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Learn to wire your model train layout like a pro! Thanks to some simple tips and tricks from our specialists.

Wiring under your model train layout

Wiring under your model railroad, the lifeblood of any model railroad! We tell you our secret to trouble-free model railroading! It is really not difficult to wire your model train track properly. With a few simple tips and tricks, any layman can properly and safely supply a model railroad with wires, cables and as we call it a decent infrastructure! At Domburg Train Support, “installation engineering” as we so nicely call it is our daily work. Since 2015, we have been building, automating, overhauling and digitizing an average of 3-4 model railroads per year. And to this day, all those tracks are still running their rounds trouble-free and trouble-free.

How we wire under the model train layout? That’s no secret, and in this blog we’ll help you get started with our FREE online installation technology training in the DTS Academy.

Why is wiring so important?

A question we get asked regularly, and rightly so. Technology has been an underexposed and underappreciated aspect of our hobby for years. Somehow we should be happy about that because we make a full-time living refurbishing this technology as a result. And even though it is a livelihood, we think it is tremendously important to have good education about the installation technology under the model railroad. Many people do not realize that not only can failure to properly install the technology lead to a malfunctioning model railroad, fire and electrocution hazards should not be excluded. We may be working with a safe voltage, but the currents are anything but harmless. A current in a short circuit has an infinitely high current (Ampere), which is why we can use it to weld and melt metals, for example. This is limited by, if you do it right, the power supply tripping, or the wiring burning out. And we don’t want that on a wooden model railroad…..

The consequence of a Chinese power supply without security

Chinese power supplies

In 2021, we published a warning about the use of a certain food sold in the Netherlands. This food was widely circulated by the then manufacturer without prior proper research into its safety. Unfortunately, a fire broke out at 3 customers of ours after the power supply failed to turn off when a short circuit occurred in one of the connected components. In this video, we test such a power supply for short-circuit protection. The result speaks for itself.

What is the secret to a safe installation?

There isn’t, or at least it’s not a secret. In fact, later you will find that it is all logic that we are telling you. Only with me there is a piece of craftsmanship involved. With over 25 years of experience in installation engineering, I find that wiring a model railroad is as simple as breathing for me. And for that, I do have some secrets that I like to share with you.

Please note that installation engineering does not mean that you know much about model railroad engineering. I may know a lot in the area of cabling and wiring, but in the area of digital model railroad technology I was a real “layman” (Vakterm for incompetent person) in the beginning. For me, this was just aba, that digital. I know perfectly well how to connect a Dahlander motor, how to create a right-turning field when a pump turns the wrong way. But don’t ask me how such a decoder works.

I have learned that by now, how? Just by doing. Don’t be afraid, and what I did most of all was ask. Ask the people who build the technology, who work with it, and with that knowledge, go test yourself. My first revelation is as simple as it is true: Those who are afraid to make mistakes learn nothing and remain stupid

Would you like to continue with your model railroad, but can't see the wood for the trees because of the technology? Then we can help you! DTS is known for their right home support!
Tiebacks are an inexpensive and simple way to neatly hide wires.

A few simple rules of thumb

Before I start telling my secrets, I will first show you some building blocks that will make for excellent wiring under the model train layout without fear of having to replace it in 5 years.

Use good quality products for wiring under your model train layout

Actually, quite naturally. Yet we often see plenty of Chinese imports, electronics especially, or products from the hardware store such as solid installation wire and terminal blocks without conductor protection. A great shame and the reason of cost savings is nonsense! Online shopping is often cheaper….

Wiring sleeves and tie backs give peace of mind

Eyelets, staples, nails, we see them often enough. Wire hanging loose, or stretched. The source of many failures. Then I leave order and cleanliness aside for a moment. The chances of pulling a wire apart are very high and for that reason alone we use simple tools such as tie backs and wiring sleeves to stow away wires safely and “at rest.” In the process, wires get hot when you put a heavy load on them and then copper expands, when stripped they cool down again. When the weight of the wire hangs with this, sooner or later it will collapse and that will lead to wire breaks.

