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What I'm about to describe is, for me, the most challenging model railroad project I have undertaken in 25 years.

First, I will describe what I currently have.

My current wiring system was of my own invention.

My O Gauge Postwar tubular track layout with O22 switches is long and narrow: 35 feet long, 3 to 4 feet wide, around 3 of the 4 walls in the playroom and laundry room of my basement.

It is powered by an MTH Z4000 to power the 2 interconnected and independently powered main lines (left throttle for inner loop and right throttle for longer outer loop), and another Z4000 to power the independently powered 9 sidings using heavy duty O scale Atlas switches to turn each siding on and off. I have a ZW to power the sixteen O22 switches, and another ZW to power the numerous Postwar accessories.

I have hooked up the MTH DCS remote system to the 2 main lines and 9 sidings, and love DCS.

I run Postwar and Proto 1 engines conventionally, Proto 2 and 3 engines using DCS, and several LionChief Plus and 1 Legacy using the LionChief dedicated remotes or universal remote.

Here is my invention. I have many feeder wires going to every few feet of track of the 2 main lines. In order to connect these feeder wires to the U (Common) and A and D (Hot) transformer terminals, I installed bare copper strips (each one about 12 inches long and one-half inch wide) in front of the Z4000 transformers. A short 16 gauge solid copper wire is connected to the appropriate transformer terminal on one end and soldered to the appropriate copper strip on the other end.

Here is a photo of my invention:

20211022_101726

It's obviously a rat's nest, which needs to be organized, but at the outset I am interested in your opinions regarding the use of the copper strips. The one on top is wired to the D terminal (left throttle) of a Z4000 (hot rail for inner main line loop) and the bottom copper strip is wired to the U or Common terminal of the same Z4000.

First question, and I have several, is should I continue with my copper strip approach or use an MTH terminal block, shown below:

20211022_102725

Next question is about the feeder wires from the copper strip (or terminal block) to the numerous track lock-ons: should I keep my currently used 16 gauge solid copper feeder wires or replace them with 14 gauge stranded copper feeder wires? Keeping my currently used feeder wires will save much time and some money, and the 16 gauge solid wires fit (barely) into the lock-ons. Lowes near me has no 16 gauge wire and no bare wire. If I change the feeder wires to 14 gauge copper stranded, which Lowes has, will such thick wire fit into the lock-ons?

I know soldering wire to the track is better than lock-ons, and although I can solder, I'm not crazy about doing it.

If I go with the Terminal Blocks, which I have, I will also solder spade locks on the end of each feeder wire that is attached to the terminal block.

I'm 90% sure I know the answers  to the above questions, but before I embark on this project, which is overwhelming for me, I thought it best to get some feedback by asking them on this forum. Arnold

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Last edited by Arnold D. Cribari
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IMHO, you should replace the bare copper strips. I realize it is an enormous task and that you have successfully operated your layout this way for a while, but I believe they can lead to shorts and are potentially dangerous.

As far as feeder wires, you can stay with 16 gauge in my opinion and 14 gauge is not necessary.

I would go with the MTH terminal blocks. I have a similar setup using a Z-4000 as my track power source for two loops, each powered by one handle of the transformer. As you can see from the attached pic, I mounted four (4), twelve port MTH blocks with one for loop 1, one for loop two, one for 14v accessories from the 14v transformer tap and one for 10v accessories from the 10v transformer tap. 

I also run Legacy with a command base and DCS with a remote and wi-fi. You can see from the pic that the accessory MTH terminal blocks have blue/white wires going into them directly from the transformer accessory taps and the TIU has two inputs from the transformer and two outputs - one set for each of the loop MTH terminal blocks.

Obviously, I have 12 feeders/drops from each terminal block to twelve feeder locations on each loop which is enough for my layout. You can use the 24 port MTH terminal block if you think you need more drops. I also installed a two terminal block under the plywood at each feeder location to connect the wires coming from the MTH terminal blocks and then short 18 gauge feeders from that block to the underside of my Fastrack. They provide a nice location to solder in a TVS suppressor, but they are not necessary.

I also used crimped spade connectors at the ends of each wire going to the MTH terminal blocks.

Just my $0.02.

ELECTRONICS 4InkedTERMINAL BLOCKS_LI

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@Richie C. posted:

IMHO, you should replace the bare copper strips. I realize it is an enormous task and that you have successfully operated your layout this way for a while, but I believe they can lead to shorts and are potentially dangerous.

As far as feeder wires, you can stay with 16 gauge in my opinion and 14 gauge is not necessary.

I would go with the MTH terminal blocks. I have a similar setup using a Z-4000 as my track power source for two loops, each powered by one handle of the transformer. As you can see from the attached pic, I mounted four (4), twelve port MTH blocks with one for loop 1, one for loop two, one for 14v accessories from the 14v transformer tap and one for 10v accessories from the 10v transformer tap.

I also run Legacy with a command base and DCS with a remote and wi-fi. You can see from the pic that the accessory MTH terminal blocks have blue/white wires going into them directly from the transformer accessory taps and the TIU has two inputs from the transformer and two outputs - one set for each of the loop MTH terminal blocks.

Obviously, I have 12 feeders/drops from each terminal block to twelve feeder locations on each loop which is enough for my layout. You can use the 24 port MTH terminal block if you think you need more drops. I also installed a two terminal block under the plywood at each feeder location to connect the wires coming from the MTH terminal blocks and then short 18 gauge feeders from that block to the underside of my Fastrack. They provide a nice location to solder in a TVS suppressor, but they are not necessary.

I also used crimped spade connectors at the ends of each wire going to the MTH terminal blocks.

Just my $0.02.

ELECTRONICS 4InkedTERMINAL BLOCKS_LI

Ritchie, this is very helpful, thanks, Arnold

Arnold- I'm no expert on proper DCS wiring (just what I've read on here), but I am an expert on wiring of all types, sizes, etc.

I would defer to the DCS experts but I would recommend following the proper methods for setting up DCS (star, home runs, etc). Pick up Barry's book on DCS wiring.

After that is settled, a think 14 gauge wire for main feeders (because of the length of you runs), and 16 gauge for the drops would be fine. Many guys have used the suitcase style connectors to connect the drops to the main feeders. These eliminate cutting and splicing the mains at each drop.

