Tech Tips Switches

Led’s for switches passenger cars etc. What’s the scoop?

LED’s for cars, switches etc.  There currently are bayonet style LED’s that will go into the normal sockets supplied with for example O22 switches, passenger cars etc.  These bulbs are quite expensive, and unfortunately do not last very long. Why? Because in their process of construction, they only add a tiny resistor in series with their LED’s. This works fine when you are running multiple strings of led’s like Christmas lights, but not a good idea when only a few are used.  We do not have any of these problems with the LED’s we install. Why?  To start with an LED is a diode, the only difference they have is they light up when powered correctly.  The issue is diodes of any kind do not like AC voltages. A single LED with only 1 dropping resistor makes a ¼ rectifier circuit. The led’s do not like that. What we do is add an additional diode across the LED which effectively changes the circuit to a ½ wave.  That works. Unfortunately, the manufacturers do not want to spend the extra pennies on the additional diode. Plus they are difficult to install.  So am I saying don’t buy them? No, not at all, the advantage of the reduced current is worth the trade off of not an extended operating time.  Bottom line these aftermarket bayonet base led’s will not last much longer than a normal incandescent bulb, and are not as bright. Perhaps some day someone will make a nice brite one with the added parts. 

How to convert your switches to add the auto non-derail feature

Most all O27 switches and even some of the O gauge switches do not have the auto non-derail feature. It is really a very simple modification that would cost pennies during the manufacturing process. So why did they not do it? Simple answer, to add value to the more expensive switches of course. So let’s see if we can beat them at their own game!
To start we need to understand what makes the switches change directions from straight to curve and vice versa.
Almost all remote control switches have 2 solenoid coils in them. A solenoid is nothing more than a whole bunch of usually very thin wire wrapped around a hollow core that a metal rod can slide back and forth on. Remember as a kid we used to take a nail, wrap a bunch of wire around it and hook up a battery to the 2 ends of the wire? </p>
Made a heckova strong magnet. Same principle with our switches, except as said the wire is wrapped around a hollow tube, and the nail is then allowed to move inside the tube. Wind the wires around the tube in one direction, and the nail will move for example from left to right. Reverse the direction of the windings, and the nail will move right to left. Attach the nail to part of the switch that moves, and wala, that’s how it works.
In actuality, most all the coils in the switches are wired so that one end of each coil is hooked up to a positive terminal on the transformer, or in some cases to the center rail of the track. The other ends of the coils are usually either attached to a screw down wire connection or to a post that has a nut you can tighten around a piece of wire.
One post to make the switch curve the other to make it go straight. At the remote control when you operate the pushbutton, lever or whatever, it hooks that loose end of the coil in the switch to ground thru a wire between the remote control and the switch, which turns on the coil which makes the magnet that either pushes or pulls the rod that moves the switch.
With the more expensive switches, a ground connection is made by insulating one of the outside rails right on the switch, so that when the wheels of the train hit that insulated piece of rail, a connection is made to ground by shorting out the insulated section with the axel that the wheels are mounted.
The problem with the cheaper switches especially O27 they are put together with rivets and sometimes very difficult to take apart and work on. Or the switch housing is all metal and not designed to handle an insulator. So here is how we beat the system.
The very first track section that goes into the switch ends that either goes straight or curved, you remove one of the outside rails and install insulator pins in place of the steel pins. The you will need to add rail insulators to one of the outside rails. Just like the center rail is insulated.
Then either solder or slip a piece of wire on the bottom of the rails by prying the point where the rail comes together and put a piece of wire there, and attach that wire to the appropriate screw or post terminal, or use a lock-on and tis done! I like using 1/2 straights or curves for this purpose, but almost any track section will work, even if it is only a couple of inches long.
Elsewhere on this site are detailed instructions on how to make your own insulated track sections.


