Smoke and lights

I’m posting John’s question below for two reasons.

Firstly, it made me laugh out loud.

And secondly, it struck a chord with me because he’s keen to solve the problem for his son (I know how he feels).

So have a look below. Any takers?

“Hey Al,

I have asked quite a few fellow model railroaders, hobby shop owners, and book store owners. I get the same answer from them. The question is about basic wiring on my HO scale model layout. I just want a simple answer. The answers are way too complicated.

I.E. – If I want to know how to fish trout in basic terms I’d expect a simple answer to get me interested and wanting to know more. I would expect the answer to be:
1.) You need a fishing pole
2.) You need fishing line
3.) You need a hook
4.) You need a worm for bait
5.) Tie the fishing line to the pole
6.) Tie the other end of the fishing line to the hook
7.) Put the worm on the end of the hook
8.) Find a stream with trout
9.) Go upstream and then let go of the fishing line
10.) Hang on to the fishing pole and let the stream carry the hook and worm to the trout
11.) Don’t let go of the fishing pole
12.) Every now a then give the bait a little snag to attract the trout
13.) Let the trout bite the bait and get hooked
14.) Put your pole down on the ground
15.) Start grabbing the line to retrieve the trout
16.) With the trout out of the water, grab the trout by the mouth watching you don’t get hooked
17.) Unhook the hook
18.) Hold you fish to show it off

The answers I got wasn’t anything I was looking for. I got questions instead do you have any LED lights?, how many engines do you have?, where is your roundhouse?, are you using DCC? and other amazing questions. I was asking the question!

All I wanted to know was how do you wire a railroad track that I want to use more than 2 engines.

I am now 41 years old and involved with model railroads, more than ever, since I was 4 years old. I been involved with a couple of RR clubs but they only wanted to do scenery and benchwork, never doing anything with wiring.

I have blown 4 power packs (controllers) so far. I also have read 4 books on wiring. The only thing I am getting out of them is that 1 rail is positive and 1 rail should be negative. I an extremely detailed in scenery and benchwork which is why the RR clubs put me in there. I went to college for web and graphic design but I am a Certified Nurse Aide now. I think the controllers blew when I flipped the engine on the switch to different tracks. I am just lost.

Is there anything you could send me (by email) to get this wiring issue under control. I don’t want to have a bunch of separate lines running on different tracks. Or PLEASE make a YouTube video on basic wiring. Simple wiring for 3 (or more tracks) that can run 2 or more engines.

I have a an 11 year old son who wants me to figure this out. I want this knowledge to make him feel proud. Right now, he is only building cars, scenery, and playing with the figures.

I really don’t want to blow any more controllers. I really think you can help me because I subscribe to your newsletter. Thank you for reading this and hopefully replying.



“Hi Al , just made this video showing lights and a smoking Loco , also near the end shows how things go wrong on my layout, as happens no doubt with many.



Another cracking video from Dangerous Dave.

Heading off to ebay? Here’s the latest ebay cheat sheet.

That’s all this time. Please keep ’em coming.



65 Responses to Smoke and lights

  1. Hi John, here’s my basic tip for you – You can’t normally run 2 locos on the same track without the new technological advance of Digital Control (DCC) or you use locos with their own autonomous onboard power source i.e. battery, like some junior train sets for little kids. I will be as interested as you to hear from more experienced members if there are other methods (in plain English!) Good luck!

  2. Hello, I did not see here where you got your answer to running more than one train on a line. What you need to do is split your track into blocks so when the one in front of the 2nd train is in the block ahead of it, you can shut that one down. Put a plastic rail joiner on 1 rail or just caut a gap in one rail. then I ran a hot wire to the track that was cut & used your favorite different speed control of your choice. Please note, making blocks ALWAYS cut or use the insulated joiner on the same rail. Good luck

  3. Using DCC or Digital command control no special wiring is involed…. Just two wires to the track…. If you dont want to use DCC then you have to make blocks for your track … And what I mean is plastic track connectors not metal ones … Hers is example say you have a oval track but you put plastic connectors in two spots say on the apex of each curve.. Now you need two power packs one for each block then you can control two trains… Hope this helped but really DCC is the way to go…. Good Luck

  4. The basic answer you are looking for is called “blocking.” You can google a lot of information on this instead of buying books. Essentially what you are doing is seperating you track layout into isolated sections. Between each section you use insulators to prevent current flow. Each section gets wired back to your controllers/power packs. This is really not a difficult thing to do, unless you have a reversing loop (I hate those). I will post additional information later.

  5. The first and only question to ask is…..are you running seperate tracks for each engine or are your tracks one continuous loop with the same power pack supplying the continuous loop?

    If this is one loop, you only require two wires, a positive and negative. If it is two seperate loops, isolated and insulated from each other you need one common negative return and two controlable positive wires.
    Controlable positives means you can vary the current and voltage seperately on each wire to each seperated track by means of a simple potentiometer or sliding resistor. But you could not connect the tracks at any points you may have. They would be seperate track systems. If you are using DCC engines, the wiring will be more and volt drops may need to be catered for, so that means you need to use slight larger cross section wires, i.e, 0.6mm up to 1mm square. Volt drop is distance dependant, the longer the wire on a small cross section, the bigger the volt drop. Volt drop…loss of voltage due to the wire resistance. Heat cuases resistance so if a wire gets hot the voltage drops. 12Volts in and a volt drop of 2 volts gives you 10 volts at the connection to the rail. A slightly bigger wire, less heat less volt drop. That is the simple explanation.

