How to wire reverse loops on a model train set

Written by tom kantain
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How to wire reverse loops on a model train set
A reverse loop begins with a turnout. (rail switch intersection image by Gerald Bernard from

It is a remarkably convenient fact for model railroaders that real diesel and steam locomotives run on a pair of metal rails, because it means that realistic-looking model train tracks can be used to conduct electricity to power and control model trains, hiding the wires in plain sight. So long as the two rails never meet, it works very well, but in a reverse loop, they do, resulting in a short circuit. To include a reverse loop in your layout, you need to establish a separate circuit for trains on that loop.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Turnout
  • Four plastic insulated rail joiners
  • Terminal track or two terminal rail joiners
  • Curved track
  • Rail joiners (standard, conductive)
  • Wire
  • Extra model railroad transformer

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  1. 1

    Attach a turnout to your main track where you want to begin the reverse loop. Use normal conductive rail joiners, just as with the rest of your layout.

  2. 2

    Place plastic insulated rail joiners on each branch of the turnout, so that the loop section itself will be electrically isolated from the main track.

  3. 3

    Attach the rest of the track for the loop, so that the one branch of the turnout eventually leads back to the other branch. Include a terminal track somewhere in this loop; alternatively, use terminal rail connectors.

  4. 4

    Connect the terminals of the loop track to the extra model railroad transformer terminals. Use enough wire to let you place the extra transformer next to the transformer you use for the main track. Label both transformers so you can remember which one controls which section of track.

  5. 5

    Place your locomotive onto the new reverse loop section, and plug in the loop transformer. Gently give the locomotive some power, and note which direction it moves for the forward and reverse settings.

  1. 1

    Place your locomotive on the main track, headed towards the reverse loop.

  2. 2

    Set the forward/reverse switch on the loop transformer so that a locomotive entering the loop through the turnout will move in the right direction. Note that this will depend on the position of the turnout switch.

  3. 3

    Throttle up both transformers so that the locomotive moves along the main track, through the turnout and onto the reverse loop. Try to keep the loop transformer set to approximately the same power level as the main transformer, so that the locomotive will not change speed as it enters the loop.

  4. 4

    Toggle the forward/reverse switch on the MAIN transformer, without adjusting the throttle, once the locomotive is completely onto the reverse loop. Now, when the locomotive reaches the turnout and leaves the loop, it will continue moving in the correct direction, and at the same speed it entered the loop.

Tips and warnings

  • If you only have one transformer, you can still make a reverse loop work. Just connect the loop section of track to the main transformer through a DPDT switch, to flip the polarity of the current. In this case, you will need to stop the train on the loop, toggle both the forward/reverse switch on the transformer and the DPDT switch, and then throttle up the train again to proceed ahead off the loop and back onto the main track. If you add another DPDT switch between the transformer and the main track, you won't even need to stop the train on the loop.

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