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Purpose: To supply 110v 60Hz power to a Lionel o-gauge train set from 240v 50Hz mains in New Zealand.

While the train itself will run fine on 110v at 50Hz, the digital electronics for sounds can be ruined by the 50Hz sine. This claim is based on much reading online, not based on my own knowledge. Many people have posted about ruined transformers from running ONLY a step down. Due to the cost of the trains, I wish to have it run on it's designed Hz.

Proposed method: Use a 240v New Zealand market computer power supply to feed 12v dc to a high-wattage US-market automotive inverter that supplies 110v power.

Relevance to stack exchange posting: If this is indeed a viable solution to this problem it will be very useful for many many people wishing to use US-market electronics outside that market.

My idea seems to make sense to me - that once converted to DC there isn't any Hz to measure as there's no wave, and the US-market car adapter will put out AC at the American frequency. The computer power supply puts out plenty of Amps, and the higher-wattage car adapters put out plenty for the Amp draw of the train.

Please comment to let me know if this is a sensible approach or not?

Please focus on the idea for getting the 110v at 60Hz, not on other aspects of the issue. I appreciate the intent, but this question is specifically about whether my proposed method will work.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ These folks say that 50Hz is not a problem. You can use a standard step down transformer to operate your 110V, 60Hz train on 230V, 50Hz. Do NOT use one of those cheap, light weight converters from Radio Shack. They aren't transformers, they are just big diodes. Those will make your transformer overheat and burn out. A proper step down transformer will work OK. Or, buy a Märklin train transformer. They are made for 230V, 50Hz and have the same voltage output as the Lionel units. \$\endgroup\$ – JRE Dec 25 '16 at 9:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ I edited the question to be more clear about the need- the sound control electronics are the worry, not the train motor. Lots of people have posted about frying the Lionel transformer and/or the electronics in the coal car by running them at 50Hz, even with a good step down transformer. \$\endgroup\$ – 111936 Dec 25 '16 at 22:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ You could buy a single phase motor drive and its filter .The filter may be larger than the drive .If there is not a filter you could build one .Program the drive to 110V at 60Hz . \$\endgroup\$ – Autistic Jan 29 '17 at 0:26
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Does the train set need 60Hz? Most electronics will handle the small difference between 50 and 60Hz. If the input transformer has been too agressively designed, then it may need some input voltage derating from nominal.

If 60Hz is needed, then PC supply to inverter sounds as good as any other way of doing it. It uses low cost commercial components. Be aware that some PC supplies need a minimum load on 5v for their other rails to stay in regulation. A 50w 12v halogen that draws a couple of amps at 5v is my preferred choice of dummy load.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd not want to risk that expensive stuff. there's the potential to toast the transformer if the transformer saturates at the lower frequency. You could compensate by running it at reduced voltage: 100V 50HZ, but that leaves less voltage and power on the output side. \$\endgroup\$ – Jasen Dec 25 '16 at 8:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Jasen, can you elaborate on 'saturation'? It's a PC power supply- it has a transformer in it, is that what you mean? If so, why would this use saturate it when using it as a bench supply wouldn't? Just not understanding in my ignorance. And Neil_UK: if I didn't need the 50Hz I wouldn't need to ask! The train transformer must have the right hertz or it fries - plenty of people online posting about how using just a step down from 240 to 110 kills the things. And I will look into the 5v load issue and see if I can tell if mine needs it. Don't think it does. \$\endgroup\$ – 111936 Dec 25 '16 at 9:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ fisrt line "Does the train set need 60Hz" there's a good chance that it does. \$\endgroup\$ – Jasen Dec 25 '16 at 10:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jasen: No, the motors in most Lionel gear are " universal" type. They couldn't care less about line frequency. There might be a small concern about saturation in the Lionel transformer (unlikely), but that could be addressed by using a Variac to reduce the input voltage slightly. \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Tweed Dec 25 '16 at 12:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think I've been miss-reading.... sorry for the noise \$\endgroup\$ – Jasen Dec 25 '16 at 17:57
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Your idea is good except that the PC power supply probably won't work properly without significant load on the other rails, and even then the voltage may not be stable. I would use a dedicated DC power supply such as the MP3079 from Jaycar. This unit puts out 13.8V to match the typical operating voltage of a '12V' battery in a motor vehicle when the engine is running.

Mains transformers designed only for 60Hz often run hotter on 50Hz due to increased saturation at the lower frequency. This may be a problem if the transformer was marginally designed (to reduce size and/or save money) and has inadequate ventilation. Older Lionel trains also have a problem due to their peculiar signalling system that rides 60Hz AC on top of the motor power. This has a DC offset applied (using a half-wave rectifier) to trigger sounds. At 50Hz the sound system may not be able to filter out the AC sufficiently and so makes sounds when it shouldn't.

The 2009 Lionel CW-80 controller is reported to be 50Hz compatible. It is identified by a sticker marked 'QC50-OK'. The 2009 PowerMax 40W, Legacy Command Control and all 2008 Legacy equipped locomotives are also confirmed as 50Hz compatible.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Bruce, In your reading did you see anything about the 2013 transformers? I don't think this one I have IS usable at 50Hz because the whistle and bell are non-stop when its all set up though the train speed functions as it should. My understanding is that it's the Hz screwing up the sounds, and as I wrote elsewhere here, many Lionel consumers have reported fried controllers after using them at 110v 50HZ for a while. \$\endgroup\$ – 111936 Dec 26 '16 at 7:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Bell and whistle non-stop means your transformer is not compatible, so you will need a 60Hz inverter. Seems very short-sighted of Lionel to continue producing products that don't work on 50Hz! \$\endgroup\$ – Bruce Abbott Dec 26 '16 at 16:16
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My proposed method works.

I have successfully set up and used this method to provide 1500 watts of power at 110v/60Hz using a mains supply of 240v/50Hz.

From mains, I used two different power supplies to try this out:

One is a 500 Watt ATX supply that came with very long wires before the ATX and other connectors. I internally cut off all wires not needed, leaving only the PSON directly connected to ground, and all of the factory 12v +/- wires. The 12v wires are simply (and literally) braided together then stripped at the ends, there they are all twisted together.

The second is an HP server power supply rated at 1300 Watts. On this one I used the factory connector for output. I installed a switch connecting the PSON, PSKILL and ground, then soldered 8ga wires to each of the eight 12v outputs (4+, 4-). These wires are trimmed to the same length and twisted together at the ends.

Both PSUs supply 12.6v, and both allow the US market inverter to power up and supply 110v/60Hz out.

The inverter is a Cobra brand 1500 watt unit, with 3300 watt peak rating. (Overkill, yes. But now no need to worry about limits.)

The ATX PSU hits it's overload and shuts off with only small loads applied to the 110v side of the inverter. Maybe 300 watts on the 110v makes it trip.

The HP server PSU handles everything I loaded onto the 110v side. Did not measure that full load, but it was in excess of 900 watts by rough estimate. More than this system will ever be asked to handle (operating multiple Lionel train transformers).

So the answer is: YES.

February 2017 costs: Inverter- $160NZD (shipped). HP PSU- $50.00 NZD (shipped). Some 8 ga. wire, a cord for the PSU, and some solder- $25.00 NZD.

Total cost of this 1500-Watt pure sine wave frequency converter: $235.00 NZD

Cost of equivalent retail unit: N/A. Nothing on the local market.

Cost of closest retail equivalent (at only 20 Amps): over $800.00 NZD

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