250) QUICK SPLICE LOCK SUITCASE WIRE CONNECTORS ELECTRICAL WIRE SPLICE TAP USA! | eBay

I'm a big fan of terminal strips. Since you should focus on the DCS wiring methods, then the MTH terminal boards are a good idea.

Switches and accessories will need to be run individually since you need separate control for each. Pick a uniform set of wires for each system so that they are easily identifiable when you have to troubleshoot in the future.

I use Cat 5, and telephone cable for accessories and switches. Cat 5 has 4 pairs of wires that are color coded. Phone cable can have 2-3 pairs depending on what you use.

Label things and keep a log of what you run. Pick a numbering/ lettering system and stick to it. Home Depot/ Lowes sell these (or similar)  numbering sets in the electrical section. A P-touch label maker would work too.

LOT OF 46 CARDS BRADY WIRE MARKERS LETTER J WM-J .25 x 1.5 36 / CARD 662820111092 | eBay

A good assortment of crimp on connectors are advisable as well for connections under screw terminals. Again, HD/ Lowes items.

Ferrule wire copper crimp connectors kit. Insulated cord pin end terminals. Electromechanic linking equipment. Various sizes and colors sorted in box Stock Photo - Alamy

There are many sources for all the items you will need on-line as well.

Remember to build in room for expansion. Just when you think you covered everything, you will discover that you missed things, or decided to add new accessories, etc.

Sounds like you will be busy for a while. Keep us posted and post questions as they come up.

Bob

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Last edited by RSJB18

Anything for a fellow member of the bar

A quick question and two observations:

1. Do you use the 14v accessory terminal on the back of the Z-4K to power any of your accessories, in addition to the ZW ?

2. I don't think it's necessary to solder the spade connectors to the wires at the end where they connect to the MTH terminal blocks. I've just used the crimp ones with a pair of large linesman pliers to squeeze them tight and have never had an issue. Just make sure to get the proper (smaller) size connectors - the larger ones don't fit the MTH block.

3. I also have a yard on one of the loops with 8 sidings and switches and use one port of the MTH block to power all 8. 

@Richie C. posted:

Anything for a fellow member of the bar

2. I don't think it's necessary to solder the spade connectors to the wires at the end where they connect to the MTH terminal blocks. I've just used the crimp ones with a pair of large linesman pliers to squeeze them tight and have never had an issue. Just make sure to get the proper (smaller) size connectors - the larger ones don't fit the MTH block.

Crimps are better than solder. Firstly, the soldering causes the stranded wire at the terminal to become stiff and prone to breaking. Also the crimp as opposed to solder, properly done, is superior as to conductivity. Be sure to use a quality crimper tool…the best ones crimp with a measured force and release when that force is reached.

Last edited by cjack
@Richie C. posted:

Anything for a fellow member of the bar

A quick question and two observations:

1. Do you use the 14v accessory terminal on the back of the Z-4K to power any of your accessories, in addition to the ZW ?

2. I don't think it's necessary to solder the spade connectors to the wires at the end where they connect to the MTH terminal blocks. I've just used the crimp ones with a pair of large linesman pliers to squeeze them tight and have never had an issue. Just make sure to get the proper (smaller) size connectors - the larger ones don't fit the MTH block.

3. I also have a yard on one of the loops with 8 sidings and switches and use one port of the MTH block to power all 8.

Ritchie, I don't use the 14 volt accessory terminal on my Z4000. Instead, I use a ZW for my many Postwar signals, crossing gates and other accessories, and set the voltage at the desired amount.

Last edited by Arnold D. Cribari
@cjack posted:

Crimps are better than solder. Firstly, the soldering causes the stranded wire at the terminal to become stiff and prone to breaking. Also the crimp as opposed to solder, properly done, is superior as to conductivity. Be sure to use a quality crimper tool…the best ones crimp with a measured force and release when that force is reached.

Thanks for the advice, cjack, I'll get one st Lowes nearby.

I have this one.  I like it a lot.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/prod...le?ie=UTF8&psc=1

It crimps the ferrule tips into a hex (which is close to round).  They have ones that crimp it into a square.  The tool is great and they give you 1900 ferrules.  They work really well with Euro style terminal blocks or in the case of the other type (like MTH) where the wire goes under the screw head, the ferrule tips fit in there very well if not too thick.

John

Last edited by Craftech

Arnold,

You are getting good advice above to use the terminal blocks, solderless crimp connectors, investing in a good crimp tool, keeping your existing lock-ons and existing feeder wires. You can also use that same crimp tool to connect two wires together (without using the terminal strip) by using a crimp butt connector.

th [1)

Another solderless trick-of-the-trade used in marine and automotive work, if you need to connect two wires together, is to use a shrinkable butt connector. It is a clear plastic tube with a ring of solder in the center.

th

You insert your stripped wires at each end of the tube, overlap the bare wires within the solder ring, and then use a hair dryer to melt the solder and shrink the tube around the wire. I don't even bother to crimp in most cases! The two wires are effectively soldered together without the need to bring a soldering tool under your train table (and avoiding having solder drops falling on your hands or face!)

how-to-splice-24-gauge-wire-amazon-com-airic-100pcs-waterproof-heat-shrink-butt-splice-connectors-22-16-gauge-marine-automotive-electrical-straight-wire-crimp-connectors-kit-40-8619

 

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Great advice, Bruce.

Thanks to all you guys, I now have the information and knowledge I need to re-wire my layout. I have also bought the supplies I need for this project, including a good crimping tool that I just bought from Lowes. I also have fork/spade lugs, the terminal blocks and screws to mount the terminal blocks and TIU on a plywood board.

I will definitely replace the copper strips with the terminal blocks, and will color code the wiring, after which I will decide whether to keep my current feeder wires or replace them.

Concerning timing, part of me wants to get started immediately, and part of me wants to wait until I get a couple of locomotives back that are being repaired. Also, I know that once I disconnect the wires from the copper strips, my layout will down for a while, but I'm not sure how long.

I will give updates periodically.

Arnold a few thoughts. Are you planning on keeping the operation of the layout the same? As far as existing blocks, switch locations, operating tracks, etc? If so, I would start with attempting to draw an as built wiring configuration drawing as you trace out and disconnect the wiring. Next I would redraw it in a more organized fashion based upon how you are using the terminal strips and power supplies. In doing so, you can develop your wiring color code, labeling system and organize your wire routing. Good luck and don’t procrastinate the sooner you begin the sooner the trains will be running again!

