Converting Old Maerklin To Maerklin Digital Operation

Converting Old Maerklin to Maerklin Digital Operation

By Roger Heid


It has become apparent that there are some old folks out there who have, sometime in the past, accumulated a bunch of old, then analogue, HO Scale Maerklin model train equipment. Usually, it had been kept in some boxes or cartons stored either in the basement or the attic.

It has furthermore become apparent that some of these old folks, upon retirement, feel compelled to revive a long forgotten hobby. I did, as some of you already know. Yes, I enjoy doing this a lot.

There have been several questions about how to go about adding digital items to an existing analogue set-up, or to convert to digital operation, altogether. In both, the Forum and the Blog System, you will find a lot of information concerning these issues. All this info is somewhat fragmented into a number of forum postings and some blogs. It could be tedious to piece all this altogether, so I decided to consolidate all this in a blog which deals with most of the questions and issues, all in one package.


Question:  At this point, I do not wish to convert to digital operation. Can I run a locomotive with a digital decoder on my analogue track layout?

Answer:  Yes, you can. But you cannot use the old style, blue in color, power transformer. For technical reasons which I will not get into in detail within the parameters of this blog, using an old blue transformer will destroy the locomotive decoder. Here it is mandatory to get the modern Power Transformer # 6646. It is kind of white in color.


Question:  All my tracks are the old M-type. Can I use the modern C-Tracks to extend my existing layout?

Answer:   Yes, you can. By the virtue of their design, they will not interconnect mechanically. You need a Converter Track # 24951 each time you want to interconnect M and C tracks.


Question:  Can old Maerklin locomotives be converted to digital operation?

Answer:   Yes, this is possible. It basically requires installation of a digital decoder. On some of the very old locomotives some modification to the motor may be required. If you are not inclined to do this conversion yourself you can send the locomotive(s) to a reputed Maerklin servicer, such as Reynaulds European Imports (REI). They will take care of this for you. Contact them first before you send anything.


Question:   Can I use the old M-Track for a digital layout?

Answer:   Yes, you can. Maerklin does not recommend this, but, in reality, the M-Tracks work just fine.However, two things you need to watch. On some of the M-tracks, there is a small round capacitor installed on the underside of the track piece. Its purpose is to suppress RFI (Radio Frequency Interference). Some older motors used in model railroad locomotives had a nasty tendency to emit some radio frequency interfering with a number of devices, such Radio, TV, Cordless Phones, Garage Door Openers and the likes. This capacitor, however, shorts out a digital signal. Even only one capacitor present in a track layout will make digital operation impossible. It needs to be removed. Just snip it out with side cutter pliers.

Secondly, you need to make sure that the rail connectors are tight and snug to provide reliable electrical contact between the individual track pieces. Very good mechanical connections are of prime importance to ensure reliable digital operation.


Question:  If I decide to convert my layout to all digital operation, can I still use the existing transformer?

Answer:   No, you cannot. In the analogue world, you use a transformer that has the speed control, also called ‘throttle’, on board. Now, going to all digital operation, things will change quite dramatically. You need a separate power supply which supplies electrical power to a Digital Control Station. At this point, I wish to refer you to three Blogs dealing with Maerklin DCC (Digital Command Control) issues. These blogs you need to read and study.


Question:   Is Maerklin the only maker of digitally equipped locomotives that run on the Maerklin 3-rail track system?

Answer:   No! To the best of my knowledge, Brawa, Fleischmann and Roco produce locomotives that are Maerklin DCC compatible.


Question:  Can I use non-Maerklin brand rolling stock on a Maerklin 3-rail digital layout?

Answer:   Yes, you can. It is merely a matter of coupler compatibility. Default Brawa and Roco couplers are typically Maerklin compatible. Fleischmann is not, but they do offer Maerklin compatible couplers. What I said is only true if the given piece of rolling stock has the modern NEM coupler pocket. Couplers and their compatibility is altogether a different chapter in the book. Refer to the Blog about couplers.


Question:  Can I use overhead catenaries in a digital track layout?

Answer:   If so, it would only be for show. Reality has it that the electrical connectivity between the catenaries and the pantograph is not good enough for reliable digital operation. That’s the way it is, unfortunately.

 I think I covered most all of the pertinent issues to get you started. If you have any more questions, please, post them in the Forum. Please, do not ask questions in the Blog System. It is not designed to open new threads.

Thank you.

5 Responses to Converting Old Maerklin To Maerklin Digital Operation

  1. I have both digital and analog locomotives and I am not ready to install decoders in my electric locomotives. Can I run my analog electric locomotives on overhead catenareis while running my digital locomotives on track?

    Thank you

  2. Ernest Robl says:

    I do not operate 3-rail AC equipment, but I have seen similar questions discussed for two rail DC. In all cases, those with technical know-how emphatically warn against mixing analog and digital operations. While this would be theoretically possible, the risk is just too great. A short between the analog and digital circuits could send excessive voltage to digital components, damaging or destroying them.

    While most digital components have some protection against short circuits, they are not designed to handle the double voltage that could result if both analog and digital power supplies are sending voltage into the same component due to an accidental cross between the two circuits. (I am not an electrical engineer; I am only passing along what I have seen from those who should know about these things.)

    As to installing decoders in older locomotives: There will be some where this is relatively easy, some where it can be done with some effort and expense, and some where it will be nearly impossible, considering the time and expense involved. You will have to judge what you want to do with your older locomotives.

    Digital equipped (or digital-ready, with a decoder socket) locomotives are becoming more and more affordable, particularly if a manufacturer is producing a new version of a model for which the basic molds have been around for a while.

    Digital will let you do many more things and make operation simpler.

    If your used analog equipment is in good condition, you may be able to sell it to a collector or to someone who only operates analog equipment.

    – Ernest

  3. Thanks! I have been pondering this concern and I do agree with your comments. The risk of damage to digital components is too great if a short should occur between the analog and digital operations.

    The best solution is to choose one, analog or digital. I am leaning more towards the digital side and it is far more enjoyable to operate than analog.

    Thanks for your comments:

  4. Federico says:

    Old M track signals, can be used in a C track Marklin layout?

  5. Joe Krepps says:

    Are the Märklin DCC plugs compatible with different decoder makes? I’m wondering if conversion to “dead rail”/battery power, radio control is possible.

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