Marklin 73401 lighting kit installation

I ordered and installed the 73401 lighting kit with pick-up shoe for a Euroforma car and it works great. Then I ordered another lighting kit and conducting couplers. No joy on lighting the second car. I even installed a grounding spring and hooked up all the wires as per instructions, but no joy. I looked over the instructions several times and followed them, still not joy. What am I doing wrong? Is the kit wrong?


  • RailwriterRailwriter Durham, NC

    While I cannot evaluate whether the kit is correct for your application, electrical troubleshooting usually comes down to eliminating items one at a time. A set of test leads is very useful. (These are wires with alligator clips on both ends, allowing you to make temporary connections. You used to be able to get them Radio Shack; now, if you cannot find a local electronics store, you may have to look on the internet.)

    I assume you know your tracks are getting power. Apply the track power directly to your lighting unit with temporary wires. If it lights, then the problem is with the electricity getting to your lighting unit. Check out the wires one by one. Try applying power directly to the electrical couplers. If the lights go on, then the problem is with the electrical couplers on the next car.

    By the way, some car lighting kits come with or require a function decoder. This lets you turn lights on and off via your control station. Lights of this type will not work until you program the decoder and then activate it via your control station.

    Hope that helps.

    -- Ernest

  • pkherapkhera Juneau, AK

    Hi Ernest,
    I followed your advice and found that the pick up shoe wire for the neighboring car went directly to the light, as per instructions. It made no contact with the copper for the conducting couplers of the next car. I am now able to get light. The problem now is that I have to hook up to the light and to the brass with one wire. How does one do that?

  • pkherapkhera Juneau, AK

    Also, is a ground spring required for every car? Those things have friction which limit the locomotives power.

  • pkherapkhera Juneau, AK

    The pick up shoe and ground spring used where part number 73406.

  • RailwriterRailwriter Durham, NC

    Okay, I don't know the specific parts. I operate 2-rail DC DCC. But general trouble-shooting hints will usually work. If the current-conducting coupler is two-pole, you should not need any pickup (or grounding spring) on subsequent cars. If it is single-pole, you may need the grounding springs. (I think I have a general Idea of what these are.)

    You may just have to add another wire. Lots of electrical projects require some soldering. I have several drawers full of various types of wires -- in various colors. I am using a color-coding system that will help me trouble-shoot later -- one of the reasons for stocking so many different types of wires. Just be really careful with the soldering iron around any plastic rolling stock or structure. The soldering iron can do heat damage. It's best to do the soldering away from plastic if you can.

    For car or structure lighting, you can use a relatively thin wire as these lights will not draw much current.

    If you don't already have one, you may want to invest in a continuity tester. This can be a simple multi-meter that beeps when it senses a completed circuit. Or you can make your own with a battery, an LED (or small bulb), and some test leads.

    That's about the best I can do.

    -- Ernest

  • pkherapkhera Juneau, AK

    Hi Ernest,
    How do I tell if my coupler is a two-pole? I am using the Marklin 72020 and 72021 couplers.
    My lighting system now works, in great thanks to you. I had to solder part of the wire to the metal that was connected to the coupler. It was scary because I am a horribly inexperienced solderer. I just hope my solder withstands the next bump or possible derailment.
    I too keep a collection of wires but they are thicker than the ones in the kit. Is there an issue if one uses a thicker wire than needed? Why the ultra thin wires on a lighting kit? They are so thin that my wire stripper can't even strip them. Does Reynaulds sell such a thin gauge of wire? Should I have some handy?
    Is a continuity tester the same thing as a voltmeter? Amp meter? If I wanted to buy one tester for my entire layout, which would work best for an AC HO set?
    Thanks again for all your help,

  • RailwriterRailwriter Durham, NC


    I may not be the best person to explain things electrical. I've often wished that I understood electrical principles somewhat better -- and that there was a good book that covered this topic specifically for model railroaders.

    Yes, I know what capacitors, diodes, and resistors are and basically what they do, but most explanations that I have found (such as on Wikipedia) quickly get way too technical.

    But, once I understand something, I can usually do a reasonable job of explaining that idea to someone3 else. So, I'll give some of your questions a try.

    Thin wire
    Yes, you can buy thin wire from Reynauld's and other model railroad shops. Manufacturers from Brawa to Viessmann (these two brands are particularly strong for electrical accessories) offer a wide variety of wire.

    One of the problems is that the U.S. and Europe measure wire sizes differently. In the U.S., wire size is defined by the somewhat counterintuitive system of wire gauge, where, the smaller the number, the thicker the wire -- and the larger the number, the thinner the wire. In Europe (and most of the rest of the world), wire sizes are defined by the diameter in millimeters or the area of a cross-section of the wire. You can find conversion tables on the internet.

