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Personal experience and feedback from message boards demonstrates that successful operation of the new 2021 version of the Lionel Acela requires a set of skills beyond that of the normal plug-and-play nature of train sets.

In other words, this train set has some issues and challenges!

Many of the problems relate to derailments, nosecones that don’t hold in place, motor failures, engine electrical shorts and decoupling of cars due to loose screws.

Here is a compilation of ideas and suggestions to improve your odds of success trying to operate this train set on O-72 and larger curves. This list will, no doubt, change and evolve in time as more Acela owners report their experiences, issues and solutions. Corrections and comments are welcomed.

Perform Initial Inspection Visually:


  • Rollers: Turn engine over and check that rollers are not stuck into frame. (Problem noted by several.) This will cause a direct short across the rails. Pull rollers away from frame to hang down.


  • Particle Removal: Remove top hatch by applying pressure to the side shown in the photo and lift. Turn engine upside down and shake to remove any foreign objects from inside engine. Leave hatch off for now.


  • Loose Coupling Screws: Inspect screws in coupler to check for tightness; (common problem). A loose screw will eventually lead to a de-coupling.  A small drop of super glue can be applied to prevent the screw from working loose. (Idea from @Lionelzwl2012)


  • Loose Nose: Check nosecone to see if loose (common problem): Replace when new nose part becomes available. If loose, either return to Lionel for repair, wait for a new nosecone to become available in Lionel Parts site, or use non-permanent bonding agent. For example, “Le Glue”—used for temporary LEGO bonding—will not permanently damage the plastic while you wait for a new nose.


    Passenger Cars

  • Coupler Screws: As mentioned above, inspect coupler screws for tightness. (Common problem) Tighten screws as needed; light touch of Loctite or superglue on screw head.
  • Coupler Oiling:  A tiny drop of Labelle's 108 light oil can be added to plastic parts that move. This includes the side skirts that move outward when going around 072 curves and areas where the mechanism rubs against the frame body. Wipe off excess oil. This ensures that the couplers movement is smooth and will travel side-to-side without binding. The oiling will help the cars track through curves. (Idea from @Lionelzwl2012)

oil points

  • Wheelset rotation: Inspect height of car above wheels (separation of wheelset to frame)  to ensure wheels will freely rotate in either direction. If wheel set doesn’t rotate freely, return car to Lionel for repair

good wheel set

Above is good separation

bad wheel set

Above is defective separation. Car will derail

  • Sticky Pin and Loop Couplers; If you have difficulty uncoupling cars, it may be helpful to widen the loop using a miniature flat file.


Layout Integrity:


  • 21 ½” long passenger cars that tilt require that scenery must be moved back from        inside curves to allow clearance. For example, O-72 curves require tall objects to be    more than 1 ¾” away from inside curve.
  • Take single passenger car and move it by hand, where possible, throughout the layout to  ensure side of car is not brushing against scenery.

       Track (preliminary test)

  • The Acela set requires that the trackage must be laid out perfectly (literally!) with no discontinuities (smooth track transitions and consistent O-72+ diameters) and no dips; i.e., no kinks, bumps, dips and ≥ O-72 diameter curves
  • OPTIONAL: As an initial test, put all passenger cars on track and try to pull them          throughout layout with a substantial engine. (Anecdotal experiences infer that the Acela motors and gearing may be a bit more unforgiving than other types of engines.) Unless a fast-acting breaker is employed, the use of the Acela engines is not initially suggested because derailment of cars can cause significant drag (i.e.; undue stress) on them and can lead to a motor failure. The idea here is to check out the trackage as thoroughly as possible before the Acela engines are actually used. This is an example of a way to couple the Amtrak cars to a more substantial engine using a coil wire:

wire coupling

  • Derailment is a common problem. Derailment fixes are described later in this message
  • Thoroughly clean track. During the initial run of the train, described below, this will help ensure both Acela engines will receive virtually identical voltage levels at the same instance when operating.

Engine Set-up


  • With top hatch cover off, it is critical to set engine as a pair, not a unit, using the same engine ID for both engines. Lionel Support now recommends this approach even though it differs from the manual included in the set.


