New Product Spotlight – Introducing LionChief Plus

3 02 2014

Our soon-to-be-released 2014 Signature Catalog will bring the next evolution of our LionChief™ Remote Control system with five new locomotives equipped with this versatile control. What is LionChief™ Plus and how is it different from LionChief™, Conventional or Command Control? We’ve already had lots of questions on the subject so before we look at the new locomotives themselves, let’s take a few minutes to talk about the different systems and what they have to offer.

Conventional Control


The CW-80 is the most common transformer in our Conventional starter sets today.

Conventional control is the way we’ve powered our trains since the very beginning. A transformer supplies variable AC power to the track. By adjusting the voltage using the lever on the transformer, you control the train’s speed.

Over the years we’ve added many features to our conventional locomotives including working whistles, bells and other effects. But the control of the trains remains at the transformer. And while you can wire your railroad with “blocks” to run more than one train at once, you still need one transformer per train.

Command Control

Lionel broke new ground when we launched our first Command Control system, TMCC™, in 1995. With TMCC you could finally control multiple trains from one controller, or cab. And that cab was wireless so you could go anywhere in the room and follow your trains. Command control uses a constant AC power on the rails and sends specific coded electrical commands to the locomotives to control their movement and many other functions.


LEGACY offers the most complete control systems possible for your model trains.

To enable operators to control more than one train at once without the need for blocks and multiple transformers, each Command locomotive must be programmed with an address. The commands to speed up, stop, reverse, etc. are all preceded by that address so that only the locomotive you want to operate will respond.

TMCC™ evolved into LEGACY™ bringing even more extra features and finer control to the trains. For a locomotive to respond to the commands it must be equipped with a special receiver which can interpret the signals from the cab. A LEGACY™ equipped locomotive can run on conventional layouts as well, and the LEGACY™ system is designed to allow the option to control a conventional locomotive. For more on Command Control see our Wiring Your Layout pages.

LEGACY™ remains our finest control system for our premier line of products.


In 2013 we introduced the LionChief™ Remote Control system in new Ready-to-Run sets. LionChief™ isn’t Conventional control or Command Control – it’s radio control.

preproduction sample

Our radio control options began with our Thomas the Tank Engine set. Like LionChief, easy and reliable operation is at the heart of this design.

Like Command Control, LionChief™ uses a constant 18 Volts on the rails – only this time the wall-pack produces DC. But unlike TMCC™ or LEGACY™, the commands which tell the locomotive to go, stop, whistle, etc. don’t come through the rails; with LionChief™ they are sent via radio signals from the hand-held remote. And unlike command control, there are no locomotive addresses to program. Each locomotive has its own pre-programmed remote controller.

Because it only needs to see 18V of DC or AC power to operate, a LionChief™ locomotive can be run on any LionChief™, Conventional or Command Control powered layout. Just put 18V on the rails and use the remote control to run the train.

And you can run more than one LionChief™ train on the same track at the same time without blocks. On Command layouts, you can run multiple LionChief™ locomotives and command equipped locomotives together on the same track without any extra wiring. When running with a Conventional transformer, a conventional train won’t run with the LionChief™ locomotive(s) without wiring blocks – the same limitations you would face for controlling multiple conventional locomotives still apply. You can run more than one LionChief™ locomotive at once with a conventional power supply.

LionChief™ Plus

The new LionChief™ Plus system is designed to give you all of the control options of LionChief™ PLUS the ability to run the locomotive via your conventional transformer as well. Now you can run the locomotive on any layout (Conventional, LionChief™, TMCC™, LEGACY™ – even competitors’ control systems) with your LionChief™ Remote, or flip a switch on the locomotive and run it as a conventional model.


LionChief Plus locomotives will use the LionChief remote or a conventional transformer.

Our new LionChief™ Plus locomotives have more than just this added control option however. The LionChief™ system was designed to make operating model trains as easy as possible – no wires, no programming, self-explanatory controls, lots of fun in the palm of your hand. With LionChief™ Plus we’ve added many of the features found in higher end locomotives. These are a transition between an entry-level set and a high-end LEGACY™ model.

In addition to more detail on the locomotives, you’ll see features like working electro-couplers, improved sound and smoke, and Odyssey speed control. LionChief™ Plus is designed to give you complete control, exciting operation, an introduction into the many options available in model railroading and all a price point a lot more manageable than our premier products.

