I really enjoy battery power. The trains run smoothly, I never have to clean track, and I don't need
rail clamps or jumper wires or heavy duty power packs. I save a lot on track costs by using aluminum
rail and making my own turnouts. In my case, I can have more railroad for less cost overall.
I use Aristo remote control systems and several sizes and types of batteries. So far I have 15
setups, ranging from power cars to single locomotives to pairs of locomotives.
I started with battery power in 1992. I had tried track power with aluminum rail and Bachmann
engines but the trains jerked and stalled often. After reading an article on Larry Rose's Rio Verde
Western, I was inspired to try battery power for myself. My first setups were crude but they worked,
and over the years I discovered new types of batteries, Aristo remotes, and different ways to install the
systems. I am very happy with battery power and highly recommend it for garden railroads.
No need to clean track. Trains always run smoothly.
No need to tighten rail joiners or buy rail clamps.
No wiring needed for reverse loops, wyes, and sidings.
You can run more than one train on the same track.
Saves money on track since you can use aluminum rail and build your own turnouts.
Saves money on wheels since you don't need to change over to metal wheels.
Requires rewiring of locomotives (except new Aristo models)
Cost of remote controls and batteries.
Units must be charged before use.
Runtime limited when using larger locomotives and long trains.
WHAT IT'S LIKE TO RUN WITH BATTERY POWER
Turn on the power switch, pick up the remote, and go! During the first run of the day, you may have
to pick up sticks and leaves off the track, but no need for track cleaning. If you want to run another train
on the same track, no problem, but they can collide if you don't pay attention. If your train is out of
range, about 50 feet in my case, you may have to get closer to it to control it. At the end of the run,
switch the train onto a sheltered track or run the engine onto a carrier tote. Always remember to turn off
the power switch and the headlight. That's all there is to it!
LiIon (Lithium Ion) - Very high power-to-weight ratio, cost relatively high. Requires specific charger
and battery protection circuitry. Excellent for railroad use.
NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) - High power-to-weight ratio, moderate cost. Excellent for railroad use,
especially for power cars (less trailing weight) and certain locomotives that don't have lots of room for
batteries. One "quirk" is that they lose a fraction of their charge every day. On the other hand, they
seem to last longer than other types and they don't have a "memory" like NiCads.
NiCad (Nickel Cadmium) -Midpriced and readily available, can be fast charged, but limited range, and
they should be fully discharged before recharging. When they lose charge, they lose it quickly,
sometimes stranding your train where it's hard to get to. They must be discharged completely before
Gel Cell (lead acid) - Inexpensive but heavy. Good when mounted in a locomotive, as they add weight
where it's wanted. Charge depletes gradually, giving you plenty of warning when charge is getting
weaker. Last a long time if charged slowly and never completely discharged.
VOLTAGES AND AMP-HOUR RATINGS
Batteries can be wired in series to add voltage. The total voltage is available for for the receiver and
also for the charger. I generally use 12 volts for switchers and slower trains, and 18 volts for mainline
trains and certain models such as the SD45 and LGB mogul. The batteries can be charged at a slightly
higher voltage - like 14 volts for a 12 volt set.
Battery capacity is rated in amp-hours. For garden railroad use, I recommend batteries in the 3 to 4
amp-hour range. A 3-amp-hour battery set will last about 2 or 3 hours with a single engine and a
ten-car train. I use 4-amp-hour batteries to power a pair of FA's or U25's and they last about 3 or 4
hours. When running trains for extended periods, the voltage from the batteries drops as the batteries
lose their charge. Sometimes this causes receivers to malfunction, but with gel cells it could also shorten
BATTERY SIZES, WEIGHTS, AND PRICES
This information is now at this link: Batteries
There are several systems on the market, but I only have experience with Aristocraft. I have
several versions of the 5470 and both versions of Onboard. The 5470's are high-capacity, reliable units,
and can be found for 100 to 120 dollars per set (transmitter and receiver). I find it is convenient to have
a separate transmitter with each receiver. The newer 10-channel receiver can be mounted in an engine or
freight car when taken out of its case. It has a very important safety feature: hitting the stop or reverse
button does not cause a sudden jerk; it slows and reverses smoothly, saving motors and gears.
For battery chargers, I use the same basic principle as older HO power packs: a transformer,
rectifier, and rheostat. I use a DC ammeter as well to monitor the rate of charge. For Gel Cells it is
important not to exceed 10% of the amp-hour rating of the batteries, for example, .2 amps maximum
for a set of 2-amp-hour batteries. As the batteries get fully charged, they will draw less current from
To make a charger, I make a wooden box about 6 by 7 inches by 3 inches high. The cover is 3
mm luaun plywood. The transformer is a DC wall transformer, or an AC transformer plus a bridge
rectifier. I connect the negative side to the solid black wire, which is connected to the outside
conductor of a 2.1-volt coax power plug. The positive side is wired in series through the rheostat
and ammeter, then to the white-striped wire and the inside conductor of the plug. You can safely
charge a 12 volt battery set with 12 to 15 volts, and an 18 volt set with 18 to 22 volts.
