Train and Transformer protection equipment

Train and Transformer protection equipment

The subject of protecting modern trains from damage from older transformers has been beat to death to the point many folks feel the only salvation is to purchase a brand-new big-time Lionel transformer. Why? Because you need to protect the electronics that are mounted in some of the newest engines. Too slow acting of circuit breakers in the transformers is the culprit.

This is quite a lengthy discussion but, given all the attention the subject has had recently, I thought a layman’s discussion was in order. Many hours of research, chats with both engineering folks, lightning protection companies, manufacturers, testing  and cross checking has been done to present these thoughts and products, as accurately as possible. Do we realize we are probably going to receive a barrage of criticisms regarding the subjects? Well, I guess that’s what makes life interesting, so go for it boys!

Soooo, along with some great advice from some experts we have our new external “Gunrunner’ circuit breaker kit. Gunrunner you may recognize from some of the train forums. I consider his knowledge in this field to be extremely reliable.

 This kit is designed to go between the transformer and the center rail connection for 2 different train loops and will open the built in manual reset breakers almost instantly in case of a short circuit or derailment.

  Here is how it is hooked up. The 2 red binding posts are for one train loop, the two black posts are for another train loop. Does not matter which of the red’s or black’s go to the transformer or track. 

For discussion purposes here is an example of where to hook up to the transformer for example 2 trains

To the transformer power output to the trains.

For train no 1 hook up a wire from here to the center rail power, for  train no 2  to  center rail power

For train loop no 1 wire the center rail to here For train loop no 2 wire the center rail to here

Notice the 2 red buttons on the sides of the kit? These are the manual reset of the circuit breakers. Why manual?  So you have time to discover what the problem is before resetting the breakers. Ooops almost forgot what are the large red led’s for? In case the circuit breaker does open the LED for that breaker lights up and stays on till you reset the breaker

New info…..These breakers not only protect the rolling stock but also your transformer itself. We have discovered many transformers which we intended to recondition, were damaged to the point where we had to scrap them. Why due to overheating caused by too slow of reacting of the factory installed circuit  breakers. Why does this happen? Because the factory installed breakers up to 5 times more powerful than those which are in the Gunrunner kit, which are somewhat necessary because they theoretically have to be strong enough to run multiple trains and accessories at the same time.

Price $15.00 plus $10 shipping, buy more and not pay additional shipping charges.

With our concern to protecting the transformer and external accessories, we now are offering our new


The 2 side mounted posts go to the accessory power output to the transformer (red Positive, black ground, or outside rail power)

All the red terminals are wired together and are internally wired to the circuit breaker with also a manual reset feature (the little red button) The red LED in the center lights up if there is a short detected which opens the breaker.  The black posts are used for ground connections to all the accessories. They also are all wired together directly to the side mounted black post.

It is designed with the very large binding posts to allow you to hook up a whole bunch of power and ground connections to.   All your switches, RCS tracks, action toys, lights etc, can very neatly be installed using the fork wire connectors we supply.

Price $15 plus shipping, or if you buy more than one or combine them with the Gunrunner kit, you only pay 1 shipping fee.

By request we are now offering a second model of our accessory power kit that has 2 additional switches installed:

These two switches are toggle switches (push to turn on push again to turn off) which power the 2 two furthest left hand red terminals. Push the button and power is sent to the terminal and an led lights up in the switch to indicate that the outlet is now turned on.  Cost for this guy is $25.00 plus shipping, remember our shipping policy is when more than 1 item is ordered you only ever pay 1 flat rate shipping fee.

Last but not least!

Surge protection devices

 Lots of discussions on the web regarding this issue. I mean a lot! Enough that we at TinMan made up our minds to thoroughly do diligence to research the subject.  Because of the high failure rate of solid state circuits in most of the newer engines and other model train accessories, there has been many discussions and lots of suggested protective solutions. So how do we know for a fact what is the best solution to this ever-rising problem?

To answer the question, we must look at what we are trying to accomplish where. So first a brief common sense explanation of what surge protectors are and how they basically work.  For the practical side of discussion there are only 2 types of surge protectors, that are available at a reasonable cost for home use.

  • NO 1 is what is called TVS diodes. In layman’s terms these devices are very much like a voltage adjusting diode, commonly known as a Zener diode. The TVS models come in 2 variations, one polarized, one not. The most popular one is non polarized. (doesn’t matter which way you hook it up) The way it works is you install one across an ac power line. It senses excess voltages over what it is rated and basically absorbs the excess voltage. Cost? Less than $1 apiece.  What’s the catch? To be affective it must be installed in the device it is to protect. For example, in the case of our hobby, that means it should be installed inside for  an engine that has a solid-state board. Installing the diodes on the back of a transformer will not do much of anything. As a matter of fact, it could potentially damage the transformer if it were hit with a major voltage spike. What’s the problem? Will not handle major spikes, like a lightning hit. Positive side it probably will never wear out.
  • NO 2 is what is called a Type 3 voltage suppressor. These have become very popular in good quality power strips.
    These guys work differently than the TVS diodes, in that when they sense a higher voltage (usually over 130 volts), they send the excess voltage to ground. The ground connection in household outlets is the odd hole in a normal wall socket. These will handle huge voltage spikes, and depending on specific models also huge current spikes. Potentially  even a lightning strike to your power line between a substation and your home. Note: a lightning hit on the major power lines is taken care of at the substations, using very expensive devices. The big advantage of these in home types is they will stop a surge before it hits our train transformers. The big disadvantage of these types, is typically they will only handle a very limited of high voltage hits, and will self-destruct. If it is one of the ones that include a power strip, the power strip will continue to work, it just won’t be protected.

So after all of that what is our recommendation?

     We like the idea of eliminating the surges before it ever gets to the transformer. What we don’t like is not knowing whether the surge protector is working or not. After several months of research and model checking we found one that we like that is reasonably priced, and here it is and a bargain for $19.95.

     This unit has several features, not found on most power strips/surge protectors. 

  1. It has a good quality manual reset circuit breaker. We selected a smaller value specifically for train operations.
  2. It has an illuminated on/off switch.
  3. It has (most importantly) 2 small LEDS, one red one green. The green LED when on, indicates a proper solid ground connection in your house. The red LED indicates the outlets on the unit are protected against power surges. If the red LED fails to come on, the outlets are no longer protected. They will however still work as a power strip.

     Another thing I like is this unit will almost certainly be installed where you can see it. It won’t be buried, behind a cabinet someplace. I like the idea of knowing whether we need to be concerned about power surges in our home. If the red LED turns off?  If that happens, you should seriously consider adding additional units elsewhere in the house to protect home theater equipment, computers etc. If it never turns off that’s great too, like the check engine light that never comes on.

    So should you just buy this guy and forget about TVS diodes? No, I think installing the TVS diodes in the engines or other devices that have solid state  is a great idea.  Why? Because in our research we discovered a derailment AC short circuit can create a voltage spike that can go directly into the engine. Why doesn’t Lionel install the TVS diodes at the factory? Ya got me. It’s not exactly a secret that AC power from a train transformer does not mix well with modern surface mount dc stuff. I am aware that the request has been made to Lionel by many knowledgeable guys, without success.  Sorry but we at Tinman have all we can do keeping up with what we do. Our expertise is not with rolling stock. Suggestion, take your modern engines to a good reliable train shop and have them do the TVS diode installation. Want to do it yourself? Go for it, should be a fun project. The specific part you need is available from Their part number is 1.5KE39CA, and sells for a grand total of 67 cents each. You can check with O gauge Forum for suggestions or installation tips.