Feeder Wire Installation and Hook Up

Feeder Wire Installation and Hook Up

By Roger Heid


Once your track layout expands beyond your initial starter kit, it will be advantageous to add additional feeding points to your tracks. It may even become necessary to do so. Why?

With increasing total track length, the voltage drop can reach a point where not enough voltage exists on a section of track the furthest away from the power source. Obviously, this will put quite a dent into things. You need to apply power to that area along the tracks.

Now you ask what is causing this voltage drop. Well, the actual tracks by themselves impose resistance to the flow of electricity. More notable culprits are the connectors between individual track sections; some are better than others. Maerklin C track connectors are spring loaded, an improvement over the typical slide-on joiner. But they are still only a connection by means of metal touching metal. Over time, corrosion will help the gremlins to do their job.

In the case of 2-rail DC tracks, you can simply hard solder the tracks together. It will greatly reduce the voltage drop. Here comes the clincher. If you want to dismantle the tracks and/or make changes to the layout, it takes two solder irons and two people, working in synch, to get the job done. It can be done.

Trying to do this with Maerklin M track will vastly increase your vocabulary of depletives. Instead of gradual hair loss, you may become completely bald over night. With C-track this is possible. Both section ends provide connector lugs for both polarities, on the underside. Just hard wire the lugs for the center studs, giving the wire some extra length.

After the concerted effort of two people achieves track separation, all you have to do is cut the wire with small side cutters. Savvy?

Once all is said and done, the tracks will still impose the dreaded resistance causing the voltage drop. You still may have to install feeder wires. Now, there are some recommended rules as to how many feed points you need after so and so many feet of track. The very metal the tracks are made of constitutes the first of a number of variable factors, making it difficult to establish a set rule.

When I first did that, I came up with my own approach. I installed a feed point at the approximate mid- point of the total track length. After installing two more feeders, everything was A-Okay. In this particular case, it took one feeder after each 25% of the total track length to make things right. One huge layouts, it may take a feeder every 10% of track length. You can choose any method that flips your switch. My philosophy is to install as many feeders as needed, but also as few as possible.

There are two ways to install a feeder network, the spider, or what I call the horse shoe. I prefer the horse shoe. I connect two ‘bus wires’ directly to the power source in addition to the already existing feed wire. Then I route them along the tracks, one in each direction, staying as near to any potential feed point as possible.

Wherever needed, I carefully remove a short section of insulation. Then I solder the individual feed wire to the bus and the track. Make absolutely sure you maintain the correct polarity/phase throughout the system. Color coding is highly recommended. Do not connect the ends of the buses together. Leave them open ended and un-terminated. There is no need to insulate the track sections between the feed points from each other.

For the main bus, I use 16 gauge wire. The point feeders can be of a smaller gauge if they are very short. Stranded wire provides better conductivity, but it is harder to work with as far as stripping the insulation is concerned. There is a high risk of individual strands to be cut off which defeats the benefit of the gauge thickness. I am quite experienced in handling all kinds of wires, I have no problem with stranded wire. If you are apprehensive about this, use solid wire. Your layout is probably not big enough to cause the difference in conductivity to make a big splash.

The use of a wire stripping tool is highly recommended.

The above is intended to be a guideline. If someone has additional input, please, leave a comment.

If you have any questions, please post them in the Forum under the Technical Corner topic.

Thank you.


4 Responses to Feeder Wire Installation and Hook Up

  1. Gordon says:

    On N scale track, many sources recommend 36″ spacing for power drops from the track for DCC. All of my track is soldered, and I have found that 5 to 6 foot spacing between track feeds is no problem.

    Like Roger, I run a twisted pair of #16 stranded wire, red & black, under my track as a buss, stripping the insulation where I want to have a power feed. I offset the stripped sections so that they do not come in contact with each other and short out the system. Thus I do not need to insulate these solder points, and, if necessary, I can add a power feed for a siding or additional track.

    On my new layout, I ran the buss and soldered the track power feeds (#22 solid, red & black, also) before laying the deck. Then, after the deck and track was laid, I simply drilled holes, pulled the feeds up through the deck, cut them to length, and soldered them to the track – red to the middle, black to the outside, to prevent shorts.

    On our recent trip to Germany, I noticed many 10″ to 12″ square yellow junction boxes alongside the track, with ground wires going from the boxes to the tracks. Obviously this is the ground for the electric locomotives. I will be disguising some of my feeds with these prototypical boxes.


  2. Rick says:

    I am ready to install my bus. Why do you not connect the ends of the bus to itself? Also, what affect would using suitcase connectors have on stranded wire? I’m an old guy with old trains using M-track. Thanks for any help.


  3. admin says:

    Not connecting the ends of the bus is something that I do. Electrically it does not make difference whether the bus is a closed loop or open ended. In my case, leaving the ‘loop’ open made it easier for me to move and/or extend the bus. That is all.

    Suitcase Connectors are fine and do the job, BUT, they are just another type of ‘metal touching metal’ connection. Over time,corrosion will build up resistance contributing to voltage drop, especially with stranded wire.

    I hope this answers your questions.

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