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Confused Selecting Feeder and Buss Wires and Suitcase Connectors

Anthony needs help from experienced railroaders:

“I’m underway with my new HO setup. I will have a couple of runs of over 50ft. I don’t want to soldier direct to the rails unless I absolutely need too. I read that suitcase connectors are the way to go but I’m unsure what feeder and buss wires to use and the color connectors to use?”

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7 Responses to Confused Selecting Feeder and Buss Wires and Suitcase Connectors

  • Frank Bsays:

    It is possible (and much easier) to solder wires to track connectors (fishplates) instead of the rails directly, drilling holes for the wires as you lay the track sections. For this purpose, the fishplates can first be pulled off existing track with fine pliers for easy soldering.

    “Suitcase” connectors are for quick easy joining of wires without stripping or soldering, particularly taking a feed sideways off an existing power wire, so they could be used for connecting the track feeder wires to the bus wires.

    • Sheldon Clarksays:

      You can buy track connectors and even track connectors that are pre-wired, but not all the connectors on the market fit all the other makes of track – do some research (like asking a specific question on here). If I understand correctly what you mean by “suitcase connectors”, I wouldn’t touch them with a 16 foot barge pole; they’re about as likely as not to break your bus in time. At our club, we use bare wires for the bus (well separated so they cannot touch each other, causing a short; it is thus easy to connect the droppers to the bus by soldering.

    • Morgan Bilbosays:

      It is not recommended to solder feeders to rail joiners. But to solder directly to the rail. If you plan ahead, it’s easy. You do solder to the underside of the rail and it’s almost invisible. But you need to drill your holes before you lay the track. Is this clear? It’s not hard to do.


    For DCC i vote to solder dropper wires of about 20 gage directly to the underside of the rails so they are not seen. After passing them thru the deck, I would stable them lightly so that they can not be tugged on them and come loose fro the rails. It will be an absolute pain if you have to pull up rail and resolder the wires later. SO NOT ballast anything for at least one year until you have run your self silly with all your trains on all your track. Yards and spurs are not ballasted…only main line. Inclines should not be greater than 2 % max Taka a box car and label one side of it with tape as RED, the other side as BLACK. SLide this car around your layout as you install your droppers. You will ALWAYS put the right colored wire on the correct side of the rail. A standard is as you look at the engineer on the right side of the cab, this rail is positive and the other side (brakeman side) is negative.Careful when doing reversing loops.

  • Dan Asays:

    Hi Anthony, in general:

    Bus wires should be 12 or 14 gauge stranded wire. Stranded is easier to bend/twist around the underside of the layout.

    Feeders (or drop wires) should be 18-22 gauge and kept short, i.e. 6″. Solid wire works best here as it is easier to feed through the holes drilled in the sub-roadbed.

    If you’re using 36″ flex track, it is good to solder each run or at worst every other piece of track.

    For the suitcase connectors, make sure you check the specs as they will say which gauge wire they handle. I use 14 gauge bus lines and 20-22 gauge feeders. So I get connectors that say the following: Red Electrical IDC Wire Connector Double Run – Tap 22-18 AWG (Tap), 18-14 AWG (Run). The tap is the feeder, the run is the bus.

    For colors, be consistent. For example, I use red and black for my track power. Red feeders to red bus, black feeders to black bus. For accessories, I run a different bus and feeder color, i.e. blue and yellow so that it is easy to tell what goes to what.

    If you’re considering using power districts, that adds a little more complexity to the wiring.

    Hope that helps!

  • David Stokessays:

    Anthony, Anthony – I understand your fear of solder but, honestly, to not solder is to court disaster. Solder short dropper wires to each side of each rail as you lay it Use two colours, most chaps use red and black with green reserved for switch frogs. Make sure all one colour is going to the same rail.

    Under the layout then use mechanical fasteners (suitcases, chocolate blocks) or even, when first setting up and testing, twitching them to an identical colour, but heavier wire. the layout should then run unless you have a loop or baloon in which case you will need to have a reversing section (more on that ANOTHER TIME).

    As for 50 foot runs, you will have voltage loss over that distance. To cure that issue, have two sets of bus wires, each heading away from the power source in opposite directions so halving the distance. It doesn’t matter how many “busses” leave the “station” so long as you don’t cross over the wires causing a short. Another way, when using DCC, is to have more than one power source.

  • Terry Bellsays:

    you can buy rail connectors with wires soldered to them……. OR…….you can do the soldering yourself and save $$.

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