The technical prowess shown by the original Lionel team was amazing considering what they had to work with in the early part of the 20th century, however some things older is not necessarily better. One for sure is the original rubber wire cable that came with the O22 and other switches. 1st unless you were building a midget layout, the cable is way too short. Next after just a few years the cable becomes brittle and eventually is unusable. If you run bootstrap power you will need a separate cable for that. Then if I want to run power taps for the track, another cable. Sooo, if I have to run a cable to control the switch, why not have it do a lot more? This conversion will also provide constant switch bootstrap power, an additional power tap for the center rail of the track, and all normal switch and remote control functions The only parts you will need are:
15 feet or so of 4 conductor cable. A 2.5mm power plug, to replace the boot strap, soldering iron, some solder and about 10 minutes of your time. If you wish a kit will be available soon from for about 10 bucks with shipping, and includes the wire, 2.5 mm plug, with wires soldered on, and 15′ of cable. If you need more than the 15′ cable, or 3′ to the transformer, let us know and we will extend it for you to your specs
This cable is to be wired to the transformer. This cable is to be wired to the switch.

The transformer cable is about 3′ long and is stripped of the insulation at the 3′ mark about 3″ worth.
The red and black wire go all the way from the transformer cable thru the longer right cable untouched.
The green wire is pulled out of the 4′ piece of cable, and wired to the solder terminal next to the green light . The white wire is cut 1/2 between the 2 rolls of cable. The white wire that is part of the transformer cable is wired to the switch solder lug. The white wire from the long cable is soldered to the red light bulb solder lug.</p>
The end of the 3′ cable:
The red wire goes to accessory power that you would normally run to the boot strap.
The black wire goes to the track power terminal that is connected to the center rail of the track the switch is hooked to.
The white wire is hooked to the common terminal on the transformer. </br>
The long cable
The red wire will go to the center terminal of the 2.5mm plug.
The black wire will go to the outside (barrel) connection of the 2.5mm plug.
The 2.5 mm plug will go directly into the 022 switches. For some of the newer switches, you need to use a 2.1mm.
The green wire goes to the right screw down terminal on the switch assembly.
The white wire goes to the left screw down terminal on the switch assembly (if your switch works backwards reverse the green and white wires).
The center terminal of the switch is not used. Originally it provided a ground to the remote control switch, which is now being provided directly from the transformer.

How to convert your non Lionel O22 style switches to have the non-derailing feature

This cute little trick will work with virtually any remote controlled switch. including all Lionel, Marx, American Flyer, Marx, and K line.
Check out the tech tip titled “make your own insulated track section”
First a trip to harbor freight is in order for the following: This little guy lists for a grand total of $15 and is an indispensible tool for working with trains. We use it to clean the bottom of tracks to make good solder connections, and when we have to cut a piece of track it makes a very quick clean cut. We use this tool so much we clamped it into one of our vice’s. Then we can feed the work into it like a table saw. Works good, just don’t tell Osha! You will then need some metal cutting wheels, about $10 for a pack of 10 or so.

Ok so here we go, take a piece of track and cut one of the outside rails between 2 ties you only need a section of track not more than 1″ long. Then remove the short piece of track, following the instructions in “make your own insulated track section”. You will need to put an insulator wire or clip between the places where you cut the track and the other end of the piece you cut.

The wire that is attached to the track to the remote control screw terminal that is responsible for changing the switch direction that yours, need. Remember you will need to make up 2 tracks, one for each side of the switch.

