Some newbie questions... is a free Model Railroad Discussion Forum and photo gallery. We cover all scales and sizes of model railroads. Whether you're a master model railroader or just getting started, you'll find something of interest here.


New Member
I'm very new at model railroading so please bear with me. I was visiting my parents this past Thanksgiving holiday in Wisconsin and my mom asked me to help her set up a couple train sets she recently acquired from a garage sale. I've never set up a train set before, neither have my parents. I thought to myself that it shouldn't be too difficult so I went down into the basement and saw that my parents had already completed the bench work (plywood attached to 2X4 legs). I found a layout in one of the manuals and and we laid the track (basically and oval with a figure 8 inside).

After getting everything set up we put one train on it and ran it a bit. All went well. Since my mom had two trains, we decided to put the second train on the track and were able to run both trains together... that is until one of the trains caught up to the other... or when they both met at a crossing. That's when we knew we had to make some changes. Our layout didn't have any switches, so running two trains at the same time wasn't working out. Since then, I've been reading alot and trying to learn more about model railroading. This is what I'm starting to realize. By installing some switches in the lauout, we can run two trains on the same track and avoid collisions. But the person running the trains would need to be on their toes so that they throw the switches at the right time. Am I right? But the thing I don't like is the human factor here... I mean we're all prone to error and one lapse in judgement and here comes another train wreck.

So just recently I started reading about "Insulated Track Blocks" and using "Contactors" to automate the process. Am I right in thinking that this is what I should understand in order to accomplish what I want, and that is to run two trains simultaneously without them colliding. Am I on the right track? (no pun intended).

For me, the learning curve is quite steep right now, but I find it all very interesting and I enjoy the technical side of this hobby equally as much as the artistic side. I am really glad I found this forum and I hope you all don't mind some of my very basic questions.


Drum Driver
Your on the right step!...asking first...Actually the block system can be pretty tricky to a new learner..It can be a wiring nightmare for someone with out an electronic background. But with older layout books and following the wiring diagrams its not as hard to constuct as it is to operate it. Don't let me scare ya...Its easy on smaller layouts and very tricky on large layouts.You have to constantly switch from power pack A to power pack B for each part of the track section you are on..If you have the extra money nows not a bad time to learn DCC. A Bachman starter set with engine can run around $100, then add another can operate several engines with one power pack where as a block system requires 2 for each engine operated..and can increase from there...The wiring is more simple with DCC. Depending on how you want to go alot of guys on here are happy to help. And you can feel free to message me with any questions too. We're all in this togeather!!...Good Luck...And welcome to the train bug!...You gonna have it the rest of your life!!!


Grandson of an ALCO Builder
Welcome Uncle Jim!

I concur that you should take a look at an inexpensive DCC starter set. This way you will not get into the "wiring nightmare" although if you have a electrical background then knock yourself out. Some of us consider it old school now to do block wiring is still used in some cases. Todays technology really offers a lot of opportunities for you in using DCC. It is the greatest advancement I think in this hobby.

You mentioned you went to Wisconsin...I consider that state... the capitol of the modelrailroading world due to Walthers company in Waukesha, WI.

I actually lived in Waukesha county for 11 years in a small town called Eagle but I hear it is not so small any more. At the time its population was 503.

Anyways I am not sure where you are from but before you dive into making investments. Talk to these guys here on this site, goto your local hobby shop that specializes in model trains, goto a local modelrailroading club (most welcome visitors) and then go to a model train show. Oh yeah pick up a copy of ModelRailroader magazine too. Then form your own assesments.

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