From the instruction manual posted on the Lionel website:
Your PowerMax Transformer provides a total output of 1.8 amps. Also, available voltage depends on how much load is on the output. Generally, track voltage is 0-16 volts (AC). You may momentarily approach or exceed the 1.8 amp limit of the PowerMax Transformer when pulling illuminated cars, or fighting over grades with heavy loads. When you reach 1.8 amps, the green light on the Transformer will begin to flash. This indicates that the Transformer is in "fold-back mode." In fold-back mode, the Transformer is automatically reducing, or folding back, power. This gradual reduction in power provides interruption-free power while bringing the amperage back down to a safe level. If this condition lasts for more than 30 seconds, the transformer will shut off the power to the track and the green light will continue to flash. Move the throttle to the off position to reset the Transformer and return to normal operation.
I heartily agree with you Dr. John, that Lionel has yet to outdo the basic performance, versatility and reliability of the #1033 transformer for beginner to mid-size table top layouts.
But I am inclined to not dump on Lionel about this new transformer until we hear complaints similar to that for the CW-80. My understanding is that this PowerMax is included with the Target set and the NASCAR sets. It sounds to me like the transformer has enough power to do what it is intended to do with what comes with the set. The Lionel instructions do say it will operate a horn, whistle and also Railsounds. Even the basic cheap no-frills K-Line pre-Power Chief transformer ran the trains just fine and had enough power to run the locomotive and a couple of lighted cars, plus control the uncoupling track.
Granted, these small transfomers do not lend themselves to the beginning buyer growing into the hobby. It would be nice if Lionel's instructions said as much, but that might seem to negative. The following statement, also from the PowerMax instructions is certainly a little misleading, since there are no accessory posts, nor the power to run them:
Congratulations on your purchase of the Lionel PowerMax Transformer! This device combines a high output control unit and an internal power supply, providing your railroad with all the power you need for a small- to medium-sized layout.
I'm not prepared to dump of Lionel for making this move. I do feel the instruction should indicate that the growing modeler is going to need a larger transformer to power a layout. But I'm sure Lionel is trying to curb costs while maintaining some level of introductory quality. The Target exclusive set does seem to offer some bang for the buck.
But I've also always felt Lionel should put less effort and money into the high end and focus on making the lower end more affordable and of the highest quality possible. Lionel does no national advertising. The starter set is the business card for the future. It would be a wise move to inform the new buyer of the real truth that this new PowerMax transformer will NOT offer the power needed for even a small layout if there are any additional accessories or lights. It might be a good PR move of goodwill to even make available a discounted second transformer of this type available (or even the cataloged "Accessory Transformer") to the new customer from Lionel direct. Even that wouldn't power many lights or accessories, but at least it would power some. the PowerMax won't cut it on that level of performance.
I did however get a real charge out of the illustrations showing how to hook up the PowerMax to your track... 027 track!
Long live 027 track! Yes, there was an illustration for hooking up to FasTrack too, but you would think with the inclusion of FasTrack in the sets and all the hype, that the FasTrack instructions would have been given the main emphasis and shown first, not 027 track. Maybe 027 track will be back again in current train sets?