Can You Run Two Lionel Trains on the Same Track?

Everybody handles their model trains differently. While some people are satisfied with a single-train model train layout, others like creating as expansive of a track layout as possible. If you’re a part of the latter group, you may be wondering if there are any options that will allow you to run two different Lionel model trains on the same track.

There are a couple of ways to run two Lionel trains on the same track. If your layout is simple or your trains are older, a digital current command system (DC) is your best option. If you have newer trains or a more complicated track layout, you may prefer a digital command control system (DCC).

 Below, we will discuss everything you need to know about using these two techniques to run two different Lionel trains on the same track. Keep reading to learn more!

Can You Run Two Lionel Trains on the Same Track?

Running two Lionel trains on the same track can be complicated. Since slide switches can only connect to one train, there is no true way to connect two power backs to the same block using selectors, which many model trains use to simplify the wiring work.

However, there are a couple of digital systems you can use to run two Lionel trains on the same track. These include digital current command systems (DC) and digital command control systems (DCC).

lionel train layout
Corvair Owner

How Can I Use a Digital Current Command System to Run Two Trains?

Using a digital current command system, frequently referred to as DC command or simply DC, is the traditional way to run two different model trains on the same track. In order to use a DC system to run your two Lionel trains on the same railroad track, you will need:

  • Selector switches
  • Insulated rail joiners
  • Multiple power packs

The insulated rail joiners are a key part of the equation. These create different blocks in your railroad layout, always keeping the electricity set to your selected block. A separate selector switch controls each block of your track, which is part of the reason why it’s necessary to have multiple power packs. You can switch to a specific block at any time to allow your preferred train to move along the track.

DC systems used to be the main way that people would wire two different trains to the same track. This method is still very popular among people who have simple oval or round layouts, as well as those who own older model trains. However, digital command control systems (DCC) have more or less become the modern standard.

How Can I Use a Digital Command Control System to Run Two Trains?

While DC systems rely on voltage and polarity to move your Lionel trains along the track, DCC moves model trains through a consistent track power level and decoders inside your trains. A throttle sends a signal to a receiver within this decoder, which interprets the signal in terms of speed and directional control. This allows you to have multiple trains running along the same track. The best part? No large power banks or switches are necessary.

Although DCC systems used to be quite cost-prohibitive, their popularity, as well as recent advancements in technology, have made them more affordable and accessible than ever. There are a number of DCC systems currently available on the market. Some are fit for beginners, while others are better suited to model train experts.

DCC systems run multiple trains on all kinds of layouts, no matter how simple or complicated their design, through decoders, or chips installed in your model trains’ engines. Unlike DC systems, there’s no need for insulated rail joiners or multiple power packs. This is because the trains have electric power in the engines, allowing them to move themselves along the tracks.

lionel trains
Marine 69-71

These days, some new model trains come with a decoder already installed. Others contain an internal socket, which you can easily plug a decoder into. Basic decoders can power a train’s motor and headlights, and some more advanced options give you the option to control multiple lights. You can easily control your trains via your phone or computer with the Java Model Railroading Interface (JMRI).

DCC systems remove many of the limitations of DC systems by controlling your trains through electricity. While most new model trains are DCC compatible, you may have some trouble setting this system up if you have older Lionel trains.

How to Check if Your Lionel Trains Are Decoder Ready

The last thing you want is to spend time and money setting up a DCC system, only to find out that the trains you own are not compatible with it! Before you invest in a DCC system, you need to check your trains to see if you can install a decoder in the engines.

If you still have the owner’s manual for your train, you should be able to read it to find out if you can connect it to a DCC system. This information is also usually listed on the box that the train originally came in. But, if you do not have any of the train’s original packaging components available, you will need to check inside the shell of your Lionel train.

Open up your train and check to see if it has an NMRA 8-pin socket. You might have to remove the train’s light board to find it. If you see this socket, you can attach a decoder and use it with a DCC system. If not, you’ll need to either buy new trains or go with the traditional DC setup.

The Bottom Line

If you want to run two different Lionel trains on the same railroad track, you have a couple of different options. Depending on the complexity of your layout and the type of trains you currently own, you may find that either a digital current command (DC) system or a digital command control (DCC) system works best. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, so it’s up to you to weigh the options.


Lifelong Rail Enthusiast and Owner of Worldwide Rails

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