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The Lionel S gauge engines have truck (or moving pilot) mounted electrocouplers. Almost all American Models engines have fixed pilots and the couplers are body mounted using a short mount arm. I have electrocouplers on my AM steam engines. There is obviously no pilot to deal with on the tender but the couplers stick out unprototypically far.

I have never tried to adapt an electrocoupler to an AM diesel. The easiest would be a Trainmaster because it has truck mounted couplers. All my other AM diesels have body mounts, it will be a challenge to devise a mount.

My AM engines have ERR TMCC and Railsounds boards retrofitted. The ERR TMCC board has outputs for front and rear couplers. I am not a DCC user so I do not know if DCC boards have coupler outputs. Most DCC operators use Kadee couplers. I do know the DCC system is coupler capable because all the Lionel S gauge Legacy engines also operate on DCC and the couplers can be actuated.

@AmFlyer posted:

I am not a DCC user so I do not know if DCC boards have coupler outputs. Most DCC operators use Kadee couplers. I do know the DCC system is coupler capable because all the Lionel S gauge Legacy engines also operate on DCC and the couplers can be actuated.

Lionel's system is still proprietary Legacy.  There is no separate DCC controller, but additional code that accepts the DCC signal and decodes it for the Legacy electronics.

Any DCC decoder output to control couplers would have to be a pulse output with sufficient current capacity, not an on/off type output toggled by the controller.


Thanks guys, for responding to my question. The inability of adapting Lionel AF remote control couplers for use on diesel switcher locos on a DCC layout featuring extensive yard operations is yet another disappointing aspect of S scale model railroading. It looks like the only alternative is to incorporate lots of expensive uncoupling sections [e.g., Lionel AF FasTrack #6-49895] in that trackage.

Bob, I have a lot of Legacy switchers (about 20) with electrocouplers but I still have uncouplers in the yard tracks, sidings and some mainline locations so I can uncouple cars in addition to cut off engines. Most S scale operators that use DCC also use Kadee couplers which require magnets in the track. Since I use Legacy rather than DCC I did not choose Kadee couplers. I basically have an uncoupler where I would otherwise have a magnet.

Only three rail O gauge offers a wide selection of switch engines with electrocouplers. Even then, to do other than cut off an engine, uncouplers are necessary.

Here is a picture of part of my freight yard. Five of the 11 total yard uncouplers are visible in the picture. In addition I have uncouplers elsewhere like this one pictured in Mainline 1 near the yard entrance. Just to the left of the uncoupler is a Sensor Track for the engines to communicate status with the Legacy system.



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Thank you, AmFlyer, for helping me realize that individual uncoupling devices are still necessary to achieve  realistic yard operations. I guess I'll just have to bite the proverbial bullet and incorporate them in my planned layout.

Do the S Helper Service/MTH uncoupling sections you are using on your fine-looking layout provide reliable operation- -that is, do they always disengage couplers properly when activated...or do you occasionally have to do that manually [with a stick, for instance]?

The Gilbert uncouplers are the best because they have the most forceful action. The SHS/MTH (I have some of each) work well with the couplers on SHS/MTH cars and with the couplers on AM cars. The new Lionel AF cars open fine but the ones made prior to 2019 have coupler jaws that do not always open wide enough to separate. That is a coupler design problem, not an uncoupler problem. The original Gilbert couplers open as long as they are well maintained. With age some of them resist opening.

If we arbitrarily score the Gilbert uncouplers a 10, then the SHS/MTH are an 8. Not quite as strong and less forgiving. I do not have any FasTrack uncouplers for comparison. I also included some actuating rails for action cars but rarely use them.

The problem I have is the yard uncouplers are not real easy to spot and when the yard is full of cars it is almost impossible to accurately position the car  couplers above the uncoupler so I do end up manually uncoupling cars. The ones on the mainline and sidings are easier to spot and use.

It is hard to tell from that picture but there are 12 sidings in the freight yard. Since it is a peninsula it is easy to reach any car on any siding.


I currently own just a loop of Lionel AF FasTrack, an upgraded [to DCC] American Models hi-rail streamlined Pacific loco and tender, an assortment of American Models Budd passenger cars, and a basic Digitrax Zephyr DCC system. On occasion I've encountered a problem simply attempting to couple together a slowly moving  backing train [motive power alone or with a consist of cars] into a stationary car. The stationary car will move away from rather than couple onto the train. What, if anything, can be done- -besides, obviously, substantially increasing the speed of the rearward-moving train and/or adding weight to each car- -to prevent this from happening?

If you take a close look at the picture of the freight yard above, the two PRR hoppers in the foreground have link couplers. They couple every time, even on speed step one. Ignoring the link coupler alternative, I find that many of the knuckle couplers will not latch at typical yard speeds. The most reliable are the SHS/MTH couplers. Even some of the electrocouplers on the engines do not fasten with a light bump. When I see the train pulling forward and not coupled I just reach over and push them together by hand. Supposedly a small bit of powdered graphite will improve coupler performance but I have not done that.

