Model Train Wiring: How does it work?

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Model Train Wiring How does it workPlaying toy trains is among the common hobbies of not just kids-by-age but by kids-by-heart as well. Some are into creating model trains, which is said to be a fun, entertaining and very engaging hobby. This entails knowledge of basic carpentry and execution of electrical skills, particularly in model train wiring.

Building model trains require a little bit of knowledge on engineering as well. The bench work needs to be stable, and the model train wiring should be foolproof to prevent the whole railroad from bursting into flames!

It might seem messy and confusing at first, but as you move on and continue to explore, you will eventually get the hang of it and realize that creating model trains is indeed very fun and educational.

Some hobbyists model the whole rail transport system at a reduced scale. This scale model includes everything, from the engines, to tracks, lights, signal controls and system, and even the landscape on which the train is situated. Possibly the most technical component of model trains is the model train wiring.

Model Train Wiring

Model train wiring contributes a lot to the appeal of the model train itself. It is the technology that paves the way for all the movements happening in the whole model transport system.

It is the source of electricity for the lights, for the signals, for the release of steam, for the blowing of the train whistle, for the chugging sound in the background, and a whole lot more. Hence, understanding the model train wiring system is a very important aspect of model train creation.


Polarity is very critical in preventing short circuits in the electricity of the whole train system. The tracks serve as the wires extending throughout the whole train layout. One rail will serve as the positive wire, while the other rail will serve as the negative wire. These tracks or wires are now carrying the current that will allow the train engines to function.

The polarity of the wires should be well maintained all throughout the whole layout. Otherwise, not a single thing will work! Or worse, some parts of the train system might be broken. It is also recommended that wiring should be color-coded — use red for the positive wires and black for the negative wires.

Rail Gaps

For the wiring to work perfectly and smoothly, a certain section of the wiring loop or reversing loop should be isolated from the track. This would allow for the reverse of polarity when needed. Using rail gaps between the whole train track and the isolated track, which are made from plastic rail joiners, makes the isolation of a section of the track possible.

Types of Model Train Wiring

One transformer is enough to let one train move around the track. However, a model train enthusiast might want to have two or more trains moving around simultaneously or not. In such cases, a more sophisticated wiring is required. There are several wiring principles and techniques used in model train wiring.

Block Wiring

In block wiring, the railroad wiring of the layout is divided into electrical blocks, which are then separated by rail gaps. Each block has its own set of wiring that is separated from the rest of the track, while all blocks are attached to a toggle switch for turning the engine on or off.

The advantage of this type of wiring set up is that you can have trains stopover on the blocked tracks. These trains on the blocked tracks will not move even when the train on the main track is turned on. It is then possible to park a train by just turning off the toggle switch for the train that you want to park and turn the toggle switch on for the train that you want to move out to the main track.

The downside of block wiring is that only one train can function at a time with a single transformer. If you intend to let two trains move on the track, another transformer is needed. Also, double pole toggle switches should be used to allow the user to select which transformer will be used.

In this wiring system, it is now possible for two train operators to have separate controls of his/her train within the same layout — this is called cab control.

Track Power Bus

A bus is a large wire that is 12-14 in gauge. It serves as a common wire where several feeder wires are attached. The power bus runs throughout the whole layout, commonly placed under the plywood base. All feeder wires that are used for the common rails can be attached to the main power bus.

Digital Command Control

The digital command control allows a separate control for each locomotive. In this type of model train wiring, blocks are no longer needed. Instead, power is moving in all tracks all at the same time. Each locomotive has a special decoder device that will receive signals that are coming from the power unit in instances when that particular decoder device is selected or dialed in the control unit.

If there are two train operators, each one will have his/her control unit to let his/her train function. Each operator can also select the specific locomotive that they want to control. The decoder devices can also perform other exciting functions such as controlling lights and sounds.

Several wiring systems are now being used for model train wiring. Each type of wiring system has its advantages and disadvantages. The type of model train wiring to be used in a specific layout depends on the intentions of the user or the train operators and the purpose of the whole rail transport model system.

Understanding the wiring systems can be truly overwhelming for a starter, but as with anything else, you will eventually get the hang of it over time. What is important is that you are still having fun while doing all the nitty-gritty of the wiring systems.


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