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Can I Operate Locomotives Purchased in the USA on European Track?

Paul has this question for readers:

“I’m looking to purchase N scale locomotives on ebay in the United States. Can these be operated on European track? If not, what needs to be done to make them run on European track?”

21 Responses to Can I Operate Locomotives Purchased in the USA on European Track?

  • Andrew Brownsays:

    When i moved to the US i inquired about the same thing but in reverse. What i was told is European trains run on 240v at 50hz, US trains run on 110v at 60hz and the Hz difference would wreck the motors. You will need to replace the motors at the very least.

    • Sheldon Clarksays:

      NOOOOO! The locos will be fine – they work on 0 ~ 12V DC (or DCC pulsed alternating current, when fitted with the appropriate chip). The controllers in Europe & USA use an input supply of 110 volts to 250 volts, depending on location, but that wasn’t the question. Paul can go ahead & purchase his locos from across the world, just as long as he doesn’t try to use a non-DCC fitted loco on a DCC system.

  • Alex Lafarguesays:

    …you’ll need a ‘step-down’ voltage converter
    …the HO trains sold in America are designed for 110- 120 volts A.C.
    …in Europe the voltage is 220
    …if you power your American bought HO engines on the European electricity – you will destroy the train and likely start an electrical short circuit – or – worse, a fire
    …be aware – be careful

    • Sheldon Clarksays:

      No, again; as long as Paul is buying locos & not transformers or mains voltage controllers, he’ll be fine – see my comment above & those of others below.

      • Dean C Kaulsays:

        Agreed, you cannot move “power supplies” between Europe and the US. I bought Hornby Zero 1 equipment long ago and had to have the input power converted to work on US mains.

  • David Kaysays:

    I live in Ireland and have bought a few locomotives, (mainly ‘Atlas’), from the USA. None of them give me any problems on my track, which is Kato Unitrack. It should not matter what track you run the loco’s on.

    • Sheldon Clarksays:

      Absolutely correct.

  • Joelsays:

    As far as I know and have heard that locomotives over in the USA if you buy them and had them delivered to you they won’t work on the track in Europe and definitely won’t work in the UK.

    • Sheldon Clarksays:

      It’s the transformers that are a problem, not the locos – locos don’t work on mains voltage any more, not since the very earliest (highly dangerous) days. Go ahead, Paul; just do it – but don’t buy any transformers, controllers that have mains voltage input, phone chargers, TVs, washing machines, fridges, etc!

    • David Stokessays:

      Andrew – the “trains” don’t run on 220 or 110 volts, house wiring in the USA is 110 and Europe 220 – 240. All except Marklin DC locos run on 12 -14 volts DC (Direct Current) which is rectified/transformed from the higher voltage. DCC locos run on 15 – 18 volts (AC?). OGauge run on 24 -32 volts AC and/or DC. In all cases the electricity for USA locations is 110v and Europe 220-240v so make sure the transformer you use can accept hat and then run any loco from any country to your hearts content. Marklin is the ugly duckling, and runs on AC rather than DC out of the controller, but still be aware of your country’s power input source values and purchase accordingly. Joel – Sorry mate but that is BS, I run Australian, American, German and Czechoslovakian manufactured locos and they all run just fine on Peco track controlled by a bog standard “toy train” transformer/controller units.

  • Dale Arendssays:

    Let’s first clarify one thing – there is a difference between the power to the system and the power to the track. The control system yo use should be rated for the power in your country, eg 120 vac or 220-240 vac. What the control system delivers to the track is totally independent of that.

    The next question is if you are running DC or DCC. If DC then the trains themselves will likely use 5 to 14 volts DC for the various speed range. As long as the control pack delivers that, you’re good to go. If you use DCC, the DCC system will deliver the right voltages to the track as long as they follow the NMRA (National Model Railroad Association) standards, and most DCC systems do.

    So what this comes down to is you are usually better off getting the power pack or DCC system locally but the locomotives themselves can most likely be fine no matter where you buy them.