  6. Sorry I forgot to add, the same rail needs to have the same polarity, if you have a set of points that may be insulated, and the positive swaps from the left rail to the right hand rail, this is a dead short circuit and the power pack fuse will blow or the engine will burn out, very quickly. The wheels of an engine will transfer the negative straight throught the motor to the positive and it will be a dead short circuit, so always connect the positives to the same rail, ie, red right, neg left with your back toward the source of power.
    Hope this helps you.

  7. Here is a suggestion to help John:

    Imagine you are the engineer / driver and that you will be sitting on the right side of the loco cab. Now start from your station and travel along the track marking the right rail as RED and the left rail as BLACK. If you reach a turnout / switch / point, travel each way in succession and continue to do the same rail marking.

    At some point, I think you may find you reach back to a rail which is already coloured and that the colour at that point is opposite to what you are marking as you go along. Where this happens, John needs to split the rails so there is an isolating section and he needs to feed this separately via a switch.

    It also sounds like John has no protection against a short-circuit (where a loco can bridge the supply and make the + wire connect with the – wire) and he should look at the standard solution using a 21W car lamp.

    Hope that helps.

  8. Dave is amazing to say the least!! I L’dOL at the ginger bread man. Nice touch. Great photography!!!! Thanks!

  9. If you are looking for a correct answer without assumptions, a track plan would be necessary, only because you may have some track work that is looping back on itself causing a possible reverse loop. Put your middle finger on one rail and your index finger on the other rail. Run your fingers around the layout going thru every possible direction and option you have on the track work. If you get back to the beginning where you started and your fingers are reversed, there’s your issue. Running 2 different locos on a track without using blocks would cause both locos to run off the same throttle, but because of manufactures, not necessarily at the same speed. Keep it simple at first and setup a power pack and throttle for one throttle and one loco. If you have a reverse loop, you will still have to address this wiring even if you went with dcc.

  10. Hi John.I would go DCC.I used to run 2 tracks along each other a DCC line and a standard Ho line.It got to complicated and I wanted to run one engine onto the other track so I did away with the Ho and started running just DCC on all of it.Im also a mess when it comes to wireing so found this easier.So go DCC

  11. Now I’m curious to see a track plan. LOL. I know you were looking for a “basic wiring” and I’m curious to see how “basic” the track plan is. The minute I hear 2 locos, although simple to conquer, is not just a “basic” 2 wire scheme.

  12. 1) It may be that you need to run your layout with a DCC system as previously suggested. This will let you run multiple trains on the same line and allow you to cross from one line to another with all the locos running at the same time. I don’t use it myself because of the cost of converting everything from DC. There are lots of books and tutorials out there.
    2)If you are trying to run double-headed trains with a basic DC system (1 rail positive and 1 rail negative going to one controller),and blowing the controller, go to Youtube and search”Beefing up the Hornby R965 Controller”. Video by chambs123 (not me).Step by step instructions to upgrade the power supply to run up to 6 locos pulling a single train.
    3) If you want different locos at different points on the track controllable with a simple DC system, you need to block. Try “PSL Book of Model Railway Wiring” by C J Freezer (ISBN 1-85260-173-6) if you want a book. Covers simple DC single loop up to early DCC systems. Old book, but good and easy to understand. Or google “blocking and cab control model railroad”.
    4)Remote control systems are available for locos down to OO and HO scales these days. Expensive but no track wiring at all.

    I suspect you may have wired for a simple DC system with two or more tracks. If you try to cross a loco from one to the other while running locos on both tracks, you will create a short and blow the power pack. The two tracks need to be electrically isolated from each other by joining the rails with plastic fishplates rather than metal ones, as already suggested. Hope this helps.

  13. Hi John, can’t understand why you are blowing controllers, all the ones I have used have instant cut-outs when a short circuit occurs and even running two engines together on DC should not be a problem. There should be enough power for 2 motors from even a basic power pack. They would have course to be double headed ie. Running together.
    If you want to run 2 trains together on DC you will need twin tracks and two controllers. Several years ago I built a layout for my son that used 3 controllers, 1 each for the parallel circular tracks and 1 for the middle part of the layout ie the sidings. So it was possible to control 3 engines at once.
    I did not use any insulated joiners between the 3 ‘blocks’ I just used the points as electrical separaters. Using this method you could run a train from the outer track across and into the various sidings with no problem, no short circuits etc.
    Of course as Tony has mentioned, you need to follow strictly which track is positive and which is negative, knowing left from right helps here! Then follow it round the whole track, and as I have shown it is possible to do this with multiple controllers and tracks.
    Hope this is some help, Cheers Mike S

  14. John, using straight DC, you must isolate sections of rail so that one loco operates in section 1 and the other in section 2. You’d control each “district” with separate DPDT switches.