Repairing Lionel O22 Switches

We at TinMan repair and refurbish hundreds of switches a season. We are normally not bashful about sharing the tricks of the trade that we utilize. However we have found there are no real easy repairs to these switches, especially the O22 variety.
When we first started out with this project we were sponges trying to learn all we could from the “experts”. We very frequently discovered that in many cases there were different opinions regarding what to do or not to do with these switches. Opinions on lubricants were always a hot topic of contention, some fellows think that the right snake oil is a magic answer, others say no to any kind of oils etc. We experimented with new electronic solutions to the problems with the slide switches, but found them uneconomical and very complex.
Well after several thousand switches, here is what we came up with. These switches are quite complex devices with elements of, mechanical parts, Electronic parts, wire issues, contact issues, lantern and Lantern holderoners ( a switch repair guys technical term) , contact points, screw terminals, solenoid coils, poor factory soldering of connections, etc.
What we discovered thru all this is there are no magic simple answers. A little too much bend here, not enough there, the old style solder that causes conductivity issues, wires that the insulation is partially worn out, working with bimetal issues, and the hits just keep on coming.
Yes sure a lot of switches can be cleaned and processed very quickly. But 50% or more we see require a lot of work to get them back to original manufactured performance levels. We find there is no substitute for thousands of dollars worth of electronic as well as mechanical tools are necessary to be serious in this business.
Granted many of the switches we get have not worked for years, and are in really bad shape. The worst of them is always when someone with all good intentions tried to repair, then gave up. The first thing we then have to do, is undo someone else’s’ fixings. For example we use very sophisticated variable short circuit proof power supplies, that not only monitor voltage but also current.
We can tell more about how a switch is working by watching current and wattage that the switches draw than any personal observations. As much as we love these kinds of toys, this is still a business, and spending thousands of dollars on test equipment is not fun.
Bottom line? I would not be doing you any favors trying to tell you how to fix these switches properly, there are just too many interconnecting things that effect performance. And, to make matters worse, we are routinely discovering new issues that require yet again more creativity to take care of. So many times you discover a problem and repair it only to find out that you now opened up another can of worms.
Anyway, that is why we have decided not to try to pursue this portion of the business in our web site. We recondition switches for about $20 each and includes all new LED’s, changing all cables, and guaranteeing them for a year. I understand that a lot of folks just enjoy putzing, and we certainly understand that, but the facts are, when we ultimately get those switches and have to spend a large amount of time undoing what others have done…..Oh well.

I can’t get these darn O22 switches or controllers  you sent me to work!!!

Ok, I believe you.   We get at least 10 calls a year like this, and almost all of the issues are due to installation problems caused by:

  • Incorrect wiring to the transformers
  • Installing the accessory (new style bootstrap plugs) incorrectly.
  • Insulating pins not correctly installed
  • Using multiple transformers
  • Issues created by using switches to go between multiple loops with separate center rail power sources.

We will address each of these bullets completely, but first I think it will be beneficial if we discussed just exactly how these things work. Please excuse the long winded nature of these, but don’t know how to do it any shorter.

What makes the switch change direction?

Remember as a kid when you made a magnet by wrapping some wire around a nail and attaching each end of the wire to a battery?  What you did was create an electro magnet. Pretty powerful remember?  Ok, so pretend you wound the wire around a paper tube, and put the nail so it would slide inside the tube. By doing this you then created a solenoid. If you then hooked up the battery to the wires, and put the nail on one end of the paper tube, the nail would either be sucked into the tube, or pushed away from the tube. If you changed the direction as to how you would the wires around the tube, for example instead of clockwise, you went counter/clockwise, you then would reverse the direction of push or pull on the nail. So……

In each switch there are 2 coils of wires wrapped around a paper tube in line with each other. One coil is wound clockwise, the other counter clockwise. There is a rod with a pin on one end that can slide back and forth in the paper tube. In the px below, the coil winding was not drawn correctly, At the center mounting point of the 2 coils is a wire from each of the coils. These 2 wires (one from each of the coils) are soldered together and goes to a power source. This power source is the pin that is located on the side of the plastic housing where the power plug pushes into. The switch works best if it has constant power not controlled by the same power you run your engines from.  The other end of each wire goes to one of the outside screw down terminals on the switch motor assemblies labeled A and B

2 coils that move the rod inside the tube. The rod that moves the switch is attached to the mounting plate, which in turn has the pin attached to.

This plate that has dots around it is pushed or pulled depending on which end of the coils is grounded. Ground for example A and the plate moves left, Ground B terminal and the plate is pulled to the right. The plate has a pin riveted up in the plate, which goes thru the switch moving assembly, which changes direction. So when the plate is moved to the left, the switch moves to the curved position. When pulled it moves the switch to the straight position.

