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Hi All,

I think cost wise and power need/voltage wise the CW-80 and acceosry transformer makes the most sense, a ZW is probably not needed.  I have the "new&improved" CW-80 on order (not sure when it will ship) and I already have the 1.6 amp Lionel accessory transformer.  I'm wondering if I cancel the Cw-80 (or keep it for future temporary layouts) and go for the gusto and a ZW-L, but I don't think I need it, so asking for input.

Layout is 11 feet by 9 feet with 6 switches and 7 operating tracks.  Will usually run one train but could see running two at a time.  All are newer legacy or lion chief DC motor locomotives and mostly LED passenger cars.  There will be about 6-7 operating accessories but those will typically be ran one at a time and when a train is stopped.  I need three voltages, one for track, one for the barrel loader as I like how it runs at about 8-9 volts and one set about 14 volts for the rest of the accessories.  Most buildings will be led, a few incandescent that will run off this transformer, the others will be on their own such as woodland scenic or menards buildings.

I would like to be able to run the track at maybe 16 volts to compromise between 18 volts and 14 volts for the operating tracks which eliminates the 180 watt power brick option for track power. 

So I need three voltages from what I can tell, I think I can achieve this with the CW-80 and accessory transformer, or even two Cw-80s would be way cheaper and take up about the same mount of space as a ZW-l.  I do however like one stop shop the transformer provides with 4 outputs, and the voltage and amperage gauges, looks sweet, but will cost much more

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You might also consider the MTH Z-4000. It has two track output handles, plus a dedicated 14v accessory terminal/port and a dedicated 10v accessory terminal/port. It is priced in the sweet spot between the cost of multiple CW-80's and the ZW-L and has the advantage of everything being combined in one unit.

Obviously, MTH's going out of business may impact your decision, but AFAIK, these units are pretty bulletproof and, taken care of properly, should provide many years of reliable service.

If you are able to do the cost, I greatly recommend the ZW-L. It is probably more power than you will need, but you are more than likely going to end up adding more things that will require power, and that transformer will take it without fuss. I went the CW route for a while, and ended up needing several, and overwhelming them when I tried to run dual motor engines with passenger cars. Never had that problem with the ZW-L.

The Z-4000 is another option, but not only is MTH going out of business, but they said that they can't get a part for them anymore (last run coming out soon), so they will be obsolete when you buy it. I don't personally have one, but I've heard they are great transformers.

A few years ago, after doing considerable research on MTH Z-4000 and Lionel ZW-L transformers, I finally bit the bullet, spent the extra money, and went with a brand new Lionel ZW-L.

Boy, am I ever glad I did.  This is one heck of a transformer.  Conventional or Command selectable.  4 outputs, each with their own re-settable circuit breaker.  A pair of voltmeters and ammeters that work on all 4 outputs.  An on/off switch so you don't have to unplug the unit when not in use.  The "Lionel" logo lights up in bright blue when the unit is on, just to let you know it's on.  And no shortage of power that I have found yet.

Admittedly, this thing (or an MTH Z-4000 for that matter) has way more power than I need for my current layout.  But since getting it, I haven't given any more thought to needing yet another transformer.  I'm glad I spent the additional money and went with a ZW-L.

Truthfully, you dismiss the simple 180W brick too quickly.  If you want to tap off power and get 14 volts from the 180W brick, a few diode pairs will drop the voltage cleanly to the desired voltage.  Each diode pair will drop about 0.7 volts, so six pairs of diodes will give you around 14 volts.  Twelve 6 amp diodes only cost a few bucks and solve the voltage issue neatly.  Even easier is using three 8A bridge rectifiers, each bridge replaces two diode pairs.

You can't beat the convenience of the brick with it's excellent power protection and bang for the buck.

MCC 6A Bridge Rectifier at Digikey, 83 cents/ea, cheaper if you buy ten or more.


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Get a GW-180 for track.  Then find a Z1000 brick for the 14 VAC output and run it to a distribution block for the accessories.  Then use John’s diode pair system to lower one set of wires to your desired 8-9 VAC.  Or find a in good condition 1033 for the 9v.

Or a Z-4000 with everything in one housing.

Although I really like the Z-4000, I'm loath to recommend them at this time.  There are no parts available for them and they have been discontinued.  Given the fact that the main circuit board is a lot more complicated in this transformer than most, and the unavailability of either service information or parts, I'd consider the other options.

I've hard all the comments about "My Z-4000 has run for years and never needed anything."  That's all great and nice history.  However, going forward, do you really want a $400 doorstop if it does fail?

@Sparty1225 posted:

I agree with your posts and why I’m contemplating the ZW.  just not sure I really need it. Will a cw 80 be enough for track power and accessory power running one mayybee two trains with smoke units on.  Led lighting for the most part.  

I didn't (and still don't) really need the ZW-L either.  Heck, an MTH Z-4000 probably still would have been more than sufficient for my needs.  But on the other hand, had I gave in and went with a Z-4000, I'm pretty sure I'd still be wanting the ZW-L.   I love that thing.  Absolutely NO regrets whatsoever!!!

I can run 2 = LC+ steam engines, smoke on, each pulling full passenger consists, complete with power-hungry  incandescent lighting, all 8 of my powered switches with their incandescent bulbs on, several signal and light accessories with their incandescent bulbs all lit up, and the unit doesn't even get warm.  I'm not anywhere close to its limits.

