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For many enthusiasts layout electric's are the 'stumbling block' between completing a layout that performs to the required standard; and a layout that works, but not necessarily as required. Electrics may also prove the barrier that prevents a layout from being completed or even started. The most requested service offered by Professional Layout Services is layout electrics which encompasses Control Panels covered in a separate section. 

As detailed on the PLS welcome page, we do not insist on constructing a full layout for the client; we are happy to estimate for any single job, for example layout electric's. Layout electric's can be achieved using three basic methods:

  1. Conventional or 'analogue' layout wiring.
  2. Digital (DCC) layout wiring. Sometimes referred to as Multi-train Control.
  3. We also offer a combined service with DCC track control and analogue turnout motor control.

This section deals with conventional or 'analogue' layout wiring. Digital (DCC) layout wiring is explained in detail in our DCC Digital Control section.



Analogue layout wiring involves the traditional methods of cable and switches to operate the layout. The three principal areas of layout wiring are detailed below:

  1. Track section wiring - getting the power to the locomotives via the track.
  2. Turnout motor wiring - electric turnout motor control (points) including frog polarity.
  3. Signal wiring.

It is important when wiring a layout as a beginner to focus on each of the three areas individually to avoid an electrical disaster. However as one becomes much more experienced, all three areas converge to achieve prototypical running or 'interlocking'.


1. Track Section Wiring

The sight of a locomotive moving slowly across plain track and turnouts is for many what a model railway is all about. It is to do no more than replicate the everyday operation of the prototype. However, how often is this achieved both on the home layout, and on layouts seen at exhibitions. Many regard this performance as unreachable by the average modeller. Five factors effect running performance on a layout - Track type and quality of fixing, controller, locomotive mechanism, cleanliness and wiring.
bulletTrack type and quality of fixing -
Track is dealt with in much more detail in our Track Laying section. However the basic requirements for good performance are careful fixing of your track, ensuring it is flat, level and correctly joined. Do not force the track, if it looks good to the human eye, and smooth to the touch, performance should be good - if in doubt look at the track in a mirror - it will make any errors more apparent. Any irregularities in the track will soon emerge once running commences. It is better to spend more time initially carefully fixing the track, than risking deformation or permanent damage to the track by having to lift and relay. Electrofrog turnouts are essential where size permits, and most experienced modellers accept nickel-silver or phosphor-bronze to be the most reliable materials. Where understanding allows, convert electrofrog turnouts to livefrog removing the need for the switch rail to retain pressure on the stock rail to achieve a circuit. This requires a switch to change frog polarity either on the turnout motor or as a separate SPDT switch.
bulletController type -
Generally the modern electronic controllers perform better at low speeds than the older 'rheostat' controllers. It is not fair to expect miracles from a twenty year old controller. Would you expect a television from 1970 to perform like a television purchased in 2000? The controller should be matched to the size of the layout and to the stock running on the layout. If the layout is under powered, poor performance and damage to the transformer may occur. Contact us for advice.
bulletLocomotive mechanism - motor, gears, collectors (pick-ups) & wheels.
As with controllers, it is not fair to expect a locomotive purchased many years ago to perform as well as modern stock. In the last few years we have seen major improvements in the quality of mechanisms. Better quality motors, gears and wheels are now being used as the major manufacturers realise the demands for quality from the enthusiast. Locomotives constructed from kits usually have the benefit of the builders choice of wheels, gears and motor. With a wide variety of materials available careful consideration should be given to these essential components.
bulletCleanliness -
The most common cause of non-running and a large contributor to poor running is cleanliness. The best quality track, controllers and mechanisms will all be adversely effected by dirt. Dirt accumulates on the track, locomotive wheels and axles, and within the locomotive mechanism, particularly on the commutator of the motor. Regular cleaning of the track and servicing of the locomotive is essential. Electronic track cleaners can be installed to help fight the grime. Remember dirt will always get in those hard to reach places. On insulfrog and electrofrog turnouts dirt will accumulate on the rear of the switch rail blade and in the stock rail rebate. If this is not cleaned the turnout will not conduct power correctly requiring the tie bar to be pushed over. Clean with 1000 grade wet and dry paper folded back on itself to make it double sided - then trap the two rails and clean.
bulletWiring -
Correct wiring allows locomotives to run around a layout at low speed. It should not be necessary to have to run at high speeds to change between controllers operating different sections or circuits - this is usually a common return problem. Larger layouts should be broken down into electrical sections or blocks to achieve better running. The type of track wiring used on a layout depends on who is going to use the layout, the size of the layout and the locomotive movements required on the layout. On small layouts particularly those for children or the beginner, keep the wiring simple so it is easy the understand. If Setrack is being used with insulfrog turnouts, use the turnouts to feed the track rather than switches. On larger layouts break the layout into operational blocks/sections usually determined by the running requirements. Isolate the blocks using insulated/plastic rail joiners (or a simple break in the track) and feed each block from a switch allowing the block to be switched off. Use a common return system where two controllers are in use (check your controller is suitable) allowing locomotives to cross between controllers without the need for speed. The introduction of two way switches with a centre off position (SPDTc/o or DPDTc/o) produces the greatest operational freedom on the layout, allowing each block to be controlled by either controller or to be switched off. Other useful additions to track wiring are 'push to make' switches (PTM) located to control the ends of sidings. A single cut in one rail approximately 300mm from the end with a PTM switch across the break, automatically stops a locomotive as it crosses the break preventing damage to the buffers. The break also allows a locomotive to be stored at the end whilst moving another locomotive on the same track. The stored locomotive can be moved simply by pressing the PTM switch. Additional track wiring can include train detection circuits and automatic shuttles and station stops. Contact PLS for more details of our track wiring service.

