Beginner question: Can one transformer do it all or do I need different brands?

Hello,  I am currently in my "consumer phase" of collecting locomotives and I have been collecting by roadname (c&o) without a lot of consideration for operating systems, ( a mistake I'm sure).  I have two legacy gp-30's, a legacy gp-35, a conventional 0-8-0 from 2006 and a tmcc Allegheny plus an old yellow belly circa 1996? from lionel.  I have been considering purchasing a cw-80 first to run my 0-8-0 and to pair as a power source with a future legacy controller that I have not bought yet.  I can see in future I will want to add some mth proto-2 rsd and bl-2 units to my roster and I have read from other forums that the cw-80's do not like mth engines (or the mth engines do not like them)? At this point I would only be looking at being able to run mth engines in "conventional mode" as in not being concerned with advanced features on the mth engines at this time.  I realize I have a mess of different operating systems now and am just trying to figure out the best power source purchases without making mistakes.  Is there a more universal power source that would allow running both lionel and mth engines well or do most people have a few separate transformers/power sources for the different brands? I cant foresee having a large layout anytime soon more like carpet central at Christmas time to start with.  Also I am not very electronically tech oriented so my equipment has to be simple/user friendly or I wont be able to manage it. I have no knowledge concerning any MTH systems at this time.   Sorry for the rambling question and thanks in advance for any usable advice.  Bryan

Original Post

Well it seems you have already purchased some big locomotives. With that in mind and the good prospect that you would obtain the Passenger set for that "Yellow Belly " C & O steamer the CW 80 will NOT cut it. As a NEwbie you need to understand like a house, your foundation for building a trouble free Model Railroad Starts not only with the table but the track systems, wiring and transformer. Going chincy [Cheap] on any one of those items and you pay the price in the long run.

Your best bet is a MTH Z4000. A Z1000 would work as an interim BUT if you make a big layout and start running multiple trains eventually you will have to upgrade to the Z4000 or it's Lionel ZW equivalent anyway. 

The Best things about the Z4000 are:

  • UL rated
  • Pure AC wave output for Most 3 rail AC locomotives made to date
  • 400W output Enough power to run big trains
  • Has easy optional plug and play remote for CONVENTIONAL running.
  • Separate connections for Trains and Accessories.
  • Easy to program PS-1& QSI equipped locomotives [Should you start looking at those bargains]
  • Price is still around $1.00/Watt

I hope this helps and good luck on your choice!

MTH-Demo7

member:Golden Spike Club Charter Member

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Good start, that is the fun of this hobby. You can start anywhere and adjust directions as your interest changes.

The cw80 will work but I think you will get a ton of recommendations for the z1000. I have had both and must admit I prefer the z. It does not have an accessory output like the cw80, but that is not an issue for you now.

Hokie 71

Chief of Operations, Free Union, Blacksburg, and Albemarle Railroad (FUBAR)

I agree with PRRHORSESHOECURVE that the MTH Z4000, which I have to run my 2 main lines, is a great transformer. However, since your focus so far seems to be modern Lionel (Legacy and TMCC), the most modern and most powerful Lionel transformer (I think it's the ZW-L that I don't have), would best fill your needs.

Also, if you have, or are going to build, a big layout, don't limit yourself to one transformer. For instance, you can have a separate, older and less expensive transformer (like a ZW) to provide power for your accessories, turnouts,  lights, etc. Use your big, modern transformer to run your main lines. Arnold

In my little world, I leave this troubled world behind.

Bryan, I re-read your post, and now know you are not planning a large layout any time soon. The biggest and most modern Lionel transformer may be overkill for a carpet central layout, and not the best choice for a non-tech person. Arnold

In my little world, I leave this troubled world behind.

Recently rain into a power issue, if I had the $ I would like a Z4000.

Myself, I use an old ZW pw for its dual accessory output to power lights, accessories and switches, (good idea to split the accessory load on the ZW) otherwise it may get hot. I use a Z1000 to power the trains and have tied the commons of the ZW and Z1000 together, seems to be working great so far.

I avoid the CW80s like the plague.

 

So I will share my experience and you can make a decision depending on how you feel.