    If you’ve got a few hundred extra bucks, use DCC (which I recommend highly, having grown up with having to isolate sections of track and it’s very tedious and unprototypical) . . . which allows you to control the indivicual LOCO, not the track. It’s a lot more fun!!

  15. Most people will tell you to just insulate one rail, I recommend insulating both rails and running two wires to each block/section of track. Normally, you make seperate blocks for each loop of track (some loops can be divided between switch over tracks) and separate blocks for sidings & rail yards. Use a dpdt center off switch to control each block. Wire the two center terminals to the track and one transformer to either end of the dpdt sw. No back feeds and it can all later be made to work on DCC.
    The up position will run that section of track from one transformer and down position to the 2nd. You can reverse your engines in that block etc w/o shorts.
    Just don’t incorporate any reversing track loops and all is fine.

  16. Hi John, just two things from me:

    1. Don’t have a reversing loop (ie a track that sends the train round in the opposite direction). Then wire the circut’s inside rail +ve and its outside rail -ve and you should have no problems of the electrics fighting themselves. [That’s pretty much what Tony says above.] And then you don’t have to worry about isolations, insulating joints etc. I have a “triple-folded-loop” set-up, ie the inner loop becomes the middle loop becomes the outer loop which crosse back to the inner loop, and it works perfectly this way. NO REVERSING LOOP remember, keep it simple!

    2. With this set-up you can run two locos simutaneoulsy, but with coventional analogue controls both trains will stop and start at the same time. [I guess if you run them flat-out fast, you might blow your controller.] Digital control (DCC) enables you to operate the locos independently, but the above basic wiring is the same for both.

    Good Luck!

  17. Hi John,
    I threw all my stuff in the river and took up fishing!!
    Best wishes ,

  18. John,
    I agree with most of the respondents that DCC is the way to go. You can get more than one locomotive to run simultaneously on standard DC if you avoid potential shorts, as Robert said above. Of course, the engines will have to start and stop at the same time and you might have a problem with one overtaking the other as different engines may have different speed characteristics at the same voltage. With DCC the track only provides power while the train-mounted controller (receiver) regulates the motor in the locomotive; some even provide sound. Good luck.

  19. John, you have my sympathy. Unfortunately there is no simple answer to your question, because what you want is complex. There is a basic, wonderful book – #12 The Complete Atlas Wiring Book. It not only tells you, it shows you how to wire a railroad to run more than one train. All of the above contributors are basically correct that you will need block wiring to make it work. I suspect you blew your power packs by shorting them out – so easy to do with multiple loops wired as one circuit. Once you read the wiring book, Atlas has several layout books that have increasingly complex layouts, and the complete block wiring for each. Best of luck.

  20. Hi John as a few have said the only way to play safe and run a few trains with the one controller is going DCC , a lot still use analogue , but it is messy you have to isolate tracks if you run more than 1 , I started only 6 years ago , did not know what analogue or dcc was , but went in at the deep end with dcc and I am glad I did now as DCC is now the most favoured way …plenty of instructions on google to understand the difference ..good Luck

  21. I know your pain. I finally sent my loco’s out to have them converted to DCC with battery power. No wires, none. No track cleaning. The trains would run on the floor if you wanted them to. If you are more handy than I, you can convert them to DCC and install battery control, many folks do that themselves. If you elect to send them out you will need about $200 – $400 per loco depending on who does the work. Good luck…

  22. interesting comments from everyone…good reading and a lotta input for alla us ‘novices’ out here…
    to John…..can’t really advise you of anything on your layout…probably had some short that blew the transformers…like some of those folks stated…..blown a couple myself for one reason or the other…
    I learned about AC and DC electrical from my pops who could build ANYTHING and make ANYTHING run, motors, boats, gas, electric, whatever….
    I’m ‘old school train’ when it comes to layout building and wiring, I DO understand about digital gear, and it’s a great way to go if you want, but I still like to set up my electrical the ‘old way’…
    its a lot more ‘spiderweb wiring’ and ‘junk under the table’ but sooo much more involved fun to me than going DCC….and if you’re ORGANIZED it isnt that complicated to set up and keep maintained….

    I live in a 800 sq ft studio apt and don’t have a lotta ‘spreadout’ room to build a layout so I’m building mine in ‘stacked LAYERS’ on a 5ft by 7ft by around 50in tall plan….
    I’m in process of designing and building a 4 level ‘old school’ style layout, with all the ‘roadbed’ support built ‘freestyle framing’, NOT utilizing a FLAT table…and it sits on a ‘4 caster frame’ so it can be rolled around….
    already have part of the ‘cardboard’ mock up built….then use it for templates to build the roadbed….will post some pics of that soon…

    Its going to have one town built completely of ‘downloaded’ printed buildings and an authentic ‘old western’ town resembling ‘Redemption’ from the movie ‘The Quick and the Dead’ with several scratch built old west buildings and it’ll have a county prison with prisoners working the ‘rock quarry’ and an operating old west prison train w marshals, prisoners, etc….
    (who has a prison on their layout? even ‘Dave’ missed that one! LOL)
    and I’m designing the layout to be completely PORTABLE….able to take out and do train shows

    I will be taking LOTS of photos and VIDEO all along the way, uploading to utube, etc, and I’m sure everyone will enjoy the entire process!!

    hope John gets the ‘wiring thang’ all figured out and lets see a coupla photos or videos of your layout..!!!
    L8rs …T8rs…!
    cheers and good engineering to all!!
    “Engineering Ain’t Jus’ Drivin’ the Train..!!!”