Last edited by Rich Wiemann

Arnold, I greatly respect you for even considering rewiring your layout. It is a lot of work that for the most part is not visible. Done right it makes the layout reliable and facilitates repairs, upgrades and additions. The track power is actually fairly simple to install and keep organized. in my experience it is all the accessory power and control wires that seem to end up a tangled mess.

Not mentioned is the possibility of tagging the wires during installation. Color codes help, but do not identify what the wire is powering or controlling. Having tags on the accessory wires has saved me a lot of time and headaches over the years. I eliminated a lot of wiring by using the LCS exclusively for accessory control but even with LCS there are a lot of wires under the layout. In addition to the tags I have lists of all the power feeds with devices and color codes for reference. It is like the old joke about no job being done until the paperwork is completed.

My layout has a separate power cart that parks under the layout since it is not needed during operation. It is on a 12’ coiled tether to allow moving it anywhere in the room without disconnecting anything. I have a smaller layout room than yours. My wife is the official label maker in our family so I just give her a list of all the labels or tags I need.

Here are a couple of pictures that show the labels. By the way, I hate those euro terminal blocks and would never use them again. I would use all barrier strips.

The first picture is the power wiring for the eight power districts leaving the cart. The second picture is the accessory power at the cart.



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Arnold a few thoughts. Are you planning on keeping the operation of the layout the same? As far as existing blocks, switch locations, operating tracks, etc? If so, I would start with attempting to draw an as built wiring configuration drawing as you trace out and disconnect the wiring. Next I would redraw it in a more organized fashion based upon how you are using the terminal strips and power supplies. In doing so, you can develop your wiring color code, labeling system and organize your wire routing. Good luck and don’t procrastinate the sooner you begin the sooner the trains will be running again!

Well thought out and well stated, Rich.

I plan to keep the same track configuration and have the operation of the layout the same, but may expand it by adding 2 more sidings on the far left side of the layout. Those sidings will have a 2 stall engine house and a large custom built Lionel Factory I got 2 months ago from a LHS.

The expansion, if it happens, will happen after the layout is re-wired in a way the provides for the potential for that possible expansion.

Drawing the wiring configurations and labeling the wires are great ideas.

Last edited by Arnold D. Cribari

I understand that 14 gauge stranded wire is better and provides more power than 16 gauge solid wire, especially for long wires further away from the transformer.  This would certainly be applicable to the hot wires that go to the center rail.

But what about the cold or common wires that go to the outside rail? Does it make any difference to change those wires from 16 gauge solid to 14 gauge stranded?

Arnold

One of my goals is to reduce the number of wires under my layout. I can substantially reduce them by having a bus wire for common or ground, running the entire 35 foot length of my layout, and tapping into it with short feeder wires connected to the bus wire and the track for every few feet of track.

Lowes near me had no 14 gauge bare wires so I bought 14 gauge insulated stranded wire (of a different color, black, than the red colored hot wire). The black 14 gauge stranded wire will be my cold ground wire.

The insulated 14 gauge stranded wire for the hot wire will run from my 12 port MTH Block Terminals to beneath the places under the track where it connects to short 16 gauge insulated white solid wire.

Assuming I use the black insulated 14 gauge stranded wire for ground as a bus wire, how do I tap into it with short 16 gauge solid white wire that is connected to the track? What do you think is the best way to tap into that bus wire?

Arnold

I enjoy using Wago lever lock connectors. They are infinitely better than suitcase connectors or wire nuts and less hassle to install than crimps. They are worth the extra costs hands down and are reusable! They also are good at joining varying sizes of wire (in this case AWG sizes 28 to 12 which is just perfect for our trains).

Here is are two assortments - one is the 222 style, the other 221 (40% smaller footprint):

https://www.amazon.com/Wago-22...rtment/dp/B01GVTVY12

https://www.amazon.com/Wago-22...018MGMFDI/ref=sr_1_3

Just be sure to get real Wago ones and not the off brand knock-off lever nuts as the knockoffs do not meet UL or other safety standards and are of inconsistent quality. That is not to say that one may not find that certain knockoffs are just fine for this low voltage purpose, but I can't justify taking the chance after getting burned.

Arnold sounds like your off to a great start. I personally have never used these myself but I would trust Bob’s @RSJB18 recommendation for the suitcase connector as one method. My only thought is the more connections the more chances for a bad connection to develop leading to more headaches.

Personally I would consider placing your MTH Terminal Block mid point under your layout. Power it from your transformer with your 14 or 12 AWG wire. Than run from that directly to your track lock on’s. Have you determined the number of drops that you will use? Are they split equitably around the layout that would benefit from shifting the MTH or split and have two on each end? Evaluate if you really need a drop every few feet. Consider starting with less. With the organized power distribution system you can easily add one if its needed, just my opinion.


Assuming I use the black insulated 14 gauge stranded wire for ground as a bus wire, how do I tap into it with short 16 gauge solid white wire that is connected to the track? What do you think is the best way to tap into that bus wire?

Arnold

There are T-Taps or Posi-Taps that would work.  I don't like suitcase connectors myself.

But I don't see why your copper strip wouldn't have MORE surface area than the 14 gauge wire would and thus be at least as good if not better conductor.  Someone correct me if this is wrong.

John

Help me out here guys. I use suitcase connectors and like them. I had them under my modules for literally 20 years and never had an issue that was traceable to them. I run conventional, DCS, TMCC, and Legacy. I like them with buss wiring as you simply slip them over the buss wire, insert the butt end of the wire you need to attach to the buss, and crimp them closed. Snap the cover over the top and you are done. They work extremely well with stranded wire, but much less so with solid wire.

How do you use the Wago connectors without cutting the buss wire? Is digital signal strength that much better with the Wagos? I agree one advantage is you can reuse them or change out wires as necessary, which is something you cannot do with the suitcase connectors.



Chris

LVHR

@lehighline posted:

Help me out here guys. I use suitcase connectors and like them. I had them under my modules for literally 20 years and never had an issue that was traceable to them. I run conventional, DCS, TMCC, and Legacy. I like them with buss wiring as you simply slip them over the buss wire, insert the butt end of the wire you need to attach to the buss, and crimp them closed. Snap the cover over the top and you are done. They work extremely well with stranded wire, but much less so with solid wire.

