Scale Speed

17 04 2013

How fast should you run your trains? It’s one of those questions of personal opinion that can erupt into heated debate in some modeling circles. We’ll leave your idea of appropriate speeds up to you. There are certainly no posted speed limits on our model trains, but for those who are interested in reproducing a more accurate scale speed, this post should help.


Like the extended exposure on this photo, a model trains scale, our proximity to it, and other factors can create different impressions of speed.

Before you can determine what the appropriate speed is for model trains to be realistic, you need to think about what speeds are realistic for the prototype. And the truth is, that number can be anywhere from 1 to 150 miles per hour.

When switching for example, when switching cars in a yard, anything up to 4 mph is a coupling, 5+ mph is a collision. Geared locomotives like Shays and Heislers had a top speed of around 15 mph. Even a heavy mainline train on a steep grade might struggle to keep its speed above 20. Yet that same train could be rolling at nearly 70 on the level.


For a train like the Acela, full-throttle may not even be fast enough!

For passenger trains, speeds might be as slow as 30 or less on branch lines. Meanwhile, the Limited’s and streamliners might cruise at better than 100 down the mainline.

What’s “right” really depends on what you’re trying to model.

6-11368 Western Maryland

The Shay had a very modest top speed of about 15 mph. But with those three pistons and low gearing, they sounded like they were doing about 90 at that speed.

That being said, we can determine how fast our trains are really going. The numbers on the dial of your transformer or cab can give you some indication, but these rarely equate to the actual scale speed.

Instead, we can figure out our train’s speed in much the same way train crews once did: by timing the run between a fixed set of points. Train crews once used mile posts, or even telegraph poles, to help determine their speed. We’ll apply the same principle.


When 7002’s crew determined they set a record speed on 127.1 mph, they did so by timing the passing mile posts with their watches.

You can use almost anything to mark your speed zone on your railroad: telephone poles, sign posts, even just a dab of paint on a tie. All that matters is that the distance is correct and you and your other operators know where they are.

Next, simply time the train as it passes between the two points. You don’t need to be as accurate as a radar gun – these are just model trains after all – but even a general frame of reference can be helpful.

Now to make it really easy for you! Just use the tables below to determine your trains’ speed. We’ve figured this out for both O and S Scale by reducing miles / kilometers per hour into feet/meters per second. Just set your posts 3 feet or 1 meter apart. The times listed in this table are in seconds.

Print out a copy of this table (or make your own using only the data you need) and post it somewhere near the speed trap for reference. While the times are fairly precise, a good “guestimate” while you’re running should give you a pretty good perspective.

Give it a try – you might be surprised how fast, or how slow, you’re really running those trains.

15 6.55 8.73 15 11.52 15.36
20 4.91 6.55 20 8.64 11.52
25 3.93 5.24 25 6.91 9.21
30 3.27 4.36 30 5.76 7.68
35 2.81 3.74 35 4.94 6.58
40 2.45 3.27 40 4.32 5.76
45 2.18 2.91 45 3.84 5.12
50 1.96 2.62 50 3.46 4.61
55 1.79 2.38 55 3.14 4.19
60 1.64 2.18 60 2.88 3.84
65 1.51 2.01 65 2.66 3.54
70 1.4 1.87 70 2.47 3.29
75 1.31 1.75 75 2.3 3.07
80 1.23 1.64 80 2.16 2.88
85 1.16 1.54 85 2.03 2.71
90 1.09 1.45 90 1.92 2.56
95 1.03 1.38 95 1.82 2.42
100 0.98 1.31 100 1.73 2.3

Lubricating Your Lionel

5 12 2012

With proper care, a Lionel train can last for generations. Just like your car and your house, a little routine maintenance regularly is an inexpensive way to minimize more expensive problems down the track.

We do not pre-oil our models at the factory. This minimizes the mess that can occur when excessive oil wanders from the friction points where it belongs. Lubricating your model takes only a few minutes but can have a lasting impact on your trains.

maintenance kit

The 6-62927 maintenance kit includes everything you need to take care of your trains.

Everything you’ll need can be found in our lubrication and maintenance kit, 6-62927. This kit includes light oil for lubricating wheels, axles, side rods and other moving parts, a heavier grease for gears and track cleaning fluid and a track eraser for cleaning the rails. It can be found at our authorized dealers, and through

The oil comes in a plastic tube. You’ll need to clip the end of the tube to get out the oil. Keep this cut as close to the tip as possible to make the applicator as small as you can. Another option is to pick up another bottle with a metal needle-point tip at your hobby shop and transfer the oil to that. The more precise your application, the less you’ll waste and the cleaner you’ll keep your models.

There is no set rule on when you need to lubricate your locomotive. A lot depends on how regularly you run your trains and for how long.

oiling locomotive

Oil the locomotive axles (green), pick-up rollers (blue) and valve gear (red).

It is a good idea to add oil when you get the locomotive or car. If you bring your train out only a few times a year, oil it each time you take it out of storage. And of course, the squeaky wheel should get the oil! If you notice any new squeaks, a small drop of oil usually does the trick.

Too much oil can be as bad as too little. Just a small drop will go a long way. Not only can excess oil smear over driving wheels and the shell in storage, on the layout it can collect on the rails and around the track bed. Oil on the rails will reduce traction and collect dirt.