2. Turnout motor wiring

Why wear out the carpet (or the floor) walking up and down the layout changing turnouts? Install turnout motors. Most turnout motors function using two solenoids which move a bolt connected to the turnout motor thus changing the direction of the turnout. The power supply to the solenoid has to be 'non-latched' or momentary preventing damage to the solenoid coils. The use of a schematic track diagram with studs touched by a probe to complete the circuit is common. The studs however can be replaced by push to make switches or biased (momentary) toggle switches. For greater efficiency fit a device known as a CDU or Capacitor Discharge Unit. On most layouts only one CDU is required regardless of the number of turnout motors on the layout. The CDU increases the power available to the switching method, virtually eliminating 'sticking' solenoids, prevents damage to coils and allows in most cases more than one turnout motor to be operated from one switch i.e. facing and trailing crossovers. In more advanced use the solenoid motor and CDU can be combined to produce diode matrix, allowing complex routes to be set from one switch. A simple diode matrix is useful for the control of slips and three way turnouts.
Slow action turnout motors are sometimes used by the more experienced modeller. These motors usually require a 12v DC power supply and a latching switch. Power is supplied to the motor from the switch until it is cut off by an internal microswitch controlled by diodes. The motor direction is reversed by changing the operating switch direction which reverses the polarity to the motor. Contact PLS for more details of our turnout motor wiring service.


3. Signal wiring

Signals on model railway layouts are either the older semaphore signals, or the more modern colour light signals. Electrically operated semaphore signals can be expensive as they require an accurate mechanical mechanism (often electric motor or servo controlled) to actuate the fragile signal arm. Colour light signals are much easier to wire as they need no mechanical control. If a simple green or red light option is available, a simple two way switch will suffice (SPDT). Signals however rarely operate alone. When one signal shows the all clear, another somewhere on the layout may show caution or stop as a consequence. This is where interlocking becomes useful. Although not strictly prototypically correct, the control of signals particularly colour light can be assisted using accessory switches attached to turnout motors, often via a relay/s. This allows all the related signal options to be controlled by the turnout positions on the layout.


Model railways always use low voltages usually below 25V. Never connect direct to the mains or any other unauthorised power supply! Always follow the manufacturers instructions and if in doubt always consult a qualified electrician. 



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