Model train momentary push button switch

Warren has been in touch with a question about a model train momentary push button switch:

“Hi, Al.

I’m in the planning stage of my 4′ x 8′ HO layout, nearly ready to start laying track and I’ve been pondering: shouldn’t I use a momentary contact electrical switch to provide power to the track switches, or points? It appears to me that leaving the coil energized whenever you activate a switch for a long period of time would be detrimental to the coil.

Is there a downside to using a momentary contact switch? It appears to me that once the rails are aligned, it requires no power for them to remain in that position, but I’m no expert. Oh, I might add, I’m using Atlas switches and track.

I would appreciate the expertise of your many readers on this question.

Thank you so much,
Warren in Alabama
(76 and loving railroading)”

Here’s a pic of what Warren is asking about – a model train momentary push button switch.

push button momentary switch

Please do post a reply below if you can help Warren – as usual, lots of have already with some very useful comments.

Now on to Ed:

“Hi Al this is Ed from Holland.

I thought you might like this tip. Many people have small layouts which means small radius. The first thing that you think of is “big boy” he is definitely out of the question. This is not true and here’s why.

The theory of a locomotive is that it follows the track. If there is a slight difference in the Radius the locomotive will jump the track. To correct the situation change the theory, make the track follow the train. First all tracks should be soldered all joints, then only fasten down the straight track the radius should be movable.

When the large locomotive starts to make the radius you will see some movement in the track that means that the track is going to the locomotive. You can still have ground cover but Take a thin knife and run it under the track. You should use flex track for this process it works on all gauges.

Now your dream can come true of owning a big boy.


“You can use some types of seed head if you dry it out and put scatter on for leaves!

You can make hills out of crisscrossed card! Crisscross the card to make a frame then glue paper on to strengthen it.


I get sent lots of videos, and found myself watching this one to the end, so thought you might like it too. Useful if you’re weathering any of your stock at the mo:

Latest ebay cheat sheet is here

A big thanks to Warren for asking about his model train momentary push button switch – please do ask a question if you think the collective can help.

That’s all for today folks.

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.

26 Responses to Model train momentary push button switch

  1. Richard Standing says:

    Yes, if you’re using solenoid-type point motors, you should use either a momentary switch (either a Hornby-style passing contact switch, a sprung switch, or a push button) or an electric pencil. There are however quite complicated ways of wiring up ordinary switches to do the same job.

  2. John N Frye says:

    Most “snap” type switch machines are solenoids, and are not rated for continuous use, so a momentary switch is required. Motor type machines (like Tortise) have internal limit switches, so a simple DPDT (double pole, double throw) switch will work.


  3. Bob Shipley says:

    Warren- definitely use a momentary contact switch for controlling your turnouts. A single-pole double-throw momentary switch will fit your needs.

  4. Bob Schworm says:

    If you are driving the points with a Tortoise, I think that when the Tortoise is all the way to one end, the motor just stalls without harm. check the specs on tortoise turnout controls


  5. Richard Scott says:

    The ONLY switch machines to use with any switch are momentary contact. Typically the Atlas switch machines will burn out if left under power for more than a few moments. The spring loading of the machine will keep the rails set until you change them.

  6. Dave Roberts says:

    Hi Warren,
    You should use the Passing Contact type of switch to change any points. Yor are absolutely correct in saying that if you leave the power onto a coil it will burn it out. It is the momentary energising of the passing contact that throws the blades.

    As regards the ‘Down side” the only thing that you need to be aware of is that you will also find it makes the switching process much more reliable if you fit a CDU (Capacitor Discharge Unit) into the circuit to give the amount of energy available a ‘boost’.


  7. Robert Hoffmann says:

    If you are using Atlas turnouts you need to use momentary toggle switches. You will definitely burn out the turnout motor.

  8. Roland Aldridge says:

    Always use a momentary switch with a solenoid control (and make sure you suppress the switch with a parallel pair of Zener diodes to avoid electrical noise) and Never use a momentary switch for a tortoise. At least you can use one, but you will have to hold it down until the tortoise has finished working. The tortoise coil is perfectly happy being powered continuously, and leaving it that way avoids electrical noise problems.

