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Transformer Safety Is important!!!

What does a transformer do?

A model train transformer "transforms" your 120 volt AC voltage to a variable 0 volts to 22 volts AC depending on the transformer.  This lower voltage makes the use of your 120 volt home supply much safer to use.  Also, the transformer provides electrical isolation between the output voltage and primary 120 volts.  This isolation is provided by the transformer's primary and secondary winding coils.  These coils are physically separated by insulating paper and are electrically "connected" by the magnetic field circulating in the transformer's iron core.


Here are some very important transformer safety tips:

  • REMEMBER that these transformers are usually over 30 years old!

  • ALWAYS inspect the power cord.  NEVER use a transformer with a cracked or damaged power cord.  Have the transformer serviced immediately!

  • ALWAYS operate the transformer within its rating.  For example a Lionel 1033 transformer is rated 90 Watts.  Maximum load would be 20 volts output X 4 amps = 80 watts (approximately).  IF a DC supply were used this calculation would be as described.  For AC applications, it is close enough to help you figure the maximum load.

  • NEVER leave a transformer plugged in and unattended unless you have good fire insurance!!

  • If a transformer smokes and gives off a burning odor, that is usually the time to take it out of service.  It is not worth pushing your luck with a damaged transformer.  Have the transformer looked at.

  • If your transformer gives off a loud BUZZING noise, this is the result of 60Hz vibration caused by the transformer's core laminations moving.  This should be serviced as this vibration can cause damage to insulation in contact with the moving metal.

  • If the transformer's circuit breaker trips, unplug the transformer and let it cool off.  Once the transformer is cool, it should operate fine.  If it continues to trip with no load, there is a problem within the transformer.  Have it serviced.

How to care for your transformer:

  • Your transformer if treated properly will last you at least another 30 years!  The key to a long transformer life is to operate the transformer within its rated capacity.

  • Keep the transformer dry (important for basement operation) and away from damp areas.


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Last modified: Monday January 11, 2021.

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