Turnout Control

Electric Turnout Control

Many model railroaders do not use electric controlled turnouts anymore, as they prefer the hands on approach. However some do and then there is always the case where you don't want to keep walking back and forth to throw a turnout that is getting a lot of use.

- Click for larger graphic - There are all kinds of switch machines on the market that operate electrically. Some mount right on the turnout while others mount under the table where they can't be seen. There are "snap" action switch machines that literally make a snapping noise when actuated. These move very fast. Most all switch machines come with auxiliary contacts that can be used to indicate the position of the turnout or operate some sort of other signal. Some snap action machines will require a separate solenoid/relay that needs to be wired in parallel to give you the auxiliary contacts.

Most all snap action turnouts operate on low voltage, 16 volts or lower, alternating current (AC) instead of the DC that operates our trains.

If you decide to use snap action switch machines on your railroad we recommend a separate power pack entirely for this purpose. While all power packs come with AC terminals, activating a switch machine will cause a slow down of your train if these terminals are used. In our page explaining how to wire the expanded basic layout, Track Plan #2, we recommended you purchase a better power pack than comes with the average train set if this is what you initially purchased. Using the original power pack that you thought you would have to throw away is a perfect separate AC source to be used for snap action switches. The DC, track connections, on these power packs can also be used to power slow motion machines, however it is not recommended as most do not put out a fixed DC voltage. But as you progress through the hobby you will probably find a use for this DC voltage to where it is not as critical.

If you decide to use slow motion switch machines one of the simplest power supplies to use are the type that is used as a battery charger for many cordless tools. They look like a cube and plug directly into a 120VAC outlet. All that needs to be done is to cut the plug off of the wires that come out of this "black box" and figure out which one is positive and negative. This type of DC power supply is available in all sorts of voltages and can be found in most electronics stores or catalogs. Most of the power supplies of this type provide enough power to operate up to 6 slow motion switch machines. If you purchase these at an electronics store, you can ask the clerk to remove the plug, test the output for polarity and mark the positive wire for you. If you don't do this, you will need a multi-meter of your own to do the job once you are back home. These too can be purchased at most any electronic supply store and will be a worthwhile investment on your part.

For any switch machines, simply follow the manufacturers instruction for the wiring.

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Page last updated December 22, 2000