  9. jim heck says:

    use only momentary contact switch. I have a few smoked actions
    from holding the button down too long (Atlas made. ) make sure the
    switch itself is clean. A little silicone might help. I’m on my third
    layout and I beat you by one year at 77 Good luck

  10. Joe Wilson says:

    Am I missing something ? Warren stated he is using Atlas switches. My Atlas Switches came with Atlas Controls. These are momentary power controls for Left or Right. .If he is missing the Controls he should purchase some, can be purchased separately. Been into H-0 for 85 years
    Joe W

  11. Ray Goodman says:

    I don’t know about the new switches, but the older Atlas electric switches use to come with a momentary switch controller that would slide to one side and push down on to switch the points. They still work good for me. Ray

  12. Tim Merwin says:

    Outstanding,thanks for sharing!

  13. I mam not posting a comment but asking a question. Having never built a layout I am getting ready to build a small forty two inch by thirteen foot layout that will have it’s only access on the front side. forty two inches will allow a 18 inch curve which I am told is normal. That will be a main line loop around the table but I also want a loop on the inside of that. I was told a 15 inch curve will work providing you don’t use long rolling stock. Is that true? I thought that if I used flex track on the inside loop and stayed close to the other main line it might work. Is that true. Would I then be able to use only short rolling stock? What I really wanted was a freight train on one line and a AM Track passenger train on the other. If I am able to do that can I find short passenger cars with the AM Track label since that’s what I really like? I am brand new at this and really dumb about getting started. Thanks.

  14. dave says:

    In the days of Radio Shack I bought one of there big slant front panels the top was aluminum I bought my track block switches and momentary push buttons all from them too red for the turn outs and black for the run thru mapped and drilled my whole elevated line on it I had my layout suspended from the front room ceiling made to look like a bridge im thinking of putting it all back up

  15. Bill Sparling says:

    Well, hello from the far northwest of the U.S.
    To keep it simple, which is great when you are in your 70’s. I have you beat at 80.
    Every switch I have ever bought has a momentary control right in the package. They work perfectly and I have NEVER had a problem with any of them. I do have a switch box with seven pairs of push buttons which worked fine but I am doing some rewiring and I am going to go back to the momentary switches which come in the packages. They are built to “gang” from one power feed which is nice and easy to wire. If you decide to add another switch to your layout, you can simply use the screws (also supplied in the package) and slide it into place. Just be sure to label each switch so you know which turnout will be activated when you slide the button and press it to change its direction. I might add that the greatest label machine I have ever used for my railroad is my always handy, BROTHER P-Touch Home and Hobby labeler. My daughter gave it to me many years ago and it is one of the most useful items in by tool kit. I have labeled almost everything in the house except our cat. Remember that the most important thing about model railroading is that it is enormously fun. Be kind to yourself and spend the biggest part of your time watching trains run around your little pike. Over detailing can take a lot of time and a ton of ability and expertise and I have found that I have not much of either. My hands sometimes shake and I can’t paint a straight line. So I don’t paint much any more. However, my little 4X8 island is a place I visit on almost a daily basis and I find it more relaxing and rewarding than an hour in a hot tub. Anyway, those switches that come in the Atlas snap-switch packages work perfectly. Use them and spend the rest of the time watching your trains pass through the turnouts on their way around your little world. Cheers and good wishes as you enjoy what our hobby is really all about.

  16. I have quite a few Atlas switches Snap action machines and I find that the switch points will move enough to cause derailments. I am in the process of replacing the snap action atlas with tortoise machines. I lost a really nice three truck Shay that derailed coming thru a switch where the points had creeped apart enough and the engine fell down on the floor. Can’t replace the Shay three truck, nobody’s making them anymore. Just my personal experience.

