New Lionel "PowerMax" starter transformer

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New Lionel "PowerMax" starter transformer

  • Some starter sets may contain a new less-powerful transformer rather than the CW-80. Using virtually the same case as the CW, the "PowerMax" can provide only about THIRTY watts. (The specs say "30 volt-amps." Volt-amps are virtually the same thing as watts.) It does not have any accessory posts, programable or fixed.

    From a distance the only way to distinguish it from the more powerful CW-80 is to note that the PowerMax has only one pair of output posts on the back -- a view that is seldom seen on packaging or promotional literature.

    The Owner's Manual is available online at under Customer Service. The product number of the manual is 71-4275-250, dated 6/06.

    Based on comments in another Forum, I believe that the existence of this transformer is not yet widely known. Folks who are planning to buy Lionel starter sets are advised to be certain what they are actually getting by way of a transformer.
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  • 30 watts, will that even run a 4-4-2 starter engine? My first starter set had a 40 watt transformer and would run the 4-4-2 engine around the track for a few laps, and then it would start to slow down. Extended run time and the engine started balking.

    Its a major drawback to Lionel sets. MTH has always had a decent transformer in their sets. Why cant Lionel overcome this problem?

    K-line, in my opinion, Had the best with their 100-120 watt transformers in their better sets.


  • The toy train gods should mandate that 100 watts be the absolute minimum available in transformers. Whistle, bell, and reverse buttons should also be mandatory. Pure sine waves would be quite nice as well.



    See the Scenic Jumijo Railroad in CTT and OGR magazines! 

  • Can it be true that Lionel has done away with the CW(Can't Work)-80 watt transformer?  All the negative posts about the CW-80 and all the defective ones at my local hobby shop makes me it was due to happen.

    A nice 75 watt transformer with whistle would do well in starter sets.

    Lee F.

    Interested in southest Pennsylvania railroads; Reading & Northern, Reading Company, Reading Lines, Philadelphia & Reading.
  • The "powers that be" at Lionel claim that they are aware of the CW-80's shortcomings and are going to address them.
    Hopefully, a less-powerful version without accessory posts -the PowerMax-  is not their answer.
    I wonder why Lionel resists putting better, more powerful transformers in their set? It seems that if they want to keep customers coming back, you would want them to have a positive experience and provide for expansion. The PowerMax does not seem to offer this. RailKing and K-Line both seemed to understand this.
    Oh for the days of the 1033! IMHO, the perfect transformer for a starter set. 
  • 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?

    brianel, Agent 027

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

  • Thirty watts just doesn't cut it, in my opinion. I could see perhaps 50 (ala the MTH Z500), but 75-80 watts should, in my opinion, be pretty much a standard power supply with most starter sets.  And fixed-voltage accessory should terminals also be an intergal part of any starter set transformer (again, my opinion) if the idea is to get folks to expand and add-to their empires (an idea preached and practiced by Joshua Lionel Cowen).
  • Brianel,
    I really am not dumping on Lionel. And I am happy that they brought out the Target set. I think it is a good quality, introductory set with a solid die-cast engine, nice cars and some real play value. I am very seriously considering purchasing one myself.
    My point is that I wish Lionel would focus on working the bugs out of the CW-80 rather than put out another transformer with obviously limited capabilities. I am one of the lucky ones that has a CW-80 that works very well. It has plenty of power for a small layout and operates both bells and whistles/horns, plus it has accessory posts. I used it extensively on last year's Christmas layout and a small portable layout. The CW-80 is a very good transformer for a beginner set, assuming it is not one of the flawed ones.
    Perhaps Lionel is trying to save costs with the PowerMax. I wonder if families that buy the new Target set and then head to the hobby shop for some accessories will be disappointed to learn that their transformer is not up to the task. Of course they can buy a new transformer, but will they? My concern is that the limitations of the PowerMax may become a source of frustration for those just beginning in the hobby. I realize the days when Lionel offered a variety of transformers are over. It seems that their focus is moving the long-term hobbyist toward TMCC rather than conventional control. I wish that were not the case. And price-wise, it is a huge jump from the cost of a new CW-80 to a new ZW. And few novices are aware of the availability of refurbished postwar transformers. 
    Anyway, those are just my thoughts. I may well be wrong and the PowerMax may turn out to be a good idea. But I have my reservations. 
  •  Dr. John wrote:
     It seems that their focus is moving the long-term hobbyist toward TMCC rather than conventional control. I wish that were not the case. And price-wise, it is a huge jump from the cost of a new CW-80 to a new ZW. And few novices are aware of the availability of refurbished postwar transformers. 
    Amen, Dr. John!  I suspect that the current crop (or lack thereof) of transformers is intended to do just that:  drive folks away from transformers once they decide to go beyond the most basic starter outfit.  I believe that this push is a monumental mistake.  It caters to a segment of the market which is not only smaller than Lionel hopes for but also incapable of really growing the market outside its current limits. 
    Aside from the cost and complexity concerns that attend expanding the market with CC, limited availability hinders growth. 
  • I believe the 30W transformer might work well for an inexpensive small starter set.   90% of the first time purchase people out there buy just one set and no accessories (think NASCAR fans and my first set 40 years ago).   If a 30W transformer helps Lionel keep the price low I hope it works out.  Actually, I have lot of little transformers!  I like to be able to set them at different voltages and each can run switches or an accessory (or two) or perhaps a separate loop.  Lionel may have been short sighted not going with a 50W if they could offer 50W without a fan (and extra cost).   Or perhaps in a few years they plan on adding a "new" more powerful PowerMaxII 50W transformer.   Since neither Thomas or any of their freight sets include lighted cars, the 30W should work fine. 