We think once you see what LionChief™ Plus can do you’ll be as excited as we are about these new trains. After testing preproduction samples of the Hudson and Pacific, we shot a little video to show the sound and power of these locomotives. Our Pacific handled a train of 25 scale freight cars plus the caboose up a FasTrack grade without any hesitation. If you like smoke, you’ll love LionChief Plus! Unfortunately it doesn’t show up well against the light gray walls of our test layout room, but take our word for it, these locomotives can put out quite the cloud.

See the videos here:  LionChief Plus Sounds  LionChief Plus Power!

Next week we’ll spotlight the new Hudsons here on the blog and go into greater detail on all of their special features. Stay tuned!


New Product Spotlight – GW-180 Transformer

21 01 2013

Model railroads come in all sizes – so should their power supplies! Lionel’s new GW-180 transformer offers a step up for layouts that have outgrown their starter set power supplies.


The GW-180 provides familiar controls and added power for growing layouts.

Engineers who have been running with our CW-80 transformers found in today’s starter sets will have no trouble learning the controls of this new transformer. The power lever, bell, whistle and direction buttons are all in the same place.  The connections for track and accessories are the same as well.

The only external difference is the external power pack which plugs into the back of the control box and your wall outlet. This pack boosts the power from 80 to 180 Watts – offering a full 10 Amps of power to run your trains and accessories. (See our Understanding Electricity page for a review of these terms.)

This means more power for your growing empire. Lighted cars, operating accessories, powered switches, even multiple locomotive lash ups will operate more reliably with this additional power. Of course, you can still optimize your power by following the many tips found on our Wiring Your Layout pages. And you can use this new GW-180 alongside your existing or additional power supplies as your layout continues to grow.

The GW-180 offers variable AC voltage for track power up to 18 Volts and additional terminals for AC voltage for your accessories. This can be set to any level (we recommend 14 Volts) just as with the CW-80.

Modelers have been requesting a mid-sized power supply like this for quite some time. The GW-180 will be arriving at dealers very soon – just in time to start expanding on that set Santa brought! The GW-180 retails for $279.99.

Introduction to Soldering

1 08 2012

Soldering is an essential skill for model railroading. We’ve engineered most of our products so that you’ll be able to attach you rails and wires without the need to solder, but as your layout expands, you add bus wires, install command control receivers, etc. you will eventually come across the need. Like using an airbrush or carving scenery, soldering can be an intimidating modeling skill at first but it doesn’t take as long to master as you’d think. Here are three tips every beginner needs to know:


Proper soldering only requires a few basic tools and supplies.

Less is More. You don’t need a big glob of solder to make a good connection. With a little practice and the right tools you’ll be able to get thin, smooth joints that are as strong as the parts you’ve soldered. Use a soldering flux to speed the melting and flow of the solder and you’ll be amazed how much less solder you use!

Solder the Parts not the Iron. It is tempting to put solder on the tip of your iron or gun and then try to spread it on the joint. While a very little bit of solder on the heat source will help the heat transfer, the best joints come from applying the heat to the wire, rails, etc. and then applying the solder directly to the part as well. If possible, apply solder to the opposite side of the joint from the iron. The heat will pull the solder through the gap for a perfect joint. Not only will your solder joints be cleaner and stronger doing it this way, you’ll greatly increase the life of your tools.

A Clean Tool is a Hot Tool. Keep the tips of your irons and guns clean and they will transfer heat better and faster. An easy regular cleaning is to give your hot iron or gun a quick dip in your flux and then swipe on a paper towel. You can also find that over time you lose heat transfer from the tool itself to the tip. Usually, just a loosening and tightening of the screw(s) that hold the tip to the iron or gun will break up any build up in here and you’ll be back to full strength. Of course eventually, the tips do simply wear out and need to be replaced!

Just keep those three basic principles in mind as you work and you’ll be headed in the right direction.

Safe Soldering

There is of course one more essential thing to keep in mind when soldering no matter what your skill level and that is safety. It should go without saying that a soldering tool gets hot, but it’s an obvious fact that we sometimes forget when we’re crawling beneath a train platform or focused on a project at the workbench.

first aid

Hopefully you’ll never need it, but a first aid kit is a must for every workbench.

