Lionel AC vs DC

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Lionel AC vs DC

  •  I have lots of 1950's and 60's Lionel trains that my father started me out with. Coming back into setting up my layout I have found out that some Lionel products require DC voltage supply? What year did Lionel start making DC voltage products? Are all Lionel products now DC? How would I get a list of Lionel items that operate on DC only?


    Thanks in advance for anyone that can shed some light in this area. I have 2 old ZW's and a KW from the early 1960's that are ready to be wired into my layout and am anxious if there are products that are new in stores or on eBay that I should stay away from!






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  • Scott, the vast majority of trains currently made come with DC can motors of one type or another. BUT these locos have circuit board that include a rectifier, so even these locos with DC can motors will run on normal train transformer AC current.

    There are a small handful of starter set locos made by Lionel starting in the 1970's and by some other companies such as K-Line, that came with DC can motors but circuitry to allow them to run on AC current. These sets come with some sort of small DC power pack and operate forward - reverse like an HO locomotive powered off a power pack.

    The Lionel items that ran on DC current only include small steam engines like small 2-4-0 or 0-4-0 steamers and the Industrial Switcher. There are a few unusual exceptions like the 8005 General 4-4-0 from the James Gang set of 1980 or the separate sale 8001 Nickle Plate Road 2-6-4 or the 8007 New Haven 2-6-4 (both of these from 1980 also) from the New Englander set. Those big steamers are real exceptions in Lionel's DC only locos. K-Line also made a DC only S-2 train set that came with Southern Pacific single motored S-2 switcher.

    In all the starter set cases, these DC only locos were a cost cutting measure in an attempt to have low cost train sets available. With the addition of a basic Lionel circuit board, any of these locos can run just like other do, on AC current with forward-neutral-reverse operation. Or you can add in your own rectifier from an electronics store and run the loco in one direction on AC current.

    How do I know all this? I actually like the low cost DC only locos... not many seem to want them, so their prices are very attractive: I've paid as little as one dollar for one, and as much as $25.00 for two of them complete with tenders. All of them are easily detailed and improved to not only look better, but to also run much better. Plus I actually run my layout on DC current and rather like it. I've found the lower end starter locos run better on DC current, minus the circuit boards.

    brianel, Agent 027

    "Praise the Lord. I may not have everything I desire, but the Lord has come through for what I need."

  • Just so anyone who tries Brianel's style of DC operation isn't surprised, here's a little complication that comes with three-rail DC:

    Trains with a single locomotive will do fine.  You must coordinate the directions of multiple locomotives however.  Two-rail DC has the very useful property that all the locomotives at the head of a train go in the same direction, regardless of which way you point them.  This is not true with three-rail DC.  If you want to run two geeps, for example, with their cabs facing in opposite directions (which is how the prototypes usually are), you will have to wire them differently.  So multiple units have to be coupled together with everybody agreeing on which way is forward.

    Or you can install a DPDT switch to reverse the motor connections on each locomotive that might need to run backwards sometime.

    Bob Nelson

  •  Thanks for your fast response. This information helps me a lot.





  •  I heard they were good in concert.

    Modeling the "FARGO AREA RAPID TRANSIT" in O scale 3 rail.

  • Just so anyone who tries Brianel's style of DC operation isn't surprised, here's a little complication that comes with three-rail DC......

    YES, Bob's observation is quite correct. One could suppose this is a small liability, but if you know the way you'll want to run locos, it does make setting them up to run together flawlessly quite easy - but then that's the way they will run.

    There are some other liabilities, but as I've said, I've found that the lesser expensive DC can motored truck mounted locos do run better on DC current minus circuit boards. And that was my inspiration for making the change.

    brianel, Agent 027

    "Praise the Lord. I may not have everything I desire, but the Lord has come through for what I need."

  • Here's a little trick for those who might want to change to DC operation but have some locomotives with traditional universal motors:  Those will already run on DC; but they don't respond to the polarity of the voltage in the way the permanent-magnet can motors do.  You can fix that by replacing the e-unit with a bridge rectifier module, like this one:

    You can remove or disconnect the e-unit, or just step it into neutral and shut it off.  Then all you do is connect one of the rectifier's ~ terminals to the pickup, the other to the green wire that goes to the motor field terminal.  Connect the rectifier's + and - terminals to the yellow and blue wires (or two yellow wires) that go to the motor's brushes.

    Bob Nelson

  •  As some of you know and have helped me out with info... I am working on getting a 1666 loco to operational status. I am thinking of possibly running my loco on DC. I have several DC packs and I was looking at the rectifier change in this post.

    I found some MRC tech 2 1500 power packs that I had packed up.

    What are the goodpoints and the badpoints to running AC? DC? 