    One way to purchase some short lengths of very thin wire is with Viessmann's 6819 decoder installation kit. This small package includes short lengths of thin wire in a variety of colors -- as well as some other components such as pieces of heat-shrink tubing matching the thin wire, and even some thin solder. The kit is intended for those converting locomotives without decoder sockets to digital operation or for simply rewiring older locomotives. However, there is no reason that you cannot use these wires in the installation of lights in coaches or even in LED lighting in structures.

    But, there is another way to get reasonably thin wires. If you have old telephone cords or old computer cables lying around -- and almost everyone I know does -- then you can "harvest" wires from these. The cables contain many thin wires within them. (By telephone cable, I mean the cords -- with modular connectors -- that go between a wall socket and a telephone set.) Cut off the ends with the modular or computer connectors and then peel off the outer covering of the cable to get at the individual wires within.

    While I have been doing some soldering for many years, I have gotten a lot more comfortable with this process since buying a battery operated soldering iron a couple of years ago. This unit, which uses four AA batteries, does away with the cord that always got in the way. And it works fine for the smaller jobs connected with model railroading. I still have several corded soldering irons, but have not used them in years.

    One of the major secrets of good soldering is that the tip of the soldering iron has to be fully hot before attempting to do any work. With my battery-operated soldering iron, which has a button you have to hold down for operation, I have to hold down this button for at least 20 seconds to get the iron up to full temperature. Also, use the best quality solder available -- in thin diameters. Solder sold at home improvement stores is usually intended for heavy electrical work and not for fine electronics, as is the case with model railroads.

    In most cases, a very small amount of solder will work fine -- and make for a much neater connection. In many cases, when soldering to a circuit board (or LED strip), the solder pads are close together and you need to be careful about inadvertently shorting a connection between the two solder points.

    And, of course, there is one of the greatest inventions of modern civilization -- heat shrink tubing. It has made a huge difference in all types of electrical work, but particularly when working with smaller wires. You can buy small sizes of heat-shrink tubing from model railroad suppliers or over the Internet. To effectively use heat-shrink tubing, you need a small heat gun -- with which you have to be very careful around plastic components. Again, do the soldering away the actual models, if possible.

    As the name implies, multi-meters (also written as multimeters -- use both versions when searching online sites) are meters for measuring multiple electrical properties. Most will measure voltage (both AC and DC, though you may have to set a selector switch) and resistance. Most also have a means of checking continuity.

    (Even for an AC layout, you will need to work with DC circuits, such as LED lighting, which has polarity. And, one of the most common uses of a multi-meter is to check the condition of batteries.)

    Digital multi-meters -- these are less subject to impact damage, such as being dropped than analog versions -- can range in price from $20 to $2,000. Yes, really. The latter are for use with heavy industrial voltage (hundreds of volts), and have special safety features for that kind of work. For most model railroad (and general household) work, a multi-meter under $100 should be fine. Just be sure to read the limitations in the instructions that come with the unit. Even with the less expensive units, you will probably only use about half the total functions available.

    While $50-100 may appear to be a big investment for a basic instrument, this will pay for itself many times over.

    There are two basic types of multi-meter: The box type and the pen type.

    • The box type is just that -- a rectangular unit that sits on your work surface. It may use a 9 volt battery or AA or AAA batteries. It will come with two probes on cables that plug into the unit. You should be able to get a good basic unit for about $30.
    • The pen type has the electronics in the handle of one of the probes. It has the second probe connected with a wire. This type will use the small button type batteries. The main unit is about the size of a Magic Marker or a heavy-duty Sharpie pen.

    The basic differences: The box type will hold up better to being banged around; and batteries will last longer with heavy use. The pen type is more compact and portable and takes up less space on your work area. The pen type meters are more expensive. A quick look on the Internet showed some of these starting in the $70 range.

    I've had a pen type for about three decades. It came as an optional add-on with a small Jensen tool kit intended for computer service technicians, the JTK-6. The current version of this kit, the JTK-6c does not have the option of a multi-meter -- but does have a lot of other useful tools. (I bought mine when I was doing a lot of location photography -- and needed a small tool kit that was both versatile and portable. While you cannot really do field repairs on professional cameras -- and that kind of work is something I leave to a specialist -- photography can involve a lot of flash cords, power cords for heavy-duty lights, and there were even a few times I operated a camera remotely via a long cable.)

    I will try to look at the specifications for your conducting couplers later, to see if that gives me any further useful information. But, that's about it for now.

    -- Ernest

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