How To Improve Old Rolling Stock: Lighting Experiments

Recently I undertook a little project to breathe new life into some old Hornby coaching stock. This was mainly focused on painting and coupling but I did briefly mention the possibility of adding lighting to bring a whole new dimension to a model with out-of-date tooling.

Lima Class 121

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have seen my continued effort to freshen up my old stock in my undertaking of recommissioning a Lima Class 121:

I’m not going to take you through what I’ve done so far, as these concepts have extensively been covered in my previous posts or by others on YouTube. However to summarise:

  • Stripped down the motor and gave it a jolly good clean. OORail will show you how.
  • Painted underframe detail by studying real life photos and other higher quality models.

The loco now runs better than ever, and looks nicer too, but it’s still missing something that it’s modern counterparts might feature: Directional lighting.

I’m pleased to say lighting kits seem to be readily available for a wealth of old locos and stock. These are usually made by small independent companies so you may have to hunt the web and eBay to find a supplier for your particular model. My kit has come from a small shop called BlackCatTechnology for £11.

They feature two small circuit boards with micro multi-colour LED’s for the head/tail lights to suit the Class 121’s design:

The great thing about older models is they seem infinitely easier to dismantle and get into. To take a 121 apart there are two screws on the bottom of the model. With these removed, the body can be coaxed away from it’s catches (located at either end of the under frame). The moulded seating is not glued down and can be removed for access to bogies and wiring.

For DC models, wiring is simple. Lima models are unusual in the fact that the front bogie supplies one feed whilst the rear bogie supplies the other. (Rather than each axle supplying both). You therefore connect A to the terminal on one bogie and B to the other. Reverse this process for the 2nd cab. Obviously it’s worth testing which direction is which before you trim your wires to size!

The board at the non-motor end fits snuggly underneath the cab console. At the motor end the board will need to be glued in place, so test fully before you fit.


The wires handily tuck into crevices on the plastic molding. It’s almost like it was built for a lighting kit…

IMG_3619You’ll need to make one tiny modification to the frame of the loco so the lights can shine through the body. Carefully cut two slots out of the moulding as shown above so the lights can be clearly seen.

Once you’re happy with the positioning and the glue has dried, well that’s it really!

Let’s take a look at her running:

In this particular kit, as I say, the LED’s are VERY bright. In fact too bright…


You can see the light bleeds through to the rest of the cab and lights up the body. Well no worry, I’ve come up with a slight modification to help reduce this affect:

First paint the INSIDE of the model matte black. (Be carefully to leave a gap for the light to correctly shine through the lens). This will reduce the light shining directly through the cheap plastic.


Next, coat some Plasticard in the same black paint. Cut this into suitable pieces (you might have to trial and error) and glue them around the lights to ‘box’ the LED’s in:


The light bleed is now reduced:


To reduce or dim further, consider soldering resistors to the inputs of the lighting circuit boards.

Hornby Class 155

Same game, but slightly different process. This time the kit comes from Express Models and costs about £22. Starting with the non-motor car – To gain access to the interior unclip the chassis and lift off the body. There’s no screws this time, it can be carefully coaxed open by hand. Use toothpicks to hold the body in place as you remove it.

Using a 2mm bit, drill holes in the four painted light lens caps. These are attached to the window pane moulding. It’s possible to remove this from the model, but be careful it may be glued in pretty well, and the plastic is brittle. Use a smaller drill bit to pilot the hole making sure it is dead centre.

Paint the lamp area of the window pane black to cover any blemishes you may have just made. The LED lamps this time are independent to the circuit board and can be slotted into the holes you’ve just created.

It’s recommended to super glue these in, but I found they stayed in of their own accord no problem.

The window pane can be glued back into the model, now comes the tricky bit.

Two metal strips attached to the underside of a piece of bread board have to make contact with the wheels to power the lights. The instructions therefore tell you to fit the whole board to the bogie. This proved to be a problem as the bread board was too wide. In the end I managed to reduce the width of the bread board and re-solder the contacts to it, and now it fits nice and snug.

The contacts now touch the wheels as per design, make sure the polarity of the pickups match the intended direction of travel

The motor car is a lot easier, this is similar to the Class 121, solder wires to the positive and negative terminals of the motor-unit.This time the board can be fitted to the roof.

There she rides!…

So there we have it. Two old models given a bit of new life.


I’ve used older models to experiment on because I’m less worried about them if I make a mistake. I’d perhaps think twice about trying to fit lights to a more modern and therefore more delicate model. Granted, these days those that don’t come factory fitted with lights are few and far between, but there are some notable examples such as the Bachmann Class 20. Having said that, whilst recommisioning the Class 121, I became quite attached to it, and was therefore quite nervous about the whole operation.

If you’d like to experiment with directional lighting but are a bit concerned about cocking it up, it’s always worth rummaging around in the 2nd hand bin at your local model shop to see if there’s something cheap for you to practice on.

Happy Illuminating!

PS. I’ve used tweets embedded into WordPress for illustrations, so I hope they look right for everyone. I had to get the formatting just so to make it work. If they don’t show for you, please let me know.


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