  23. oh sorry I left out that my planned layout is HO gauge!! LOL

  24. I have designed and built the electrical for a large club layout. Using relays we can select either DC or DCC operation. While DCC adds complexity to the locos (unless you buy them already installed) it makes the wiring much(!!) easier. It also makes operation both easier and more enjoyable particularly if there are reversing loops. Regardless, run a 14 gauge pair beneath the entire layout and take the time to add track droppers every few feet or for every section of rail. Unlike DC, for DCC rail gaps will only be needed for frogs and reversing loops. Dc requires arranging the layout in blocks and providing multiple wiring and cab switching for each block. Good luck.

  25. The answer is simple, but initially expensive as it involves a conversion to DCC.
    Digitrax is quite simple to use for this.
    One common rail and one power rail is all thats required to the layout.
    These are directly connected to the DCC system.
    With DCC almost any number of loco’s can be run on the layout either individually or collectively in a consist or back to back setup..
    The expense is buying or converting the locos to DCC, but its worth every penny, when looking for realism.
    There is no other way to easily or effectively run multiple units.. Which is why youve never received an answer.

  26. John – DCC is your best and easiest way to go and if you shop around, you will find you can get a nice system for not a tremendous amount of money.with DCC the wiring can be a simple as connecting just two wires to your track. The drawback is that your locomotives must all have a decoder installed in order to run on DCC. If you don’t want sound, you can now get decoders and decoder equipped locos at a fairly reasonable price. When you add sound, the price goes up significantly. Because of the ease of use and the ability to more prototypical operation and the increased FUN factor, I strongly recommend DCC! Best of luck to you. Oh, DCC was easy enough a novice like me could pick it up and easily program my locos, etc

  27. I follow Dave’s Videos all the time and feel he is very talented…probably one of the best modelers I have seen. I loved his lighting and smoke video…but where are the passengers on the trains. All the light car interiors are devoid of passengers!

  28. Dave:
    Fantastic job.
    Thanks for sharing with us.

  29. Thanks for the video, I enjoyed it a lot.

  30. Hate to reply with questions, as there is not a simple fits all answer.

    Can we see your track layout?
    Do you want to run all the trains at different speeds?


  31. I had the same trouble a while ago, and an electrical friend of mind told me to build a controller that had greater amp (around 8amps) output so as to run trains behind each other. it worked but I had trouble regulating speed control. I was able to run two when trying a third loco, power was not enough. I am know rebuilding my layout and going DCC so like you I am now trying something different. it helps to find an electrician that loves electronics – then uses his or her help.

  32. I use DCC to run multiple trains. For you that would mean a new DCC controler. One controler can control many trains. They are not that expensive and easy to wire up with just two wires to the track. If you have existing locomotives they will require decoders. Decoders are small microchips that sit inside the locomotives and are connected to the loco motor. They can be tricky to install in some locomotives, especially the older ones. A good model train shop can arrange instalation. Kids love DCC.

  33. I know this is a long shot, but is it possible you have AC track, and not DC track? There are a number of vendors that make 3-rail AC track that uses a third rail (Marklin makes a “hidden” third rail). I know that it is not what most rail hobbyists would use, but it is out there, and if you applied a DC current to the rail, it would short out immediately (both rails are ground, and the middle rail is hot). It is probably a long shot, but worth a quick confirmation to exclude that as a problem.

  34. I would say go the DCC way it would be the easiest rather than trying a block system

  35. Hi John . Another fantastic show never mind about the Deltic these thing are sent to try us .Very Best Regards from Sydney ( Ex Otley WestYorkshire )

  36. I switched to DCC for that reason I now run 5 DCC on 1 Track and 3 DC on 3 Tracks Same table it is great not sure if I would want to go thru blocking sounds like a lot of work not fun fun is running 5 Trains with 1 controller DCC
    hope this helps

  37. HI,

    Get rid of the ho and get O scale. All your reverse loop, direction when switching tracks, etc. troubles will be gone. Also your boy will get crew talk, station announcements, speed control, smoke, and lots of engine sounds from his new O scale engines. Plus in the States bigger is better!

    Good Luck,

  38. DCC is the best but I decided to put my $ into track and scenery. Old school DC engines are cheaper and if you are a 50’s 60’s era guy much the better. Adding DCC to your switches etc is even more $ yet. Multiple DC track blocks can be operated by two transformers with switched on & off side tracks. I enjoy being able to shuffle trains around in block sections while having another train operating independently on another loop and all done with cheap wire and common switches. DC only is simple if you keep it that way w/dbl insulated track.

  39. hi John i had 2 loops on my layout and could go from one track to the other sounds good easy to wire but somewhere got a short and made the controller useless answer 2 controllers cheaper than DCC conversion the fun you get out of it is your son on one track you on the other 2 locos close to one another my nephews like to race them when i am not around.this probably didnt answer your question but i know how you feel. great light and smoke show dave keep the videos coming have most of them saved for rainy days and when i have social days and fellow modellers come around.

