Since this company was started more than 100 years ago, the model railroad hobby has seen many changes. Indeed Lionel has created many of the innovative features we now take for granted. Command control is perhaps the single greatest technological change to hit toy trains since electricity. Although command control is one of the most user-friendly innovations on the market, it still elicits lots of questions and doubts – especially if you haven’t been following the hobby for the past 30 years.
We’ll try to answer the most common questions here. Throughout the subsequent pages and videos you’ll find detailed instructions on how to install your system and control your trains, switches and accessories all a the touch of a button.
What is “Command Control?”
For nearly a century, train control was really quite simple. You put a train on the track, and by controlling the amount of voltage supplied from your transformer through the rails you could make the train speed up or slow down. It was like controlling the volume on a record player – and you could only play one record (train) at a time.
It didn’t take long before modelers figured out how to divide the track into smaller sections (blocks) attach multiple transformers and connect everything with toggle switches to assign each block to a different supply. This allowed a fair amount of independent control of multiple trains on the same layout. But wiring the blocks was a lot of work and you still needed one transformer for each train.
Command control is an entirely different means of operations. Now the voltage on the tracks stays constant (18 Volts AC with Lionel systems.) The locomotives are now more than just motors – they’ve gotten smarter with the addition of receivers (also often called decoders) that enable them to interpret specific signals. You give the command from your hand-held remote. This is transmitted to the rails via the base station and the locomotive knows what to do.
Now you can can send multiple commands to multiple locomotives, along with accessories, switches, action cars, etc. all from one cab! No more big control panels filled with rows of toggle switches – your entire platform is in the palm of your hand. The beauty of command control is that while the technology behind it may seem confusing and daunting, installing and operating it couldn’t be any easier.
How Do I Install this on my Layout?
Most command control installations are very simple. The total amount of hardware you’ll need depends on your layout and what you want to connect to command control. For example, do you want to control your switches remotely from the cab, or are you happy with manual controls or your existing remote wiring? You don’t have to convert everything, but you can if you want. The subsequent pages and our sample layout guide will help you figure out these specific needs for yourself.
At the minimum, you will need a command control system. Lionel’s first system was Train Master Command Control (TMCC), released in 1995. Although we no longer manufacture this product, we do still support it and it is still used in many places. Our current system, LEGACY, is even more versatile but no more complex. These systems attach to your existing layout with just a single wire.
To get the full range of operations, your locomotives too will need to be equipped to operate with TMCC or LEGACY. Please note that all of our LEGACY locomotives will operate on TMCC and conventional controlled layouts. Likewise, TMCC and LEGACY systems can also control conventional, TMCC and LEGACY equipped locomotives. You will however be limited by the capabilities of either the system or the train, whichever is less sophisticated. So a TMCC engine operating on LEGACY won’t have LEGACY features, and you won’t be able to access LEGACY-exclusive features in your locomotive if you are running it on TMCC or conventional control.
What About My Older Trains?
While we look to the future here, we never forget our past. You can run conventional trains on a TMCC or LEGACY layout. You just won’t have all the features of those systems. You’ll need a Power Master, and for LEGACY only, also a Power Master Bridge, or a TPC or a ZW-C or ZW-L transformer. All of these allow you to control the track as if it was a locomotive from TMCC or LEGACY. For more information on this, see this video: Command Control Power Supplies
You can also upgrade conventional locomotives to TMCC with aftermarket conversion kits from Electric Railroad Co. These will give you TMCC-level features and allow you to operate those locomotives like any other TMCC equipped model on either system.