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What's Up Everybody

I've got a situation here that I can't solve, let me give you some stats first.  I've got a 12'x30' layout, on the table right now, Atlas track & switches.  2 main lines O-72 and O-81curves with 11 sidings.  I'm in the middle of installing block sections to accommodate my MTH trains, I also run Lionel Legacy and TMCC and I have 2-3rd Rail locomotives.  I recently purchased 2 Z-Stuff Signal bridges and 4 Z-stuff 3 color trackside signals, I installed 1 bridge to track power and 2 signal lights to track power.  I power the layout with a Lionel ZW-L transformer.  Recently I started ballasting my track starting from a train tunnel that I've built going out onto the layout and suddenly for the last week when I turn on track power (I've got 8 locomotives on the layout) the trains power up on their own, some take of running, after a few seconds the ZW-L shuts off as if a train has jumped the track with the red lamp flashing.  I've tried to troubleshoot by switching transformers, switching TIU's, I've just about removed a 3 color trackside signal, I'm almost about to start scraping up the ballast looking for a track that's grounded out somehow.  I've taken 5 locomotives off of the layout and it appeared to be a temporary fix.  HELP !!

Last edited by marshelangelo
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I doubt that ballasting the track caused the problem.  Somewhere, there's some crossed wiring or a failed component. 

First thing I'd do is disconnect all of the transformers, DCS, TMCC, signals, etc. and remove all engines from the track.  If you have any block toggles, turn them all off.  Put power to the track from one transformer, turn one block on, then try to run one engine in conventional mode.  Advance one block at a time until you can run reliably over the entire layout.  Then add back one thing at a time and fully test it.  Eventually, you'll add something and the problem will reappear. 

I'm also confused by the statement "installing block sections to accommodate my MTH trains".  What does this consist of?   

Actually, what i'm doing is inserting Atlas block pieces (tiny plastic inserts in between the tracks, and then powering in between the other plastic insert as a block).  I did this because several of my MTH trains were acting erratically on the layout because I hadn't included block sections during the time I was building the layout.  By the way, I appreciate your help Mallard4468, thanks you

Back to basics:

#1 if we are talking MTH engines with DCS, then the TIU channels ONLY send the watchdog signal on power up of that channel.

#2 Hopefully, with multiple channels being used for block sections- along with rule #1 you are aware that the TIU logic needs power. The one way is assuming- and right there is how you mess up, that Fixed channel 1 has constant power, but if you are using a ZW-L variable transformer- then most likely you should have aux power into the TIU so the TIU logic remains powered regardless of what input you might be powering.

#3 Light signals and other accessories attached to the track may attenuate or interfere with the DCS signal. It's recommended in many cases to install chokes (AKA inductors) in series with those accessories to prevent them from attenuating the DCS signal.

#4 the number of cars and engines can ALSO affect signal.

Not to mention, the other obvious track related things:

Are both outside rails bonded together periodically or did you just power center and one outer rail?

Did you have a blackened center rail?

With multiple adjacent tracks, TMCC/Legacy signally can be affected.

Has your power strip changed and might you have lost ground connection required for TMCC signaling?

First and foremost, thank you both for chiming in, it appears I still have alot to learn, I am using the TIU but it's not connected to Aux power, it runs solely off of ZW-L input power, I will remove the accessories from track power and use another power source.  I have connected to the track by the blackened center rail and one outside rail.  The mishaps that have happened occured before I accessed TMCC-LEGACY or DCS.  This just happens when I turn on power to the layout.

I noticed that in your first post, you didn't mention what type of track you are using. but in your last post you mentioned "blackened center rail," so I'm guessing either Atlas or Ross track.  For some track, the two outside rails are not connected (Atlas, Ross with wooden ties, and maybe others) while for others (Lionel tubular, etc.) the outside rails are connected to each other.  I'm no expert, but maybe when you hooked up the signals (if not all connected to the same rails), that might have caused some power issues?


Marshall: I know nothing about MTH DCS. I run only Legacy/TMCC

I agree with Mallard. Disconnect everything except track power (your transformer). Turn on track power and check the rails for 18volts. If you any wiring issues such as shorts the transformer will shut down. As you check voltage make sure you also check across the isolated junctions. By that I mean place the negative probe on an outside rail on one side of the plastic rail insert and the positive probe on the middle rail on the other side of the plastic rail insert.
If everything checks out then start placing locomotives on the track one at a time. Start them up as you normally do and see what happens. If you reach a point where adding one more locomotive recreates the problem then you may have a power issue (not enough amps). I am saying this because I had a similar issue with my TMCC/Legacy. This goes back a while since I have been waiting to close a year for a new 180W power brick to use with a 360W 20amp Powermaster. I loaded up a track with about 8 locomotives and turned on power. I can't remember if I tried to power up all the locomotives or just one. While they did not go into conventional mode the Powermaster did trip and shut down. Once I removed about 4 locomotives the system starting working properly.