  • Put both engines on track and apply power. Put both engines in “Pgm” position and enter and engine number on the CAB2 and press “SET”. Return engines to “Run”.
  • You’ll run the engines as a pair, not as a LASHUP. You will not be using the TR button. (IMPORTANT!)
  • If you have a Lionel LCS Sensor Track, run engine #2021 over sensor track to populate CAB2.
  • If you don’t have the sensor track, here are the manual settings:

                     Initial Main Display: AMTRAK ACELA  (Engine ID is your choice)


                   Engine INFO menu:


               Custom: ASSIGN NAME (Your choice)

               Type:      ELC (select “Electric”, not “Acela”)

               Control: LEG

               Sound: LRS

The CAB2 screen should look like this:



      Initial Testing

  • With both engines on track (no passenger cars), but separated by a foot or so, run engines forward and reverse throughout the layout to see if they maintain the same distance apart.
  • Check engine and bell.
  • Check operation of the pantographs. After test, lock them in down position and turn them off for now so they will not be an issue in future test runs.
  • Check Bluetooth operation from a smartphone or iPad using the Lionel LionChief App. This app contains all the basic operating functions and is easy to setup and use. The screens will look like this:


  • iCab: The set can be controlled also using the iCab smartphone app via a WiFi connection but this approach requires the use of the Lionel LCS WiFi device which is very difficult to set up using modern home routers. Judging by the number of iCab reviews in the Apple Store, the iCab is not very popular. The iCab app, when properly functioning, provides similar capability to that of the CAB2. It is anticipated that the forthcoming Lionel CAB3 base and app will make smartphone operation more capable and easier than the current iCab app.

Initial Operational Run

  • Try to use fast-acting circuit breaker so engines will immediately halt on a derailment. The breaker built into the Lionel 180W PowerHouse is very fast-acting. For other power sources, a AIRPAX/SENSATA PP11-0-7.50A-OC-V will instantly break power in a derailment short. Just make sure your power source has some sort of breaker or be prepared to quickly kill power.
  • Attach all cars to the engines; double-check that all wheels are set properly on track.
  • Here is a prototypical configuration with 2021 as the lead engine:
  1. Power (2021)
  2. Business
  3. Business
  4. Bistro
  5. Business
  6. Business Quiet
  7. First Class
  8. Power (2024)
  • Slowly run cars throughout layout; slow is best if fast-acting breaker is not available.
  • Derailment remedies. If derailment occurs:

-- Immediately shut off power if breaker has not already tripped.

-- Observe if derailment is occurring on the same spot on the layout. If so:

-- Check if track is level across from one outer-rail to the other outer-rail. If not use shims to correct; OK if track is banked towards inside curve.


-- Check if track is going through a sudden dip or bump, especially on curves,

-- Check if derailment is occurring at a kink or un-smooth transition between rails.

-- Consider replacing problem track sections (like with pre-formed track) to ensure O-72 and greater curves at all points and to ensure smooth transition between tracks. If track is not consistently O-72 diameter, the cars will derail.

-- Fix uneven base or dips so track is level; bank track, if necessary, on problem curves. Here is an example of a track dip being corrected and also banked in a tunnel where the homasote base was uneven:


-- Tight S-curves, even though of proper radius/diameter and proper transition, may be a problem for the passenger cars to navigate.

-- If derailment is always occurring on one car, remove car and run consist again. If all is well, then inspect the wheel set on derailed car. Check that it rotates freely. If not, send car back to Lionel for repair.

Engine Roller Lockup -- As mentioned above, when the pickup rollers lock up into the frame, the engine will produce a short across the track. Sometimes the lockup may occur as the engine passes over a crossover or switch.  A cure is to glue a 1/8" thick piece of Styrofoam under the roller.

Acela Engine Roller Pad

Acela Engine Blinking Cab Light and Stalling Problem – This Acela set appears to be more sensitive to the type of transformer used. Specifically, the post war (PW) ZW at full throttle did not work reliably. Engines routinely would go into a blinking-cab-light motor stall on startup with the PW ZW. Same problem has been noted if the controller box is used with the MTH Z1000. Transformers reported to work well are the ZW-L and Z4000, and power bricks like the Lionel 180-watt PowerHouse and MTH Z1000 (less controller). If problems continue, try to minimize wire resistance between transformer and track by using shorter wire runs or larger diameter wires. To restart the stalled engine, follow the reset procedure at the end of this message.

