Lionel Train Transformers

Lionel Trains have made a model train empire by making model trains easy to operate and connect both physically and electrically. The presence of 3 rails simplifies many things with regards to electrical wiring and grounding. Fortunately, Lionel and other manufacturers have developed components to a state where wiring is fairly simple regardless of how complex your train layout might be. The latest tools and controllers allow one to easily run multiple trains on the same layout with complete independent control.

Most O Gauge Lionel trains operate on 18 volt alternating current. The AC current is increased or decreased with the use of what is called a rheostat. This is pretty much equivalent to an electrical dimmer, but in this case the ‘dimmer’ it resides in the the transformer of your model train setup and it regulates the current going through the tracks and thus, the speed of the trains on the track. The electrical going through the track is conducted to an electrical motor housed under the shell of the locomotive. More current equals more speed.

Many Lionel and other trains have an electronic reversing switch which allows the train operator to remotely reverse the motors direction, sending the train into reverse. Some trains also have a feature, a gear allowing them to run fully powered without moving, like neutral on a car. This ‘neutral’ gear occurs when you throttle your train down to 0 or even when you go from forward to reverse. With the modern TrainMaster Command Control system, you can customize the direction and response of multiple trains independently as well as control and program a wide range of accessories and switches.

When many think of a Lionel transformer, the classic CW-80 often comes to mind. It is an 80-watt unit that includes speed, sound accessory activation, forward and reverse buttons all in one convenient control panel.

Sometimes with large layouts, long heavy trains or steep inclines, more power is needed. 80-watts may not be enough, it’s situations like these where the ZW controller is called for. With 360 watts of power, the Lionel ZW transformer and it’s four throttle levers provides ample power for any heavy duty layout needs and when coupled with a TrainMaster Command Control System it’s an unstoppable combination.

When connecting your transformer, you will probably notice that it has more than just two post for connecting wires. These additional post allow you to route varied and fixed currents to the wide range of accessories that you may need power on your track layout. Examples could include lights for streets and buildings, switches, automatic gates, loaders, cranes, couplers and many more items.

Regardless of what accessories you might connect to your transformer, the magic all begins with your connection to the track. This is done by using what is commonly called a lockon. The lockon device connects the wires coming from the transformer to two rails of the track. With large layouts, a second lockon is needed with a feeder wire connected from the first, it is best to have a lockon for every 6 feet of track. Otherwise the resistance of the track itself becomes significant and performance may falter.