thinking the following train (going faster and closing on the leading train) would stop at the insulated/depowered track piece. When the leading train crosses the activation piece, current would flow through wheels/axles of the leading train and flow through the depowered/accessory piece causing the following train to start moving. Each time the following train starts to creep ahead, it would stop at the depowered piece until the leading train crosses the accessory activation piece. Would this work and are there any potential pitfalls?

    • This won’t work because although one outside rail is insulated, the other still has power. So the following train will simply complete the circuit again on its own and keep on going. To accomplish what you want, you would have to insulate both outside rails. The activation (lets say left) rail of the first block would then have to energize the power rail of the third block (assuming you want only one track block separating the two trains.) And then you would have to daisy chain that pattern around the entire loop.

      It would work, but there would be a lot of complications and you’d have to plan this very carefully. First, a train could only run if there were a train two blocks ahead of it. So for two trains on a loop, you’d need four blocks and the two trains would have to stay in every-other-block the entire time. As soon as one got ahead of the other, both trains would stop.

      Also, because any metal wheel will power the opposite rail, the block behind the locomotive would be transferring power as well. On a 4 block loop, this basically means you will always have power all the way around the layout, completely defeating the purpose. You could add more blocks and create a second safety block between trains, but this also creates problems as metal wheels on cars stretch the train across blocks and the situation could easily arise where the second train can creep into the same block as the rear of the first train because it has stopped in the block the second train just exited.

      Hope that makes sense! In short, it is probably going to cause a lot more headaches than it will prevent rear-end collisions!

  2. Hi I have a question on how to use the acces activator track to wire a lionel block target signal that has 3 connections on the base of the accessory, I can’t get it wired to be. Green til a train activates it to red? Thanks Ron W

    • The Accessory Activator Track works best with single animation accessories. The target signal is a double-animation – meaning that when the red light goes on, you want the green light to go off. It would be much easier to wire this with one of the 153 activation switches. The track section can turn on the red bulb, but not turn off the green.

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