Model train LED lights

Bob’s been in touch with his Model train LED lights:

“Hello Alastair,

I haven’t written in a while but because I enjoy the posts you put up so much I thought I should contribute something.

I’m 73 and I live in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

The corner of this layout is old now and in truth it has become neglected. I tried to put more life in the hobby by deciding to make a LED electrical addition.

The photos are random but you can see that one portion of the layout can be pulled away and is on casters so that I can reach the back corner.

I soldered about ten LED lights with tails about eight inches long and then drilled holes to insert them into a section of ceiling board that had been discarded. The arch just fits inside of the curved track.

In reality this track plan is a figure eight with double tracks and fits in a room about twenty six feet long. The widest part is five feet at each end but is only a foot wide at the middle of the room.

Years ago I had a Pentax camera that was manual and used film. I loved this camera but now I have a modern electronic camera that is impossible to control in low light. Hence the poor quality photos that I do not know how to fix.

The factory had LED lights from an old computer flat screen that was scrapped. The strip could be cut apart and wires soldered on and these were set in artificial floors hoping all the light would not fill the whole building.

One of the photos show how the light illuminates the roof so I used some gold plating cardboard that came from Waterbright candy bars and I found the gold reflection modified the blue hue yo get from the LED lights. I just cut it to size and glued it on the ceiling of the buildings.

The whole project took about two weeks working at the pace I can stand at my age. I hope some of your readers enjoy these photos.



Model train LED lights

Model train LED lights

Model train LED lights

led lighting

led lighting

led lighting

led lighting

“Dear Alastair

Like me, all railway modellers use miles of wire when building their layouts. Years ago I became friends with a BT telephone engineer who was doing a big rewire in an office block.

All the old wire was going in the skip and at the cost f a cup of tea he let me help myself. I took boxes of it, all for free. Its only problem is that it is single core and not very flexible.

Recently I was in another office building that was being refurbished and I saw this van outside with logos for an alarm company on it. I found and chatted with the fitter and the whole building was being fitted with an upgraded system and re-wired. He stripped out all the old wire and again was throwing it in the skip. It transpired that he was also a railway modeller and he used nothing else.

He told me to help myself to whatever I wanted of the old stuff. There was tons of it. The good thing about alarm wire is that it is thinner than phone wire. It is multi cored and therefore much more flexible. The only time it carries any current is when the alarm is activated which usually is never so the actual wire is ‘as new’. I now use that and it is easier to use and much better. I also use the copper tape method.

I now buy a lot of stuff direct from China, Figures and streetlamps etc – usually sold by the 100, good quality and really cheap. Apart from E-Bay I use 2 other sites – WISH – they always charge shipping, and – ALIBABA, also called ALIEXPRESS in UK. Delivery can take up to a month but in cost saving, it is well worth it.

At the age of 68 I have also just become a volunteer ‘ Fat Controller’ on the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch miniature Railway. (They have a website) I live on Romney Marsh in Kent and it runs past the bottom of my rear garden. I love trains.

Keep up the good work Alastair.



Should I add wiring to the ebay cheat sheet?

Now on to something completely different – another backdrop. Really pleased with this one, hope you like it:

model railroad backdrop

(Click to enlarge image.)

Just like the other backdrops, it’s 18″ x 144″. To print it, just download on to a CD or memory stick, take it to any office stationers (Kinko / Office Max) and print it out on a smooth, self adhesive, vinyl with UV inks and a matte finish.

If you’d like to grab this back drop before it goes in the store at full price (I’ve got quite a few to put on now), you can grab it here for just $7.

That’s all for today folks. A big thnanks to Doug and Bill.

Please do keep ’em coming.

And if today is the day you get started on your layout, the Beginner’s Guide is here.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

PPS More HO scale train layouts here if that’s your thing.

21 Responses to Model train LED lights

  1. Duncan says:

    LED’s really bring buildings to life. For mine i used a string of LED lights pushed up through the board where needed.

  2. Peter Bayley-Bligh says:

    Great lighting effects, especially using ‘thrown out’ materials.

  3. I tried using telephone wire but wouldn’t recommend it. It couldn’t carry much current and bare sections (i.e. where soldered on to plugs, sockets, etc) were prone to breaking.

  4. Rich says:

    All the craft stores have strings of LED’s that are battery powered. After the holidays they usually go on sale, so you can stock up then.
    I like the single core telephone wire, you can bend it and it stays; it can also be neatly tucked into corners and be hidden.

  5. Roy Forbes says:

    I’ve started my lighting schemes using the cable from now redundant Christmas tree lights. It seems ok for the actual low voltage sections but I use ordinary 5 amp cable for the mains section. Any way well done with you lighting schemes. Keep it up.

  6. Great lighting work on those buildings! I like using telephone wire also but have read some articles that say we shouldn’t us it for certain applications. Some say it can’t handle the voltage/amperage. Any thoughts?

  7. Dan Hulitt says:

    Nice work and I understand about missing your old Pentax. I suppose it won’t be too long before people won’t know what film is or was. As a suggestion to controlling your light, most digital cameras have a manual mode, where you can control your aperture and/or shutter speed. With instant review possible, you can bracket your way to the exposure you want.