The power brick is finally on its way (long story). I have the 360W Powermaster ready to go. Hopefully I will have them connected this W/E then I will load up the track and see what happens.

I wanted to say thanks to everyone for their help and suggestions.  I ordered a MTH Z750 for my TIU and I pulled out an additional transformer (temporary CW-80) for my accessories but strangely enough my layout is functioning normal again.  I mentioned earlier that all of the track on the layout now (1st level) is Atlas track and the type of ballast I'm using is from Dennis Brennan, his better ballast.  After moving things around on the layout, I did pull up on Z-Stuff 3 color track signal and removed  all of the trains off the track and then slowly put them back and everything is running fine.  I'm about to start attaching SPST cutoff switches to my sidings and the Atlas Insulated Track joiners are what I'm using in establishing my block sections.  I'll definitely keep this thread on my list of shortcuts for future reference.  Once again, I'll continue to implement the changes that all of you have recommended and Thank You all for your assistance.  --MARSHELANGELO

I had a similar problem some years ago. I have an MTH Z-4000 transformer and I was using the old Lionel tube track. My layout was on the floor. Every so often the power would go out with the red light on. After a couple weeks of this happening and looking at the track I finally found a dime that I had fallen off the counter laying up against the center rail and touching the tie. It wasn’t very obvious at all. I guess I just need it to look a little closer.

Marshall - you just may have been current limited and removing all the accessories allocated more current for the trains.

I just received my new 180W power brick. I now have two bricks connected to the new 360W Powermaster for 'track 1'. Once I move wires for the locomotive track siding from track 2 to track 1 I am going to load it up with engines and see what happens.

Hi All;

I learned early on that insufficient power can become a really issue and cause all sorts of "gremlins" on your layout. My solution for the track layout was to break the layout up into 4 "power districts". I chose 4 because I had available 4 PW 275W ZW transformers to power each of the 4 power districts. The image below is the Main Level. There is an Upper Level as well...but I thought including that my confuse the picture. The open areas are where accessories are. 14/2 copper wire was for all Power District connections.

The layout is set up so that even if I'm running a long passenger train with 7 or more cars, the load is shared across at least 2 transformers. As a result I've been able to run as many as 5 engines (including 2 or 3 are passenger trains) at a time without losing power (but I do have an issue with my magnetic circuit breakers...I went with 7 Amp breakers.....should have gone with 10 Amp. These breakers are sensitive and like to trip during peak power draws). FYI....I started converting all my passenger cars to LED lighting. Again, 7 passenger cars with 2 incandescent bulbs per car adds up to a lot of power needed just for lighting (which is when I started having magnetic breakers tripping on a regular basis).

Another power related issue I ran into was with Relays. Each Power District has it's only relay. I did this so that I could switch On/Off each Power District. I think I ended up with about 22 relays. I used a separate 2A 12V DC power supply to power just the relays; thinking that was enough. Boy was I wrong! As I started energizing relays, I would get to a point where the last relay energized would shut off other relays in groups...and there was no pattern to it! I traced my wiring dozens of times and everything was fine. Finally I realized the 12V DC power supply was insufficient to energize all 22 relays. I swapped out the 2A 12V DC power supply with a 10A version. All is well now. I can energize all relay without any issues. BTW....I wired the relays so that when they were in the default state (un-energized), power was supplied to the track. When the relays are energized, the relay would open and cut power to that track/Power District.

One final can run into the same power deficiencies with Accessories. You would be amazed how much power just the light bulbs on turnouts can require (my layout is all Lionel tubular track and I use Lionel 072 switches. Again, I swapped out all the incandescent bulbs with LEDs).

Hope this helps.


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  • mceclip0
@Joe Fauty posted:

Marshall - you just may have been current limited and removing all the accessories allocated more current for the trains.

I just received my new 180W power brick. I now have two bricks connected to the new 360W Powermaster for 'track 1'. Once I move wires for the locomotive track siding from track 2 to track 1 I am going to load it up with engines and see what happens.

I had time today so moved some wires around so the locomotive track and whole yard are using the 360W Powermaster. I loaded up the track with 7 locomotives and everything worked beautifully.

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