Choosing A Power Pack for Your Model Railroad


If you’ve ventured inside a hobby shop in search of a power pack for your model railway having discovered that the power pack the train set came with is wholly inadequate you’re not alone. Many have walked through those doors before you. When you make that trip, however, realize that there are several considerations you need to ponder before choosing the power pack that’s right for you and your layout.

Some of the things to ask yourself include what size will my layout eventually be and what requirements might that size make on the power pack? What scale am I working in? How many different engines and accessories will be run off this power pack? All these things and more need to be answered before you can make an intelligent purchase. Doing it ahead of time as much as possible makes the shopping easier and can stave off problems.

Model railroad power supply

Since the current needed to power a model railroad is not large, transformers and power packs do the job of converting normal 110-volt AC house current into the low doses (0-20 volts) needed for model trains. Most power packs have a built-in transformer, and do the job nicely.

Some large scale trains are run on AC current, and it’s gonna be up to you to know which current your trains run on. The type of current needed can be found on the product specifications. Most Ho or N scale trains run on DC power, and virtually any power pack will work. (Except for trains from Marklin, which only run on AC supplied by a Marklin power pack.) Z scale also runs off DC , while O scale takes AC. To be safe, always look to the product specs before committing to a power pack.

Each power pack is rated by the load it must carry, so it’s important to know this information going in. The number of trains and accessories is the factor to be considered, not necessarily the amount of track you have laid.  Each transformer has a limit to what it can supply, so careful planning is worthwhile. Some modelers have several power packs to furnish their needs to several different areas of their layouts. This can solve the problem of having a power drain when more than one electrical load is called upon.

As you can see, the planning and utilization of the proper  power pack for your system is one to take some time with. Give it some thought!


{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

gerard b doyle September 7, 2008 at 9:33 am

i am looking for an ac transformer just to power the lights and switches.i have n scale

Mike Harris November 28, 2008 at 11:21 pm

I have 10 lighted structures on my layout. What power will be required. I have a small hobby transformer with a 16VA, 1000mA output. Can only run 5 of the lights without the lights going out. I will also add more accessories in the future. What would you suggest for power? Where can I get the transformer?

joe December 5, 2008 at 4:42 pm

I need to find a power pack to plug into my transformer for a lionel train.All I can tell you is what I took off the box.

Transformer rating
input 120 VAC
21A 60HZ only
AC Output 16 Vac, 20 VA

its an 027 guage and on the transformer it saids
use 3 AMP power pack only

RICK December 17, 2008 at 11:40 am

I’m working on a very large 0 gauge layout with over 600 feet of track and five engines. There will be approx 16 switches and quite a few accessory items (6?). I plan on using a zw 275 for the engines. Would you suggest separate power paks for switches, accessories, etc. If so, what kind and how many ? Good article above.

Thanks Rick Halloran

Mark Viscanti September 4, 2009 at 12:00 pm

I am setting up a train to go around our game room. I am not big into model railroading, but I thought this a good use of a O27 Lionel train that was sitting in the closet. The Lionel set is my sons from the mid 90’s. If I just use the train cars that came with it it runs fine. However i have a number of cars from my old train set from the 50’s and 60’s. These cars are a lot heavier and some are lit. His 40 watt transformer doesn’t seem to have the juice to run the trai with the olde cars. What should I look for in a tansformer to get the train to work properly. Again the train just goes around the room, 70′ track, lighted engine, caboose, passanger car and light car.

Mark Viscanti

stephen lane April 11, 2010 at 11:02 pm

hi talking about power pack iam going to run a nce system can i have other brand or stick to the same thank or your time steve

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