The Lionel KW transformer was the second largest transformer Lionel made in the postwar era. It delivered 190 watts of power and provided two handles to control two trains. Internally, the design is very similar to the ZW. If the ZW was Lionel’s Cadillac transformer, the KW was the Buick. I always thought Lionels were overrated until I ran a 675 locomotive with a KW.
There was a time when nobody made modern transformers the size of a KW or ZW. Now that they do, the ZW and especially the KW cost a lot less. I remember when a reconditioned KW cost $200. Today you can get one for under $100. An as-is KW with minor issues will cost half that. These days, the KW is a bargain.
When it comes to wiring a Lionel LW transformer, there’s more to consider than just which posts to use. The size of the wires also matters. If you derail a train, 5.5 amps of power can run through the wire for 10-15 seconds before the circuit breaker kicks in. An LW has enough power to melt wire and make it smoke or even catch fire.
Proper wiring for the LW transformer is a bit of a safety issue. It’s not just about preventing voltage drop to keep your train running smoothly. A smooth running train is nice, but safety is a must.
“Which Lionel transformer do I need?” you ask? Obviously, for a lot of people, the $700 Lionel ZW-L transformer is overkill. If you have to ask, your needs are a lot more modest than that. The good news is, Lionel made a lot of good transformers over the years. That means there are lots of them. And that means they’re affordable. If you’re looking for Lionel transformer comparisons, you’ve come to the right place.
All Lionel transformer comparisons should include the common 1033, RW, LW, KW and ZW transformers. These are all good, dependable transformers from the postwar era that are easy to find today, have adequate wattages ranging from 90-270 watts, have a circuit breaker for safety and have a whistle controller. They have everything you need for a basic setup, and the larger ones are capable of running the smaller layouts you see in the train magazines, so they have some room for growth.
The Lionel Multi-control Trainmaster RW is a sturdy tin box of a transformer from early in the postwar era. The presence of a whistle controller is the only thing that really distinguishes it from a prewar transformer. Lionel made it from 1948 to 1954. If you want to know all about the Lionel RW transformer, you’ve come to the right place. You probably won’t find a copy of the original instruction manual online but this will tell you all you need to know.
The Lionel KW is the second most powerful, and second most popular Lionel transformer of the 1950s and 1960s. If the Lionel ZW was Lionel’s Cadillac, the KW was Lionel’s Buick. It was a 190-watt transformer and Lionel sold it from 1950 to 1965. It replaced Lionel’s 150-watt ZW lookalike, the VW.
Finding original KW instructions or an original KW manual online is a bit difficult, but there’s plenty the original instructions don’t mention.
The Lionel ZW is Lionel’s most iconic transformer of the 1950s and 1960s, and perhaps one of its most iconic products, period. Everyone wanted the two-handled, football-shaped, 275-watt powerhouse that was the ZW. It was one of Lionel’s more venerable postwar products, lasting on the market for 18 years from 1948 to 1966. It replaced Lionel’s former top-of-the-line transformer, the Z.
Finding original ZW instructions or an original ZW manual online is a bit difficult, but there’s plenty the original instructions don’t mention.
When wiring a Lionel layout with multiple transformers, it helps to know the pinouts, or what posts output what voltages. Lionel published a few lists over the years but none were complete. Here is my list of 33 different Lionel transformer pinouts.
The Lionel LW Trainmaster is a 125 watt transformer that Lionel produced from 1955 to 1966. They are reasonably durable and Lionel made them for a long time. That means you can find them easily on the secondary market. They can be expensive if they have their original box and paperwork. But if you just want to run a train and don’t care about the paper, you can get a serviced LW for $50-$60, and an as-is one for under $40. At 125 watts, it’s the most powerful single-handle transformer of the postwar era.
The LW is a quirky transformer so there are some things about if you need to be aware of if you have other Lionel transformers, but as long as you keep those in mind, it’s a fine transformer that will serve you well. The quirks have nothing at all to do with reliability. Lionel just designed its layout a bit differently than many of their other models. In some ways it’s the ideal accessory transformer. We’ll cover that later.
One thing to keep in mind: Unplug the LW when you’re not using it. It doesn’t have its own power switch. I plug my transformers into a power strip and turn all of them on and off with the strip’s on/off switch.
Someone asked me recently about the Lionel CW-80 and how it compares vs older transformers. That’s a fair question, and one that tends to stir up a lot of emotions on train forums. So I’ll try to present the pros and cons in a fair manner.