Retrofitting modern LEGO train tracks for use with older version

So you’re really looking for that [Norman Rockwell] Christmas and want to set up your train to encircle the Christmas tree this year. The problem is that all you’ve got is an old LEGO train set and not enough track for it. You can’t just buy some more, because the technology has changed; or can you?

[Chris] was dismayed to find that newer LEGO train sets have gone to battery operation rather than drawing power through metal tracks. The new tracks are plastic, and buying extra segments of the older version is cost prohibitive. He figured out a way to add power conductors to the new track pieces.

It turns out the design of the new tracks matches the old, except they’re all in plastic instead of having metal rails. He bought a plastic add-on set, then picked up some copper foil from the hobby store which is meant for stained-glass work. It’s adhesive backed, and after working out the best way to apply it, he coated the rails with the stuff. As you can see above, the new mates perfectly with the old, and keeps that locomotive chugging along.

If you’ve got copper foil left over after this hack, there’s tons of other uses for it. Perhaps building your own flex sensors is worth a try.

Comments

  1. xeracy says:

    modern? when i had a lego trainset 20+ years ago, It was already battery powered… how old were these power-via-rails sets?

  2. ironring says:

    How old do lego trains have to be to draw power from the rails? I got mine back in the 80s, and they had all plastic track and battery powered locomotives.

  3. chicken says:

    The one I got in the 70s had blue rails and a center power rails – oh my, I’m getting old :-)

  4. M says:

    I think it was sometime in the eighties the “blue” plastic track existed, then after that there was one with powered rails and then they changed back to plastic ones again. =)

  5. bigbob says:

    I got a lego trainset sometime in the mid to late nineties and it was rail powered…

  6. arfink says:

    Just goes to show, eBay is evil.

    • LordNothing says:

      bricklink is your friend

    • LordNothing says:

      i wonder if it would be feasible to just build a battery charge circuit that charges the battery while the pickup wheels are on the metal track sections, and then draw power from the batteries when over the plastic track.probably wouldn’t look as cool as all metal track though.

      • I did that with a big capacitor I got off something (I forget what, an AT power supply I think) for my 12V track, the one with the center rail, to be able to use one type of curve that didn’t have the center rail corresponding piece (I just connected the two wires with a jumper wire). It was big enough to let the train only slow down instead of stopping. I eventually removed it by simply having one motor on the first car and one on the last car.

  7. Chris says:

    You, I must have missed the rail-powered ones, too. I went technics not long avter I got my battery powered train (that train motor could really rip those technics sprockets!). Incredible how much fun stuff technic LEGO can be used for. A phone dialer, (coded) door locks, change macines. And that was almost 20 years before that newfangled Mindstorms stuff. (which adds another dimension). :-D

  8. Itwork4me says:

    I’d try a circuit drawing pen, one of the silver ones..round 14$

  9. Smonson says:

    I had a set from the 80s which used totally separate (removable) rails that ran down the centre of the track. The train motor had two spring-loaded contacts on the bottom to connect to the rail. So there are at least three types out there.

    • Magic Hufi says:

      After going through my Legos I found several systems for the trains. The oldest was indeed battery powered and ran on blue plastic tracks on white 2×8 plates. Then, as an addition, came the centre rail (2 pins wide) mentioned by Smonson with two small metal rails supplying 12V AC. This system was then upgraded to the new color theme (light grey rails, dark grey plates) but keeping the centre rail. After that the centre rail was deprecated and 12V AC supplied through metal main rails. This system was once more modified by using only 9V AC with the metal rails (I have found both a 12V and a 9V transformer for this rail type). Then came the new, once again battery powered version.

      • Kevin says:

        Are you really sure they where any AC systems? I had the 9V system with speed dial controller and that controller could run the normal Lego DC motors so clearly the 9V system was DC.

  10. Abbott says:

    Excellent use of the copper tape. I never did get into the LEGO trains, but my friend did. I was always about the HO scale trains. Can’t wait to get my own place once I get out of college and start an HO track layout.

  11. Jim says:

    Wow, a lot of childhood memories coming back.
    Kudos for bringing back and awesome toy!! These things were FAST…

  12. EFH says:

    Great hack, kudos!

  13. Yet says:

    Anybody else notice the article was back in 2009, some NED probably had away with the copper by now as they do on the uk’s shambles of a rail network.

  14. ameyring says:

    The rail-powered trains existed from the 1990s until a couple of years ago, when LEGO switched to battery-powered. Good unopened rail-powered sets are found on eBay.

  15. Michael.K says:

    An advantage of the battery-powered train set (like I had in the seventies) is that you could replace the train wheels with regular Lego wheels, and you have a car or tank. Do *that* with powered rails, smart guy!

    Another advantage was that the battery pack could also power light-up bricks.

    I miss Lego .

  16. Rob says:

    I got my “L-gauge” set in 1988 or 1989, and it was the 4.5VDC battery-operated type (3 D batteries in the tender) with the forward, off, reverse lever that ran on gray track. So the battery operated ones were around simultaneously with the early generation of rail-powered ones.

  17. Rob says:

    Correction to above, 3 C batteries, not D.

  18. Adam says:

    I wonder if aluminum foil and double-stick tape would have worked just as well…

  19. Paul says:

    Wonder how easy it would be to change the old train to run off battery power instead of changing the new tracks to conduct.

    Would mean you could add more tracks without additional work. Could steal electronics from a cheap r/c car to control it.

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