How do you use the Wago connectors without cutting the buss wire? Is digital signal strength that much better with the Wagos? I agree one advantage is you can reuse them or change out wires as necessary, which is something you cannot do with the suitcase connectors.



Chris

LVHR

Suitcase connectors work fine if you leave them alone for 20 years like you did.  But if you are constantly messing with the layout and the wiring they aren't that good as you noted.

John

Last edited by Craftech

@lehighline, With the WAGO connectors, they actually act like mini terminal strips, but use surprisingly strong levers instead of screws to retain the wires. So yes, you need to cut/terminate your bus wire, but this is not a big deal at all. For illustrative purposes, the thick red wire could be the 14AWG BUS wire, the green could be 16AWG feeders:

In terms of command control signals or even just plain power delivery, the connectors themselves don't matter, but the quality of the electrical connection does matter, and that IS influenced by the connector type. Use of suitcase connectors are not typically used for connecting different gauge wires. Each gauge combination needs its own specific connector. The suitcase connectors actually sever the wire and can nick or even cut the copper conductor creating an intermittent hard to find wiring issue that can wreak havoc on command signals and power delivery. As such, I find suitcase connectors make a poor choice for quality electrical connections, especially compared to WAGO connectors that do not have these issues at all. Sure, some report success with suitcase connectors, but why invite the potential headache?

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Last edited by bmoran4

This is what I love about discussions on this board that come up, brings up different viewpoints and allows me to think about what is good for me. I agree that given the run length on your layout, Arnold, that 14gauge is the way to go. In terms of feeders, unless you are running them a long distance (which kind of negates the bus concept), 16 is plenty big, lot of people use 18 gauge for the relatively short runs that feeders represent, might be easier to work with 18 gauge whether lockon or soldering to the track.

Couple of things I have promised myself with the wiring:

1)Use distribution block to feed the wiring for the blocks out to the track (I am wiring conventional block to start). In the past did some crazy kinds of many to one wiring, wasn't great.

2)As much as possible, use color coding with the wiring. If I can't get colored wire, then I will use colored labels or colored tape to show what it is (for example, my current wiring plan calls for purple wire for the DCS feed to the track). With color coding, it is possible to create a wiring diagram using the same color coding. Having traced wiring in cars, the color scheme they use in the harness makes life at least a little bit better when debugging. I also think labels indicating where the wire is going is not a bad idea, for example, in my block 1, having a label "P1" (power 1)  would be valuable. I am going to use a common buss that will be available easily in any part of the layout. If I use 2 transformers, I will use a common ground (and phase them), to not have 2 common busses out there.

3)Use suitcase or wago connectors where possible, and use spade lug and crimp connectors to keep connections neat and minimize soldering.

4)Under the layout, I am going to use something like plastic cable clamps to run the wire through, rather than stapling wires to the underneath or running through drilled out holes in the frame. With these, you can open it up is you need to get access to a wire when tracing or doing something else.

5)Going to try not to overbuild. In my case, given how relatively small my layout is, not overdoing it. In the past I had feeders every couple of feet, which was overkill, given the length of my blocks prob having 2 feeders will do it per block.

Wish you luck, taming the flying bowl of spaghetti is kind of like weeds in a garden, you have to actively seek them out and eradicate them.

Well, you've heard from the prosecution, so let me make a statement for the defense. I LOVE your "invention". In fact, I've been using it for years for all my outer rails. I have copper-clad board at strategic locations around the layout, all wired together and all drops from my outer rails go to these boards using solder connections at both ends.

But all types of connections have their place. For the hot wires, I have 4 junction boxes around the edge of the layout from which I can access any power needed--the center rail for the two nearby local blocks (I use 8 blocks--too many--it probably should have been 4 blocks), 12VDC for LEDs, Miller signs, and etc., and 14VAC for switch machines, accessories and so on. The junction boxes are fed from a cabinet with 12VDC "ham-radio-type" power supplies and a big variac turned way down to 14VAC. At the top of the cabinet is a big line filter that (I hope) cleans the power before it gets onto the layout.

Anyway, pix below. Every setup is different I guess. I just looked for lowest-cost solutions at every step and this is what I ended up with. Everything from copper clad board to terminal strips to spade lug connectors is from my substantial junk box.

Don Merz

IMG_1724IMG_1726IMG_1727

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The rats nest has got to go😁

As well as the bare copper-you never know what could land across them to cause an issue..better safe than sorry 😁

As far as the MTH Terminal board..

for $25 it’s overpriced in my book

You can buy Electrical Ground Lug Strips cheaper and get more terminals..

I built this ..

Because I got my Z-4000 used-and very cheap, because the display is damaged and too expensive to repair -but the output is 100% accurate  

the Amp meters were $15 each

and the 4 bus bars were about $20

And I can terminate 11 feeders on each throttle  

You can get these bus bars at any home center…

Im redoing my set up, to add individual on/off toggles for each feeder…plus an in-line fuse to add engine protection  

I like the square drive lugs…they provide great secure mechanical connection  



Good luck



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As a follow-up to my earlier comment on cheaper alternatives to the MTH distribution block, I failed to mention that the MTH Terminal board has 12 terminals electrically connected to the red post and another 12 connected to the black post. In order to get an equivalent functionality with the cheaper 12-terminal strips, you would need to purchase two strips plus two barrier strips to electrically connect all the terminals together on each strip.

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Arnold, your  re-wiring my layout topic has generated a lot of important information that many will prosper from.  

btw, when I first saw the original wiring set up you had , I was amazed to see that you knew where every wire went and it’s function!  Rats nest was a gentle description. I thought maybe you should call an exorcist! Lol.
but I am thrilled to see the support you have generated.

Well, you've heard from the prosecution, so let me make a statement for the defense. I LOVE your "invention". In fact, I've been using it for years for all my outer rails. I have copper-clad board at strategic locations around the layout, all wired together and all drops from my outer rails go to these boards using solder connections at both ends.

But all types of connections have their place. For the hot wires, I have 4 junction boxes around the edge of the layout from which I can access any power needed--the center rail for the two nearby local blocks (I use 8 blocks--too many--it probably should have been 4 blocks), 12VDC for LEDs, Miller signs, and etc., and 14VAC for switch machines, accessories and so on. The junction boxes are fed from a cabinet with 12VDC "ham-radio-type" power supplies and a big variac turned way down to 14VAC. At the top of the cabinet is a big line filter that (I hope) cleans the power before it gets onto the layout.

