Hello, I am a new member to this forum and am getting back into the hobby of model railroading with my 3 year old son.  I am in the process of having my o gauge locomotives refurbished from when I was a kid in the early 1980's and have added a few RTR sets the last few months. I have a lot of Pennsy, Union Pacific and Chessie items.   We have a membership to the Strasburg Railroad and are there monthly.   I also had my father-in-law's  American Flyer locomotives from the 1950's refurbished last Christmas.  I just got a 1950's ZW last week and  am getting ready to build a train table and move beyond the o gauge ovals I have had on the hardwoods and carpet.  I plan on getting some O-31 or O-36 manual switches and think that I will probably need two blocks in a 4x8 or 4.5' x 8' setup.  


I did some preliminary research and see that Lionel makes 1 3/8" insulated block and a 5" block.  My question is how to the insulated blocks work?  I know there are cuts in the track to stop the electric flow but I was wondering if the train briefly loses power when goes across these blocks or are the cuts staggered so that power isn't lost?  I see that the 1 3/8" block is sort of preferred to have 2 blocks, is that the consensus?


Also, I hope to have a Polar Express themed layout for Christmas and would like to have the loco enter the center of the table and park (to sort of recreate the scene the first gift of Christmas and Santa Claus is coming to town - where the kids get out of the loco).  I think that an earthen bumper at the end of this would look odd so was just planning on cutting off the end or removing the pins that stick out of 1 end of a straight track.  My concern is that my son and cousins/friends will run the train full off the center though.  Would 10" of insulated (nonpowered) track work here to cut off the electric coming to the train (so it comes to a dead end)?  I guess I am looking for a way to have 10" of nonpowered track for the train to coast to a stop, is this possible with insulated block?


Thanks in advance for the help!

Original Post
Welcome to the forum.
Insulated blocks are used to control power to sections of track, either through the use of on/off switches, or different throttles/power supplies, depending on the use of the block. A siding can be powered through an on/off switch from the same throttle as the main layout. A layout can have 2 or more loops interconnected, and each loop insulated from the others. Each loop can then be powered by a different throttle, giving independent control of the trains, and also allowing trains to change loops. See here for a Lionel video on insulated tracks and blocks.


Welcome to the forum!


The blocks have a jumper wire underneath the make or breaks the connection. The 1 3/8" is for the center rail only. The 5" has both. The outside rail isolated is primarily used to trigger or activate accessories. It can be used in many other ways, train detection and delay, collision control and such.


If you get a transformer like a ZW-C or a GW-180, you won't need blocks, except for perhaps turning off power to a siding. You need to place some circuit protection between the Postwar ZW and the track to protect the trains. (A whole topic of it's own)

It's a good power house, but lacks modern quick acting breakers to protect the electronics of modern trains. Also, having young ones playing, they tend to spark the trains more.


The 031 won't provide a symmetrical loop inside of an 036.


The earthen or lighted bumper is probably your best insurance. Cutting the power and creating a dead track will work if you don't have lighted cars on the train, a tender with sound or lighted caboose. They will jumper power past a short block. The block would need to be at least as long as the train and some extra for something like the Polar Express.


Arctic Railroad

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