    I hope everyone turns their nose up at the PowerMax.  Then I can scarf them up on ebay for cheap to run accessories!


    Jim H 

  • I'm so sorry Dr. John. Other than the comment on the 1033 where I am really with you, the rest of what I said was from my own feelings and not referencing what you said at all.

    I suppose I should have closed with mentioning how I agreed with you on the 1033, and then everything else would have seemed more separate. My apologies.

    brianel, Agent 027

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

  • Brianel,
    No apologies necessary. I did not feel like you were digging at me or really even disagreeing. I enjoyed your comments and they just spurred me to "talk" a bit more. Like I said, I was not dumping on Lionel but I didn't really feel like you were accusing me of that anyway. I was only responding in a general sense.
    You always share good insights regarding the more "traditional" side of the hobby. I tend to agree with you that the train manufacturers would be better served if they focused more on conventional locomotives and controls. I have no problem with TMCC or DCS, they are great innovations and provide a great deal of enjoyment to a lot of hobbyists. As one who hopes that these manufacturers stay around a while longer, I want them to make smart business decisions.
    I do think the Target set is a good move by Lionel. And maybe the PowerMax is too, though I am not convinced.  I suppose I should allow those with experience with the PowerMax to chime in before I pass judgement. I still wish Lionel had produced something in the 100 to 150 watt range, something akin to Williams transformer. Grante, that would be more than you would expect in a starter set, but I think would have an appeal to folks wanting to go farther in the hobby without going the command control route.
    In my opinion, the old K-Line did the best job of catering to the traditional niche with good starter sets with strong, solid transformers. Then they went heavily into the high end scale market and we know what happened then. I still hold out hope that Lionel will bring back some of the old K-Line products (track, transformers, and more) but we will have to wait and see on that.
    Well, I've managed to get somewhat off-topic (again!).  
  • Target and WalMart all require their venders to do "under pricing".  Maybe that is the way for Lionel to meet the price points required to get their starter sets in the stores.  Since I have been involved with Bass Pro and Cabela's, I've gotten some exposure from the manufacturer's side of the fence.  Now as for the 1033, AMEN.  BTW: anyone got a good used Post War KW or ZW for sale? Wink [;)]  I seem to be a collector of them. Approve [^]  

     God bless TCA 05-58541   Benefactor Member of the NRA,  Member of the American Legion,   Boss Hog of Roseyville Laugh,   KC&D QualifiedCowboy       


  • I strongly suspect that Chief Eagles is correct in his assessment that Wal*Mart and Target  prompted the manufacture of the PowerMax transformer in order to meet certain pricing goals.

    The fact is that the sole reason for my starting the thread was to alert potential buyers that there is a new transformer "out there" that looks almost identical to the widely recognized CW-80 but which actually is very different. 

    Some folks might well prefer the PowerMax to the CW-80; whereas others might think they were getting a CW-80 "on the cheap" and be disappointed. Clarification was all that was intended.

    Thanks to all who have read the post and taken the time to respond. It has been spirited!

  • Wolverine,

    Thank you for starting this thread. I appreciate the head's up about the new transformer.