My intro into O Gauge, like a lot of us, was with a Lionel Starter Set (Polar Express to be exact) which came with a CW80. I soon became obsessed with Scale Trains and soon after purchased an MTH Premier SD70M Proto 2. It absolutely HATED running with the CW80, it was such a bad experience I almost gave up on the hobby. Thanks to this forum and the great contributors, I soon found that the culprit to this issue was indeed the CW80 and its chopped Sine Wave vs normal smooth Sine Wave power most transformers give off.

I soon wrestled with how to proceed. I knew I would never have a big enough layout to warrant the 400W Z4000 but I also knew that I wanted to spend the money once and not have to worry about it for a while, or ever again.

I decided to go with the Lionel PH180, it has a fast blow circuit breaker second to none and I have ran more than 5 engines w/ smoke ON and the single transformer has not ever given me an issues at all. I think the PW180 is a great transformer BUT it is not suited for conventional operation as it sits, you will need either a Lionel Legacy PowerMaster to act as the transformer handle or get the full DCS system and you can use the Variable outputs for the conventional engine you have.

With that said, your best choice for a transformer depends 100% on YOU and YOUR layout. I have two loops (A third is in progress now) on my layout and the two loops are center rail isolated so I can, and have, wired my outside loop to a VAR output to run a conventional loco and the inside loop to a fixed output to run command engines, or vice versa. I can achieve this all with the Full DCS system as well as a single PW180.

For me this setup gave me the most bang for my buck as well as the ability to run both Conventional and MTH Command locos at the same time.

The story doesn't end there for most of us, and I was no exception. Legacy engines started coming into my collection and as it stood at the moment, I had no way to control them via Command control so as a result I added a Legacy base to the mix to finish off.

I hope this helps you understand a bit more of what is needed to run both conventional and command locos as well as command MTH and Legacy/TMCC locos, long story short, their is no short, you need a few items to make all of your locos run.

Hope this helps!

Daniel Gonzalez

prrhorseshoecurve posted:

 

  • Easy to program PS-1& QSI equipped locomotives [Should you start looking at those bargains]
  • Price is still around $1.00/Watt

I hope this helps and good luck on your choice!

 

 

This is what separates the Z4000 from all the others. Besides the power, the meters, and the available handheld for conventional you can reset and reprogram PS1 engines with ease.

Pete

BIGGER is always better. I run a 8'x 12' train board at train shows. Most of my motive power is post war and/or pre war. So I use post war 

ZWs. I have three loops and am adding a fourth. I run two loops on one ZW and will run two loops on a second ZW and keep a 3rd ZW

for my two test tracks. This photo is from my older board at the 2010 Syracuse Train Show. I have since scraped that board and built a new board.

 

syracuse 2010 trainboard

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If you really are not interested at this time with all the legacy and premier features in your locos, and just want to  start running trains, I would start with a nice rebuilt postwar ZW (add  inexpensive resettable circuit breaker in line to protect your setup and some inexpensive TVS to protect modern electronics in the locos) .  For price, power, reliability, and ease of use it is fine to start with a nice Postwar ZW transformer which can be had for around $100 or a little more now that Christmas is over, and is easily sold if you decide to upgrade later on with a modern large ZW-L or  MTH Z4000. 

I use a postwar ZW book marked by 2 KWs because it just looks D**n postwar cool!

Others will suggest the 180 powerhouse, but you will need more equipment for this to work (a TMCC powermaster & remote or legacy version of the same plus base, or the MTH system)  and to run the trains and all that adds up to $$$, a learning curve, and possible gremlins along the way. 

Just my opinion, YMMV.  That being said if you plan on having those legacy locos and more to come and want to get your money's worth out of  your cost, then go ahead and buy the legacy system, a legacy powermaster,  and the powerhouse now and be done with it.  

It's the quality of the power source that matters.  The CW80's chopped wave power is a known issue.  Postwar transformers are a better option than the CW80.  For new transformers, the MTH Z4000s and Lionel PowerHouses output good sine wave power.

Since your engines are Lionel, I suggest you budget to buy the Legacy control system and then power it with the relatively inexpensive 180W PowerHouse.  For conventional running of the 0-8-0, add the PowerMaster which is controlled by the Legacy handheld to vary voltage, whistle, bell, direction, etc.