Keep your tools in a safe place where you are unlikely to knock them over against yourself or other things that might be damaged. This includes plastic models, wood, paper and of course anything flammable. The little stands included with many irons are notoriously unstable. And of course it’s not just the tool but the power cord that can be in the way!

When working under your platform, remember that it’s not only the tools but the hot solder you need to worry about. Gravity as a way of letting you know when you’ve put too much solder on a joint! Avoid working over your head where ever possible. If you must, be sure to wear eye protection. And while parts will cool relatively quickly, they don’t cool instantly. A wire or rail may remain hot enough to burn for a minute or two after soldering. And always unplug your tools when you are finished, even if you are using one with an on/off switch.

If you do get burned, don’t panic. Most soldering burns are painful but relatively small and easy to treat. Cold water is often the fastest and most effective relief. No train room should be without a basic first-aid kit and that should include a cold compress, anti-bacterial cream and bandages for just such an emergency. Equally important is a fire extinguisher – just in case! Of course for more severe burns, seek professional medical attention.

The heat isn’t the only danger with solder. Many solders contain lead. Some fluxes, particular older varieties, also contain some potentially harmful chemicals. Try to avoid inhaling lots of flux fumes and always wash your hands thoroughly after you solder. Store your solder and supplies in places where your kids will not be able to get to it.

Getting Down to Business

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s get started on a common project – soldering two pieces of wire. The steps will be described in detail here, but we’ve also included a short demonstration video.

  1. tinned wire

    A tinned wire will solder faster – perfect for small or awkward jobs.

    Strip the Wires: Remember that electricity flows around the wire, not through it. So when you strip your wires take care not to nick the wire itself. There are several styles of wire strippers available. Most can be adjusted to the gauge (diameter) of wiring you’re stripping. Strip just enough insulation to make the connection.

  2. Pre-tinning: It is not always necessary to tin the wires before soldering, but it can make the process go faster – especially if you are working in a small or awkward space like inside a model or under a layout. To tin the wires, spread a little flux on large diameter wire (it probably won’t be necessary on smaller wires), touch it with the tip of your iron or gun, and apply a very thin coat of solder.
  3. Heat Shrink Tubing: Plan ahead! If you are going to use heat shrink tubing to insulate the finished joint, it is much easier to put the loose tubing over the wires before they are connected. Slide the tube far enough away from the joint that it won’t melt from the heat.
  4. soldered wires

    A proper connection will not require much solder.

    Joining Wires: If you are wrapping a smaller gauge wire around a larger wire – like when attaching feeders to a bus – wrap the wire as tightly as you can. Any gaps between the wires will not transfer electricity. For joining wires end to end, make an “X” and twist the ends together for a tight bond. In either case, only a few twists are needed – the smaller the connection the less solder you’ll need.

  5. Flux: Apply a little flux to the wires where they need to be soldered. If you have already tinned the wire, this is not necessary.
  6. Solder: Apply the heat of the gun or iron first. Then touch your solder to the joint. Move the solder and the tool if necessary to melt the solder over the entire joint evenly. A thin coat is all that is required.
  7. insulation

    The job isn’t done until the connection is protected.

    Insulate: Once the joint has cooled, you’ll want to insulate the wires to prevent accidental contact and shorts later. You can do this with traditional electrical tape, liquid electrical tape, or plastic heat shrink tubing. To apply the tubing, simply slide it over the joint and warm it with the lower portion (not the tip) of your iron or gun. As the name implies, the heat will shrink the tubing tightly around the wires. You can find this at electronics stores or in bulk from mail-order distributors.

That’s it! You’ve now got a safe, strong and solid connection between two wires. With a little practice, your solder connections will become smooth and reliable every time. You’ll be able to come back to these tips and many more any time on our “Wiring Your Railroad” pages here on the blog.

Wiring Your Railroad – Putting It All Together

18 07 2012

We’ve covered a lot of ground in our wiring articles. So it’s good to take a step back and see the big picture. This week we thought we’d do just that.

Now that you know about all the controllers and their capabilities, what does it really take to convert a railroad to command control? Every layout is different, and even if they weren’t the operators would be, so there is no quick recipe for mixing up the perfect command control package. We do however have lots of great ingredients that you can blend together for yourself.


So what does it really take to convert something like this to command control?

To get you started, we’ve created a “typical” layout – if there is such a thing!

