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Model Railroad Wiring – A Basic Understanding Will Take You A Long Way

Being able to set up model railroad wiring is an extremely important part of being a model train and railroad enthusiast.

It is also an exciting element of the hobby as you are able to control the stops and runs of the railroad set. Trains are meant to stop at each station and gradually decelerate on tight corners and junctions. In order to make this all possible, you should have at least a basic knowledge of model railroad wiring.

Model railroad wiring is the aspect of railroading which involves making electricity flow so that the engine is able to pull its cars and buildings and illuminate streetlights. In fact, wiring has become so advanced that you can attach a tiny camera on the top of your train as it moves through the display.

Be creative and you can include almost anything to your display to make it more fun and appealing.

The Fundamentals of Model Railroad Wiring

As you should already know, model railroading exposes you to many subject areas and one of them is electrical wiring and circuitry. Of course, if you are a beginner and have no knowledge of this area then it is best that you consult a friend or fellow model train hobbyist to get you started. You can even buy a pre-wired circuit baseboard if you so choose.


Controllers or transformers run the voltage which establishes the speed at which the train’s engine will operate. The controllers also give power to the various accessories so they can be switched on or off. The controller has direct current (DC) terminals and alternating current (AC) terminals. The DC terminals control the engine so the train can move in reverse. The AC terminals control accessories like street lamps. Wiring can run from underneath the board to each accessory. It’s easy to connect the wires as both the DC and AC terminals are usually marked on the controller.


Voltage is also an important part of your wiring. Lights and other accessories included in the display should be rated at the same voltage or just above that of the output of the AC terminals. For instance, if you use a six volt bulb on a 12 volt terminal, the bulb will blow. In addition, having too many accessories on the same power pack can reduce the performance of your locomotive. So, look for things like the train moving slower. This will indicate that you may have to add more power packs to power all those accessories on your model train layout.

Digital Command Control (DCC)

DCC is a major advancement in technology which allows an operator to give the track a digital signal. The signal tells the locomotive what to do and so if you are operating two locomotives on the same electrical track, it can be done so independently.

Avoiding Accidents

Working with wiring can present worst case scenarios, so here are a few tips to help prevent the occurrence of accidents. All wires should be properly wired and tight. Your tracks should be connected to the DC terminal and not the AC terminal as this may damage your train’s engine. Debris and dust will build up after awhile so clean the track with a soft, clean cloth and using a track cleaner. You want to avoid dust getting inside the engine and causing a short.

The modern day starter model train sets make it very easy for the person with no model railroad wiring experience as everything is color coded. This is where you should probably consider starting.


>> Model Railroader How to Build Realistic Reliable Track

>> Easy Model Railroad Wiring, Second Edition


Want more information on model railroad wiring? Then check out the popular and 100% FREE Model Train Newsletter. This is compulsory reading for any model train beginner. It contains valuable information on the right way to build your dream model railroad and achieve this within the time, space and budget you have available. More at www.BuildModelRailroad.com/

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About Dan Morgan

Dan Morgan is on a mission to encourage more people to give model railroading a go... There is just no better hobby in the world!

2 Responses to “Model Railroad Wiring – A Basic Understanding Will Take You A Long Way”

  1. Robert Bell Reply Fri at 4:12 am

    Dan, I need help and where to get it. My layout is a simple loop with a siding. I am using manual switches and when I switch to the siding, I am getting power to both the siding and mainline. How do I isolate one or the other?

    • Dan Morgan Reply Sun at 1:50 am

      Hi Robert,

      Isolating tracks isn’t difficult, but takes a little more time than standard wiring. You just have to set up a separate block for the siding. This video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSK7DP7jX1w&t=4s) is a good demo for block wiring (though the guy in the video is isolating a lot more than you are).

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