Control Panels


Model Railway Manufacturers | Model Railway Layouts | Train Sets | Train Layouts | Model Railway Builders | Model Railway Designers | Model Railway Makers | Model Railway Baseboards | DCC Model Railway Digital Specialists | Finescale Model Railways | Hornby Train Set Makers | Hornby TrakMat Makers | DCC Digital Command Control | Model Railway Track Plans | Model Railway Track Designs | CAD Model Railway Design | Peco Track Plans | Diorama Makers | Model Makers | Corporate Model Makers | Exhibition Models | Exhibition Dioramas | Show Case Models | Corporate Model Railway Manufacturers



Control panels are generally associated with traditional analogue DC track control. The requirement to break the layout down into track sections with each section requiring a switch together with turnout motor control switches and accessory switches makes a control panel necessary. The hands on operation of the layout particularly turnout motor control is very popular and is becoming more popular on digital layouts. It is possible to integrate analogue switch control with advanced digital accessory decoders e.g. Team Digital SMD82. Digital control panels are briefly featured at the bottom of this page. Please see the DCC digital section for more information. Panels can be manufactured to most shapes and sizes and can include rack mounted systems for private and commercial installations as shown below featuring CNC drilling with screen printed panels and draws to contain control apparatus.


The control panel is usually the most used feature of a model railway. Its design, construction and operation must therefore be given careful consideration to ensure the finished product will operate the layout in the required manner. The normal requirement of panel is to control some, or all of the three primary control features on a layout - track power, turnout motors and signals. It may also be convenient to have other operating features controlled from the panel, for example turntables, sound effects, and lighting.


Control panels can be of two specific types:

bulletSchematic Control Panels
bulletNon-Schematic Control Panels

Schematic Control Panels

Schematic control panels are by far the most popular and easiest to use as the necessary switches are located where appropriate on a track diagram. The track diagram is drawn to a size that allows sufficient space for the correct location of switches rather than to scale. It is therefore comparable to the diagrams seen in signal boxes. Schematic panels are easier to operate, especially for those unfamiliar with the layout as the panel switches relate to the layout itself.

Most layouts do not require such a large control panel as that shown above. For smaller layouts or 'local' control panels on a large layout it is not usually necessary to manufacture a bespoke panel with an aluminium or Perspex screen. Often we can use a standard electronic apparatus case to manufacture a small panel with either an aluminium or ABS plastic screen as shown below.

Non-Schematic Control Panels

Generally used on smaller layouts, the panel consists of rows of switches to control the functions required. As no track diagram is present, either notation or memory is required to remember the function of each switch. A very popular option is to use the lever style switches manufactured by Peco and Hornby. A variety of switch types are available, usually with a different coloured housing to allow them to be identified easily. For example the black Hornby switch is a momentary (passing contact switch) for turnout motor control, the green switch is on-off and the yellow switch on-on.

Peco manufacture their switches to fit into a lever frame holding six switches. The switches are again colour coded depending upon the switch type. The black switch for turnout motors are also available with alternative coloured levers.

Professional Layout Services are very experienced in the design and construction of control panels to customer requirements. From a supplied track plan we can design your panel screen for schematic screens, if required produce the panel from a variety of materials available, and install the panel onto your layout. Alternatively we can design and or construct the panel producing an internal connection diagram for the client to connect the panel to the layout. We are also happy to wire your layout using lever switches as shown above. This is particularly popular on DCC layouts where the track control is DCC digital but there is a wish to have turnout control by conventional methods similar to a signal box. These panels can be fully digital - please see the DCC Digital section below.

Control Panel Under Construction:

Photo 1. Panel drawing attached to perspex screen and drilled for switches etc.

Photo 2. Lining tape is added to build the schematic diagram.

Photo 3. The schematic diagram ready for switches/controllers.

Photo 4. Another panel ready for hardware installation.

Photo 5. The panel equipped with Gaugemaster controllers. Toggle switches have been installed for track section control with turnout motors operated by pen probe and studs.

Photo 6. The internal wiring of the panel.

