The Techniques I Use for Making
LED Model Railroad Signals


LED signals


model railroad scenery tips

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There are commercial model railroad signals available but I prefer to make my own to match the ones used on the actual railroad that I am modelling. In 1936 some of the poles used were sections of old rail. I use red and green L.E.D.’s of 3mm diameter for my HO gauge trains. All my model railroad signals use sections of nickel silver rail as the poles and these are made long enough to go through the base board and later I am able to solder the negative wire to the pole. I use thin brass sheet cut to the form the background disk 8 x 15mm and brass tube of 3mm (1/8”) internal diameter cut at an angle of 45 degrees at one end and square at the other end 8mm long. These are long enough to hold the LED with the angle section forming the shade over the top of the LED. Drill two 4.5mm (3/16”) holes in the disk one above the other at 9.5 mm (3/8”) centers and the tubes are soldered into the disk with the bottom of the angle in line with the disk, and the disk is soldered to the rail. I find it better to tin each piece first and I use silver solder.

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Using LED Lights as Railroad Signals

The head is then painted matt black after filing to shape and once dry the LED’s can be pushed into their holders. LED lights are ideal for use with model trains and railroads due to the small size, low power requirements, reliability, low cost, and excellent color variety and light output. The leads of the LED’s are gently bent at right angles and the short lead of each LED is soldered to the rail after trimming to length. The other lead is cut and I use copper enamelled wire from old transformers etc the copper wire is scrapped to remove the enamel for a short length so that it can be soldered to the lead of the LED. (Get someone to hold the lead of the LED with a pair of needle nose pliers to draw the heat away from the internal parts of the LED while soldering.) One for each lead and then these are glued to the inside of the rail head with a small amount of Araldite. I also use Araldite to cover the leads of the LED’s and to form the back for the lights then filed to shape once set, and painted matt black.

Wiring LED Signals

Signals can be set at eye level for the engine driver or low to the ground in marshalling yards once the signal is in place it can be held with a drop of PVA glue. I paint the poles with a rust coloured paint. Each LED can be bought with a current limiting resistor for 12 volt operation and these must be used on each wire when connecting to a relay or switch. A double throw double pole switch or relay is needed to operate the signal. It should be wired so that the red LED is on when the power is off at the rail to stop the train. You can file the end of the rail pole where it pokes through the base board to take a chocolate block connector with three connectors, the middle one for the pole and one at each end to make the connections to the thin wire after scrapping the enamel off and you can use a heavier wire to connect to the relay and resistor, and the middle connector for the negative or common wire.

Scratch Building Semaphore Train Signals on a Model Railroad

As the name implies it’s something built by the modeller using new materials that they buy I have always built my own signals and other items that make up my railroad.

Tools and Materials to Make Model Railroad Signals

I have an assortment of brass stock in my junk box solid rods, tubes, angle stock 3 or 4 different sizes for each section, brass plate and brass shim.

Tools required are; good quality soldering iron small hacksaw small files a pin vice (I attached this to my work board) to hold small pieces while soldering. Pair gasket scissors to cut thin brass shim long nose pliers and bull end pliers, tweezers, a work board of MDF or plywood… number drills, drill press or battery drill. Making Old Semaphore Signals

For the older semaphore signals I use a brass tube cut to length (allow for thickness of base board and height of signal,) with a 1/8 inch inside diameter and drill a hole to take a solid copper wire as the pivot point for the semaphore arm that is made from brass shim and cut to shape, drill a hole in the arm as a pivot point big enough for the wire to fit through. To help stop the solder sticking to the arm I used a piece of heavy brown paper that I could remove later. I bent the wire up at the end and applied a spot of solder and filed it round. The semaphore arm had two 2mm (3/32”) holes drilled in the counter balance and I used pieces of red and green cellophane glued to the brass with super glue. I left the cellophane larger than required so that I could hold them with tweezers and cut off the excess when dried. These look great with model trains passing by.

The light source I used a 3mm white LED in a piece of 3mm ID brass tube soldered in place  then connected the two pieces of copper enamelled wire and ran that down the center of the pole. A thin copper wire twisted in a drill to make it stronger is served to move the semaphore arm up and down and is connected to the arm 2-3 mm from the pole and connected via a quadrant under the base board to an old Hornby turnout motor mounted under the base board of the layout.

To restrict the movement I used a couple of small compression springs one for each direction. I made a quadrant arm longer on the motor side also to compensate for the movement so that the motor could be mounted flat on the board. The springs gave the semaphore arm a lifelike action by springing back slightly. I had some ladder material in steel and soldered this to the back of the pole. I have not tried to make multi signals on each pole yet.

Once the railroad signals were finished I painted them the correct colors after looking on the internet at which also gave me the shape for the semaphore arm. I use relays to cut power to the track that are wired in with the turnout motor of the signal and reed switches to activate the relays and turnout motor. These signals look amazing on my model railroad with the model steam trains chugging along the track.

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