Signal Review

Discussion in 'N / Z Scale Model Trains' started by nolatron, Jul 14, 2008.

  1. nolatron

    nolatron Member

    Over past few months I've been doing research and looking at a variety of N-scale signal companies to find ones that look prototypical, good quality, and reasonably priced. In the end, I settled for and purchased 4 brands for a hands on look. Those are:

    South Bend Signals
    Single Track Hobbies
    Custom Signal Systems

    Atlas G-Type Signals
    First up on our list is the relatively new signal line from Model Railroad Manufacturer Atlas.

    When these signals first came out I wasn't too fond of the style, mainly cause I liked the searchlight style more, but they eventually grew on me. So I thought I'd give them a try.

    These signals are well built, are in good supply, have nice clean details, and has a nice plug-n-play style system for running them. I'm not using their system though. One thing I liked about these signals is related to how I'm wiring my signal system. Atlas uses RJ-11 jacks/connectors for connecting everything, which also just happens to be my planned method for wiring signals and turnouts. So this would make wiring a breeze. A simple RJ-11 coupler and my signal would be connected to the wire running back to the hardware.

    I'm not sure what kind lighting is used in these signals, I'm assuming a custom made R/G/Y SMD considering the size of the target heads.

    Wiring from the signal is pretty thin, and I'm always afraid I'm gonna break a wire from moving it too much. All the wires are connected directly to connectors, so no soldering or anything is involved. It's all plug-n-play.

    Atlas offers Single target, double target, and bi-direction target. Check your LHS,, and ebay for prices as it will vary between retailers.

    I highly recommend these signals if you don't mind the G-Type target style.

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    South Bend Signals

    These signals... well... not so good. While the price is right ($18.95 for a double target), the signals are grossely overscale as you can see in the pictures. Even just looking at them and knowing they should be n-scale, you'll know right off the bat they are huge. Design is very simple with some basic details.

    SMD are used for the lightning and resistors are included. Signal looks good with no "point of origin" viewable.

    STH offers Single Target, Double Target, Three Light Single Target, 3 over 2 light double target, along with single and double dwarf signals.

    If you're looking for a signal and not really concerned about the scale size or fine details, and just want something that operates on the cheap, these are for you. Otherwise, I'd suggest avoiding them.

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    Signal Track on the right, compared to a Pro-Tech signal.

    Signal Track Hobbies

    From what I've read about these guys, they seemed to be like the Cadillac of signals. Hand-built highly detailed signals, and they are. These signals looks really good and very prototypical in scale.

    SMD's are used for lightning. Included with each signal is a circuit board with built-in resistors. Soldering the signal wires to this board is required and then wiring from your signal system is then soldering to the other side of the board.

    I found the wiring used to be pretty thin, like the Atlas signals. they aren't marked either so I'm not exactly sure which wire is for which target/color, other than the brown common wire.

    The downside to these signals... the cost. A double target searchlight will cost you $36.50, and single target $34.50, making these the most expensive ones out there. Stop Light, Triple Targets and Dwarf signals are also available.

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    Custom Signal Systems

    Last up we have Custom Signal Systems. Currently they only sell HO Scale signals on their site, but I've been working with Richard (the owner) as a guinea pig for developing an N-Scale signal after I inquired about it a few months ago. I was lucky enough to finally test that first made signal a few weekends ago.

    The signal is top notch quality, with excellent details and prototypical scaled items. Of the 4 signals I bought, in my opinion I think this one has the cleanest workmanship. For example, the back of the targets are nice and clean with no real obvious wires running into the mast.

    The signal came with a good gauge wire that didn't make me feel like I was working with strands of hair. The wire length was also about 2' in length, something that I loved as it makes doing wire connections so much easier. Give you a little breathing room. The double target I tested was a R/G over a R/Y, and the green and yellow wires were indicated with a piece of matching colored electrical tape. The signal target signal came with 1 red and 1 green colored wire. The common positive wire in both was blue and hard to miss. It might be a little thing, but I appreciate this. A resistor can come pre-soldered as well.

    Signal lighting is provided by SMDs, and they looked good from my initial test.

    CSS is planning on offering single($25), double($30), triple targets($50), and dwarfs ($15). You also do custom requests, such as having signal targets installed on signal bridges (and even get the bridge built for you). He also offers complete custom made signal logic systems, Block Detection, and other services.

    Richard has been great to work with (even just over email) on this project and I plan on purchasing all my searchlight targets from him.

    If you're looking to do install Searchlight Signals on your layout, I highly recommend dropping Richard an email.

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  2. TrainNut

    TrainNut Ditat Deus

    Awesome and informative review. Thanks for taking the time to put that together.
  3. MCL_RDG

    MCL_RDG Member


    ...for me- the READING had these (G-Type) along the rails thru Manayunk- my target RR.

    Thanks for taking a look at different signal systems and showing them here.

  4. Biased turkey

    Biased turkey Active Member

    Thanks nolatron for taking some of your valuable time to write that very detailed and informative review about the available N scale signals.
    Purchasing signals is not right now on top of my priority list, but I bookmarked the link.

  5. I love the looks of the single head searchlight signal,who makes that signal?I like NJ International for grade crossing signals with gate especially the griswold crossing signal with "A" frame gate arm.I hope custom signals does make N Scale signals especially the single head searchlight signal,they are my favorite.
  6. nolatron

    nolatron Member

    The Signal target is made by Custom Signal Systems. You can contact him for ordering information.

    I've already got in an order in for all my lower level searchlight signals.
  7. I'll have to do that Shaun,when I am ready and have the money,those searchlight signals look,and so does the layout.I enjoy your updates and photos,great job.

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