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I set up my three rail tubular Lionel track- simple oval. Tested it (before I screwed it down) and everything worked fine so I started screwing the track down to the plywood surface (and cork)-ran the train with 3/4 of the track screwed down and everything still worked great. Screwed down the remaining 1/4 oval of track . . . now it doesn't work.

The circuit breaker on the transformer keeps popping-locomotive has no response whatsoever. I checked and re-checked the track. I even removed the screws holding down that last 1/4 part of the track-still nothin. Took all the train cars and loco off the track-nothin!

The transformer light will stay on for just about 15 seconds with throttle then pops the circuit breaker. It's a brand new MTH Z1000.

Any advice on problems I should look for would be appreciated. I'm NOT an electrician . . . which may be one of my problems.

Thank you,


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As one non-electrician to another, I have felt your pain.  My first layout used cork road bed, and I had stapled the cork down. A staple got loose once and shorted me out once. Took me forever to find it. I don't use staples any longer!

Another possibility (that's happened to me, too) is that you moved or poked a hole in the the insulation of one of the center rails. It's easy to do. Then the rail is touching the metal tie like the outer rails and, voila, a short. If the tubular track is old, the fiber material they used for insulating the center rails can get brittle. I'd check for that.

You're going to need a divide-and-conquer approach. It's tedious, I'd break the oval into 2 halves, connect power to each half. Should work for one, not the other, if you only have one problem track section. Then two same with the bad section. Break into two halves and repeat.

If your oval is anything but a very small oval, you might want to insulate half the oval from the other using fiber/plastic pins in the center rails. Same reasoning above. That way you can power each half separately which helps in diagnosing shorts.

Frustrating, but you'll feel like a genius once you find the problem.

I would do the following, all with no trains on the tracks

1) Completely remove that last quarter section of track.

2)  Connect the transformer to the first 3/4 section.   

3) If the breaker does not blow (likely), go to 5)

4) If the breaker does blow (Unlikely), go to what raising four daughters suggested with the 3/4 section instead of the full oval

5) Add new track sections to the 3/4 section.  Add them one by one, and screw them down just as you did.  Test with the transformer after each one. Eventually the breaker will blow.  That track is your problem

An easier way to do this, if you have the equipment.  Find a light bulb with two wires.  Attach one wire to one terminal of the transformer. The other goes to the center rail of isolated sections of track.  Find another wire and run it from the other terminal of the transformer to one of the outer rails.  Turn the transformer on.  Do this for every section of track.  When the light bulb comes on, you have found the faulty track.  If the bulb never comes on, screw each section down,  still isolated from each other, and repeat the tests

@Polentz posted:

I'm checking the insulation. I'm just glad nobody is telling me my transformer is bad. Insulation I can deal with.

Always a possibility, but not usually the culprit especially after making changes to the track such as screwing it down.

If you're concerned about your transformer, just connect to a lighted car like a caboose. Connect the hot to the car's pick-up and the common to a wheel. Throw the throttle and if the bulb lights, your transformer is OK.

Hey everyone, it works!

Funny, funny, funny.

Here's what I found;

Upon taking that 1/4 section down I found a build up of fine metal powder underneath on the cross-section of track. I had delicately drilled the holes out a bit bigger to accommodate the screws. I think it was enough to complete the circuit and pop the circuit breaker.

It's working so I'm going with that theory . . . though I haven't screwed the track down yet.

Thanks again for the help.



How do I hook up vintage Marx light towers to power? Can it go directly to the track? Snap on clips?


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The other approach is to test as you assemble. assemble one piece of track. screw down to table. Check electrical operation. keep on repeating. Only minor backtracking.

Shorts cause heat. I use ZW power. Let the ZW run at low power so Circuit breaker will not operate. Check the track for hot spots. Hot spots can burn your hands. Quick ,light touching is best. Newer transformers with quick breakers operate to quickly for this technique.

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