Night Lights

Copyright © 2003-2017 Bill's Railroad Empire®

Want to add more realism to your model railroad? Add some lights. You can use miniature Christmas tree lights and a spare power pack for this project. The photo above is the downtown scene on my N scale railroad. Here's how the structures are lighted and what you'll need to use.

In all, there are 222 lights on my N scale layout. Many of the lights are miniature Christmas tree lights.

If you have a "train set" power pack, these are usually 7va with 15-17v DC voltage. This should provide enough power for about 20-30 miniature Christmas tree lights wired in series, five lights to each series.

You can use a wall transformer, but I prefer a power pack with a rheostat to control the brightness and the voltage. Whatever you use, be sure it's protected by a circuit breaker.

If you plan to purchase a power pack, look into the Model Rectifier Model 1370. This is a 18va pack with on-off switch, pilot light, and circuit breaker. These have enough power for about 60-80 lights. I use one of these for some of my lights. These can be found for around $25-$30. You don't want to purchase the "look-alike" Model 1300 which is only 7va. You want a Model 1370. Atlas has a 1.2 amp power pack for around $30.

You'll need a set of clear miniature Christmas tree lights. Separate the lights by cutting them apart. You want to leave the lights in the sockets. You'll have two wire leads about 4"-6" long after they are cut apart.

The sets with 50 or 100 lights usually have 2.5v lamps. Sets with 35 are typically 3.5v, and sets of 20 have 6v lights. The lights discussed here are from sets of 100 lights. If you use the higher voltage lamps, the number of lamps in the series will need to be adjusted.

The inside walls of the structures should be painted black and the joints sealed so the light doesn't shine through. If the windows are bare, you might want to put waxed paper behind them to diffuse the light. When the lights are on, use the rheostat and set it to about nine volts. This will not only prolong the life of the bulbs, but will create a softer, more realistic light.

You can now wire the lights in series (see illustration above). I like to do five lights to a set (5x2.5v=12.5v). If your power pack is more than 12v at full setting and you're afraid you'd accidentally power it all the way, you might want to use six lights to a set to prevent the lights from burning out.

You'll notice that we're using the DC terminals. Some believe that the lights won't last as long with DC as with AC. What you can do to prolong the life is to switch the polarity from time to time using the reversing switch.

Drill holes where the lights will go, drop the leads through them and wire the lights in series. connect the wires to a switch or directly to the pack. I use Atlas #205 Connectors. They cost a bit more than some other switches.

If you decide to use lights such as those sold in hobby stores for about $1 each, purchase the 12-16 volt lights and use parallel wiring (see illustration below).

Note: These are incandescent lights, not LEDs.

Note: I assume no responsibility for any damage that might occur. You should use caution and familiarize yourself with the task at hand when working with anything electrical.

Alex's Electronic Test Bench has a large listing of helpful electrical and electronics sites plus a glossary.

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    What you'll need:
  • Set of clear miniature Christmas tree lights
  • Power pack
  • Stranded wire (22 gauge)
  • or speaker wire
  • Wire strippers
  • Electrical tape
  • Multi-Meter (optional)


Great source of information about low-voltage electric power

Links to web sites of manufacturers and suppliers:

Walthers MRC--Model Rectifier Corp
NJ InternationalAtlas Model Railroad Co.
Hobby Surplus SalesAcme Model Engineeering
Laster Hobby ToolsDemar Electronics
Radio ShackAll Electronics Corp.
Model PowerFiber Optic Products, Inc.

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scenery sound

Coming to add inexpensive sound to your layout.

Bob Backway has an outstanding article, "Modeling Sound"

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Paul Templar uses an old radio to create interesting lighting and sound

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Green Frog Productions has background sounds audio tapes

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Links to manufacturers of sound systems

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This illustrated book has numerous projects with easy step-by-step instructions and color photos


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Updated 1/11/2017



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