Adding Bistro Car (from expansion pack):

  • Assign unique ID to Bistro Car
  • The Lionel LCS Sensor Track can be used to populate the CAB2
  • Manual setup is as follows:

Lionel Assigned Name: “The Acela Bistro Car”

Type: PAS

Control: LEG

Sound: LRS

  • The screen will appear as:


  • Do not attempt to add as a LASHUP nor assign a TR number.
  • Do not attempt to use TRAINLINK.
  • During operation, go to ENG and type in ID number. Rotate speed control to bring up sound options. The Bistro Car sounds will then be controllable,
  • To switch control between Acela Engines and Bistro Car, simply double-click the ENG button.
  • BTW, the Bistro car’s speaker is exposed in the interior. This is how the car was manufactured.
  • Unfortunately the Bistro Car does not call out the individual station stops along the Northeast Corridor

Bistro Switch Settings --  The factory legend pasted on the Acela Bistro Car trap door is confusing.  Here are the correct color-coded markings for the Bistro Car:

Bistro Car Trap Door

Eliminating Bistro Car Annoying Sounds -- Another issue with the Bistro Car is that the default factory sound emanating from the moving car is an annoying rhythmic knocking sound. To eliminate the sound, simply press the lower left button on the CAB2 keypad.

Bistro Car Control_v1


Engine Reset Procedures – If the engines fail to respond to commands (e.g., cab light blinking because its software “thinks” there is a motor binding issue), try to reset the engines. Here are two reset options:

          Reset option #1 when continuous one-blink error code occurs: (Idea thanks to @MineRun) This “unbinds” the motors to the satisfaction of the engine software

  • Hit reset (“R” with octagon around it) to turn off the blinking cab light,
  • Press down the 'boost/brake' wheel to reverse the direction,
  • Turn the speed wheel clockwise to back the engine up ever so slightly
  • Reverse direction again
  • Turn speed wheel again to move forward

          Reset option #2 for general reset:

  • With power on track, press the “R” with the octagon around it. The engine should respond with a short whistle.
  • Turn off power to track
  • Turn off command base power to stop TMCC/Legacy radio frequency from reaching the track
  • Wait about 30 seconds.
  • Restore command base power
  • Restore track power.
  • Turn speed wheel to move forward


Images (23)
  • IMG_3684a
  • IMG_3679
  • IMG_3543
  • IMG_3680
  • good wheel set
  • bad wheel set
  • wire coupling
  • IMG_3600
  • IMG_3686
  • IMG_3685
  • IMG_3697
  • IMG_3694
  • IMG_3693
  • IMG_3692
  • level
  • shim
  • IMG_3698
  • oil points
  • oil points
  • IMG_3787
  • Bistro Car Trap Door
  • Bistro Car Control_v1
  • Acela Engine Roller Pad
Last edited by Bruce Brown
Original Post

Replies sorted oldest to newest

Bruce if I may add something. I not only checked each cars couplings for the screws being tight. I put a small drop of super glue on each screw so they would not work loose. I then checked the couplers side to side motion. I used light oil and I mean light labels hobby oil. I used just a tiny drop on all the plastic parts that move. Like the side skirts that move outward when going around 072 curves. I also put a small drop around the coupers where they rub against the plastic body and under the screw and washer that hold them to the car underframe. I also wiped off any excess to prevent dust or gunk build up over time. This ensured that the couplers movment was smooth and they moved sided to sided without binding or getting stuck and always returning to center as they should. This ensures that the cars will track ok through the curves. I have run my set through 072 fastrack curves in a full oval and in a straight out and back with two s curves in a point to point type set up at full speed and nothing derailed whatsoever. All going either direction.

Once this set is gone through as you have stated it is a very reliable set and a joy to run. Could some things still have been engineered better on this set sure,but this set overall is just as good if not better than the original. The best improvement ( thank you dave olson) is the improved truck design.

One question though. If the engines are programed as one engine. Should you not be able to go into the TR and make a train with the engine as first thing added and then add the bistro car. This way you can use the train link button to access the bestro car? I dont have my add on set yet to try this out. It will work as you have stated,but would this way not be better.


Thanks much for your suggestions! I will definitely wrap them back into the text later today.  If you have a photograph showing the specific oiling points and type of oil, that would be useful.