Always use flexible cores

Our biggest eyesore is the use of solid installation wire as wiring under your model train layout. Quite apart from its laboriousness, it is extremely unsuitable . This is due to a physical factor called“Ski Effect.” Here the electrons do not move through the core of the vein as you will think, but along the sides because they are counteracted in the middle. This causes them to move to the outside of the vein. In the case of a digital voltage, a 2.5 mm² solid installation wire has the conductive capacity of 0.5 mm². On the other hand, if you use flexible cores, then the effect applies to each one individually. As a result, high-frequency voltages work better on flexible cores than on solid cores.

Special thanks go to Drenth Design & Consulting for their research on the Ski Effect in Digital DCC applications.

Always work in star form

The use of a star-shaped design with central distribution points enhances reliability and productivity. On the one hand, it is simpler to construct, less error-prone and therefore cheaper. On the other side during failures, easier to disconnect sections and exclude clusters from the failure. In almost all cases, it is more efficient and better to wire in star formation.

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You can find more explanation of these rules of thumb in our DTS Academy. We also explain here why it is better not to use a “loop wire” and multiple tips on wiring under your model railroad.

And now for the big secret….

I boldly claim that I can install the wiring under your model train layout without drawing, without coding wires, without drawing schematics and without remembering what I did. And then even after 10 years can easily find a fault. How I do that? The big secret of my work is:

STOP THINKING!

What nonsense, I can hear you thinking right now. And that’s where it immediately goes wrong again, the thinking has to stop. The first thing we teach in our profession is to automate your processes. After all, when do we humans make mistakes? Just when we start thinking. Not convinced?

Simple exercise:
Start paying attention to your breathing, how long does it take you to forget to breathe?
Pay attention to how you walk, are you still walking straight or are you hitching?

Just very basic exercises of processes that we as humans generally perform flawlessly 24/7 without thinking about it. That is directly the secret of the blacksmith, automate your process and stop thinking!

I hear, I need to explain a little more specifically what I mean.

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My method for wiring under your model train layout
step by step

Before I start the wiring under your model train layout I first make sure I have decided on a few elements:

1. What colors of wires will I use?

When you get started, it is helpful to choose a particular color of wire for each function. There are generally 11 different colors available. Above all, choose colors that contrast with each other. So no red/brown or pink/white, then under the track you have to think again about which color you really see, your brain quickly fools you.

Just as an example:

  • Digital A (Sometimes P, O, K or simply +) the color red
  • Digital B (Sometimes N, B, J or just -) the color black
  • Supply voltage 0V (GND or Ground) the color blue
  • Supply voltage 12V+ the color yellow
  • Supply voltage 18V+ the color gray

The 0V of all supply voltages hang together!

So now you don’t have to think about that when wiring. In addition to power wires, we also consider the consumers:

  • 3 colors for magnetic coils depending on the manufacture
  • 2 colors for the rails, 1 for the continuous rail and 1 for the busy signals.
  • 1 color for point piece polarizations
  • 1 color for signals
  • 1 color for lighting

And so you can go on and on. Above all, determine colors in a way you find convenient. After all, the point is not to have to think about what the function of a color is when you see it. And that varies from person to person.

2. Determine wire thicknesses.

I personally use the same diameters of wire for all jobs in Z, N, TT and H0 scales. Because then I won’t have to think about that while wiring either

Power distribution: 1.5 mm² flexible conductor, so from power supply/booster to the distribution points (clusters)
Power supply decoders: 0.75 mm² flexible wire, think of busy signal modules, switch and signal encoders, etc.
Power supply consumers: 0.2 mm² flexible wire, think of the detectors, blocks, switches and signals

The wire thicknesses are also easily distinguishable from each other, which also minimizes the chance of error.

3. Define your clusters

Determine where you will place the distribution points on your layout

We usually use PTFIX distribution blocks for this purpose. Think of it as large colored crownstones connecting all the wires connected to them. Very suitable for our applications.

My rule of thumb is to make a distribution point every 3 meters. Thus, I have a range of 1.5 meters around the distribution point in which I bring all the wiring to that point. Thus, wire lengths are also always kept within limits.

4. Apply a main piping route

Now I lay a wiring sleeve from the feed point along all the distribution points. This will be my main wiring tray. This runs all power supplies and any consumers such as detectors, coils, signals and lights.

