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How To Add TMCC Command Control and Sound To A Lionel Diesel

Updated on June 28, 2012

Command Upgradeable Engine

I like to buy older, gently used equipment for my O Gauge layout. Recently, I got a great deal on such a loco: a Lionel 6-18262 BNSF SD70 Command Upgradeable diesel. In the late 1990s, Lionel introduced a line of engines, both steam and diesel, that were billed as "Command Upgradeable". They were designed as a mid-priced bridge between conventional transformer operation and the growing line of TMCC (command control) operated engines. Typically, these locos came equipped for conventional operation and included Lionel's Signal Sounds system which was simply an electronic horn and bell. Some of the upper end locos came equipped with RailSounds or an improved version of Signal Sounds called TrainSounds. Upgrading to full command with RailSounds required the purchase of an upgrade kit for the sound system and an upgrade kit for the digital control.

Lionel stopped making the upgrade kits available several years ago, and they have become hard to find, even on eBay. When Lionel stopped making their kits, the Electric R.R. Company began making upgrades that could be installed in any conventional locomotive, as long as it had room in the shell for the electronics. At the same time, they also began selling the RailSounds and TMCC Upgrade kits that used the same technology Lionel was using. To upgrade a "Command Upgradeable" locomotive today, you would either need to be lucky enough to find the necessary kits on eBay, or purchase the upgrade boards from Electric R.R. Company. For my upgrade, I was lucky enough to find the needed kits in the "back room" at my local train store. This was after searching eBay and contacting Electric R.R. Company about price and availability.

I got lucky, the train store just happened to have what I needed, and they didn't know they had it. I haven't seen an upgrade kit on eBay in quite some time. If you find one on eBay or other non-dealer site, use caution. Make sure the electronics you are getting are new and have never been installed in an engine before. These are static sensitive circuit boards and can easily be fried by someone who does not know what they are doing or is not careful. Also, you could be picking up a board that was toasted and removed from a loco. When TMCC first came out, there were a lot of operators who were running the sound and command equipped locos with post-war style transformers that did not have adequate short protection. This resulted in the occasional frying of the electronics when a short occurred. since these boards are modular, they are easily swapped in and out of an engine. You should buy from a trusted source if you are getting a Lionel upgrade kit. All of the products sold by Electric R.R. Company are newly manufactured.

Left to right: SignalSounds Board, electronic reverse board, RailSounds board, RailSounds power board, and TMCC board
Left to right: SignalSounds Board, electronic reverse board, RailSounds board, RailSounds power board, and TMCC board
New boards, sound, power and command
New boards, sound, power and command
New board in, old boards out
New board in, old boards out

Open her up

I took my SD70 to the workbench and took off her shell. With the shell removed, it was easy to identify the electronic reverse board and the SignalSounds board. I took steps to ensure that I was grounded and that I was not going to shock the locomotive when I touched her. Grounding is simple. You can use a grounding strap like computer repair technicians use, or make sure that you are wearing rubber soled shoes and take a piece of metal, like a knife blade or screwdriver and touch it to the die cast trucks and the frame of the loco. Unless you start rubbing your socks on the carpet or a balloon through your hair, you should be fine.

The existing boards are press fit on to rows of pins on a main mother board. I carefully slid the electronic reverse unit off the pins, then removed the SignalSounds board. I could now clearly see all three rows of pins. With the rear of the loco to my left, reading left to right, the first row of pins is for the sound board, the second row is for the power board and the third row is for the command board. Starting with the new RailSounds board, I carefully slid it on to the correct pins, making sire all of my pins lined up and that I had a snug fit. Next, I installed the RailSounds Power Board in the second row. Last, I installed the TMCC board in the third row.

Use caution when installing the boards so as not to bend any pins. do not use too much force, the boards should slide in to place on the pins with relative ease. Also, hold boards by the edges so as not to get oil from your fingers on the electronic circuits. while you have your shell open, it is a good opportunity to make sure your smoke unit is clean and to use a blast or two of compressed air to blow out any dust that may have taken up residence inside the shell. When you are finished, carefully reinstall your shell. (Tip: Leave the screws out until you have tested the loco, just remember to carry her by the bottom!)

Running great
Running great

Take her for a run

With the shell back on, I brought the engine over to the layout. You need to program the engine before operation. To do this, locate the Run/Pgm switch on the underside of the loco and slide it to PGM (program). Following the instructions for your engine and command system (TMCC or Legacy), set an engine ID to something other than "1". I like to use the last two digits in the engine's road number. With the engine programmed, it is time to test.

I used my Cab-1 remote control to address the engine and start her up. The sound came on with a nice loud diesel roar. I checked to make sure all of my lights worked and that the engine was producing smoke. I used the Cab-1 to turn the sound down and back up again, to adjust the idle, to test the chatter and to turn the engine off and then on again. I did not upgrade the couplers on this engine, so there was nothing else to test. It was time to run.

Speed control is basic with the upgrade kits, there is no Odyssey Sped Control. The Electric R.R. Company has speed control kits that can be installed. Using the Cab-1, I got the engine to take off slow and smooth. I ran her around for about ten minutes before I was satisfied all the functions worked. I brought her back tot he workbench and reinstalled the screws.

This is a simple way to get a command control loco inexpensively. To get the kits from Electric R.R., expect to pay just under $100 for the RailSounds, Power Board and TMCC board. New, the Lionel kits for RailSounds sold for just under $100 and the TMCC Upgrade Kits for about $70. (I got a serious bargain on mine!) Considering you would pay upwards of $400 for a new engine with Legacy, combining the upgrade kits with an internet shopping bargain is a great way to go.

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