A friend lent me a Z-4000 to test as a replacement for my old ZW.  My trains ran great, but the voltage from the two accessory outlets is very low.  My accessories ran too slow and layout lights were too dim.

I ended up getting a great deal on a ZW-L from another friend that purchased it with a collection.  It has variable voltage accessory outputs like the old ZW, so you can adjust voltage to your liking.

This isn't intended as a "knock" on the Z-4000.  It's a fine transformer.  It's also much cheaper than a ZW-L if you don't get lucky like I did.  I just want to point out a deficiency, in my opinion, with the Z-4000.

Steam Crazy posted:

A friend lent me a Z-4000 to test as a replacement for my old ZW.  My trains ran great, but the voltage from the two accessory outlets is very low.  My accessories ran too slow and layout lights were too dim.

I ended up getting a great deal on a ZW-L from another friend that purchased it with a collection.  It has variable voltage accessory outputs like the old ZW, so you can adjust voltage to your liking.

This isn't intended as a "knock" on the Z-4000.  It's a fine transformer.  It's also much cheaper than a ZW-L if you don't get lucky like I did.  I just want to point out a deficiency, in my opinion, with the Z-4000.

Very interesting to me, because I don't use the accessory outlets on the Z-4000. I only use my Z-4000 for my 2 main lines.

In my little world, I leave this troubled world behind.

I could have added that buying a Z-4000 and using your old transformer with variable voltage for accessories is a good option.  I just don't think a Z-4000 is a good choice as an only transformer.  If a ZW-L is too expensive, buy a Z-4000 and an inexpensive postwar transformer in good condition at a train show.

IF you just want to run trains conventionally, a post war ZW will be just fine. The ZW served our fathers and grandfathers just fine. It will also interface with the different proprietary operating systems (with additional electronic hardware).

Sometimes the focus of "just running trains" is lost in the arguments of who makes a better proprietary control system, what power source best supports that product. What engine cosmetic details and electronic features are better.

An MTH Z4000 is a good conventional operation power source and will support most mfg products proprietary operating systems( provided you buy whatever additional control items required to support the engines operating system).

IF you buy what you LIKE in motive power and rolling stock, there is always a way to make everything compatible , down the road( sometimes you have to have deep pockets.).

If you like the Lionel LIONCHIEF product, the sets come with a wall transformer and " specific to the engine" hand held controller.

Deciding whether you choose to run conventional, command control, DCC. , is a learning curve best given some time in the hobby, lest you end up owning a lot of expensive un necessary components.

I personally own Lionel conventional andTMCC engines, MTH PS1, PS2, AND PS3 engines and a Legacy engine.

I personally like to just run trains..most of the time conventionally. I do not own a Legacy or MTH controller

( personally don't need the features).

Long story short..start out with a ZW or Z4000 or more importantly what ever you can afford... that works for you. 

And have fun running trains.

I started into command with a single Z4000.  I stayed using one transformer until I got over 8 amps per side.  I then split it into two Z4000s with the goal of trying to keep the amps between 7 and 8 (with smoke on and 40 smph).  I now use 3 Z4000's, 1 Pure (something), 2 180 bricks, 1 Z1000 brick for track power, and one Z1000  with the variable voltage for operating accessories.

An MRC Pure Power Dual is a more affordable alternative. Pure sine with 270 watts and meters. There is one new at auction for $200. Runs MTH and Lionel equally well. FYI, ZWs have no bell button. 

John

Located in the real Upstate NY

Lionel 6-5906 sound activation buttons (two per circuit) can be used with a ZW for whistle/bell functions.  Some advice posted often on the Forum is worth repeating: if you run modern trains with a ZW, you must protect the circuits with a fast blow fuse or similar device.  The ZW circuit breaker will protect the transformer, but not the delicate electronics in modern engines.

Steam Crazy posted:

Lionel 6-5906 sound activation buttons (two per circuit) can be used with a ZW for whistle/bell functions.  Some advice posted often on the Forum is worth repeating: if you run modern trains with a ZW, you must protect the circuits with a fast blow fuse or similar device.  The ZW circuit breaker will protect the transformer, but not the delicate electronics in modern engines.