  40. The easy way is to buy a Bachman controller about $50.00 and you can run as many as you like also you can buy Dcc plugs to put in your trains
    No extra wiring required
    Blessing Dave

  41. Bottom Line: Give up on using DC and blocking sections or loops of track and go to DCC. Great speed and direction control to many engines (DCC equipted) and simple wiring. 14 Gauge main bus and 18 Gauge wire drops every 3 feet of track. Keep polarity the same on all tracks. Red wire right track, Black wire left track. Use insulated frog switches. Google DCC and you have all the web help you would ever want.

  42. If you use Nec like i do just prog. the engines sept. no problem
    for a reverse loop the make a compt. board to solve your problem
    a little pricey but it takes all the other wiring out of the problem.

  43. Hi John.
    I run 3 trains on each of my tracks.
    Each track is divided into 4 sections (each section isolated )
    I also use a Quad controller so each section’s speed can be
    controlled separately.

  44. Hi, Your pictures are very nice but not very accurate. Your question is how to run two locomotives on the same track . And your image looks more like how a speckled trout fishing in a river with a fishing rod and a worm. This last image is much more accurate than your original question. For his ACTUAL image would rather : how to fish ? And this question would then many others … with a spinning rod ? fly ? lagging ? with a boat? Lake ? a dam? a river ? the morning? Here’s why … all the answers seem long and complicated.
    The DCC ” seems ” the most simple but think for a moment that you should open your locomotives to place a computer as big as your fingernail … which can be between 4 and 21 son big as hair … DCC is more complicated to understand and connect a 3 ways switch . Sorry and sorry for my English throughout . I am a French Canadian retired after 35 years teaching electrical engineering and member of MRMA ( ) who for nearly 50 years but will return soon HO largest model railroad of Canada.

  45. Hello Allistair in your collective is there
    Anyone who can show me how to make
    Ho tunnels and o guage please i no its
    Silly i tried to make a tunnel using cardboard
    What a fail

  46. Hi John, I had a similar problem and it all became very confusing. What l ended up doing is buying a DCC unit and then it was easy. Two wires and off you go. There are a couple of things you need to be careful of. If you have a Y section or a loop you made need a module to add to the system so as to ensure you don’t short things outs.
    If you would like to share your track plan we all can cetainly help you with th wiring plan. Good Luck and enjoy the modelling

  47. Simple answer: convert to digital.

  48. Hi John,
    I see that you’ve received many responses to your question. I haven’t read the responses, so someone may have already indicated what I will tell you. Keep in mind that the reason other modelers…have asked you questions before trying to answer your question is because there is always “more than one way to skin a cat” — if you get my drift. And when running multiple locos, the more complicated the track plan, the more complicated the electrical control may become.

    Anyway, to try to provide you with as simple an answer as possible, I will work based on my assumption that you are truly a novice at this and would not be running nor require any complicated equipment or rolling stock. You have basic DC powered trains and a DC power supply.

    So: The simplest answer is that you CAN’T RUN 2 DC LOCOS ON THE SAME TRACK (let’s say an oval) AT THE SAME TIME and control each separately from one power pack throttle. They will simply run chasing each other. And if the power consumption is too great, you can burn out the loco or the power pack.

    You will have to do one of the following:
    > run separate tracks (e.g., ovals) each with their own power supply (i.e., 2 separate power packs or on power pack that comes equipped with 2 separate built-in control throttles). Or
    > if you run, for example, separate ovals that link via switch tracks or cross tracks, then you must insulate each oval from the other in order to run a second loco. That is, one rail will have an insulating rail joiner (non metal) at the linkage point. Consider this the power rail (+). The other uninsulated rail is the common rail (-) and runs through uninterruped to both ovals. This provides you with the ability to separately run 2 locos, each on its separate oval (with a separate throttle) or only one loco running across both ovals.

    If you use a dual throttle power pack, then you’ll have each oval with its own power rail (+) supply wire. And only one common rail wire can connect to the common (-) uninsulated rail of either oval.

    By using an insulated rail you have created what is called a power block. Using block control you can have as many sections of separately powered track as you would like; e.g., a dead end siding track.

    But this is now getting into more complicated wiring because the more blocks you create, you will have to use some switch (e.g., a properly wired toggle switch) to turn on and off power to the block of power rail (+) in that otherwise insulated section/block. Turning on the power will enable a loco to run there. Turning off the block will allow a loco to sit without running and not affect a loco running in another block.

    This is as simple as I can put it. But you can contact me via Al if you want further explanation.


  49. Nice layout Dave, it shows you are truly a Master Modeler, someday I’ll have a layout so I can enjoy running trains too!. Cheerio!

  50. Hey dude….
    You can’t do that
    If you wanna run two locos while switching YOUNHAVE TO TURN ONE CONTROLLER OFF and then put it on when you close the point.
    Or where the two different tracks meet your can put some insulator where the two tracks meet and make sure that the tracks don’t touch anywhere. Just a small piece will do so that the train doesn’t have any difficulty going over the tracks.remove the fishplates and try placing the two tracks with each other but with an insulator in between.


