Trackside Signals

By Ty’s Model Railroad - 4/28/2011 09:25:00 PM

Dual trackside signal installed beside an Atlas turnout

My trackside signals are finally complete! When I purchased the little trackside signal face plates and matching LED lights off eBay last year, I thought I was being thrifty. However, I quickly realized that I was now faced with the responsibility of having to make the light standards to hold these signals. Wiring was not an issue as I had incorporated these into my main wiring system, but I now had to find a way to make them look at least somewhat realistic on my layout. 

Trackside signal face with red, green, and yellow LEDs attached to power leads

As I mentioned, the signals themselves were purchased off eBay for about $8.00. This included 10 black signal face plates, 30 LED lights (red, green, and yellow), and 30 corresponding resistors. Once the LED lights were glued into the face plates, I used wire leads from stripped telephone wire that I soldered to the contact points on the LED lights. Telephone wire works great because it's cheap, the leads are very thing, and the leads are coloured red, yellow, green, and black. This makes matching them up with the lights very convenient. 

Back side of a trackside signal with red, green, and yellow LEDs attached to power leads

To build the light standards, I went to my local hobby shop and visited the Evergreen Models styrene plastic display. Evergreen makes bulk styrene strips in almost every shape and size imaginable, which is great for these types of projects. I used 3/16” tubing for the mast, which is a little larger than most prototypical-sized masts. This was the smallest size tube that would allow me to run the 8 wires through for the dual signals. I then cut notches in the tops of each mast to allow the signals to fit into them. 

Assorted styrene pieces from Evergreen Scale Models spread on a workbench

5 finished handmade trackside signals made from styrene tubing

I used slightly larger 5/16" tubing for the base that allowed the 3/16” tubing to fit snugly inside for the base support. The mast and support where then glued to a styrene base. I glued small rectangular pieces of thin styrene on the sides of each signal. This created a smooth transition from the signal to the mast. A second smaller piece of styrene was then glued to that, simulating a maintenance door. I used poly-filler to fill in any gaps and to smooth out any really rough edges. 

Backside of a scratch built trackside signal showing an access ladder

The maintenance ladders were all hand made using .04" styrene strips. I carefully cut every rung to the exact size I needed and carefully glued them to one of the side supports. I did this on a flat surface to ensure the rungs were all aligned with the support and were all level and square. Once dry, I glued them to the back of the masts. I also added a thin styrene support bar in the middle between the ladder and mast. 

Single trackside signal installed beside an Atlas turnout

I used steel coloured enamel paint for all of the metal parts, such as the ladder and mast. I used a flat grey to simulate concrete on the base. The signal units themselves were painted flat black on all sides. Once the paint dried, I drilled holes through my benchwork, allowing the wires to run through to the underside where I connected them to the rest of the wiring. I used temporary screws to hold them in place until I start my scenery. 

Dual trackside signal installed beside an Atlas turnout

The end result looked pretty good, considering I have never scratch built anything with styrene before. The cost was a lot less as well. Signals can run anywhere from $25 right up to $50 or $60 or higher for really nice ones. I spent in total about $30 for all 5 of mine. I know they aren’t exactly prototypical, but compared to some that I’ve seen in stores, I’m pretty satisfied with how they turned out. 

For a diagram of how I wired my signals, visit my Wiring Diagrams page. 

HO scale model railroad layout with installed trackside signals at various locations

Dual trackside signal installed at the entrance to a future tunnel poral

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