The Lionel 116 station is a popular if impractical centerpiece for pre-war tinplate layouts. Also known as the double station, it is an enlarged version of the Lionel 115 station and shares many of its characteristics. While best suited for standard gauge trains, its design does lend itself to o gauge. It’s a majestic station for large layouts, but it’s easier to squeeze the smaller 115 station into a typical layout.
The Lionel 116 is the largest station Lionel produced, eclipsing the similar 115 station. Its design was inspired by New York city’s Grand Central station, but it used selective compression to give the impression of a big city station without taking the space that would be required of a true scale model.
Origins of the Lionel 116 station
The 116 is an enlarged version of the earlier 115 station, basically grafting additional wings onto each side. It’s not quite double the size of the earlier 115, but more like 50% larger. Still, it consumes a considerable amount of space on a layout.
Like the 115, the Lionel 116 station included a feature Lionel called automatic train control. You would isolate a block of track, usually 3-4 sections, and attach a lock on to the isolated track, and another lock on to the rest of the track, then connect the station in line. When the train entered the track section, the station would cut power, and a timer would keep the train stopped for a few seconds before restoring power and letting the train run again. Of course, you needed to disable the e unit in the train, otherwise the station would just cycle the train into neutral. Lionel e units have a lever for just this purpose.
At 19 1/2 inches wide by 9 1/4 inches deep and 9 inches tall, the Lionel 116 has an imposing presence on a layout. With a standard gauge train, it looks like a 2-story building. With an O gauge train, it looks like a 3-story building. The design was clever in its adaptability.
The 116’s legacy
Lionel didn’t resume production of the 116 after World War II, unlike the smaller 115, which enjoyed an encore from 1946 to 1949. Eventually the more modest size plastic 132 station took the helm as Lionel’s flagship station, offering train stop capability, but taking less space on the layout. The smaller stations allowed hobbyists to build up more elaborate communities for their trains to roam around in and between. In the 1930s, the intent was for you to buy two stations, plant a couple of 184 bungalows around them, and make that represent a city. The approach changed as more companies started producing buildings for layouts.
Reproductions have been available since the 1980s. Originals have the words Lionel City stamped above the door. Some reproductions, sold by Lionel under the Lionel classics line or under the Lionel Corporation licensing agreement between Lionel and MTH in the 2010s, also say Lionel City. Reproductions sold by MTH or T-Reproductions that were not sold under these arrangements may have a blank spot over the door or the words Union Station.
The 116 came in three color schemes. The initial color scheme had a cream colored structure with a terracotta base and peacock green windows and other architectural details. The later and more common examples had a red base, roof, and windows. There were two different shades of red.
Lionel sold the station alone or in conjunction with an elaborate terrace, which further elevated the station and also increased the square footage it took up on a layout. It is much easier to find the station alone than with the base, whether we are talking a vintage example or a modern reissue. Lionel’s distaste for tin lithography was sometimes a liability, but its use of bright enamel paints worked well on the 116 station design. Lionel was able to give a convincing representation of stone blocks and pillars by embossing tin plate and painting it a cream color. The colored windows weren’t exactly realistic but helped make the design pop. Joshua Lionel Cohen noted that having a bright, eye-catching design made it easier to sell his products to women, who were buying them for the children in their lives.
It is also no coincidence that the original color schemes look good under a Christmas tree.
Setting up the Lionel 116 station for automatic train control
The Lionel 115 and 116 came with instructions, but if you yours got misplaced over the years, here is how you set one up. To make an isolated track section, remove the center pin from two sections of track. Replace the metal pin with an insulated fiber pin. Lionel recommended using diagonal cutter pliers and levering the pin up against the track to remove it. I find it easier to use a pair of locking pliers. Sometimes it helps to push the pin inward a bit and then pull it out.
Place two or three sections of regular track in between the isolated track sections. This gives you a length of three to four isolated track sections. Place a lock on on The insulated track section, and another lock on on the non-isolated section. Connect the center rail of the non-isolated track to post #1 on the Lionel 116 station. Connect the center rail of the isolated track to post #3 of the Lionel 116 station. Finally, connect the outside rail of either lockon to post #2 of the Lionel 116 station.
Setting up the 116 without automatic train control
It’s also possible to just light the Lionel 116 and not use train control. To do this, run your common wire to post #2 and your accessory wire to post #1.
How the 116 works
The mechanism is part# 115-14. Lionel later incorporated it into its plastic 132 station, which it produced during the postwar era. The mechanism works by having a contact wrapped with a wire. The wire heats the contact, which eventually causes it to close. When the contact closes, it sends power to the track, allowing the train to run.
Popularity and value
The 116 station has never been as easy to find as the smaller 115. But it’s usually possible to find a at least a couple on Ebay.
Reproductions appeared in the 1980s, which means the station was available in the modern era for longer than it was originally. Repros retailed for around $300, though inflation pushed it closer to $500 in more recent years. Originals in very good or excellent condition are available for a similar price. You’ll pay a premium for a better original example. Before paying a premium, make sure it’s actually original. An example restored in the 1960s or 70s will have a patina again.
Since it’s not as common as the 115, prices are higher. Before you pay a premium price for one, make sure it’s complete. Parts are available, especially because all of the smaller parts are interchangeable with the 115-type stations. But make sure you know what you’re getting into. Most replacement parts sell for $20-$25 after shipping. That means a window here, a skylight there, and a light fixture elsewhere can make an incomplete station cost more than a complete example would have. Repair and restoration is a fun part of the hobby. But if you want a restoration project, price out the cost of your supplies first, and factor that into what you pay.
Repurposing the Lionel 116 station
There is no shortage of great tinplate train station buildings for us to use. The 116 is modeled after Grand Central Station in New York City, though the result more closely resembles the miniaturized union stations in midwestern industrial cities like Gary, Indiana. But it also resembles a courthouse, city hall, or central branch of a public library in the midwest. So if you place it away from the tracks and surround it with commercial buildings, it can serve a completely different purpose while not looking out of place. If you have a large enough layout to accommodate both, a 115 can pass for city hall while a 116 acts as the courthouse and a more modest station, whether it’s a smaller Lionel station or a Marx Girard or Oak Park station serves your passenger trains.
David Farquhar is a computer security professional, entrepreneur, and author. He started his career as a part-time computer technician in 1994, worked his way up to system administrator by 1997, and has specialized in vulnerability management since 2013. He invests in real estate on the side and his hobbies include O gauge trains, baseball cards, and retro computers and video games. A University of Missouri graduate, he holds CISSP and Security+ certifications. He lives in St. Louis with his family.