At least 10 cm away from this, lay a second wiring duct for data and communications. Consider the S88 bus, RS485, LocoNet, XpressNet or Servo controls.

5. Position all electronics

Under the layout, place all the busy signal modules, switch decoders, signal encoders, whatever you wish. Do this in a place as close to the consumers as possible. You can take a central point to place everything in a cluster, as long as you observe the maximum wire length of 4 meters from the consumers.
It is best to mount the modules as it is so nicely called “decentralized”.

wiring under the model railroad
Wiring under the model layout, a chaos at first glance, or just an organized chaos?

6. Connect the front!

Now we are going to wire. Not yet the wiring under your model railroad itself, but the front end as we call it. For us, the model layout has an imaginary dividing line which runs through the components. On the front of each decoder is the power supply and control, on the back is the consumer such as the detector, coil or signal.

First, we make the front end all right:
A: Apply power wires from power supply/booster to all distribution points with 1.5 mm2 flexible wires.

B: Give each switch and signal decoder two wires power and two wires digital signal with 0.75 mm2 in the colors chosen from step 1. And take it to the nearest cluster.

C: Now connect all clusters one by one by connecting color by color to the PTFIX distribution blocks.

D: Apply all communications such as LocoNet, S88n, CAN, ExpressNet, R-Bus or RS485.

If this is successful, which is a matter of keeping colors on, then you are done at the front. Now comes the fun part, commissioning. Apply power to the system and verify that each module is functioning, and the central unit can communicate with all digital decoders. If you have succeeded in this then the front end is ready and the model railroad can be connected to it.

7. Connecting model track

Now we are going to connect the model railroad. Most of the work of wiring under your model train layout. In addition to clusters, divide this into projects. Don’t try to do everything at once, but try to work in small projects. from here on we only use the wire thickness 0.2 mm²

  1. Solder all the busy signals to the rails and bring them in groups of 8 or 16 to the nearest busy signal module
  2. Connect the turnout coils in groups of 4 or 8 to the nearest turnout decoder
  3. Repeat this also with the signals

By making this into small projects each time and completing them in their entirety, you maintain a quick overview and are least likely to make mistakes.

8. Setting up the model railroad

Now comes the fun work, payback for much labor, setting up the model railroad. We no longer have to worry about feeds and communications. We completed those at the front in step 6. We will now complete the back end by telling each decoder one by one what it is supposed to do and testing that all the turnouts, signals and detectors work.

9. Fix malfunctions immediately

Now a coil may not switch properly, or a detector may not turn on, or a signal may not want to light. While testing in step 8, you’re bound to come across some, it happens to me too. Address these immediately and fix the malfunction immediately. Important key is not to think, that will work out. No that doesn’t work, you have to forge iron while it’s hot.

10. Enjoy

The track is set up, everything works, there are no failures. Congratulations!
At this point, you can clean up everything and start enjoying yourself. also immediately throw away all your notes and revisions. as of now, you only have two truths left: The computer software and the multimeter.

These are the two essential factors you can build on. If steps 8 and 9 are completed then the software is correct, all components have the correct address and not least, everything is functioning properly. The wiring under your model train layout is fine This is your “zero point.” The moment when everything is right.

The rules are very simple, and you can always depend on them:

A: The software does not work properly if the information is incorrect
B: The Multimeter never lies, especially the pass-through mode is my favorite.

Contact Domburg Train Support
Cat in the box right? just like building a model railroad in 3 days…..

You may think again

Yet that remains the moral, stop thinking. As you have read I have no secret in what I do, I just know what I do. And that’s where the difference is immediately, I do it.

Above all, don’t be afraid to go ahead and do it, don’t get too excited, don’t start thinking up all kinds of difficult diagrams in advance and waste your time figuring out how the wires are going to run. Now just let LOGICA do its job and enjoy the fine feeling of getting rid of wires. Really, it works very therapeutically. To create order one will first have to have chaos .

If you want to know more about this now, please contact us. I am happy to tell you everything you want to know about wiring under your model train layout.

Kind regards,
Martin Domburg

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