  51. Hey dude….
    You can’t do that
    If you wanna run two locos while switching YOUNHAVE TO TURN ONE CONTROLLER OFF and then put it on when you close the point.
    Or where the two different tracks meet your can put some insulator where the two tracks meet and make sure that the tracks don’t touch anywhere. Just a small piece will do so that the train doesn’t have any difficulty going over the tracks.remove the fishplates and try placing the two tracks with each other but with an insulator in between.

  52. Hi John, I have been modeling for over 40 years. The problem is a easy fix if you show us the track and wiring. For DCC it is more then just connecting to wires> Your best bet is to get the book Ho Layouts for Every Space from atlas It sales for like 8 bucks and has plans in it that show you how to wire for two train running . Has diagrams and even parts list, wire diagram, everything. There is like 10 of them you can like at and see how they do it then you will have it. Or send us a copy of your track plan.

    No I do. work for atlas
    Trust me there is more to DCC then just connecting two wires. You have to program the Loco’s too. See you down the line.

  53. Best answer was from Tony, Follow his steps first, then we can talk about, cutting track and blocking, first find the problem area.

    I do agree, DCC is a better option, but with normal analogue we survived for years, yes we need to think deeper, but it can work, and work good.

  54. John –
    I am not going to repeat the good advice the others have given above; just a few items that were glossed over. First of all, if you are “blowing” controllers, is it the fuse or circuit breaker, or the “guts” of the controller? I would suggest that you invest in what is referred to over here (US) as a “radio fuse” and a holder. Radio fuses are those little 1/4″ dia. x 1″ long glass fuses.

    Size the fuse to the maximum rating of the controller line to the track. They come in “Slow Blow” and “Fast Blow” speeds and of course, various amperages. The combination introduces a tiny voltage drop at the tracks; you aren’t going to notice it.

    Use the “Fast Blow” variety. If you size them correctly, you should be able to stop the controllers from self destructing. They cost is somewhere around $2.00 or so for the fuse + the holder and are a Radio Shack type item.

    For beginners in things electrical, frying the controller becomes one less thing to worry about if you make a mistake. If you have kids running your railroad, the probability of them accidently putting tools, Christmas tree tinsel etc. across the tracks goes up as their age goes down.

    Also, when designing for high amperage commercial applications, when a motor starts, the first instant that the motor starts, the current is 6 – 8 times that of when it is running at speed. I believe the name for this is “back EMF.”

    Let us assume that you have two locos that start at the same time, and each one draws 2 amps when it is up to speed, the controller sees 2 x 2 x 6 amps or 24 amps initially. I don’t as yet know if the controller manufactures take this into account.

    One other point in this treatise is a condition called a “ground loop”. I won’t go into detail (check Google), but basically the theory is that with a common ground for everything, the voltage at the tracks is influenced by what is running at any given point in time.

    The cure and the proper way (if you are anal like I am) is for every positive wire run to the tracks, there should be a corresponding negative wire also. All the negative wires should also be tied together at one point close to the power source.

    Hope that this helps someone,


  55. Thank you everyone! I kind of know what I have to do now. I finally see what everyone was saying.

    I need to break it down for what I want to happen. I’d will have to start with an oval. I’ll prepare it with a DC setup. Then I have to set up another track the same way. I will have changing yards running off to 2 main tracks. All running the same direction. The tracks are not connected.

    I will then run another power supply (3 power supplies in all) on where the 2 meet using insulation connections. I can control the speeds of the engines using for each tracks power supply.

    Further down the road I will convert it over to DCC to get different engine speeds on my layout to then make it more authentic using 1 power supply.

    If I’m wrong with ANY of my future plans, PLEASE respond to this post. I am not a know it all and have taken everyone’s advice.

    Thank you again for all comments and recommendations. I will keep everyone informed how my train layout!

    I wish everyone with great wishes on their model train layout.

  56. If you are blowing up transformers, it is possible that the track is laid out such that there is a loop that has the + rail doubling back onto the – rail, and the – rail doubling back and contacting the + rail. Start by checking that.
    If you have that situation, you have committed a sin. Do not power the tracks up again, until you break the rails apart there, and either revise your tract lay-out or insert an electrical isolation “block”.

    As for running two different engines, if your transformer has enough power, you CAN run two engies on the same track, but not independently control the speed of each. The transformer / power control wil speed up / slow down both eingines together…. If you want to change the direction of ONE engine, lift it up and flip it 180 degrees. It may also be possible to change it’s inherent direction if it is an old rubber-band drive, by popping hte cover off the locomotive and twist the rubber bands around the drive shaft in the opposite direction.

    If your aim is to independently control 2 differnet engines, you have 2 choices. 1) Go to a DCC system (you’ll need to read up on this), where the controller talks to EACH engine to speed up / slow down / reverse that engine independently of other engines (newer, better technology), or 2) break the track up into separate electrical blocks, where you have a speed controller for each section of track, that controls power to EVERY engine on THAT section of track. This is more complicated, and ultimately an ANNOYING concept. Before DCC, this is how it was done…..

  57. I do not like Dave’s railroad he is having way to much fun. I have all my Marklin in boxes since 1975 Have purchase many more since then (Bavarian) but no layout. GREAT VIDEOS DAVE you make me very jealous.

