Wiring A Model Railway – Shocking Details That Will Keep You From Pulling Your Hair Out!

Proper model railway wiring will ensure your model train to run smoothly, safely and correctly. Even if you have never worked with wiring railway models before, it is surprisingly easy to learn. Wiring model railways is an exciting part of the hobby. It allows you to control starting the locomotive’s engine to stopping it and everything in between its route; a model railway wired correctly is a stress free railway.

The beauty of electricity is that it’s consistent, meaning it will do exactly the same thing over and over. So when a wiring problem occurs all you have to do is break the situation down into small pieces until you isolate where the problem is. And Bingo, once the problem is found then it’s easily fixable.

9 Model Railroad Wiring Tools You’ll Need

  1. Wire Cutters
  2. Wire Strippers
  3. Crimping Tool
  4. Wire Tester
  5. Assortment of Wire Nuts, Crimping Connectors, and Splice Connectors
  6. Small Soldering Iron with stand
  7. Small diameter Heat Shrink Wire Wrap
  8. Rolls of proper different colored wires
  9. Roll of Self-adhesive Copper Tape (used under smaller track layout board bus bars).

The two most used model railroad wires are solid and strand wires. The solid wire is just that, a solid wire. With solid wires there is no chance of ‘wire strands’ that can touch anything close and cause a short circuit. The disadvantage is that it is not very flexible. While strand wire is flexible and can easily bend and maneuver around things.

Wire comes in several different gauges. The gauge size you will use will depend on the job you want to accomplish. As the number of the gauge goes higher the wire becomes smaller. Therefore, a gauge size 18 is bigger than the gauge 22 size.

USING THE RIGHT GAUGE CAN BE CRITICAL! For example; using too small of a gauge can cause the wire to have too much resistance and this will either cause your equipment NOT to work properly OR worse the wire can get too hot and cause a fire.

Recommended Wire Gauge Usage

  • 14-16 gauge for track power bus
  • 18-20 gauge excellent for track feeders
  • 22 gauge for remote turnouts
  • 22-24 gauge for lights and sounds

12 Wiring Tips

  1. Test each piece as you put your train layout together. That includes every connection, electrical circuit, track, turnouts (anything that is electrical).
  2. All wires should be properly connected and tight.
  3. Your tracks should be connected to the DC terminal and not the AC terminal as this may damage your train’s engine.
  4. Debris and dust will build up after a while and can cause electricity not to flow correctly. So clean the track with a soft, clean cloth along with a track cleaner. You’ll want to also avoid dust getting inside the engine and causing a short.
  5. Make the track level and secure it down tight as this will help support your wirings continuity.
  6. After the wiring has been done use a polarity tester to confirm that there are no short circuits.
  7. Use different colored wires to help keep unity. I use red wire for positive current usage and white wire for negative current.
  8. Put coding on all of your wires as you install them, this will let you know what each wire is used for; this way there will be no confusions. Use white adhesive tape and wrap it around the wire, then take a black marker pen and write on the tape what that wire is used for. Simple and very effective!
  9. When you use multiple connecting wires, keep the splices staggered, this will help avoid causing any short circuits.
  10. After soldering connections, always file any soldering edges or wire left sticking out, as they can also cause electrical shorts.
  11. A successful track layout will run to your right in a counterclockwise direction. This means when you wire your railroad you will make the inside rail (-) negative and the outside rail (+) positive. Thus making your system wiring constant.
  12. To help avoid doubling up wires in a power pack I recommend using an 8 place terminal block as this is an excellent way to help keep track of your wires.

Important Reminder! Always turn off all power to your model train (including the soldering iron) when you are done working on it. I have a barn by my exit door that can be easily seen when I am leaving the room. If the light in the barn is still on, then I know the horses are eating hay and the power is still on.