Water and Electricity Don’t Mix

When I started this train project I researched how to effectively wire the layout and I used standard LGB track.  I planned the layout, wired up the layout, and after everything was in place I found that the layout electrically is not reliable.

Sometimes planning and research is not enough.  Experience is critical, as well as testing in addition to planning and research.  Experience is the most important and testing is next most important.  If you don’t have experience then you should test.  If you don’t have time to test then there will be some trial and error.I certainly didn’t have the experience of making this kind of layout before.  I didn’t have time to test the different options.  So all I could do is plan and then redo what didn’t work.

Even in 2019 when you search on the internet it is tough to find that experience factor on these kind of projects.  You can search for specifics like “How to do something specific” but you cannot find out how to make an outdoor train layout electrically reliable.  Part of the problem is that very few people are utilizing Digitrax and JMRI to run an outdoor train layout. So some of these problems are new and have never been found before.

After the national train show last year it was apparent that I needed to improve the reliability of the track.  Two problems surfaced in the week before getting ready for the show.

  1. Sometimes the track power did not pass through all of the track connectors. The locomotive would stop on the track. When I moved the track the locomotive would start up. This told me that the standard track connectors were intermittent
  2. The Loconet would show false occupied status in blocks. This was because the BDL168 detected a slight resistance between rail A and rail B. After debugging the problem I found that the wires in the dirt were allowing resistance between them as well as water in the conduits that connected the track to the BDL168

Everything worked great for 2 years but that was before we filled in the layout with dirt.  The track wires were buried which caused the resistance issue.  The dirt also got into the connectors and any weak connectors would cause a break in the voltage.  In addition the junction boxes were flush with the ground and when It rained hard, water found its way into the junction boxes and then into the conduits.  I made the junction boxes flush with the ground to hide the boxes.  My plan was to put buildings over these boxes and you would never know they were there.

After careful thought and advice from several people here is what I decided to do.

  1. Remove all standard LGB track connectors and install Split Jaw connectors
  2. Rewire the layout and change from THHN wire to XHHW wire.

THHN wire is available locally and is stated to be waterproof. I found that the THHN wire outer casing would break up when the wire is in the dirt resistance increases XHHW wire has no outer casing and is a better waterproof wire. In addition to the XHHW wire, I wrapped the wire with electrical tape. I also found that the conduits would periodically have moisture in them so I decided to do item 3.

    3. Move the BDL168s into enclosures that are right on the layout with the minimum distance for the wire runs and do not have to go through the conduits. This required 2 additional enclosures and the moving of 2 BDL168s

New Connectors

Split Jaw Track Connectors Original Junction box flush with the ground

Originally I planned the wiring to put the most electronics in the pool enclosure.  This required longer runs of wires through several conduits. I thought I could keep all moisture out of the conduits buried in the dirt but water kept finding its way in.  The issue is where the conduits connect.  They connect with junction boxes around the layout.  I have the junction boxes buried in the dirt with only the top above the dirt.  I did this because I wanted to put buildings on top of the junction boxes to hide the boxes.  Now when I have a big rain the water builds up on the layout and water finds it ways into the junction boxes.  Since the conduits are at the bottom of the junction boxes, the water goes into the conduits. Sealing these junction boxes is very hard.  With either THHN or XHHW wire, water in the conduit is not a real issue unless you are measuring resistance between 2 of the wires in the conduit.


Rewire Track


Addditional Electrical Boxes

While I still have not tested these changes in all conditions, this is what I have done for the layout.

Planning and research are important but so is experience and testing.  Maybe  experience and testing are just as important.

So grandchildren hopefully you are learning how I operate as this blog is for you.  You can see when I make the right decision and the wrong decisions.  As you can see I try to continually learn from any mistakes that I make and to constantly improve. I realize some of this is very technical but that is how I am wired.  Hopefully through these blogs you can learn about me and maybe a little about yourself.



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