  • Fergysays:

    track is track,but the UK transformer is the differences ,220 v, v”s 110 v , use a step down unit

    • Brian Harpersays:

      I have a gauge master series Q, bought in UK and use 110v to run my loco’s, and I live in Canada and I have UK and US loco’s

  • Kevin Chingsays:

    Hi Paul there is no difference in the two rail system the only difference is with Marklin they run on a 3 rail system. However saying that as long as the operating voltage is the same i.e. 12 volys they wil run there is a difference in the mains voltage as others have said US runs 110 volts here in new Zealand we run 240 volts and proviiding the controller is right for each country and it gives 12 volt DC then they will operate even with DCC as long as the operating voltage is the same . IF you are in the US use one with the 110 volt mains power if in other country use one that uses their mains voltage and you will not have any problems I have US engines and have had no problem and others that run Hornby etc do not have any problems either. we have one club layout running DCC that uses continental, US and UK locos on the same track.

  • Alfredsays:

    As long as you purchase the same scale locos (and rolling stock) you shouldn’t have any problem. N scale track is “nine millimeter”s between the rails. “N” stands for “9mm”. In the US (and most other countries), N Scale is 1:160. In the UK I think it is, N Scale is 1:148 – the models are just a little bigger, but the track and wheel gauge is still 9mm. Track voltage, I.e., DCC/DC, Is the same, so the Locos and accessories will work fine. But the line voltage for your power packs will HAVE to be 220 or as stated above, you’ll have to use step-down transformer(s) for any 110v equipment you might have. If your layout is already in place, the Locos will be fine.

    • Sheldon Clarksays:

      Actually, UK uses 1:148 because the real thing is smaller than elsewhere, so they look about the same size as, for instance, European 1:160. Otherwise, absolutely correct in every respect. It’s the transformers in or supplying the controllers you have to be careful with. Best advice for anyone in USA, for instance, is to buy & use controllers and/or transformers made for use in USA.

  • Frank Bsays:

    The posts about the mains voltages are mistaken. Locos in N scale do NOT run on mains voltage !

    The practical difference is that there will be different transformers to reduce the mains 250V AC (UK & Europe) or 120V AC (USA) to the low voltage (up to 12 V for DC) used on the track.

    US & European N scale is 1:160, and the UK N scale is 1:148, but all N scale track is identical 9mm gauge. UK, European and US track may have different fine details such as sleeper spacing, etc, but all the locos will run on the same track at the same voltages.

    All standard DCC locos will operate from the same DCC control systems.

  • Rick Savianosays:

    I used to model in N (and HO in my younger days, for that matter), but now model in Z. The important things to remember are:
    1. There is a difference between Mains voltage and track voltage.
    2. There is a difference between scale and gauge
    Gauge is the distance between the insides of the track, and that is almost completely standardized. The National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) sets the standards in the U.S., and almost all the model train manufacturers world-wide follow those standards. I have purchased traincars in many European countries, and have had no problems running them in the U.S.
    Scale is approximate compared to gauge, and the difference is most noticeable in G, or No. 1 gauge, the cool thing is that N track can be used as HOn3 and Z track can be used as Nn3 – the tracks are that standardized. Bottom line is that, as long as your transformer takes your local mains voltage, you should have no problem running your trains, because the track will not be a problem.

  • Paulsays:

    Thanks to all, thanks for all the extensive answers, that’s really great and much appreciated!!

  • Anthony Germagliottisays:

    you will have no problem buying locos on ebay or any place else because your power pack puts
    out dc voltage to the track not ac so you do not have to worry about if it is 50 or 60 cycles thats input
    voltage not output voltage which is dc,

  • Gerrysays:

    Listen to the guys about the differences in engines/rolling stock and TRANSFORMERS. Whenever I travel to country’s that run on the higher voltage/lower Hz I carry a voltage converter to run all my U.S. electrical stuff, computer, hair dryer etc. to protect my 110v 60Hz stuff.
    What I’m saying is that the engines ARE NOT the problem and they should run just fine as they are running on the already converted VAC, whether you’re running on EU or US, to 0-15 VDC.

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