My personal experience with the CW-80: A really nice little transformer, but more than one train and/or more than an accessory or two and you will quickly be reaching the limits of its output.

How about a used ZW-C ?  You'll get the 4 variable outputs but 1/2 the cost of a ZW-L.  I have the version with 2 180W bricks - these go for $250-$300.  Then you can run 2 trains, and possible expansion if you want a third (upper level, trolley line, etc).  I'm no electronics expert, but this was good enough for me.  I didn't want to spend the $$ on a ZW-L.

We have used Both the ZW-L and Z4000's at our club layouts.  We have had two failures on one channel on two Z4000's.  One was sent back to MTH who found nothing wrong. After returning it worked for a sort time then had the same failure .  It was bought new in 2002.  We had the second Z4000 failure 0n a used one bought on Ebay, no info on age.  We have had failure on the older ZW C lionel transformer with two 180W bricks.  Lionel could not furnish replacement parts.  Buy Z4000's with the thought that when they fail, there will be no parts.  We are now using two Z4000's on our large club layout with no problems.

I would consider the Lionel ZW L except for the high cost.  Listen to Gununnerjohn.


One last input.  Since you have only Legacy and Lion Chief, why get a transformer that adjusts voltage?*  Instead of paying for a very expensive ZW-L that has more power than you need (yes, it is a great transformer), buy a Legacy Command set.  Then get a PH-180 brick and connect it directly to the track.  You can cut off the plug, or use the TMCC Direct Lockon.  Be advise that if you ever add DCS the Direct Lockon with mess with the DCS signal.

Now you are completely command/control and that PH-180 should provide you with enough power for now.  Buy more as you expand your layout (I have nine).

You still need a less expensive brick with a 14 volt output for your accessories.  I'd stay with the Z-1000 brick as I mentioned above and its 14 VAC output jack will provide plenty of power.  You can find the bricks by themselves for relatively little money.

* There will be folks that say adjusting voltage down to 15/16 volts is better for your engines instead of using a constant 18 volts from the brick.  Your call.  Also, with just a PH-180 connected directly to the track, you will not be able to run conventional.

Last edited by CAPPilot
@CAPPilot posted:


One last input.  Since you have only Legacy and Lion Chief, why get a transformer that adjusts voltage?*  Instead of paying for a very expensive ZW-L that has more power than you need (yes, it is a great transformer), buy a Legacy Command set.  Then get a PH-180 brick and connect it directly to the track.  You can cut off the plug, or use the TMCC Direct Lockon.  Be advise that if you ever add DCS the Direct Lockon with mess with the DCS signal.

See my previous reply, already suggested complete with a way to derive the 14V desired for accessories.

See my previous reply, already suggested complete with a way to derive the 14V desired for accessories.


No problem with your PH-180/diode solution, especially if you are thinking of running everything off one PH-180.  I think using a separate, and cheaper, Z-1000 brick for the accessories is better.  It has more power than the CW-80 he has on order, and it already has a 14 volt tap (something the PH-180 does not have).  Then using your diode design to drop that voltage from the 14 volt tap to get his 9 volts.  To me that is less complicated than trying to get two different lower voltages off a PH-180.

Lots of different ways to do this.  They all will work.

Last edited by CAPPilot

Thank you for all the input, some good points and options I hadn’t thought of.  The power brick and stepping down the voltage I never thought of.  Ur right The power brick is the lowest cost for power and I could get all the power I need from it if I step down The voltages for the three I need using Distrubution terminal blocks.  Hmmmm.  That doesn’t take up any space on or below a layout either.    Even though  Zw-L s sure do look sweet on a layout.  I’m going to have to think about this and look a little more into the diode thing.  Might be the ticket. Thank you all.  Happy Thanksgiving!

All I know about electricity is that it flows through wires like water through a hose. That's about it (with a few exceptions). So I'm hardly qualified to weigh in on this, but here's my 22 cents. I have a 10x28 Fastrack layout with eight turnouts, running Legacy and TMCC locomotives. The track/switches are powered by a classic postwar ZW 275 watt transformer set at 16 volts. It has a slow-acting circuit breaker, so to protect my expensive locos a simple 10 amp automotive circuit breaker (red 2-prong fuse) with a soft rubber pop-top is connected just downstream from the ZW. A separate CW-80 transformer powers all the accessories and lighting. I have less than $250 combined in both of the transformers and they work flawlessly. Their quality, compared to a lot of electronic equipment being made today, is unquestionably good. Occasional derailments or shorts will pop the 10A circuit breaker, and it takes only seconds to replace the fuse. Due to the length of the layout, three power connections were installed (one at each end, the other in the middle) with quick-connect plugs. The ZW is mounted on a homemade cart with about 12 feet of tether, and it can be plugged in to any of the three connections. (The AC power cord is plugged into a multi-outlet strip attached to the cart, and has its own 15-foot cord.) With this arrangement, I can keep the transformer close at hand when working on different areas of the layout. When running trains, the cart can be rolled underneath the layout, keeping floor space completely open. My transformers are old-school, but I have no complaints whatsoever.

ZWZW cart


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