Control panels are unique to individual requirements. The following list shows the standard features normally requested on control panels, together with those frequently requested:

Standard Features:

bulletPanel mounted controllers and transformers. For convenience the controller can be located within the panel screen improving the appearance of the panel. Transformers are usually located remote from the panel to allow them to cool. Where hand held controllers are requested, din plugs can be fitted to the panel to allow the units to be removed as required. If the client already posses cased controllers i.e. those with the transformer contained within, connections to these units can be made keeping them external from the panel. For safety reasons in compliance with current legislation, PLS only supply and use factory manufactured and cased transformers to power panel mounted and hand held controllers.
bulletTrack section switches. These are usually double throw switches with a centre off position, as layouts usually require two controllers to operate them. Control panels can however be manufactured to switch as many controllers as required using rotary switches. All section switches are usually wired to allow any controller access to any section of track, thus allowing locomotives to move across the layout without the need to change controllers.
bulletEnd of track push to make switches (PTM). A switch that is always off until depressed (remaining on while depressed only - non latching). Of particular use on a small isolated section at the end of terminal rail to automatically stop a locomotive at the head of a train as it approaches the end of the line. The locomotive can be moved up to the end of the line by depressing the switch, or left isolated at the end whilst another locomotive can be controlled on the track section.
bulletTurnout control switches and capacitor discharge units (CDU). Electric turnout motors are common place on many layouts. Their location on a schematic panel makes operation simple as the control switch can be located on its position on the diagram. Switches for solenoid type turnout motors usually require a 16 - 24v AC supply, and must have a momentary output i.e. non latching to prevent damage to the solenoid coil. A capacitor discharge unit is usually fitted to panels controlling solenoid motors as this increases the power allowing more than one motor to be controlled from one switch, and protects the solenoid from damage. Motor driven slow action turnout motors require a latching feed and normally a 12v DC supply. These are usually controlled via a DPDT switch.
bulletSignal control. Sometimes interlocked with turnout operation signals can be controlled using switches located on the control panel. The switch type depends on the signal.

Additional features

bulletElectronic track cleaners. A must on most layouts to help maintain locomotive performance. An electronic cleaner (requiring a 16v AC supply) is dedicated to each controller cleaning the rail and wheel at their interface. The cleaner only works when the locomotive is working.
bulletTurnout status indicators. A popular additional feature on control panels. Using an accessory switch either supplied with or added to a turnout motor, the position of the turnout motor can be represented on the panel using an indicator, usually an LED. Of particular use on larger layouts, or on layouts where areas are not visible.
bulletDiode matrix. Used to operate multiple turnout motors in route selection using just one switch. A simple matrix is useful for controlling slips and three way turnouts as the switch or stud position does not represent the route available. This can be used to replace reverse logic on slips and allow actual route selection.
bulletTrack detection. On larger layouts or hidden sections the location of a moving or stationary train can be useful. Using reed switches, light dependent resistors or infrared detectors; a signal can be sent to an indicator on the schematic plan to show the location of a train.
bulletStation stops, shuttles etc. Simple automation of areas of the layout can provide an interesting feature leaving the operator to concentrate on other aspects of the layout.
bulletSound generators. Bring the layout to life with simple sound generators. Linked to the output of each controller, the sound unit increases its beat automatically with the speed of the locomotive
bulletAccessory control. Include switches on the panel for level crossings, turntables, lights etc.
bulletClosed circuit TV. Not usually contained within a panel but now a regular feature (with the reduced cost of cameras and small TV's) CCTV offers an alternative to track detection whilst allows you to view unseen areas of your layout.


It is possible to combine an analogue style control panel with DCC digital. Why would you want to do this? Many model railway enthusiasts enjoy the manual input of switching turnouts or having the ability to detect the presence of a train on hidden areas of the layout particularly fiddle yards. A schematic panel can be useful to locate turnout switches or display indicators for track status. Traditional lever switches e.g. Peco or Hornby can also be used if a lever frame is preferred. More advanced DCC accessory decoders have input channels available to allow the input from a switch to change the turnout via the accessory decoder. The device we use for this purpose is the Team Digital SMD82 switch machine driver capable of operating both solenoid or slow action Tortoise style turnout motors. This high quality device has a 10 pin IDC input designed for primary inputs via a header or the Team Digital TSA (Terminal Strip Adaptor) shown below on the left. A wired Team Digital TSA is shown to the right with the input wires from Hornby lever switches.


The use of primary inputs does not prevent the operation of the turnout via the DCC handset or the use of Macros/Route settings. It therefore adds yet another dimension to the versatility of DCC control and can lead to an automated layout.

DCC track detection is much easier than analogue and does not need to result in a reduction of block power. Whilst analogue detectors can be used DCC detectors are very simple to install as shown in the wiring diagram below for the Team Digital BlocD8. Each isolated block needing detection simply requires one block wire passing through the detector. Status is shown on the unit or external indicators can be added to a schematic control panel.



Home ]

Copyright 2007- 2015 Professional Layout Services (Nottingham, UK)