Anyway, pix below. Every setup is different I guess. I just looked for lowest-cost solutions at every step and this is what I ended up with. Everything from copper clad board to terminal strips to spade lug connectors is from my substantial junk box.

Don Merz

IMG_1724IMG_1726IMG_1727

Arnold and Don,

Here are two terminal strips/boards that power two rooms full of my table layout.  A third, twice the size, came from the old attic layout and powers the third room.   Two ZW's, a Z4000, and two small transformers for the trolley lines.

100_0142

This was over 10 years ago, the beginning of the layout.  Pretty crude, but it all works and always has on multiple layouts over the years.  Never a problem with these homemade devices.

It's a wire mess under the tables.  I'd love to rewire and take advantage of the new connectors and such.  It would be nice to clean it all up, color code and label everything but, I haven't the energy or inspiration.  The overhead and the new N scale layout get run a lot more than this huge table layout because they are both prominent in the rec room.

Good luck, Arnold, with your wiring project!

Jerry

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Update: eliminated one of the copper strips.

There is a split of opinion on my invention, which served me fairly well for 25 years, but the wires soldered to the copper strip would occasionally come loose, which could cause short circuits and other problems. Incidentally, if I did a better job soldering, my invention would have worked better.

The hot wires for the left Z4000 throttle that were connected  to one of the copper strips, are now connected using fork lugs (both crimped and soldered to the end of the wire) to the red (hot) row on an MTH Terminal block. It is much less likely that any of those wires will ever disconnect. That left Z4000 throttle powers my inner main loop.

Everything else is wired as before.

As a test, I ran a conventional engine, and it ran fine. Then, I ran an MTH Proto 2 engine using DCS, and it ran fine.

About 25% of this re-wiring project is done.

Will give further updates as I make further progress.

All of your input and advice has been very helpful, and I thank you all for it. Arnold

@Bruce Brown posted:

As a follow-up to my earlier comment on cheaper alternatives to the MTH distribution block, I failed to mention that the MTH Terminal board has 12 terminals electrically connected to the red post and another 12 connected to the black post. In order to get an equivalent functionality with the cheaper 12-terminal strips, you would need to purchase two strips plus two barrier strips to electrically connect all the terminals together on each strip.

Or even cheaper, a single piece of solid copper wire looped over each terminal, snaking from one screw lug to the next, and tightened securely - very cheap and effective.

George

Arnold that is one heck of a undertaking.

I have been going through a heck of a under taking by taking charge of our clubs new layout wiring. We really don’t want this to be a rats nest but it needed to be flexible as a lot of the scenery is still not set in stone.

Z-mainlines

This is what is seen up top the layout (ignore bridges as they only represent what track goes over the other)

we ran a 14AWG  “bus” down the length of the layout then came off of that down each of the 3 peninsula’s. From there there were 18AWG feeders every 8ish feet that tied to the main bus.

327A07BE-F403-48D3-8550-76736C57BE04

Unfortunately this is the only picture I have from when we put the bus in. Crimp connectors are used and we soldered the wires to the connector just for good measure.

612C4EED-3FE1-4761-BA0C-FF7001E7C9FA

every drop was then soldered to the Ross/GarGraves track

I don’t have many pictures from under the layout I’ll have to get some more when I’m under it tomorrow.

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Applying George's idea, what do you think of the wiring scheme for the ground/common wire, shown in the photo below:

20211027_151651

I took a short piece of 18 gauge bare copper wire and wrapped it around the metal stem of each of the 4 fork lugs screwed onto the terminal strip. (If I use this to serve as a common or ground bus wire, I will also solder the short copper wire to each of the 4 metal stems on the lugs).

I will also solder the bare copper wire to the right of the terminal strip to a long 14 gauge stranded black insulated wire the will connect to the black terminal on the MTH Terminal Block near the Z4000 transformer.

Getting back to the Terminal Strip shown in the above photo, I will connect the ground feeder/drop wires (16 gauge solid copper wires from the track lock-ons) to the screw beneath each of the 4 fork lugs.

If the above scheme works, I can substantially reduce the number of wires near the MTH Terminal Block and Z4000 transformer.  Doing so would, hopefully, eliminate the rat's nest I had beforehand.

What do you think?

Arnold

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Last edited by Arnold D. Cribari
@zhubl posted:

Arnold that is one heck of a undertaking.

I have been going through a heck of a under taking by taking charge of our clubs new layout wiring. We really don’t want this to be a rats nest but it needed to be flexible as a lot of the scenery is still not set in stone.

Z-mainlines

This is what is seen up top the layout (ignore bridges as they only represent what track goes over the other)

we ran a 14AWG  “bus” down the length of the layout then came off of that down each of the 3 peninsula’s. From there there were 18AWG feeders every 8ish feet that tied to the main bus.

327A07BE-F403-48D3-8550-76736C57BE04

Unfortunately this is the only picture I have from when we put the bus in. Crimp connectors are used and we soldered the wires to the connector just for good measure.

612C4EED-3FE1-4761-BA0C-FF7001E7C9FA

every drop was then soldered to the Ross/GarGraves track

I don’t have many pictures from under the layout I’ll have to get some more when I’m under it tomorrow.

Zachariah, your club project is much bigger than mine. Thanks for your input, which is very helpful.

How did you connect your feeder wires to your main bus wire?

Arnold

Arnold

The reward for your sharing good advice to hobbyists for years is ... receiving good information from hobbyists when you need help. You got plenty of help!

I had already applied many of the tips to my L-shaped layout:
* MTH terminal blocks for track power via bus wiring and feeders - from a Lionel 135w brick or a MTH Z1000 (the 18v output),
   selected by a knife switch
* Barrier Terminal Strips with 14v to action accessories and switches - from a separate MTH Z100 (the 14v output)
* Color coding
* Plastic cable clips for support of under-the-platform wiring  (no holes through lumber), avoids the "spaghetti effect"
* Spade lugs for wire connections to terminal strips and ring lugs at connections to #90 control buttons for accessories
* Lighted lockons to confirm power is ON at main lines and insulated sidings (activated by a toggle switch).

Good advice is priceless. Carry on, valiantly ...

