How to attach wires to model train track

Moving up from track clips to attaching power wires to track? Here are 3 techniques, how to do each and the pluses and minuses of each.

Every model railway enthusiast at some time or other has started with the standard track clips. Little plastic assemblies that you push the wires from the controller into which then slide under the track and between the sleepers to take the power to the rails.

They’re easy to use and ideal for basic model railways. They’re also flexible and ideal if the railway isn’t permanently fixed down.

But as the layout gets larger, you’ll need more and more clips to get power and the DCC signal to all parts of the layout.

Additionally, the clips can work loose or the wires come free.  They also look ugly and scream model train sets.

What’s needed is some way of permanently fixing the wires to the track that’s reliable, unobtrusive, and allows multiple connections to be made around the layout.

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There are three techniques for doing this.

#1 Use pre-wired fish plates / joiners

oo gauge rail joiners

The easiest option: pre-soldered OO Gauge fish plates.

Fish plates are the tiny bits of metal that connect sections of track together and a common approach is where wires are already soldered to them, such as these for Hornby-style code 100 OO gauge track and these for N gauge.

Then it’s s just a matter of connecting the wires from these to the wires from the controller (or to a BUS wire that in turn connects to the controller) which is achieved using a terminal block or other wire joiner as explained here.

This approach avoids the need to solder but costs more as you pay extra for wired fishplates than normal versions. There are also potential problems with wired fish plates that are covered next.

#2 Solder wires to your own fish plates

If want to save money, you can solder the wires to the fish plate yourself. With a bit of practice, it’s relatively easy to do following this technique.

As mentioned above, however, there are downsides to connecting wires to the fishplates, whether doing it yourself or buying prewired versions. Specifically, fishplates can corrode or work loose over time and when this happens, the electrical connection can fail resulting in trains stopping on sections of the track that rely on the broken fishplates.

For these reasons, the next technique is generally regarded as the most foolproof and reliable.

#3 Soldering wires directly to the rails

This is exactly what it sounds like, wires are soldered directly to the underside of the rails.

And as a well-soldered join will form a solid, lasting, connection you’ll have far few problems if going this route; hence it being the preferred approach for many long-term model railway enthusiasts.

Soldering wires to the rails is more involved than with fish plates but easily achievable with a bit of practice.

Firstly, remove a sleeper from where you’ll be attaching the wire. For Peco and Hornby track, this is just a matter of cutting the plastic webbing between two adjoining sleepers and pulling the sleeper off.

Next, clean the rails where you’ll be soldering the feeders or wires to them so the solder will have a clear surface to attach to. I use a fibre-glass pencil and rub a small patch clear.

Next pre-tin the rail and the wire you’ll be attaching to it. You only need a very small amount, as seen in the photo below.

soldering wire to oo gauge track

Tin the rail where you’ll be adding the wire, as seen on the lower rail here. Only a tiny amount is needed.

This is no more than heating the rail and wire and then applying the solder so it melts onto the wire or into the strands in the case of stranded wire and lightly coats the surface of the rail.

Now present the wire to the rail and heat with a soldering iron (I use the Antex SX 25, which with its changeable tips is ideal for the majority of work around a model railway). Hold the tip against the wire until the solder on the wire and the rail runs and mixes together. Now let the solder cool and the wire will be soldered firm to the rail.

Soldering the wire to the underside of the rail, using only a small amount of solder and not letting it run when molten will give you wires soldered to rails with a firm, lasting, connection and with wiring that won’t be visible once the ballast is in place.

soldering wire to OO gauge model train track

Wire soldered to the underside of the track, using just enough solder, will give a lasting join that can’t be seen.

As mentioned, with a bit of practice soldering and the right soldering iron, solder, and associated accessories it isn’t difficult.

Perhaps the single biggest tip I can give you is to clean the soldering iron tips between each use. Dust and dirt on the tip will ruin how well the solder behaves and prevent it from flowing correctly.

This and using iron with different sizes of tip so you can apply enough heat to an area but not damage the surrounding materials will improve your results 10-fold (at least it did with mine).


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Founder of ModelRailwayEngineer, Andy Leaning

Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.

Afflliate disclosure:The links on this page may take you to carefully selected businesses, such as Hornby, Amazon, eBay and Scale Model Scenery, where you can purchase the product under affiliate programmes. This means I receive a small commission on any orders placed although the price you pay does not change. You can read my full affiliate policy here. I also sell my my own ready to use, pre-made and painted buildings and terrain features. browse the range.

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