My AM Budd cars couple pretty well, but I only uncouple the engine from the passenger sets so the entire mass of the 6 car passenger set helps a lot.

When I find cars with good working couplers I try to place them where I will be coupling and uncoupling. Short of that I just live with it.

I was just getting ready to reply and saw that Brendan nailed it. If you are planning on switching operations, you have two choices. Live with the short comings of Flyer style couplers or use Kadee's.

At some point the hand will have to get involved. Even the most serious of model railroaders (the time table and train order ones)]  use some type of skewer for uncoupling operations.

I tried switching operations with Flyer couplers and well I thought there has to be a better way.

If I was younger and had better vision and steady hands, I would switch to Kadee's. You seem to have a modest fleet so it would not be overwhelming.

I still think in S high rail wheels and Kadee's is the way to go.

I did not mention Kadees because I do not think the OP wants to go in that direction. I sure agree switching with the highrail KC's, regardless of brand takes a lot of manual intervention, the Kadees solve that. The most irritating thing to me with the KC's is that even on a 30"R curve the couplers will still completely miss each other when backing up to couple.

I briefly considered Kadees. They work fine on my layout body mounted on freight cars. Not so much on the passenger cars, but then I do not switch passenger cars, I run them in preconfigured trainsets. I have a number of the older AM full 80' length lightweight passenger cars. They will not run with body mounted couplers on my layout.

I collected and operated Lionel O scale model trains for several decades before getting my feet wet in the hi-rail version of S scale. Accordingly, I had become accustomed to- -or more accurately, spoiled by- -the operational reliability of Lionel’s knuckle coupler. The innate problems of using the current crop of available non-Kadee S couplers are particularly frustrating because I want to model a stub terminal and carry out numerous switching operations with a planned large passenger car fleet and several different locomotives...without having to use the dreaded manual uncoupling “tool.” Perhaps my best course of action would be to install Kadee couplers on all motive power and rolling stock and use as many #309 Kadee HO scale under-the-ties electric uncouplers [see graphic] as necessary.


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  • #309 Kadee HO scale electric uncoupler

You'll definitely not regret the Kadees.  The uncoupler - maybe.  I would get one or two of the above track magnets first and try those out before committing (you may have to raise it slightly).  Get both a delayed and a non-delayed magnet that way you see the difference.  If you go with the delayed, you obviously will need less uncouplers.  The swizzle stick seems to have become SOP.  I prefer the swizzle stick.  There are also magnetic wand uncouplers such as the one made by Rix.  


Last edited by Brendan

Thanks, Brendan, for your advice and heads-up about the Rix wand.

I discovered that Rapido manufactures a product called the RailCrew Remote Uncoupler that appears to be worth taking a good look at []. Consisting of a 1-3/4” diameter by 7/8” long cylinder and toggle switch, it reportedly provides a reliable means to uncouple locomotives, passenger or freight cars equipped with any major brand of magnetic knuckle coupler. The cylinder sits between track rails under the roadbed and is active only when the switch is in the “on” position; an LED located on top of the cylinder simultaneously illuminates to mark the uncoupling zone. Couplers are unaffected when the switch is "off.” The uncoupler can be controlled by a DCC accessory decoder if desired.


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  • Uncoupler cylinder
  • Illuminated uncoupling zone

Bob, considering your operating objectives The Kadees (or equivalent) will serve you best. Kadees body mount easily to most AM and MTH freight cars. The AM passenger cars have body mount pads but using the passenger car body mounts will impose minimum radius requirements on your layout track plan. I suggest you test the cars and engines you plan to couple together before laying out the track.

The Budd cars with Kadees should work on 27”R track and #5 turnouts. If you buy the full scale 80’ AM sleepers they work on 27”R track with the truck mounted couplers but not with body mounts. I tested the AM 80’ cars on my layout with body mounts. For 100% reliable operation it took 32”R and #6 turnouts. #5 turnouts work in some track arrangements.

The MTH turnouts are 20"R. Lionel makes 20"R and 27"R FasTrack turnouts. The 27" are close to #5. American Models makes a #5 but their track is code 148, taller rail than the Lionel FasTrack. Fox Valley Models makes #5 turnouts that use the same .138 rail as FasTrack.

My layout has #5, #6 and #8 turnouts. The #5 turnouts are used only in the freight yard. The mainline and passenger yard use only #6 or #8. The turnouts were custom made for me using MTH rail. Everything I own will work on 30" radius track. The challenge I have with the 80' passenger cars is in a few places we compromised on the length of the easements to make the track plan work. If we had not shortened the easement length all the 30"R curves would be fine.

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