Mike Mottler    LCCA 12394

Arnold,

Everyone of my track feeds is terminated with a terminal strip as others have discussed. White-black is my wire convention for AC track voltage.  I use color tape or label maker to denote which main line the wire is associated. In my case I have Blue, Yellow, and Red main lines. In the photo below I use a larger terminal strip to feed two main lines.

I use a method called Home-Run Wiring with wire pairs going from a central distribution point to each of the feeders. (I use some daisy chaining)

IMG_3099

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Last edited by Bruce Brown

In my Trade, we use those types of terminal strips, for lower voltage systems…Door Alarm/Security/Access, which are mostly passive monitoring

Have you noticed, over time, that the screw/wire connection become loose due to heat expansion?

As I said, I like the Electrical Panel Bus Bar, because of the secure mechanical connection..the wire is trapped in the hole, and the square head allows for extra torque, and they don’t come loose.

This is an update, which I'm sharing to not only get further input, but also to possibly help others regarding the use of terminal strips.

What I have endeavored to do is apply the advice I've received on this thread, particularly that of George and Rich.

I've never had anything like MTH Terminal Blocks or terminal strips until recently, so using this equipment was very foreign to me and awkward.

This afternoon I tried to re-create what Rich did by threading a bare 18 gauge copper wire through the screws of a terminal strip, and found it to be a juggling act that I initially could not do. I decided to take a break for a few hours. (I've found that taking a break enables me to harness my subconscious mind, which in my case, is far more powerful than my conscious mind.)

When I resumed my efforts this evening, I ended up stressing the bare copper wire so much that it broke. LOL. Then, I stripped the insulation off another 18 gauge solid wire and it occurred to me that I had to take the little screw out completely, position the copper wire and then put the little screw back in. Once I did that, it took me a mere 10 minutes to re-create Rich's terminal strip/bare copper wire arrangement. See photo below.

I already have enough 14 gauge stranded copper wire to make long runs from the hot (red) row of terminals from my MTH Terminal Blocks near the Z4000 transformer to the short drop wires connected to the hot connections of all the lock-ons.

(I may later on remove all the lock-ons and solder wires to the sides of rails on my tubular track once I get a high powered Weller D550 soldering gun, which I purchased on-line today).

I am only using terminal strips with the bare 18 gauge copper wire threaded through it (like the one in the photo below) for the cold ground bus wire. Notice there is about 1 inch of bare copper wire at each end of the lower row of screws. I will use that inch of wire to daisy chain the terminal strips.

The top row of screws in the terminal strips (see photo below) will be connected (using fork lugs) to 16 gauge solid drop wires attached to the ground terminal of each lock-on in the vicinity of the particular terminal strip.

I think what I've said makes sense. Do you agree?

Whatever input you can give would be greatly appreciated.

Arnold



20211027_233523

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Last edited by Arnold D. Cribari

Arnold your continuing to make great progress…keep it going. I’m glad your working on a loop at a time and verifying your work as you completed it. That’s the easiest way to troubleshoot work that was just completed.

Yes, backing out the screws was necessary to loop around the easiest. The terminal block looks good and will serve you well. Is the tail you left long enough? How do you plan to daisy chain? Remember you have the mounting  screws at each end, and you will need to double up the wire under the first screw on the new block.

Question for you, how are you connecting the power lock on wire to the stranded wire running to you MTH block?

Keep making progress and the trains will be running in no time.

Zachariah, your club project is much bigger than mine. Thanks for your input, which is very helpful.

How did you connect your feeder wires to your main bus wire?

Arnold

Finally got around to getting another picture. As you can see there’s only a couple of feeders on this one but some have more. The barrier strips are strung out every 8-10’.

6B49F2A7-AEC7-4790-8BDD-D2198F7740E1

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Arnold your continuing to make great progress…keep it going. I’m glad your working on a loop at a time and verifying your work as you completed it. That’s the easiest way to troubleshoot work that was just completed.

Yes, backing out the screws was necessary to loop around the easiest. The terminal block looks good and will serve you well. Is the tail you left long enough? How do you plan to daisy chain? Remember you have the mounting  screws at each end, and you will need to double up the wire under the first screw on the new block.

Question for you, how are you connecting the power lock on wire to the stranded wire running to you MTH block?

Keep making progress and the trains will be running in no time.

Rich,

Here is my same photo of my terminal strip with the bare 18 gauge copper wire threaded through the bottom screws, illustrating what I say below:

20211027_233523

First scenario: my thought about daisy chaining, which may or may not work, is to connect the tail of the 18 gauge bare copper wire to a 14 gauge stranded copper wire that will run and be connected to a similar tail on the next terminal strip. I will make the connection by twisting,  crimping and soldering the bare 18 gauge tail wire to the 14 gauge stranded wire, then put black electrical tape over said connection. I would do the same thing with the tail of the bare wire at the other end of the terminal strip.

What do you think of the first scenario?

Second scenario: I could also cut off the tails and, using a fork lugs, attach the 14 gauge stranded wire to the 1st screw on the bottom (doubling it with the bare wire) or on the top of the terminal strip, and do the same thing at the other end if the terminal stripm

The 14 gauge stranded wire will start from the U or ground (common) post on the Z4000.

What do you think of the second scenario?

Concerning your question about how I will connect the power lock on 16 gauge solid drop wire to the 14 gauge power stranded wire, my plan was to make the connection the same way. That is, by twisting, crimping and soldering the wires together and covering the connection with black electrical tape. Do you think that will work?

By the way, to be clear, 3 or 4 of the top screws on the terminal strip will be connected to the ground 18 gauge solid drop wires from the lock-ons in the vicinity of the particular terminal strip. The series of daisy chained terminal strips connected to the ground 14 gauge stranded wire will serve as my ground bus wire running the entire length of my 35 to 40 foot layout.

Arnold

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Last edited by Arnold D. Cribari

Arnold think of the weakest link.

If I understand your concept the common terminal blocks (TB) will be daisy chain across your layout with the 18 solid on the TB and 14 stranded between each TB and lock on 16/18 solid drop with a return to the Z4000 by 14 stranded. Your weakest link being the smallest wire carrying the largest amount of current closest to the transformer. That would be true if you are connecting to one U terminal post. This would negate the need for using the 16 and 14 gauge wire.