  58. thanks for all the advice guys I am going dc too with 2/3 loops and yards with all track joined I knew about blocking but it was the switching that had me a little stuck but with 2 controllers and isolators I should be able to run 3 engines at once nice point about running as many + as – wires to track too thanks and hope all works out for all taking advice oh and p.s. to all you dcc guys yes the way to go but not all of us can afford up to $1000 to have 2 dcc engines and controllers so keep to answering the guys dilemma in dc wiring gets a b it much at times

  59. Hi John. I’ve recently retired and am just getting back into railway modelling.

    I love this site. Well done, and thanks Al. Keep it up!

    There’s lots of great advice from lots of people but no – one has answered in the form of the trout fishing question. Nothing new here only a simpler presentation.
    1) design your layout with separate zones, each with its own controller
    2) separate the zones with insulated fishplates to isolate them electrically. These zones are the blocks others have mentioned.
    3) run each loco in its own zone. The zone may be an oval, a marshalling yard, a branch line or any other bit of track, isolated from the rest of the track with its own controller.
    4) when you want a loco to change zones
    A) make sure that the zone it is going to enter is empty or that all other locos in it are isolated
    B) set the route across the insulated fishplates
    C) set the controller on the destination zone to the speed at which you want the loco to cross to the new zone
    D) drive the loco with the originating zone controller at that speed
    E) watch the loco cross over
    F) take control of the loco with the destination zone controller
    G) set the originating zone controller to off
    H) reset the points
    I) job done!

    I used this method successfully some years ago for a Hornby layout for my son (well that was my excuse) it had a double oval with crossovers, a small marshalling yard and a raised branch line with an incline. The controllers were 2 very old Hornby Dublo A3 units, (suitably re tested), an even older Hornby D1 unit running off the isolated AC output of one of the A3s, and a small Hornby controller from a starter set.. all worked fine. Controllers are still OK after many more years and I will be recommissioning my 50 year old plus Hornby Dublo 3 rail and using them.

    Again this is reiterating what has already been posted but key points are:-
    – keep the zones or blocks fully isolated – I preferred to isolate both tracks
    – use controllers with totally separate electrical supplies for each output
    – avoid reverse loops until you have studied the necessary wiring and are confident that you can do the work
    – take it steady and enjoy!

    Good luck. Hope this helps a little. John

  60. Hello John.
    Your complete answer is “Go to DCC”. Yes, I know that expense plays a large part, but by golly, it’s well worth it. With it, you can have umpteen locos, all on the same line, all doing different things. Wiring is simplicity itself. Two wires from your controller to the track and that’s it. Of course, you can enlarge on that idea and use a two wire loop underneath your layout from your controller and from that loop take two little wires and solder them to other parts of your layout – really depends on the size of it whether you want more than one connection. AVOID AT ALL COSTS employing a return loop unless you are willing to fiddle around with isolating bits of track. There’s always a way around it. Personally, I use a turntable and it seems to do the trick. I ought to add that I’m 83 and my son in law does all he trackwork for me. It would be nice to see your complete layout. Produce it and you’ll have advice from everyone at once. Good luck.
    Yours aye
    Peter Feiler

  61. John, I too was totally confused the more I read. While I am running Lionel O gauge, which has 3 rails, the same principals apply.
    Here’s what I learned over the past year.
    1) You CAN run 2 trains on the same Loop / Railroad line. However, inevitably one locomotive will catch up to the other since each is a little faster / slower than the other. A common solution is to have a “passing siding” which is just a length of parallel track connecting into your loop using two turnouts…much like a passing lane for cars.
    2) using traditional power transformers and trains, you CAN NOT vary the speed for each individual locomotive on the same track loop because you’re sending the same amount of power to the tracks that power both Locos. HOWEVER. with the DCC systems, there are microchips inside the locomotives and via a DCC controller, you can “program” and control individual trains on the same railroad line. You can start, stop, speed up,etc each locomotive independently using the DCC controller regardless of what the transformer is doing (so long as it’s on)
    3) If you elect not to use DCC then here’s how I did mine…
    A) set up separate electrically independent / isolated loops for each train, and run each train on its’ respective loop with a separate power controller/transformer.
    B) layouts often involve a large outer loop with a figure eight inner loop that uses “common track” at the top or bottom of the figure eight. When this is the case, you need to isolate the common track from both the large outer loop AND the figure eight in order to control them independently .Remember. your track power is controlling your locomotives. Isolating is done by leaving a gap between the rails before and after the common track section where it connects to the Outer and Inner Loops, or they have “insulating pins” which can be used. The common track is then powered by a separate transformer (or separate set of controls). Personally, I set the common track power to an average speed setting and just leave it). This configuration allows you to run and control a loco on Outer Loop and / or the Inner Figure Eight Loop regardless of what you’re doing on the other Loop. Your only challenge is to control both trains (speed) so they don’t arrive on the COMMON track at the same time.
    C) in the arrangement I just described, if you are using more than one transformer, your transformers must be “Phased”…which in essence means that they all are sending electric to the tracks the same way. Lionel has a video of how to do this…very straightforward and simple.
    D) Wiring – my method is using 18/2 stranded copper wire, make a loop under the table mimicking the Outer loop . do the same for the Inner Figure Eight using a separate 18/2 wire. Then do the same for the Common Track using a third wire. Connect your Hot and Ground wires to your Outer Loop Tracks. In a large layout you can simply splice in as may connections to the track as you like. General rule is one per 10 feet. Do the same with your 2nd wire for the second Inner Figure Eight, then the same for the Common Track using the 3rd wire. I use different colored electrical tape wrapped on each to identify which wire is for which loop. This helps in both troubleshooting and if you later expand your layout.
    Connect one end of each 18/2 Loop wire to their hot and ground posts on the respective transformer(s). For the non transformer-connected end of each Loop wire, simply connect the red (hot) and black (ground) wires together using a wire nut and just leave it. Lionel also has a great video showing this as well.
    Hopefully I’v articulated this somewhat simply

