I get a lot of emails from visitors asking for a good guide to model train electrics and specifically for a beginner’s guide. In fact, after these soldering tips, it’s one of the most common requests.
For many interests and hobbies, the Wiley book series ‘For Dummies’ is the “go to” reference aid for beginners with around 200 million books in print and around 2,500 titles.
Sadly, there isn’t a ‘Model Train Wiring for Dummies‘ guide yet. Instead, I recommend one of the following.
The oldest book in this roundup and undoubtedly a must-have for any DC – analogue wiring – railway modellers shelf. It covers pretty much every aspect of track wiring from the very basic, starting with wiring a plug to points, reverse loops, track detection and control panels in a simple, easy-to-understand manner. It’s my bible when it comes to planning track connections.
This shouldn’t be a surprise given it was authored by arguably one of the most famous UK railway modellers, C. J. Freezer. A pioneer of model railways, a prolific designer of model railway layouts, editor of Railway Modeller from 1950 to 1978 and author of several books on the hobby.
However, things have moved on a lot since it was originally written over 30 years ago. The sections on computer control and DCC are just two pages each and little more than a description, there’s no mention of servos or slow-motion point motors, and many of the techniques explained rely on manually intensive solutions that while appropriate then are now more easily achieved with low-cost off-the-shelf products that weren’t even dreamed of in 1989.
In summary, a solid must-have book that provides a solid foundation – particularly for analogue layout construction – but read Wiring Your Model Railroad (Essentials) afterwards for the modern take and products.
A good all-around guide and ideal for those building a DC layout, however, it’s now dated with hardly any information on DCC / digital layouts. If you’re not planning on going DCC this is one of the best books on the electrics side of model railways.
Although not specifically about railway electrics, Brian Lambert’s book is highly recommended and contains more than enough info on the wiring aspects of the hobby to get beginners off to a good start.
It is also one of the few books here that cover wiring LED lights around a layout with a good summary of how to reduce the voltage and where to put the resistors.
In tone and content, this is probably the closest equivalent to a Dummies guide for model railway electrics and what Electronics and Wiring for Model Railways should be and is the natural follow-up to Model Railway Wiring.
Easily understandable, with lots of tips, it’s easy to digest and covers all the main areas you’ll need to know. The only downside is that it’s written for an American audience so some of the names and terms used aren’t applicable in the UK but the concepts remain the same and a quick Google of the words will turn up the equivalent for this side of the pond.
Deserves a place in the library of any model train enthusiast.
A good, albeit slim, introduction to DCC for those familiar with analogue model layouts of old and wanting an update and how to upgrade their trains. Slightly dated now and really only suitable for OO or larger scales – it desperately needs a refresh and references for N gauge, but a useful book for those returning to the hobby.
Like Wiring Your Model Railroad (Essentials) it’s written for a US audience and uses American English and component names but the concepts are easy to understand.
I couldn’t really leave this out. While obviously not specific to model train electronics, I recommend it if just starting out with electronics and need an easy-to-read walk-through of the fundamentals – what capacitors, diodes, resistors do, how to read a multi-meter and schematics, series and parallel circuits etc. It provides a foundation that the other books build on and makes a great companion alongside the other titles.