Next check out the drawing of the original remote control. You can see that all it does is provide a short between either the A terminal or B terminal (never both) to Ground which for is always the place where the outside rails are wired to.  The center screw is internally wired to the outside rails. Our controllers work exactly the same except we get our ground connection from the transformer, where the outside rails are wired to, and use modern action switches and extra large LED’s.

The lantern light. The lantern light is always wired to the center rail power in the switch. It is not connected to the switching mechanism at all.

The moving switch plate outlined in dots, is only purpose to provide the circuit which lights the lamps on the remote control. It is also the source of many problems.

Sooo, now that we have that base covered, lets go to the problem area bullets

  • Incorrect wiring to the transformers

All our controllers wiring to the transformers are exactly the same, and must be wired correctly. Here we will address what each wire does

Yellow wire: It is to be wired to a ground connection yes, but it must be the same ground that goes to the outside rails. This wire provides the ground to the controller which when the action switch is activated, sends a ground signal to one of the outside screw down terminals.

Red wire: This wire goes to a constant voltage source between 14 and 20 volts that does not change when you adjust train speeds. Some transformers have totally isolated power sources, which means you need to run separate ground wires instead of outside rail power. These power sources will NOT work.  Here is how you can check this. On the accessory wiring point on the transformers, where you believe the red wire should go, attach a wire and then scratch the other end of the wire to an outside rail. If you get a spark you are good to go. If you do not, the controller will not work properly. This wire eventually goes to the red wire in the long cable which will send constant power to the switches.

Black Wire: This wire goes to whatever terminal on the transformer that you wire the center rail, where on your layout the center rail is wired to. It is shorted directly to the black wires coming out of the long cables. IMPORTANT NOTE: If your controller is for 2 different loops, each with their own center rail power source, do not use this wire, it will short both loops together! The purpose of this wire is to provide a center rail power tap. If you question this at all, just don’t hook it to the transformer. It is not necessary and has no function towards the switch operation, but can cause problems.  Also if you use 2 separate transformers it is a good idea, not to use this wire. In the switch where the plug goes in this wire is attached to the white wire on the plug which powers the outside metal of the plug which is hooked to an internal strap inside the switch that goes directly to the center rail.

  • Installing the accessory (new style bootstrap plugs) incorrectly.

RED WIRE: The red wire in the long cable needs to go to the red wire on the plug. This provides the constant power to make the switch work.

BLACK WIRE: This wire is attached to the outer part of the plug which inside the switch is connected to the center rail. It’s purpose is to provide a center rail power tap, so your trains do not slow down by themselves when running near the switch. It is totally not in any way a part of the switch operation, and can be not connected if you  wish. If for example you are operating 2 different loops with separate center rail power sources, do not use this wire.

  • Insulating pins not correctly installed: Check the above diagram and not where the switch rails are that are labeled control rails. IT is vital that these rails have insulated pins to insure the No D rail feature on the switches work properly. If your switch is being used to connect 2 separate loops together or to a spur line, you will need to install a center rail insulated pin on the center rail that goes to the spur track or other loop.
  • Using multiple transformers: On very large layouts, it is often necessary to run multiple transformers. Understood. The idea of running a separate transformer to operate your switches, or remote control tracks, is a bad idea and totally unnecessary. The switches themselves only use power when they actually switch. They draw no power till then. The amount of power needed it operate the switch mechanisms is very little and lasts less than a second. The issues of different grounds, phasing issues way outweigh any proceed benefit you may have. On my layout a few years ago, I had 24 switches. I computed at the time that all the lights in the switches and remote controllers would draw almost 10 amps. With the changeover to LED’s the current draw went from 10 amps to less than ½ amp for all the switches combined. So again using separate transformers to run your switches is not only a bad idea, totally unnecessary with our advanced controllers.
  • Issues created by using switches to go between multiple loops with separate center rail power sources: As previously mentioned, whichever leg of the switch will be going to another track loop or a spur line, you need to install a center rail insulator at that point.

Ok, there you have it. As always if you wish feel free to call/email/and or text me. You guys are fun to talk to and try to remember, this is supposed to be fun! Truthfully, the actual no of switch or controller failures we have genuinely had in the past 3 years is less than I have fingers.