Lionel Fastrack electrical problems

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Lionel Fastrack electrical problems

  • Just finished the track work for a small oval "permanent" layout for my grandsons.  It has 0-36 curves at the ends, four 0-36 switches - one at each corner - leading into the curves through the curved leg and into four very short sidings through the straight legs, and an 0-72 switch on one straight section leading into a siding parallel with the "mainline."  It is screwed down through the holes provided in the sections into a very solid base.

    When we tried to run the Lionel Alco S2/4 switch engine and a short train Christmas morning, we ran into a series of electrical problems, which seemed to involve the switches.  Sections of track simply went dead.  There was no indication of a short visually or on the transformer.  If we banged on the track near the switch, the track usually came back to life.  It didn't matter which way the train ran or whether it was running forward or reverse.  It only happened when the engine ran over one of two switches.  Then the track "ahead" of the engine (or maybe the switch itself, hard to tell) went dead along with some pieces ahead of the switch.

    I am a scale railroader and have not had experience with Lionel since my 1950's magna traction and tubular steel track days.  But I do not remember anything like this sort of problem.

    So, questions:  (1) Have any of you had problems with electrical continuity with Fastrack?  If so, how did you resolve them?  (2)  In two-rail scale we drop feeder electrical lines down from each "piece" of track so that current is not carried by rail joiners alone.  Does one do this with Fastrack?  How??  (3)  Has anyone had this sort of problem with Fastrack switches?

    I'm planning on talking with the folks at the local hobby shop who recommended Fastrack over Atlas for their take on this tomorrow.  Any help from your experience would be deeply appreciated by both this novice and his grandson!

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  • Hi,

    I use FasTrack and FasTrack switches and have never experienced any continuity issues or FasTrack switch problems.  I have a small loop (3’ x 3’6”) under the Christmas tree right now and only have one power feed to the track, but this loop has no switches.  How large is your oval?  You can use drop feeds with FasTrack as you have done in two-rail scale.  I have built small permanent ovals (5’6” x 10’; 3’ x 6’) before but still used drop feeders to ensure solid power around the oval.  Are your switches manual or remote?  The permanent ovals I have and have had use(d) three manual switches.  I know either switch can be configured for track power or auxiliary power.  I have my switches on track power, but I have read where users have wired manual and more so, remote switches, for auxiliary power to prevent or resolve power issues with the turnouts. 

    I hope this helps and I’m sure others will provide solid answers as well.  I have used FasTrack for over three years now and I believe it is a great system.  Were all the track sections new when you bought them?  It is possible one or two of your section is bad so you may need to check each section for connectivity.  Also, did you verify all the sections had all the pins in them and were properly connected to each other?  I know that seems simple, but you never know. 



  • Joe,

    Thanks for the reply.  The straight sides are 34.5" long, so I guess the oval to be about 70"(?) long.  All five switches are electrically operated.  All of the track and all of the switches were purchased new from a reliable hobby shop.  There were no missing pins that I noticed, though I'll check that again.

    Couple of questions:  (1) How did you do drop feeders?  Did you solder to the rails, something inside?  (2)  Have you ever used a liquid contact enhancer?  I've seen them advertised but not used them.

    Thanks again.


  • No worries Bob,

    Your oval is not very big.  I should have asked what kind of transformer you use as well.  I typically use Lionel's CW-80. If you're using a transformer with at least 90 Watts then you should be fine as far as a power supply goes for the type of trains you're running and powering your remote switches.

    As for the feeders: if you look at the terminal track piece (the track connected to the transformer) you use now, you'll see the red (center rail) and black (outside rail) wires are connected to this piece with a small quick connectors.  I believe Lionel sells additional terminal wire sets but you can make your own by purchasing the quick connectors and wire yourself.  Here's a photo:,r:27,s:0,i:176

    I drop my feeders about every three feet and also on sidings - I have my sidings isolated and blocked.  I don't run feeders directly to my switches but mine are manual.  I purchased the quick connectors at Radio Shack but I know there are some online stores selling them in larger quantities for better prices.  I don't solder and I never used liquid contact enhancer; with FasTrack there is no need for those as it is very electrically sound and easy to drop feed.

    There is a group on Yahoo that is specifically geared towards FasTrack and you can find many answers on it, but I know some of its members post here as well.  I'm no expert so I hope this helps.


  • Thanks, Joe.  The photos make dropping feeders look pretty simple.  I'll try that.  I also spoke to my local hobby shop owner today, and he said pretty much the same thing, drop a feeder in front of the switch, too.  He also added that I should check the connections in the switch itself from the control box.  So, it's pretty much do some trouble-shooting.

    Thanks again.


  • I have seen the problem of intermittent power loss on FasTrack many times.  It is found on switch tracks more often than on regular tracks. 

    The first time I saw this problem was at a friends layout.  It is a massive 10 mainline layout over 700 square feet in size.  On one mainline there were usually 8 engines with there cars running or parked on sidings. The problem was that the center rail at the end of a few of the switch tracks was becoming very hot and in a few cases even melted some of the plastic.

    The first thing that I looked for was a short circuit but could not find any.  All of the trains ran well.  The problem turned out to be the center rail connecting pin.  This pin "floats" inside of the hollow tubular rail and is not permanently connected to the rail.  With all of the engines on this mainline there was a high current draw on the track and the center pin on the switch track would intermittently make and break thereby causing arcing inside of the track which then became hot.

    The fix is simple.  Just solder the end of the pin to the tab that is near it on the underside of the track and there is no more arcing. 

    The other problem with this layout was that there were no down drops to supply power to the track.  While you are fixing the above problem you can solder some down drops to the small tabs on the underside of the track and connect them to a buss line (one for ground and one for hot).  I used different color #12 wire for each mainline and a bare #12 wire for common ground. (all is now fine)

    If you layout is already screwed down you can always drill a hole and solder a couple of wires to the outside of the rails.  Running a buss line under the layout with the correct size wire is "old school"  from my tinplate days.  FasTrack is nice stuff but don't assume those little tabs that hold it all together underneath are great electrical connections.  Run the buss lines and down drops and you layout will be trouble free and easy to service if there are any problems.

  • Koala,

    Thanks for the input.  Since several of you veteran FasTrack users have suggested dropping feeders, that is my next step.  Curiously, the problem seems to be in the switch itself.  There is an insulated gap in one of the outside curved rails ("diverging" side), and, if I put my finger on the gap when the power has  suddenly shut off, the power comes back on for the down section.  You don't have to bump it, just touch it.  Well, maybe I have magic fingers, but I'm not counting on it!