Now if you split this daisy chain up by positioning strategically around and distributed this across the 4 U posts by running a 14 stranded from the U to your TB you would eliminate the weakest link of overheating your 18 wire.

I would personally just remove the short drop of 16 and replace with another 16 going directly to the TB and eliminate the connection with the 14. It will be cleaner and again less connections less potential problems.

This same method can be used for your hot connections also.

Hope this helps.

Last edited by Rich Wiemann

That can work, but electrical tape gets gooey and miserable over time and can fall off. Also, why go through the hassle of soldering upside down under a train layout?. Why not consider the Wago Lever Nuts discussed earlier?

@bmoran4 posted:

I enjoy using Wago lever lock connectors. They are infinitely better than suitcase connectors or wire nuts and less hassle to install than crimps. They are worth the extra costs hands down and are reusable! They also are good at joining varying sizes of wire (in this case AWG sizes 28 to 12 which is just perfect for our trains).

Here is are two assortments - one is the 222 style, the other 221 (40% smaller footprint):

https://www.amazon.com/Wago-22...rtment/dp/B01GVTVY12

https://www.amazon.com/Wago-22...018MGMFDI/ref=sr_1_3

Just be sure to get real Wago ones and not the off brand knock-off lever nuts as the knockoffs do not meet UL or other safety standards and are of inconsistent quality. That is not to say that one may not find that certain knockoffs are just fine for this low voltage purpose, but I can't justify taking the chance after getting burned.

@bmoran4 posted:

With the WAGO connectors, they actually act like mini terminal strips, but use surprisingly strong levers instead of screws to retain the wires. So yes, you need to cut/terminate your bus wire, but this is not a big deal at all. For illustrative purposes, the thick red wire could be the 14AWG BUS wire, the green could be 16AWG feeders:

In terms of command control signals or even just plain power delivery, the connectors themselves don't matter, but the quality of the electrical connection does matter, and that IS influenced by the connector type. Use of suitcase connectors are not typically used for connecting different gauge wires. Each gauge combination needs its own specific connector. The suitcase connectors actually sever the wire and can nick or even cut the copper conductor creating an intermittent hard to find wiring issue that can wreak havoc on command signals and power delivery. As such, I find suitcase connectors make a poor choice for quality electrical connections, especially compared to WAGO connectors that do not have these issues at all. Sure, some report success with suitcase connectors, but why invite the potential headache?

I used lever nuts to do my wiring, they were easy to use and allow for changes with no soldering and secure connections.

I used three position and five position models.

Lever Wire Nut 5 Conductor Combination

Lever Wire Nut 3 Conductor Combination

@bmoran4 posted:

That can work, but electrical tape gets gooey and miserable over time and can fall off. Also, why go through the hassle of soldering upside down under a train layout?. Why not consider the Wago Lever Nuts discussed earlier?

Just curious, how do you screw them to the underside of the layout? Do you use a Glue gun? I plan on using these going forward but don’t know how I’d connect them to the underside.

Nice to see you are making progress Arnold. A couple of comments;

I'm not sold on the 18 ga to act as buss wire for the TS, especially if you are going to daisy chain them. If you want to keep the 18 ga jumpers, then I would run separate feeds to each.

I like the WAGO connectors but don't overlook the humble wire nut. I've used them for years as an electrical contractor. Properly sized for the wire you are using, they provide solid connections with no need to tape over the splice. Look at the wire charts on the boxes until you find the proper size. You will quickly find soldering under the layout and overhead to be a giant PITA!

This is a chart for Ideal WN's.

https://elechut.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/wire-nut-color-code-nuts-fitted-vision-like-php-attachmentid-d-1.jpg

Properly securing stranded wire under a screw can be problematic. I would recommend forked crimps for all terminations........however....... I'm going to share an electrician's secret (so don't tell anyone) . Normally the wire strands are twisted clockwise, when compressed under the screw they will open up. Twist the wire in a counter clockwise direction instead, and when compressed, the strands will remain tightly twisted. Try it, you will be amazed.

I've soldered all of my track drops with a 40 watt pencil iron. I have 027 tubular track and it works fine. I usually place the wire at the base of the side of the rail where it forms the bottom flange. Clean the track well where you want to connect the wire and apply some soldering flux paste. Heat the wire and track with the iron and apply the solder until it flows nicely over the connection. The wire will need to be held securely until the joint cools and the solder hardens. I use a rosin-core solder as well.

2021-10-24 21.36.452021-10-24 21.36.492021-10-24 21.36.54

Keep us posted on your progress.

Bob

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For connecting wires, is twisting, crimping, soldering and then black electrical tape over the connection a good way to do it?

I realize this may be a belt and suspenders approach that may be overkill. Arnold

No, no, not a good way to do it. Bob RSJB18 and @bmoran4 are giving you good advice not use black electrical tape and, if you are only connecting two 14-18 gauge wires, using a spring wire nut (I like orange, but gray is good for smaller wire diameters). The lever nuts (suggested by GRJ, for example) or use of terminal strips with crimp spade terminals are great choices for terminating large numbers of wires. You should only be needing a soldering tool just to connect the wire to the track.

Last edited by Bruce Brown

@cjack, like you I was apprehensive. How could tiny little levers hold wires securely? Do they really accept the smaller gauge wires well?

I can say after using them, they were an absolute upgrade to the wire nuts I had been using prior. They are a good compliment to terminal bus bars. Any new wiring on my layout as well as any disturbed wiring gets the wago lever nuts.

It's one of those things that once you actually have hands-on experience with them you'll wonder why you ever doubted.

Yep, that 3M double sided auto tape is really really strong.  But, you got to make sure that the surface is really clean and dry first.   No grunge or dust. 

Just used it last week to replace a trim piece on the side of the truck.

You only get one chance to get it right, though, so make sure that things are line up when you press it down on the underside of the table.

Mannyrock

I believe, but am not 100% sure, that the ground or common wire means that any ground wire for anything can be attached to a ground or common bus wire. Is that true?

If so, can I attach to the common bus wire all ground wires for the inner and outer main loops that are independently powered and interconnected?

Can I also attach to the common bus wire all ground wires for all of my 9 independently powered sidings?

