When Lionel bulbs burn out too fast

A frequent question I see is why the Lionel bulbs in any given accessory burn out quickly. I can sum up both the problem and the solution in a single word: voltage.

When you have too much voltage, bulbs burn out quickly–sometimes in minutes. When you have too little voltage, the bulbs will last decades.

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The common post on the Lionel 1025 transformer

Lionel produced several 35- and 45-watt transformers through the years, including the 1010, 1025, 1015, and 1016. Lionel MPC produced a similar 4045 transformer in the 1970s. They’re small, but cheap when you can find them, and can be useful when you string them together with other transformers. The problem is the markings don’t tell you what you need to know in order to do that.

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The common post on a Marx transformer

When you want to phase transformers, it’s good to know the common (in Lionel terms) or base (in American Flyer terms) post. It’s a shame that Marx didn’t label which of its posts was common. So here’s how to find the common post on a Marx transformer.

It’s a good thing this is fairly easy to figure out, because Marx transformers are dirt cheap. I bought one for exactly one dollar at the last train show I attended, and the vendor wanted to sell me a box full of them for $5.

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Repair a Marx 1209 transformer

Repair a Marx 1209 transformer

Want to repair a Marx 1209 transformer? There are two schools of thought. One is that small, sub-75 watt transformers aren’t worth fixing because they are so cheap. The other is that since they are so cheap, you have nothing to lose by trying.

Marx didn’t design its transformers to be fixed, but the design is extremely simple. The hardest part really is getting the case apart and then getting it back together. If Marx had designed them to be serviced, like its competitors did, they would have cost more, so we wouldn’t have as many Marx trains to enjoy today. So it’s easy enough to forgive Marx for this.

Let’s dive in.

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Replace the plug on a Lionel transformer

Lionel transformers were built to last. Perhaps the most frequent issue with them is a messed-up power cord. But sometimes the cord is OK but it needs a new plug.

Replacing a power cord is easier than it sounds, but replacing just the plug is easier still.

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Adjust Lionel CW-80 fixed voltage

The CW-80, unlike postwar transformers, only has two accessory posts. To adjust the Lionel CW-80 fixed voltage, the posts are programmable. If you lost your manual, here’s how to do it.

The accessory voltage was set to 12 volts at the factory, which is usually a good setting, but sometimes they get adjusted, or sometimes you need something different. Here’s how to set it to what you want, in five steps.

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Lionel train won’t slow down? Here’s the fix.

Someone asked me recently why their Lionel train won’t slow down, and when I asked for elaboration, I learned the train wasn’t responding to the throttle on the transformer.

Usually I see the opposite problem, but this one is an easy mistake to make. Fortunately the fix for it is also easy.

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