    Thanks again for the good ideas.

    MN Dan

  8. Tom says:

    Bob, nice work.
    I am a former Ontarian myself, now living in
    I am getting ready to build a layout.
    Was thinking about using some LED lighting and after seeing your work, I will definitely be incorporating some into my layout.

  9. Thomas Meleck says:

    No need to apologize Bob. Your photos look great. Terrific work.
    Thank you for posting. -Tom

  10. Peter W. says:

    For LED’s, I found a deal at Homebase (UK). 1000 yellowish, like incandescent bulbs, on a Christmas Tree set for £30. That,s 3p each and you get a load of green wire and a power supply.
    OK if you plan to share them out at the club, or put loads of LED’s on your own layout.

  11. Tim Morlok says:

    Nice combination of elements in your backdrop. Are the areas of bright/off color spots just light reflections? Another source of LED lights is in the new LED shop lights. If the circuit board goes bad, I overloaded one, just pull the strips of LEDs out of the plastic tubes. These can be cut to any length you need, but be sure to use the proper low voltage circuit for powering them.

  12. Woody says:

    All great articles but no specs on leds or power (USA)

  13. Mickey Palumbo says:

    The LED’s do add a lot to a setup, a note to Bob, now you can get LEDs called “warm white”, these will give you a much more realistic glow ( no blue white). They come in all different voltages, and are cheap, 100 for $10 US.

  14. Peter Pocck says:

    Well done Bob
    I like your “sandwich” approach to light Multi story buildings. Thinking well outside the box there. If you don’t mind, I’ll use that idea. Good one

  15. Stephen D Gispanski says:

    Great job Bob, and to the gentleman right above my post, you answer my own thoughts on bulbs. I am on a very small income, I am disabled from about eighteen years ago, I was Telecommunications for a good Ten years. Well stuff happens. I just need to know where I can get the LED lights. Commentn on this site and, I will be watching to get the info, if that is ok with you All. I Shure would appreciate it.
    SDG St.Petersburg Fl USA

  16. Michael Wells says:

    In reference to the person who said that telephone wire is prone to breaking let me say this. Yes, solid telephone wire will break if you bend it back and forth in the exact same spot for maybe 20+ times. The only way that it will break in under 20+ times is if you cut it with wire cutters and nick the solid copper part. The deeper you nick the wire the faster it will break. How do I know this? Again, I worked for Ma Bell for 38 years and I better know. Ma Bell never bought anything that was not the best for her use, period. Hope this settles any disputes and or myths.

  17. Mick Storey says:

    Nice effect Bob, well done.
    SDG – I get my led’s from a couple of places, Amazon and an on line electronics company in the uk called Rapid Electronics. I assume that in the USA there will be similar companies, I know that Amazon have a USA sales.
    Telecom cable is good and as noted is reliable. There’s an issue with some however as due to the rise in copper prices a cable called copper clad was introduced. This is aluminium (aluminum to you guys) coated in copper and is indeed prone to easy breaking on connections.
    I have used both solid drawn and stranded cables on my layout, stranded will take more current depending on the size and quantity of the cores.
    Hope this helps.
    Mick (uk)

  18. Marvin Johnson says:

    The Dollar Stores carry LED strings of 10 lights for each holiday season, that come with a AA or AAA battery pack w/switch. When laying out lighting, I can illuminate a building or two for $1, and the batteries last a long time. You do have to remove the plastic flowers or whatever covering the individual bulbs. At a later date, you can wire the string of 10 to an accessory power source. I added a small zoo to my layout, and have lights under each of the ponds for the polar bear, crocodile and hippo.

  19. JAMES says:

    Nice job, Bob! What size (power) qX flux capacitor did you use with your lighting system? A qX22.7 would lessen the power burden and increase the illumination. I have used three on my own layout.

  20. Will in NM says:

    Bob, no need to apologize for your photos. They’re just fine the way they are. My only suggestion about the lighting would be for that large multi-story building: most building would not have lights on in all the rooms at once. Some black paper or partitions to block light from some of the windows would look mote realistic.

    As to wire, I have a big box of CAT5 ethernet wire that I bought many years ago when helping a friend to wire his business’ computer network. It has about 7 or 8 separate colored wires inside a soft plastic sheath. The wires are small guage but would be good for LED lighting circuits, I think. I also have a big roll of about 500 feet of heavier 2-conductor stranded wire. These are enclosed in a pretty heavy plastic sheath and the wires have red and black vinyl insulation. These appear to be about 16-to-18-gauge wires.

  21. Vaughn says:

    I too used telephone wire on my train setup
    In the early 70’s . The phone co was adding a new phone system at the company were my dad worked. He brought some home it was
    White coated with colored stripes or dashes
    For identification. My Lionel train that I had
    Gotten from Santa had electric poles with it
    I fastened it to the poles too look like the
    Communication wires that ran beside the
    Real railroad across the street from our
    House. My setup was on a cut sheet of plywood that was pushed under my bed
    When I wasn’t playing with it
    I’m 60 now I dug out that old train
    That’s been in storage for way too long
    Now I’m hooked on building a model
    RR with my grandkids
    Love your post and pictures

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