Yes the Lionel sound activation  button ($10 a piece or so) wired opposite the instructions will provide bell with any postwar transformer with horn (red to U Black to A, B, C etc. )

However the circuit breaker or fuse in line protects the wiring, the layout, wires in lights cars, etc.  If you want to protect the electronics in the modern locos you need to use transient voltage suppressors TVS  between the U and hot terminals on your transformer, or between the center and outside rail via lock-on or rail or wires, or inside the locos themselves, or all 3 with redundant applications since these are dirt cheap.  This will better protect your  modern locos.

Using any transformer you can encounter 2 problems.

"Shorts" current that is too high (short circuit), and voltage that is too high, "spikes"

A 5 amp circuit breaker that is on the "output side" between your track and the transformer will protect you from "short circuits".

 

A TVS ( transient voltage suppressor) diode between the outside rail and the center rail via a loc on or soldered to the underside of the rails will protect your loco electronics from "SPIKES"

You wire a TVS diode  (1.5KE36CA that you can get from most electronic distributors) or even maybe your LHS, 

ACCROSS  the output terminals of your transformer; that is, between Red and Black, or hot and ground. On a postwar ZW this means you simply hook it up ACCROSS  posts U and A, just wrap the wire on each  post ( U & A),  assuming you are using them as the throttle for power to the track. You can then put one btwn (U and B), and (U and C),  and (U and D).

You SHOULD also spread a few TVS diodes around your track (between the outside rail and the center rail), at several points around the layout.  (Multiple loc-ons are convenient.)

TVS diodes are bi-directional ..so no special worries about which end where. TVS diodes are invisible at normal track voltages and will only act when a spike occurs. 

I'm sure there are more knowledgeable folks here who can recommend a diode source and probably better ways to utilize them.

I, too, would recommend an MTH Z4000 or a Lionel ZW-L. Both are excellent power sources (I use the Z4000) for any AC locomotives. I would forget the CW80 altogether, just based on my own past experience with that transformer. You already have a good number of powered units, so save up a bit more $ and get yourself a transformer that will handle your needs as your roster continues to grow.

I hope someone will correct me here if wrong, but this is what I've done. I'm using my dad's and grandfather's old postwar transformers. That gave me 6 to start.  I picked up another TW and 1033 from that era and a modern Williams as part of a set. Six transformers go to track (5 loops, one yard), three to accessories and lights. They're all in phase.

I added a Lionel Powermaster to each power block going to track. I bought them all used for $20-$25 each, so my all-in cost was less than a new Z4000 or ZW-L. The PMs provides the quick acting circuit breaker others have suggested PLUS the ability to run conventional with a CAB-1 handheld (they also convert the old PW transformers' output to a chopped sine wave that TMCC engines want, but I don't think that's your goal).

At others' suggestions, I added a TVS between the terminals on each transformer going to track.

My layout is about 280 feet of Fastrack, with three areas for lighting needs.  I run conventional, and Lion Chief Plus locomotives, and have one Legacy (run using a Universal Remote) and two TMCC locomotives.

I use a Lionel ZW-L plus two 270 watt postwar ZW's.  The postwar transformers are equipped w/ separate 3A circuit breakers, and they can run separate areas of the layout (coal mine and powerplant).  This would allow three people to operate the layout at once- but I have never done that.  In addition the postwar ZWs run all the lighting (mostly LED) for the layout, while the ZW-L runs the switches, a Bump N Go trolley, and locomotives.

I know that my power setup is WAY over what I actually need- each of the lighted areas use something like 20 watts of the 270 available from the PW ZWs.  I have tested, and each locomotive uses just  2 amps, and I run at most 3 trains on occasion usually just 1 or 2. 

The ZW-L is awesome- I like the meters (analog of questionable accuracy) and the fact that the whistle operation and bell is much better than the old ZWs.  (I do have yet another ZW as a backup- I went "ZW Crazy" when I was starting up!- that is set for a whistle diode conversion.)

For the money probably the MTH is a better value.  I just think the ZW-L has it in the appearance department to these old eyes" department, PLUS the easy add-on remote capability.

Mike Wyatt 

For the money probably the MTH is a better value. 

A Z4000 is a good beginning and will keep you happy until you decide how big to expand your RR empire. The MRC  Pure Power Dual is also a great performer. Both will run any Mfg product. 

If you have deeper pockets the ZW-L  does have that "Wizard of Oz" look and the power to boot!

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