Place a small drop of oil on the axles where they go through the frame, or rest in the journals of the trucks. Add a drop to each of the connections of the side rods as well on steam locomotives. You don’t want to oil the center-rail roller itself, but a drop on the sides of its small axle will prevent squeaks.  See the photo or video attached to this blog for an illustration of where this oil should be applied.


Trucks need oil too. Oil all of the journals where shown.

Don’t forget to oil the journals of your freight and passenger car trucks too. This same oil can also be used on our animated accessories and railcars on any of their moving parts as well.

Free-rolling wheels can only keep rolling if the track is clean! Next week we’ll look at one of the most common problems facing all model railroaders – keeping the rails clean.

New Product Spotlight – U.P. Anniversary Set

3 12 2012

In addition to modeling the latest and greatest, it is always fun to go back and revisit the classics. The 1950 “Anniversary Set” is certainly one worth bringing back. So if you missed it the first time around, here’s your chance to own this great piece of our past.

Anniversary Set

The famous Anniversary Set is back!

The #146-4W featured Lionel’s high-end Alco FA’s in the Union Pacific’s Armour Yellow. The locomotives featured metal frames, illuminated number boards and rear steps. New passenger cars were also included featuring Lionel Lines lettering in matching yellow with grey roofs.

Our new reissue of the set is faithful to the original, recreating the most-desired of the variations with grey nose and trucks. The set includes a powered and non-powered Alco FA, two coaches and an observation car. Features include:

  • FA Locomotives with

    The new sets have all the charm of the original.

    • Die-cast metal trucks and frame
    • Frame-mounted rear steps
    • Front steps attached to the trucks
    • Operating headlight
    • Illuminated number boards
    • Painted grey nose, frame and truck sideframes
    • Powered Locomotive also features
      • Pullmor Motor
      • Magne-Traction
      • Traction Tires
      • Electronic E unit with Direction Lock
      • Electronic horn and bell with volume control
  • Passenger cars with
    • Die-cast trucks and operating couplers
    • Interior Illumination
    • Removable roofs with ventilator details
    • Window Silhouettes
    • Red marker lights and clear back up lens on observation car
  • Postwar-Inspired set packaging with individual boxes for each car
  • O-27 minimum curve

    Add to the fun with the new expansion pack – 6-27929.

If you’d like to expand your set, we’ve also created a matching add-on baggage and combination car 2-pack. Not available in 1950, this set is a perfect complement to grow your train. The new cars share of the features of the passenger cars included with the set itself.

The set retails for $459.99 and the add-on cars are $119.99. Check your dealers, you’ll be able to catch up on this traditional classic train in time for Christmas.

New Product Spotlight – Command Control Speeders

5 11 2012

“Speeders,” self-propelled cars used by track gangs, have come in many shapes and sizes. Today, they are as popular to preserve full-scale as they are in models.


6-37066 Maintenance of Way

The speeder, or track car, replaced the hand-powered pumpcars and velocipedes, beginning in the 1920s. The first cars were not much more than a small engine, four wheels and a bench. Often they were home-built in railroad shops. Crude as they may have seemed, compared to pumping your way several miles just to get to the work site, these were a welcome relief to those who used them.

6-37064 CSX

Over time, the speeders evolved into larger and more elaborate vehicles. Roofs, windshields, and eventually side walls enclosed the passenger compartments. Larger cars could carry six or more men. Some speeders had top speeds of more than 40 mph and were often powerful enough to tow an extra cart or two with tools, spikes, etc.

6-37065 BNSF

Starting in the 1950s, the traditional rail-only speeder began to be replaced by larger and more-versatile hi-rail vehicles which could run on both rails and roads. By the mid 1980s, most had been replaced on the larger lines. Today, hundreds of the little speeders have been preserved in museums and tourist lines and by private owners who often gather for excursions.

They are one of the most affordable ways to get into 1:1 scale railroading as a hobby. And while some have carefully restored their cars to the original appearance, others have applied unique paint schemes based on favorite prototypes or complete fancy.

6-37067 New York Central

There are lots of uses for these little cars on your layout. Whether you want to have one for your section gangs to inspect your railroad, or gather a fleet and model a modern excursion, the new Lionel command control speeders will add a fun element to any model railroad. They’ll even look great sitting beside the tracks on a set-out when not in use.

For small cars, these critters are packed with features:

  • 6-37063 Pennsylvania

    Run with Command Control or Conventional

  • Forward and Reverse operation
  • Directional headlights
  • Blinking strobe light
  • Interior light
  • Die-cast metal frame
  • Maintenance-free motor
  • Traction tire
  • Detailed Interior
  • Driver figure

The speeders will negotiate an O-27 curve and come decorated for seven popular railroads past and present and a generic Maintenance of Way scheme.

6-37061 Union Pacific

  • Union Pacific (6-37061)
  • Norfolk Southern (6–37062)
  • Pennsylvania (6-37063)
  • CSX (6-37064)
  • BNSF (6-37065)
  • Maint. of Way (6-37066)
  • New York Central (6-37067)
  • Canadian National (6-37068)

The speeders retail for $149.99 and should ship next month. Pick one up and tour your layout in style!

6-37062 Norfolk Southern

6-37068 Canadian National