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A Transformers & Power Packs Tutor
The basic difference between a transformer and power pack is that a transformer provides Alternating Current (A.C.) while the power pack supplies Direct Current (D.C.) to your model railroad. Power packs used to power model railroads can either be of the alternating current (A.C.) or the Direct Current (D.C.) type.
A.C. transformers are used on O-gauge, three rail train systems such as MTH, Lionel, K-Line, Williams, Weaver.
A.C. transformers have a 120 volt A.C. input and via an internal transformer provide a variable 0 -18 volt A.C. output for track power.
The transformers generally have a direction button, a horn/whistle button and/or bell button. The horn/whistle and bell buttons impose a D.C. (direct current) pulse (of opposite polarities) to the track to trigger those functions on engines equipped with these features.
Some A.C. transformers are equipped with one or more fixed voltage Accessory Terminals for operating accessories, such as track switches, building lights, operating signals, etc., and separately from the variable track power.
D.C. Power Packs
D.C. power packs are used for G, S. HO, N & Z gauges, which are two-rail systems.
D.C. power packs have a 120 volt A.C. (alternating current) input and via an internal transformer and rectifier provide a variable 0 - 18 volt D.C. output for track power.
Some power packs have a slide switch for reversing the direct current polarity to the track for directional operation of the train while some will use the throttle level one way and the other for this feature.
Most are equipped with fixed voltage A.C. Accessory Terminals for operating accessories such as track switches and building lights.
Digital Command Control
Train operating systems have now expanded with computerized control of more than one train on a track at one time. These systems use micro-chip technology to address directly the train rather than send power to the track as the transformers and power packs do. Digital command is available for the D.C. train systems and for the A.C. train systems.