What is a good transformer for HO trains?

Discussion in 'FAQs' started by gregbva123, Jun 25, 2003.

  1. gregbva123

    gregbva123 Member

    Hello Class,

    What is a good transformer for HO Trains? I currently have a MRC Tech 4 with a single control speed dial and a very cheap trainsformer that comes with a set. I have onle mainline and yard work to do.

    I have 16 individual block sections that need power and around 18 atlas code 83 switches in my 11 x 13 room. I'm using the Atlas switches and control buttons it comes with and atlas control button to supply power to the track.

  2. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    I won't be much help here as none of my controllers are available.
    I think the MRC has a good reputation. If you can get another one, you should be fine. You can use the train set controller until you get frustrated at its limitaions.
    The train set controller would be a good candidate for powering your switches as you'll only be changing one or two at a time. That is, after you buy another power pack.
    You may want to get a power pack with some fancy electronics for your main line -- some sort of momentum control with brakes. With these you set your speed and it gradually builds up then apply the brake and stop or slow the train. Most people find them dangerous for switching as they take time to get stopped.
  3. shaygetz

    shaygetz Active Member

    Since you're going with two cabs, I would just get a duplicate MRC Tech 4. As 60103 said, just retire the other to control turnouts, lights and such. MRC is a very good first throttle.
  4. gregbva123

    gregbva123 Member

    Can I use one transformer for the mainline and one only for the yard work?

    Let me know if I can do this?

  5. roryglasgow

    roryglasgow Active Member


    Yes, you can run different parts of your layout from different transformers (power packs). This is called "cab control," and is a very common method used for wiring layouts. Sections of track, called "blocks," are electrically isolated from one another. Typically, a toggle switch or other type of selector is used to select which power pack controls which block(s). This gives the operator(s) flexibility in controlling the trains.

    The NMRA has a good article that describes how to wire up a layout: http://www.nmra.org/beginner/wiring.html

    Also, check out the layout plan books by Atlas. Atlas sells a line of control switches and other components that make wiring up a layout pretty easy (a lot easier than fiddling with a bunch of toggle switches and their wires). Although their layout books cover the topic of wiring, Atlas publishes a separate book on the subject. Here is a link that describes the book: http://www.atlasrr.com/basics/wiring/welcome.asp
  6. shaygetz

    shaygetz Active Member

    I think I see what you want, yes, simply isolate the yard trackage from the mainline with two insulated rail joiners on both rails. You will have two simple blocks with no cab control involved. The locomotives will be controlled within their own respective blocks and operation and wiring will be simple until you desire something more in the area of true operation.
  7. gregbva123

    gregbva123 Member

    I have only used gap spacer on the outside rail and track is glued down now. Now what do I do?

  8. shaygetz

    shaygetz Active Member

    If your gaps are all on the same rail, then you make the ungapped rail your common. This is done by taking the negative side of both packs, wiring them in series and then running them to different points and sidings on your plan---ensuring that each point shares the same side or "common" rail. Then you run the positive side of each pack to their respective areas, one to mainline trackage, one to the yard trackage. This will give you simple block control but not the more complex cab control.
  9. gregbva123

    gregbva123 Member

    Ok, I am new at this, sorry. I have gap spacer on all my outside rails, Is that the positive side? and the negative is the one without the plastic spacers?

    Which way is the easiest and most reiable way to use two transformers? One for the mailine train and run and one transformer to run individual switching engines as the mainline keeps ruuning? Do I use two gap spacer on both rails pos and neg or some other way?

  10. jwmurrayjr

    jwmurrayjr Member


    I'm really surprised that no one has suggested DCC. For $110 to $160 you could get a good starter set and enjoy the advantages of DCC.

    Maybe I missed it. Do you want to run DC only with cab control?

    With DCC you can start simple and later expand if you want. Do you have many locos?

    I'm not one of those "DC is dead...let it rest!" guys, but you should consider DCC. Maybe you have.

    Have fun,
  11. shaygetz

    shaygetz Active Member

    Yes, you're fine for the setup you desire. One pack will control one area the other will control its own area. This is the simplest form of block control. Cab control gives you the ability to run two trains off of two packs anywhere on the layout. As your experience grows you will be able to expand to cab control relatively painlessly with the addition of some wire and some double pole, double throw switches. "Till then just enjoy the trains and don't let us old timers scramble your brains with coulda, shoulda and woulda.;) :eek: :p

    P.S. You should play a lotto ticket soon. If I'm reading you right, you got the polarities right and quite by beginners luck.:eek: :p
  12. gregbva123

    gregbva123 Member

    You old timer are great and have a great amount of knowledge on this subject. My father died 3 years ago and we were going to shared this together, but that did not happen. Just proves, enjoy today and tomorrow with your family because you never know the future. I'm trying to build this layout in his honor, so he can look down and see it.