Regarding the train building process, I wanted to suggest the easiest and straightforward method of getting the set to run. When I first tried adding the Bistro Car through the train build process, I thought it was a bit unwieldy and frankly unnecessary. But I will relook at it to see if a set of steps can be documented to make it work properly.

Thanks again.


In response to your earlier message, I tried again to build a lashup using the two paired engines (that have identical ID's) with the Bistro car but was unsuccessful due to "duplicate engine" errors.

If you happen to have any Lionel soundcar (effectively the Bistro Car functionality), see if you can come up with a successful lashing to the engine pair using the Build button. If you are successful, we'll document the procedure in the paper.

For now, I think the approach described in the starting message is the easiest way to effectively do the lashup without using the Build command.

bruce thats a great idea. I have some and will try this weekend to see if it works.

when lashing up multiple engines and adding my pfe reefer sound cars via the train link. they work flawlessly, why would lionel screw up the acela and not alow it to be run this way. 🤔 this has me wanting to leave work to test this out. shure wish my add on set was here.

Bruce this weeked I had a chance to try the train builder with a station sounds dinner I had. I set the engines to unit and assigned each engine an there own ID #. When I built the train with the dinner car in the train builder. The engines wanted to run in opposite directionns. They were added one forward and one reverse as you normally would when setting them up in the train builder. The sounds came out of each engine also when adding the sound icons to each engine. When removing the rear engine sound icons only the front engine has sounds playing regardless of direction. This is very annoying at leats to me and seems not quite right either.

Quite frankly I tried so many different ways to add these and set them up my head hurts. I cant even remember what happened each time I tried somthing differnt. It is late and I cant bug my neighbors with the sounds commimg on at full volume anymore. So I have ask dave olson in another thread to help me out.

If he answers my post or I get time to try again. Maybe your way is the only way to run this set. I will keep trying and see what happens.

Thanks to all for thoughtful suggestions!  However, most of the issues are easily resolved—-these are not Boeing 737Max-level. These suggestions would benefit ANY new piece of railroad model equipment. It’s good to see a positive, solutions-based thread.  
I would humbly suggest our concerns would apply to any new high-tech device that requires a learning curve—think about your first desktop computer with a 5 1/4” floppy drive with IBM DOS.  We are indeed fortunate to have these “first-world” problems.  Enjoy, with thanks.


Thanks for your efforts to find an alternate solution.

I never could find any combination of the build/TR-lashup function that worked with running Acela as a pair and adding the Bistro Car.

Even if Lionel can come up with a magical procedure, it might require more steps than the ones outlined in the starting message to this thread. It could make things even more risky for first-time Acela users who just want the train to reliably run.

I’m with trestleking. Why even buy the set when it has this many problems? 🤔

You buy it because you don't mind tinkering.  If you don't want to tinker, move on or you'll just get heartburn.

(I assume by your comment that you're questioning the sanity of nearly everyone that posted in this thread so far.  Please don't.  Try to understand that many, many of us are different in this regard.)


@Bruce Brown posted:
Here is a compilation of ideas and suggestions to improve your odds of success trying to operate this train set on O-72 and larger curves. This list will, no doubt, change and evolve in time as more Acela owners report their experiences, issues and solutions. Corrections and comments are welcomed.

Bruce, just read through your tome on the Acela, I'm sure glad I passed on this one.  I did briefly consider it as it's a cool piece, but thankfully my better sense took over.


I would venture to say that most people who pre-ordered the set did so by seeing it in the catalog or because of a pre-production video from Lionel back in November. More recent buyers were probably impressed by a video from Eric Siegel or seeing its beautiful details in early product reviews immediately after the set release. Many buyers were either Amtrak aficionados, those--like myself--who were regular riders on Acela, or folks just impressed seeing the set's fine detailing.

Who knew this wasn't going to be plug-and-play?

The real good news is that once you've got all the bugs shaken out of the set and layout, this set is a real charmer. I've given several demos to visitors and it is a highlight of all my consists, right up there with the steaming locomotives.

To me, it looks best running at super-slow speed where you can peer into the passenger car windows to see all the activity. As an Acela rider, I can relate to the sounds of the Bistro Car and the accuracy of the whistle. (The downside of the Bistro is that it doesn't call out actual N.E. Corridor station stops like so many MTH trains do.)

So there is some level of encouragement for those who already purchased the set!