  • I have a K-Line Pacemaker set that I bought a couple of years ago to set up with my nephew to play with on the carpet. I play around with that engine alot as it is my test bed for different things and I don't run it on a permanent layout. I bought the entire set new on sale for $107 so I'm not crying about anything that happens to it. I pulled the e-unit (or whatever the electronic board in it is called) out and ran power straight to the motor from the pickups. I've been running it on DC from a Kato powerpack that I had on an n-scale layout. It actually runs much smoother than on AC. Since I'm not running more than just it by itself and it is only on a temporary loop, I don't have any issues with multiple units together. That engine is also modified to run on outside 3rd rail and I have sliders for running on stud rail. Long story behind that but as I said that engine is my test bed for other things.

    Since I have Easy DCC running on my n-scale layout, I may install a speaker in the tender and a DCC board in the engine and see how it does that way too. 3 rail DCC! I don't see why it won't work and it would eliminate any problems with engine directions in multiple unit lashups as you can program "forward" on each engine to be whatever way you want it to be. I'll try it one of these days since I already have everything. I've got a board that I can install in it that is meant for an Atlas O engine so it shouldn't be much of an issue to try. I really like running on DC though.

  • DC is quieter.  There are several ways of doing DC:

    o  DC on the track, reversing by e-unit.  This is the traditional Lionel way.  You will have to disable any whistle.  Otherwise locomotives of any age will work without modification.

    o  DC on the track, reversing by voltage polarity.  You will have to disable any whistle.  For a locomotive with a permanent-magnet DC "can" motor, just connect the motor directly to the wheels and pickup.  For a locomotive with a traditional universal motor, replace the e-unit by a bridge rectifier, or wire the motor for permanent one-direction operation.

    o  AC on the track, reversing by e-unit.  The whistle can remain.  For a modern locomotive, no modification--this is how it runs anyway.  For a universal motor, put a bridge rectifier upstream of the e-unit and motor combination.

    An auxiliary DPDT reversing switch on the locomotive is an option for the first two methods.



    Bob Nelson

  • For starters Cleve, the MRC Tech 2 packs will probably not have enough power to meet the power requirements of a postwar locomotive. I've tried using a MRC power pack and with a modern DC dual can motored loco (no horn, no added electronics) it just barely had enough power to run that with one lighted car.

    At one time beginning in the late 1980's before the advent of TMCC, most Lionel trains were being made with DC can motors instead of the more expensive open frame AC "Pulmor" motors. A good many of these locos didn't have horns in them either. The power requirements of these locos versus a typical postwar or MPC-era loco with a traditional Lionel motor are very different. The locos with truck mounted DC can motors run like jack rabbits with a typical Lionel transformer as most have a low starting voltage of 6 volts to the track. The Lionel 1033 and the RW both have variable options that allow a zero starting voltage with a lower high range voltage, which is good for running these basic types of what I call "starter" locomotives.

    I will note here, since the advent of command control, even though these locos may also have DC motors, many of them have larger veritically mounted DC motors and with the additional electronics, actually require much more power to run.

    I like DC current operation as I run many of these so-called cheaper Lionel and K-Line locos that have truck mounted DC can motors. By removing the circuit boards, I often have more room in the loco to add some additional weight, which allows removal of most if not all traction tires. On shorter length locos, this eliminates stalling. It also reduces the "growl" noise made by dual motored locos on tight 0127 curves, which is made worse by two motors with traction tires on opposite sides of the loco, when going around those tight curves.

    I use my old favorite, the Lionel 1033 with a self-made covertor box: Basically a full-wave bridge rectifier with a double post - double throw switch. Lionel also made a covertor box for running their G gauge trains with a normal transformer and I have one of those too. You can still find those on eBay... just look for "Lionel DC."

    As Lionelsoni mentioned, there are some drawbacks. Tender whistles is one. But I much prefer off-board sounds, so I took the whistle unit out of a Lionel tender and moutned it inside a Plasticville building running off auxiliary power from another transformer and that suits me fine.

    There are some other challenges, but I'm a creative person and part of the fun is coming up with new solutions to these things. I know I'm the odd guy in train world, but I like the way my layout works and I like running the so-called cheaper trains on DC current. Via the 1033 using the A-U setting, my postwar and MPC locos run fine too.

    I guess I'm also the odd guy too because I'm happy with my trains and I have no real troubles I can't fix myself. I've had no trouble with DOA locos or service or anything of the like. In my 20 years, I've not once had any of my train locos fail. Given the many complaints and grumbling you read on the train forums about what is wrong with trains, warranty service, lack of parts, or what is/or isn't being made, I am the odd guy.

    I've said it before, but sometimes simple really is much better... at least for me. I run trains for fun, not frustration.

    brianel, Agent 027

    "Praise the Lord. I may not have everything I desire, but the Lord has come through for what I need."

  • Thanks for the info... that sounds reasonable to me. I'll use the power packs I have to run accessories, lighting, etc.... I think I'll rebuild the 1666 with the stock e-unit and maybe I'll try D.C. power later. Since I am working on an electrical degree I shouldn't have any problem building a conversion box when the time comes.

    Thanks again to all that have contributed here.