Of all the components for the battery charger, the rheostat is the hardest to find. I use 50 ohm
50 watt rheostats that I had in my HO days, and I occasionally find them at train meets. Rheostats
can also be found at mouser.com in the $25 range or at surplussales.com in the $6 to 15 range. You
can use values in the 50-80 ohm range, 25 or 50 watt. The less the wattage, the more heat is
generated. Less than 50 ohms means you might not be able to turn down the charger's current
output low enough. Higher than 80 ohms gives you less range and you will be using a smaller portion
of the dial.
LOCATION OF BATTERIES AND RECEIVERS
1. Battery car: with batteries and receiver mounted in a gondola or boxcar, you can use a battery
car with any properly-wired engine you have. You can also mount batteries so they are easily
replaced with a fresh set, using clips or velcro strips. You can also add a second or third car to
distribute the weight of the batteries.
2. Contained within a locomotive: there is enough room to house NiMH batteries and an
onboard receiver in some engines. FA's and RDC's have plenty of room. An RS-3 has less room
but I was able to mount 18 volts of 3-ah batteries and an older onboard receiver into it by gutting
out the insides. SD-45's and Dash 9's have room for batteries in the fuel tanks as well as in the
3. Locomotive mounted, multiple engines: By distributing batteries among two engines, you
can fit bigger batteries and receivers. Longer trains look good with more than one engine anyway.
I have three sets wired this way, a pair of U25's and two sets of FA/FB's, all with two 4-amp-hour
gel cells in one unit and a gel cel and big receiver in the other.
For photos of most of my battery power installations, from simple on/off setups to battery cars to
self-propelled locomotives, click on:
P&C BATTERY-POWERED INSTALLATIONS
Since I started on battery power before it was popular, I've used a few types of connectors that
might not be what others are using today. But they work for me and are easily available.
Loco to power car: 3.5 mm mono phono plug, on a wire protruding from the back of the
locomotive. All Electronics #PMP. 3.5 mm mono jack on front of power car, usually mounted
just above the coupler. All Electronics #MJW-8.
Power car to newer Aristo locomotives: you can get them from Aristocraft or All Electronics,
#CON-240. Another alternative is to modify 0.1-inch header connectors such as All Electronics
Battery charging jack: mounted on power car, or on fuel tank of battery-equipped locomotives.
Don't use a phono plug for this. I use a 2.1 mm Co-ax power jack. All Electronics #DCJ-12 or
Battery charger cable and plug: 2.1 mm co-ax plug. All Electronics #DCSID.
Schematic diagram for basic battery car. Most convenient fit is in a gondola or
Bachmann boxcar. NiMH batteries fit well along with a 5471 receiver taken out of its
An ideal way to start with battery power is building a battery car. The same battery car can
be used with any locomotive you have, as long as it has a connector and is electrically
isolated from the track. This car has two 4-amp hour NiMH battery packs, an old-style 5471
receiver, 2.1 mm charging jack, and 3.5 mm phono jack for the locomotive connection. It's
light enough that most engines have no trouble pulling this car, and its 4 amp hour batteries
will keep it running a good 3 or 4 hours. Because it's only 12 volts, it's good for moderate
speeds. I normally use a 44-tonner or NW-2 with this battery car..
INEXPENSIVE BATTERY POWER
You can power a small engine - in this case an Aristocraft Eggliner - for as low as 14 dollars! Go to:
Battery Powered Eggliner
LOCOMOTIVE CURRENT DRAIN
Different locomotives can have a wide range of the amount of current they use. The higher the
current draw, the sooner it will drain the batteries and require a recharge. Aristo 4-axle engines and
the USA NW-2 and 44-tonner are in the same range: about a half amp starting and one amp pulling
a modest train. USA Geeps and the Aristo SD45 use about twice as much current. One solution I
have found is to remove motors and gears that aren't needed, as I did with the GP7 set shown
above. An SD45 can run just fine with 5 axles (3 motors instead of 4). The U25 set has 3 trucks
powered and pulls a good size train. The RDC has only one truck powered, and on level track it can
pull 7 heavyweight cars!
For step-by-step instructions on how to install a battery-power system in a battery car or
locomotive, go to: Step-by-Step Installation
Battery Car - a good way to start into battery power is with a
Battery Car, which houses the batteries and receiver, and little
or no modifi-cation of the locomotive is necessary. Here a
large Aristo receiver has been pulled from its case and mounted
on the floor of a boxcar. The white bracket in the middle holds
the on/off switch and the charging jack, mounted at the boxcar
Battery Powered Eggliner - the
most basic battery power
installation I have. It's
controlled simply by an on/off
switch on the underside. It may
be crude, but it really works!!