    One questions guys, If I run two transformers. One on mainline and one for the yard work, how do I simply go from one transformer area to the other transformer area. If the plastic rail spacer all I need or do I need two plastic rail spacers on both sides of the rail??? Like if my train is running on the mainline (transformer 1) and comes in to the yard area (transformer 2) on a different transformer, is it still the same idea with the plastic rail spacers?

  13. shaygetz

    shaygetz Active Member

    From the looks of your pics, it appears that your yard trackage come off of a passing siding. This is a perfect setup for placing one cab control block in so that you can bring in the train on the pack from the mainline, stop it, then flip a DPDT switch and continue on using the pack that controls the yard. You should not have to chage any gaps for this. I can email a simplified pic of the wiring required.

    As for my Dad, the thought of him, wrapped up and hopelessly tangled in wiring, with a smoldering bum from a soldering burn to boot...:eek: He just was not the mechanical type but, oh, did he love his trains.

    What part of VA do you hail from. My wife's family lived in Alexandria, then Centrevile for a while and my sister lives currentlt in Midlothian, near Richmond.
  14. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    The one thing you want to avoid is having both throttles connected electrically to the same track at the same time. That situation can cause a back feed from one to the other throttle and damage them. You can wire one throttle to the mainline, and one throttle to the yard. Then on the passing siding that serves as your yard lead or entrance to the yard wire in a double pole/double throw switch then if your are coming in from the mainline once the locomotives are entirely on the siding, flip the switch to yard power, and run the train on in with the yard throttle. Do the opposite to leave the yard with a train. You will also need one or more tracks in the yard where you can park a locomotive and bring in a train without having the parked locomotive move. You can do this with power routing turnouts, but I've never wired a power routing turnout, so I can't tell you how. The other way to do it is to put an insulated joiner on one rail just past the turnout on the track you want to isolate. You then wire in a simple single pole/single throw (on-off) switch with the power coming from the same rail on the "hot" side of the turnout. The power out of the switch goes to the other side of the insulated rail joiner. When the switch is turned on, that track section is powered so you can move that locomotive. When the switch is turned off, that track section is dead so a locomotive will stay parked. I'm not sure what the spec is on your MRC Tech 4 power packs. I have MRC Tech 2 2400's. My throttles will operate 3 Athearn locomotives. They will probably run 5-6 can powered locos like Kato or Atlas. Lifelike P2K probably fall in between because of the power demands of their lighting packages. If you have a dozen or more locomotives parked in an engine service facility and all are on live tracks when you turn on your power pack, you may get an overload condition. You want to have sections of track a little over one locomotive in length set up with on-off switches so that you can park the locos and still operate the railroad.
  15. gregbva123

    gregbva123 Member

    Hello and thanks for the info,

    I am using the Atlas controller for power to sections of the track. Is this a Single pole, it is a on/off switch?

    My engine yard facility will have 2 switches to it and 3 blocked off sections of track with the plastic rail spacers after the switch. So when the locos are in the facility, they will stay there.

    I live in Ashburn, VA, 25 miles west of Alexandria, VA.

  16. shaygetz

    shaygetz Active Member

    I'm not too familiar with Atlas controllers, its been quite some time since I've used them, but it sounds like it is a single pole, single throw (SPST) switch. That would be a one wire, on/off switch.

    As a Civil War buff, I've always loved VA for its history. I'm from Baltimore myself and have been to Manasas (only Yankees call it Bull Run), Richmond and Petersburg among others.

    Hope we haven't spun your gourd too much on this wiring thing. Like any aspect of this hobby, you can put as much or as little as you desire into it.
  17. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    greg: is the Controller the one with 3 switches on it? then it is 3 on/off switches.
    I'm using one called the Selector which has 4 switches on it -- double throw, center off, single pole. This hooks blocks up to either throttle. You can then run the blocks out to a Controller to control :) your dead sections.
    They also have a panel that works with reverse loops and wyes.
    I think you probably want to keep your operations down to at most 2 trains at a time. I usually suggest "one brain, one train". :D

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