  62. I have been a modeler off and on for more than 50 years and starting in 1965 I used what is called “Dual Cab control” modifying it slightly. I will write a set of instructions step by step starting with parts list and then it will go something like this. Start with turning all of your Double pole double throw center off switches upside down and number each terminal of each switch in the same order as per diagram. I’ll even furnish the diagram(s) for each step. It will take a while but I’ll start doing this on 02/20/15.
    His Servant and yours,

  63. John, Atlas has a small book explaining DC track electrical wiring with reversing loops, yards, turntables, with the switches they make for it all. they make wiring DC simple and easy! ALCOhaulic

  64. Hi

    My late Dad was an electrical engineet so I’m accutely aware that what is in my blood shouldn’t be taken for granted. I hope I can help.

    This is my simplest possible advice:

    Buy yourself an electrical multi-meter. You don’t need anything fancy. Read the instructions and set it to the best range to measure the voltage you’re using.

    1. Take all trains & rolling stock off your layout.

    2. Connect a small battery, (1.5 volts up to 9 volts will do) with insulated wires to some crocodile clips.

    3. Provided nothing else is connected to the layout. Ensure points are set to whatever configuration did not previously blow the controller.

    4. Apply one crocodile clip to one rail and the other croc’ clip to the other.

    5. With the multi-meter set appropriately to the battery voltage, put one probe on one rail and the other probe on the other.

    6. Take note of reading. It may be negative. If so, reverse the probe to rail connections.

    7. When positive (red) is connected to positive ( red), there will be no minus sign. Ie polarity is correct.

    8. Congratulations, you can now figure out for yourself which rail is positive and which is negative ! This aspect is CRUCIAL to understanding your wiring problem and how to fix it. Yes, that multimeter will be used a lot. :-)

    9. DON”T hook up the controller until all your tests are completed safely using the battery setup.

    You need to undetstand that due to points configurations, you can easily end up with rail polarity being reversed without even realising it. Then bang.

    Rail isolators and insulated joiners (fishplates) are going to be your new best friends along with the multimeter. The rest is basically commonsense. Don’t be afraid to disconnect sidings and the like to help diagnose the section(s)of track that are causing you problems.

    Be patient & methodical. Put temporary markers of coloured thread on rails to help remember polarity. You’ll soon figure it out. Don’t be scared to use such a simple technique & do keep records clearly marked up. Also use coloured diagrams to record your layout configuration. It all makes fault finding so much simpler.

    Good luck. I wish you well…….. whatever species of trout you land. :-)


  65. Hello Everyone!

    I was the person that made this request for help. I just want to thank everyone who added their great thoughts and superior experience. I didn’t quit my model railroad. In fact, I have been doing scenery (buildings, scenes, car building, etc) and taking the research submitted from all of you.

    You may be questioning me why. I needed to understand both DC and DCC! I wasn’t asking the right question.

    I did both types of connections (DCC and DC) to be sure each one worked properly. I know it’s extra work on my part but I needed to see my railroad work my own eyes. I did the DC version first and used a different power source. The only thing I had to separate with a insulator (where positive ran into a negative.)
    • I used blocks/zones with insulators for reversed loops and 3 power supplies so a only a max of 3 trains could run. I constantly used alligator clips to test the voltage meter/multimeter. I labeled these wires as “DC.”
    • I used a different wire strictly for my switches connected to a power supply. I labeled this wire as “Switches.”
    • I used another wire and attached hooked it up to DCC.

    When I run just DC, the line to the DCC isn’t connected.
    As opposed to when I run the DCC, the DC wire isn’t connected.

    Miraculously, everything worked, not 1 power supply blew (knock on wood.)
    I also must wired everything right with the multimeter. If the lights on the meter lit up, I had the connection wrong and I just reversed the wires (positive and negative) so they wouldn’t lit up. I say again, thank you for all your great thoughts and superior experience.

    I put the various cities on another power supply with gauges so I could play with the lights (intensities.)

    I say again, thank you for all your great thoughts and superior experience. I used almost every answer combined. DC takes a lot more wiring which makes this process tougher. I prefer the DCC (even though it’s so darn expensive) because of the ease associated.

    As happy as I am, I needed to know both versions for my son, who is now 13. Heck, he can now run the DCC!

    Happy Railroading!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>