Lionel 153 Block Signal

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Lionel 153 Block Signal

  • Hi. I have a c.1950 Lionel block signal (screw-base bulbs) which I have been operating using its 153C contactor.  I am using only the green-to-red light change feature (not trying to actually control any blocks).  Does anyone operate this signal using an insulated rail, and if so, how is it wired so that the green light goes off while the red is on?  Thanks for your help.

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  • When wiring with an insulated rail I use a 12V SPDT relay form Scott's Odds n Ends.  Wire hot / power to the relay center contact.  Run the power lead for green lamp to the normally closed contact and the power lead for the red lamp to the normally open contact.  Run power to one lead of the relay coil.  Connect the other coil lead to the insulated rail.  Connect the common to the block signal as usual.

    When there is no train in the block the relay coil is not energized and power flows through the normally closed contact to the green lamp.  When the train enters the block, the wheels complete the power circuit to the coil energizing the relay and pulling the normally open contacts closed, thereby switching power to the red lamp.

    - Luther

    Luther Stanton ---------------------------------------------- ACL - The Standard Railroad of the South
  • Will this relay work with any Lionel block signal??

  • I found an easier way to wire Lionel block signals, run the wire from the hot terminal to the block signal and wire it where you would normaly wire the common, then run a common to the green light and use an insulating section of track(outside rail insulated) and run a wire to the red light from the insulated section of track. I did it this way and I know when a train or uncoupled freight car is on the backside of my layout, where I can not say it that easy.

    Lee F.

    Interested in southest Pennsylvania railroads; Reading & Northern, Reading Company, Reading Lines, Philadelphia & Reading.
  • If I understand what Lee is describing, it will leave the green light on permanently.

    There is a simple way to operate a signal from a control rail (an insulated outside rail), which I have described a number of times on the forum, using only an extra incandescent lamp:

    Connect the green lamp's terminal to the layout common, that is, the outside rails generally.  Connect the red lamp's terminal to the supply, whether the center rail or a separate accessory supply.  Connect the signal's common (the terminal connected to both lamps) to the control rail.  Then connect an extra lamp in parallel with the red lamp, that is, effectively between the supply and the control rail.  The extra lamp should have the same voltage rating as the signal lamps but draw twice the current.  When the signal lamps are number 52s or 53s, as they often are or could be, a number 57 is ideal as the extra lamp.  An alternative is to use two extra lamps in parallel, of the same type as in the signal.

    A couple of years ago, I was surprised to come across almost the same idea in an old book I was reading.  [Raymond F. Yates, Making and Operating Model Railroads, D. Appleton-Century, New York, 1943]  It was attributed to Albert C. Kalmbach, the founder of the very company that sponsors this web site.  The difference was that he used an ordinary resistor in place of the extra lamp.  However, lamps work much better in this circuit.

    Bob Nelson

  • Thanks everyone. I didn't realize I would need a relay or extra bulbs.

  • Of course, you can simply hide the extra lamp.  But I like the idea of using the lamp(s) in some lighted accessory, like the 195 floodlight tower, located somewhere on the layout far from the 153 signal so that it's not obvious that they are related.

    Bob Nelson

  • Hello Bob.  I just finished wiring the block signal according, I think, to your directions,  I'm not sure what a 57 bulb is, but I just used a typical 14-18 volt screw base bulb (like one might use in a postwar 2025 engine), and it seemed to work o.k.  When I run the train around the loop the extra bulb is off when the block signal's green light is on and red off, and the extra bulb is on when the block signal's red is on and green is off.  Does this sound correct?  Thanks again for the wiring information.


  • You've got it right!  The 57 is just a 14-volt lamp that draws about twice the current that one of the signal lamps draws.  Whatever lamp you used must be big enough that it did the job.

    Thanks for posting your result.  I don't know how many times I've posted that circuit; but you're the first person to report using it.  It's nice to know that someone got some good out of it.

    Bob Nelson

  • Bob, one final question.  Does the 153C contactor have this resistance built into it, or how exactly does it cause the block signal to work properly?

  • The 153c is simply a single pole double throw switch activated by the weight of the train.


  • When I did this install and powered it up both lights on the signal came on. When I activated the rail the extra light came on and one of the bulbs on the signal was brighter.

    I have the earlier signal with the resistor on it. Could it be bad?
  • Recheck your wiring.

    If the resistor was open, the lights would not work. If it was shorted, the 6 volt bulbs would burn out if you operate the accessory much above 6 volts.


  • The resistor is probably not bad; but it is the reason why the circuit isn't working for you.  If you don't mind a slight modification to the signal, you can make it work:  Just put a wire jumper around the resistor to effectively take it out of the circuit.  It wouldn't matter if you actually removed the resistor; but this way you can always restore the signal to its original condition.

    The purpose of the resistor was to allow use of lower-voltage (7-volt) lamps.  Why Lionel thought this was a good idea, I don't know.  You will have to replace these with 14-volt lamps with screw bases, not the bayonet bases that later 153s used.  The number-52 lamp is suitable.  (  You will probably have to color the lamps yourself.  For the hidden lamp, use 57, 1449, or two 52s or 53s in parallel, or any 14-volt, 200 milliampere or greater lamp.

    It might be less trouble to find a later-model 153.

    Bob Nelson