Our sample layout contains most of the common features on classic Lionel train platforms – multiple continuous running loops (with connecting crossovers), sidings, a yard, even a turntable and roundhouse. We’ll walk you through this platform step-by-step to show you what you’d need for power, switch control, and accessories. While it is true you’ll need to attach more than just the one wire from your LEGACY base to get complete command control, we think you’ll be surprised at how easy it still is to add all of these features. Take a look!

Like our other pages, this one too features a how-to video, so if you’d like to get started just check this out:

We also snuck in one more accessory page this week. Just to prove you can equip anything to run on TMCC and LEGACY, we’ve converted a turntable (from Atlas O). Whether you have one of these on your layout, apply the techniques to another motorized accessory, or just have a curiosity, we think you’ll find this quick project enjoyable.

We hope you’ve enjoyed and learned a little something from these pages. We’ll continue to add new information and ideas on wiring and other projects in the future. In the mean time, as always, if you have any questions please feel free to ask. You can send comments via any of these blog pages or contact our Customer Service Department directly at or call (586) 949-4100.

Command Control Accessories

11 07 2012

We’re charging ahead with our updates to our layout wiring series. Again, all of these articles can be found on our permanent modeling projects pages which you can access through the menu bar above.

Check out the links for detailed and illustrated wiring instructions.

This week we take a look at three common ways to equip your accessories with command control. For the wide variety of trackside accessories, we return to the SC-2 and the ASC which we introduced last week with switch controls.

Also this week, we show how to wire the OTC, the Operating Track Controller, to operate uncoupling and operating tracks. The operating tracks do require some minor modification go get peak performance, but we’ll show you how to do this quickly and easily.

In the coming weeks, we’ll add in a few more controllers and then complete our look with an overview of a “typical” layout and what it would need for power and command control. Stay tuned!

Command Control for Switches

3 07 2012

Now that we’ve given you the basics on installing command control, let’s expand your knowledge and your command system’s abilities by adding additional features to the system. There is a great variety of controllers available for different functions, and this can be confusing. To help straighten it all out, you may want to start with this introduction. This week, we’ll take a look at switches.


No matter their age or manufacturer, you can bring command control to your switches.

When using switches with command control, with 18 Volts on the rails constantly, we highly recommend converting your switches to operate on 14 Volt accessory voltage as we showed in a post added last week.

Lionel offers two different controllers to bring command control to your switches, the SC-2 and the ASC (Accessory Switch Controller). Not only will both of these work with both TMCC-1 and LEGACY, they can also be used with all of our switches and those of most other manufacturers as well. How do you know which one is best for the switches you have? Take a look at this quick guide.


The ASC is a great option for adding command control to both twin-coil and motorized switch machines.

Once you’ve chosen the controller you want, the hard work is over!  To help you install and program your switches, we also have tutorials uploaded on wiring the ASC and wiring the SC-2 for our O Gauge and O-27, and FasTrack, or for several other brands.

Both of these controllers will also control accessories, so we’ll be seeing more of them next week as we continue to put more of your layout in the palm of your hand!

Wiring Your Railroad – Conventional Switches and an Introduction to Command Control

27 06 2012

We continue to expand upon our layout wiring instructional series this week with several new pages. We’re finishing off conventional control and moving on into the realm of command control.

O-27 Switch

Constant voltage is better for switches too.

First, we finish off the conventional control wiring tips with instructions for converting all of your Lionel switches to constant voltage operation.

Instructions are shown for FasTrack, O-31 and O-27 type switches allowing you to reliably control your remote switches with a fixed 14 V power supply like the rest of your accessories. No more slow-throwing switches or melted switch stand lamps! These tips will help get you ready for your conversion to command control too if you decide to go that route.


Once you’ve tried LEGACY, you’ll never want to go back.

Next, we introduce command control. Probably the single greatest technology to hit toy trains since electricity, command control has revolutionized the hobby. While the actual installation and operation of these systems is very user-friendly, understanding the products and what you need to get started is often confusing. We hope these tutorials will help make sense of it all for you so you can make the most out of your trains without undue stress or expenses.

We start this week with the bare essentials. What is command control and how does it work? What do I need to get started? And step-by-step video instructions on setting up your LEGACY system. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be adding more features to expand on these basic set ups. We’ll have you throwing switches and operating accessories from your cab controller in no time, but first let’s get through the basics!