Come back to me next year for my opinion after all our warranties have expired.

Last edited by Bruce Brown

bruce and everyone else here. good new to report at least for us who have the set. dave olson just chimed in on my other acela programing thread. He stated to do exactly what bruce had been doing. DO NOT USE THE TRAIN BUILDER. just toggle between the engines and bestro car with the engine soft key.

now do I like it this,but it is the way it is. its a firmware issue according to dave and how the set was designed because of the sounds from each engine.

bruce if you know how to bring dave olsons reply over an insert it into this thread that maybe helpful to have it over here. I would but I am not sure how to do it.

now as for the glad I did not buy it / too many headaches club. I for one am glad I did get this set and does it have a few issues yes,but not as bad as you blow them up to be. like bruce said once it is all working correctly it is a beautiful set and a vast improvement over the original. the new truck design and sounds make this set so much better IMO.  I am so glad I finnaly have an acela set in my collection.

bruce if you know how to bring dave olsons reply over an insert it into this thread that maybe helpful to have it over here. I would but I am not sure how to do it.


I don't want to include his technical explanation of why something doesn't work so as not to confuse people.

The original instructions at the top of this thread are pretty clear and concise that you just set up the engines as a pair with the same ID, and then set up the Bistro Car with a different ID. You just double click the engine-select button on CAB2 to alternate between the engines and Bistro. (The TrainLink feature would not add any benefits other than one less click.) Pretty easy as long as you don't follow Lionel's incorrect written instructions for both Acela and Bistro. Lionel obviously has an obligation to all its Acela buyers, who have shelled out $2400-3000, to release new instructions, pronto.

Thats fine bruce and you are correct about the instructions also. Good thing dave chimed in on my other thread. I called lionel service and almost sent my engines back in. Glad they were working right and the instructions on setting these up were wrong. Lets hope lionel reprints or at least make an addendum to all alcela owners to avoid confusion in setting these up. gee even a video from dave explaning the set up and manual mistake would help out those with this set who dont come on this forum.

Last edited by Lionelzwl2012

That was very helpful, I just purchased the Acela Concept version.  I have had good success in programing it to run under my legacy Control System, but I am still having trouble with the pantographs.  the one on my tailing engine is stuck in the up position and does not want to come down.  I had posted a couple of weeks ago.  If anybody has any similar issues, or possible remedies, I would love to hear from you.  In the meantime, thanks to everybody who contributed to this thread!


scott not sure why you are having issues. mine somtimes got out of sync and one would stay up and not go down. hitting the (R) or reset button on the cab2 reset everything and the pantographs loward and reset and then worked as they should.

maybe yours needs to go back to lionel. it sucks yes,but fwiw I had a engine that had to go back. took a while to get it back from customer service,but it was worth it though and now my  engines work as they should. I just love them. the sounds and the Pantagraphs are a real show stopper. good luck with your set.


Huh, I didn't have any problems along those lines using unit mode. I did have to send my lead unit in for repairs due to a lack of sounds entirely from the unit (not sure if it was a bad sound board or bad speaker, it made the correct sounds at first but after a few laps the sounds died entirely). Curious if when I get it back and set it up if I'll run into those issues and need to switch modes.

You buy it because you don't mind tinkering.  If you don't want to tinker, move on or you'll just get heartburn.

(I assume by your comment that you're questioning the sanity of nearly everyone that posted in this thread so far.  Please don't.  Try to understand that many, many of us are different in this regard.)


Mike: Easy there, big fella and never assume. It’s just that with toy trains, I expect them to work out of the box.

I get enough tinkering, adjusting, tuning, cleaning, etc., with my one of fifteen made Fender Pedal Steel 210. Keeping its Fender Dual Showman tube amp. sounding like it’s in pristine condition all the time can be challenging as well. Playing in a group, this equipment gets a workout and requires attention.

I just feel that with new toy trains out of the box, I shouldn’t have to do this with them as much, since I spend far more time playing and practicing on the steel guitar than I do running trains.


I'd have to look over my notes but it might have come directly from Lionel or possibly mentioned in their pre-production video presentation last November. I suspect the reason is that "Acela" most likely refers to the 2005 Acela version, not the new one.

Also, when you run the engine over the LCS sensor track, it automatically selects "Elec".

Last edited by Bruce Brown

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