In addition, can I attach to the same common bus wire all ground wires for my numerous postwar accessories? Arnold

Arnold,

You'll get plenty of different opinions on this but I keep my ground (or common) lines separate for each of my main lines. Thus both the hot and common wires, sometimes twisted together, go from the separate TIU output terminals (Fixed 1 and Fixed 2, for two main lines), via breakers, out to the track feed points. There are some technical reasons to do this, some related to troubleshooting and also for common (mode) noise rejection. Arguably it offers some advantages for the MTH DCS control system.

Last edited by Bruce Brown
@bmoran4 posted:

@Rich Wiemann, with common ground wiring, when you phase the transformers, the grounds are bonded together, therefore, any ground has a return path to any transformer.

I have two Z4000 transformers that are phased; one powers the 2 main lines, and the other powers the 9 sidings. Since both of these transformers are phased, including plugged in to the same power strip, I believe I can run all of the ground wires for the main lines and sidings to the same common bus wire.

The accessories are powered by a ZW, and the 022 switches are powered by a 2nd ZW. Both ZW transformers are also plugged in to the same power strip, and are probably also phased with each other and the Z4000 transformers, but there is no compelling reason to connect them to the common bus wire. The 022 switches have no ground wire, only a hot wire plugged in to the switch. Also, although the accessories contribute to the rat's nest of wires under the train tables, I'm hoping I don't need to re-wire them amy time soon.

Do you think the above is correct? Arnold

Last edited by Arnold D. Cribari
@tstark posted:

Jumping on Arnold’s post! I thought I read some where that when you run a ground around the lay out to the various items that you should return it to the u post where you started, like a complete loop. Any thoughts on this.

thanks , Tstark

According to bmoran4 and Rich Wieman, if the transformers are phased, the grounds are bonded together, so the ground wires for all the lock-ons attached to the track powered by those phased transformers can be connected to the same ground bus wire.

Arnold, sounds like you phased your ZWs to your Z4000s but neglected to keep the grounds bonded connected. As such, you have 2 distinct "common ground" circuits. This isn't wrong, but introduces isolation which may or may not be desired, especially when considering track powered activated accessories.

The O22s pick up the common ground from the outside rail of the connected track.

Last edited by bmoran4

Progress report:

All of the hot wires for the 2 main lines are labelled and connected to the MTH Terminal Blocks powered by one Z4000.

I have also disconnected and removed all of the ground wires  for the 2 main lines except for the ground drop wires from the lock-ons. My next big project is to install the common bus wire the entire length of the layout and place terminal strips at 7 or 8 locations and connect the ground drop wires to those terminal strips (each with a bare 18 gauge copper wire threaded through the lower row of screws.

I now have substantially less wire underneath my layout. Instead of looking like a huge rat's nest/ bowl of spaghetti, it now looks like a medium sized one. LOL.

I have not yet started re-wiring the wires for the 9 sidings powered by the 2nd Z4000.

I once had a professor that would frequently say "as is obvious to the casual observer..."! There are many things about wiring that are not always obvious. You have correctly phased the two Z4000's supplying track power. The downside of using a common return is the current (amps) in the return is the sum of all the current in the four supply channels. So if two handles are supplying 4A and two are supplying 2A during operation the common return is carrying  12A, greatly increasing the voltage drop unless a much larger return conductor is used.

If there are transformers supplying loads like lighting , these do not have to be in phase. One can use two separate transformers for these kind of loads and have them 180 degrees out of phase. Then, if each transformer supplies 4A the sum of the currents in a common return is Zero. This works for loads that do not need to be in phase, not for track power.

@bmoran4 posted:

Arnold, sounds like you phased your ZWs to your Z4000s but neglected to keep the grounds bonded connected. As such, you have 2 distinct "common ground" circuits. This isn't wrong, but introduces isolation which may or may not be desired, especially when considering track powered accessories.

The O22s pick up the common ground from the outside rail of the connected track.

So, does it follow that I won't have this problem as long as I do not connect the ground accessory wires to the common bus wire for the main lines and sidings?

@AmFlyer posted:

I once had a professor that would frequently say "as is obvious to the casual observer..."! There are many things about wiring that are not always obvious. You have correctly phased the two Z4000's supplying track power. The downside of using a common return is the current (amps) in the return is the sum of all the current in the four supply channels. So if two handles are supplying 4A and two are supplying 2A during operation the common return is carrying  12A, greatly increasing the voltage drop unless a much larger return conductor is used.

Tom, I'm sure what you say is accurate and I appreciate your input, but I do not fully understand it. LOL.

When I run my trains, I rarely run more than one locomotive at a time. I will often run a train from my inner loop to my outer loop, and vice-a-versa,  and from a main line to a siding, keeping the track voltage the same for the main loops and sidings.  By limiting my train operations this way, based on what you say, I think I will be OK connecting the ground wires for the main lines and sidings to the same common bus wire.

Does that make sense?

Last edited by Arnold D. Cribari

So, does it follow that I won't have this problem as long as I do not connect the ground accessory wires to the common bus wire for the main lines and sidings?

What problem do we speak of? Connecting or not connecting the grounds of phased transformers does not pose a problem either way. Generally speaking, most Lionel documentation recommendations are around one single common ground circuit. Connecting the common ground terminals on all transformers (in phase) would be the direction I would recommend and have personally taken on my layouts. It is more adventitious in my opinion do things in this single common ground manner to avoid more complex situations with track activated accessories such as crossing gates, non-derailing switches (O22s), connecting signals, operating cars and so on.

What is said above about additive current and whatnot is true, but generally this is addressed naturally because one can have multiple taps from the common ground to spread the load out and not need to run chunky wire everywhere.

Last edited by bmoran4
@bmoran4 posted:

Arnold, sounds like you phased your ZWs to your Z4000s but neglected to keep the grounds bonded connected. As such, you have 2 distinct "common ground" circuits. This isn't wrong, but introduces isolation which may or may not be desired, especially when considering track powered accessories.

The O22s pick up the common ground from the outside rail of the connected track.

So, does it follow that if I simply connected wires between a U Post for each of my transformers (two Z4000 and two ZW), and all transformers are otherwise phased, that all ground wires can be connected to one common ground bus wire without any problems?

Last edited by Arnold D. Cribari

Arnold, If you are not loading all four of the Z4000 handles at once that minimizes the current in a common return. If you are usually running just one train then you are fine. As mentioned above in three rail it is always best to tie the grounds together for anything that is connected to the track like action accessories. That connection is usually at the transformers but can be at the track as I commented.

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