Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

Methods to wiring your toy train layout

Make the most of your electric trains' operation with following tried-and-true wiring strategies
Kellie Jaeger and Theo Cobb
A block system is a basic method of running two or more sections of the same layout with a single power supply – and using insulated sections to isolate the track and single-pole single-throw switches to manage power flow.

Why would you want to do this? If you wanted to run a switcher on the small siding without having to remove a locomotive from the larger loop, you would just turn power off the main line and flick the switches to power the siding.

This scheme is for conventional control of locomotives, since both Lionel’s TrainMaster and Legacy systems of command control as well as MTH’s DCS permit independent operation of command-equipped locomotives anywhere on a layout.
A version of this article originally appeared in the January 2011 issue of Classic Toy Trains.

It isn’t an exaggeration to observe that the CTT staff is frequently asked basic questions such as “How do I connect my power and lockon to the track?” However, we get even more questions related to adding operational capability beyond running one train in a circle – taking a step beyond the starter outfit.

Aside from the layout-unique questions that can’t be answered over the phone, most queries are about wiring a layout revolve around the pattern of wiring to connect the whole shebang.

These are bus wiring (not so much a way to operate the layout as much as it is a means to effectively power it), block wiring (breaking a layout into multiple electrical blocks – or zones – controlled with a single transformer), cab wiring (similar to block wiring, except each zone is controlled by an independent “cab” or transformer), and “star” wiring (unique to users of MTH’s Digital Command System).

Above are some basic illustrations that show how these wiring patterns are laid out.


Read and share your comments on this article

Want to leave a comment?

Only registered members of are allowed to leave comments. Registration is FREE and only takes a couple minutes.

Login or Register now.


6 ways to improve toy train scenery.


Get the Classic Toy Trains newsletter delivered to your inbox twice a month

By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Classic Toy Trains magazine. Please view our privacy policy