  17. Lee Hirsch says:

    To the person who lost the Shay. Before you pitch it, check with your largest local train shop if there is anyone in the area who would be willing to try and fix it. It might take a few call rounds, or sending it outside your area, but worth a few phone calls. Next, install a plexiglass strip to the top of your fascia board to prevent any more disasters. Check with your local harder store for p.o. cuts. Lee

  18. Lee Hirsch says:

    Last line should read … hardware store for off cuts.

  19. Carl Halgren says:

    If you use a toggle switch (not the momentary type) on an Atlas switch, the toggle switch will tell the Atlas solenoid to release all of its smoke. Once the smoke is released, the Atlas solenoid will no longer function. So far, I have been unable to put the smoke back into any switch motor.

    I have seen smoke being released from too many things, and once the smoke is released, they refuse to work anymore.

    Carl from Kansas

    PS, all of the above switch advise messages are valid.

  20. Carl Halgren says:

    As far as I know, AMTRAK only runs long passenger cars. In the late 1800’s, the cars were as short as 40 feet, later came the “Heavyweights” which were a good bit longer, but still shorter than AMTRAK cars.
    If you run any 80 foot long cars on your outer loop, beware of the overhang on your curves so they do not bump into anything on the inner loop.

    Good luck,
    Carl in Kansas

  21. Dan Wynia says:

    Just starting the planning stages of putting up a HO board. First question is what type of wood do you use for the layout. It will be a 4×8 layout.

  22. Robert Rolfe says:

    I have 20 Atlas switches on my layout, all controlled by the switch controllers that came with them, all work as they should. If you hold it down too long ( Grand son ) you will melt the coil.
    The length of the car does not make a big except for what it may hit on the inside of the curve, bigger problem is how and where the couplers are mounted. When mounted to the trucks in 4 axle units not a big problem, when mounted to the frame that may be a problem as they only have a given amount of movement. As for engines, well short 4 axle work for me as I have several sections that have 15 inch on my layout and none of my 6 axle engines will work, they just kinda go there own way.
    just saying
    NV Bob

  23. Rod Mackay says:

    Jim, your biggest problem with the 42″ is going to be reaching to the back of it. I recommend having access holes you can get under to, both for building and later for maintenance and derailments. If you want a dog bone shaped layout, with a 180 degree curve each end, could you maybe negotiate having it narrower in the middle and a bit wider at the ends to increase your curve radii? Remember also that the real railroad doesn’t run just one train on one track, many sections even on main routes are single line with trains running either way, with ‘meets’ in passing loops, actually more fun to manage than just sitting there watching the trains just running round in the same old circles.

  24. I traded my broken Bachmann Shay for a Climax when I went to their factory store in Philadelphia. NOBODY I had contacted had any parts. Did I mention that it was smashed beyond repair? The only left worth salvaging was the decoder. I have since put up a barrier. And with the tortoise switch machines I don’t have any more point creep
    Norm in York, PA

  25. Tim Morlok says:

    Jim, have you considered building a shelf type or a wider tabletop layout with a 30 inch wide center aisle with 16 to 20″ wide sides and 24 to 30″ on the ends would give you easy access to the whole layout with room for larger radii curves. In any case, in a HO scale the NMRA recommends a minimum of 3″ from center to center on parallel curves to avoid fouling the other track. An easy trick for checking clearances is to take your longest freight car and holding a pencil at an outside corner draw a line on the layout as you run the car around the inside track. Then using the longest AMTRAK car, hold the pencil at the mid point of the inside side of the car and draw another line while running around the outside curve. If the two lines intersect or touch each other, you have a clearance problem. If you are running AMTRAK on the inside track, just switch the car around in the above example. The NMRA Standards’ web site is a great information resource for all aspects of model railroading from clearances and electrical wiring to recommended car weights for all scales.

  26. tom in az says:

    Hi Warren, Atlas makes a manual It`s called the complete Atlas Wiring Book. For all scales Part # 12. It will explain all you need to know about laying track and installing there switches. I can`t remember the price not bad and very informitive. They show all forms of track and wiring starting with the basics. Tom in Payson AZ.

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