Lionel ZW Transformer Whistle Switch

I tried a Lionel ZW transformer with two 180 watt power packs. The indicator switch on the first power pack is dead. But it does provide
power, as does the other one on which the power indicator works correctly.
Applying the throttle lights up all lighted cars - The Polar Express cars, the radioactive waste car blinks, the I-12 Chessie caboose lights up and smokes, etc.
Irritatingly, the ZW was delivered when I have no train to run. The Polar Express Bershire is in the shop getting it's smoke system working better (I was told it's an issue known to Lionel.) My Chessie SD-40-2 (conventional) loco hasn't arrived yet (you didn't think I was going to haul radioactive waste with the Polar Express, did you?)
So I placed the Bershire's tender on the tracks and tried the whistle switch. I could hear the motor in the tender spinning up, but it couldn't seem to get going fast enough to whistle.
So I swapped the power leads back to the CW-80 transformer, and everything worked perfectly, including the whistle button. I swapped the power leads back and forth a couple of times to make sure I was getting a good connection (always power to power and ground to ground, of course.) No go. The ZW's whistle switch doesn't blow the whistle.
The connections are good. The track was freshly cleaned, etc. But no joy.
The vendor (WholesaleTrains.com) is replacing the ZW - I should get it tomorrow. Fast service and no extra shipping charges to me, so I'm happy. But a little worried.
Aside from the bad indicator light on the one power pack, is the ZW whistle switch actually broken, or is there something about the ZW that makes it unable to blow the whistle on this tender? Does anyone using a ZW with O-27 entry level locos know of any problem or incompatibility with the ZW? As far as I had read, the ZW is conventional equipment (though like any other conventional transformer, it can be set up to be controlled via TMCC, and will be in the future.)
Admittedly, the ZW is overkill for a carpet layout. But I want to play with the concept of insulating track sections and powering two trains via separate throttles. I plan to test a lot of concepts on the carpet while designing a permanent layout. It would seem to provide for much less cussing when I do start building a permanent layout...
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Spender wrote:

The whistles are supposed to whistle for all transformers. If the whistle works on your CW 80 and doesn't work on the ZW, its reasonable to believe the ZW has a problem. Also, customers expect a modern ZW to operate legacy engines going all the way back to the 1940's. In the old days all Lionel transformers would operate the whistles on every whistle equipped locomotive. I would expect the same from a modern ZW. You mentioned the indicator light on one section is inop. Any reasonable factory quality control inspection should at least plug the unit in and make sure it lights up. Since your ZW no longer lights up, I would suspect shipping damage had occured. Those lights ought to be LEDs which are a whole bunch more rugged than incandescent lamps.

Carpet running is fun, and you can re do your track plan pretty much at will. For various reasons permanent layouts seem to have harder to change track plans. Lionel was originally intended for carpet running.
David Starr
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wrote:

I suspected that the ZW should have worked. I coundn't test the flip side of the whistle switch - directional control - since my Polar Express loco is in the shop. The only powered car I have is the Elf Hand Car, and that only runs in one direction. I'm hoping that testing this without a loco on the track isn't a tragic newbie error...
But even the power pack with the bad power indicator light supplies power and lights up the ZW's power indicator. So it seems it must be bad whistle switches. The CW-80 doesn't seem to mind that there is no loco present.
BTW, if you, or anyone else, can tell me. How on earth does that whistle switch operate? What signal does it send through the track that tells the whistle to do something different when all the other cars just get a steady stream of power and do nothing but light up, smoke, etc?
I understand the directional switch operates the E Unit (?) of a loco by temporarily cycling the power. But I can't figure out the whistle switch.
Ahh, and come to think of it. The directional switches on the ZW did not seem to cycle the power. Pressing the directional button on the CW-80 causes the momentary darkening of the lighted cars. Neither directional switch on the ZW did that.
A dead power pack indicator light, and two dead switches on the ZW? I certainly hope it is shipping damage and not a signal that Lionel has abandoned any desire for producing quality products. I had the same thought when my Polar Express Berkshire wouldn't produce much smoke and came to find out that it is a known problem.
Sure, The Polar Express is a low-end starter set. But I have every intention of loving that train for every Christmas I have left. I hope Lionel realizes that their starter sets are the very thing that can cause people to buy their more expensive offerings.

Yes, it's fun as well as easily reconfigurable. I am of course taking care to make sure that carpet fuzz doesn't cause any problems (but it's very low pile carpet.) I inspect all cars regularly. My wife has used the term fondling... well, she's entitled to her opinion. If she bothered to look at the credit card statements occasionally, she might understand why I handle the stuff so lovingly.
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Spender wrote:

The whistle button adds a small DC voltage, three or four volts, to the AC track power. It used to brighten up the lights and make the locomotive go a little bit faster. I forget just how the whistle motor discriminated between AC and DC and only turned if it saw DC. Now a days I would expect solid state, but that wasn't available in the old days.
David Starr
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wrote:

Thank you for the explanation. I'm going to have a lot of Googling to do to find out more about this hobby.
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The older air whistles were "blown" by a small DC voltage which closed a DC relay in the tender permitting the track AC voltage to "power" the blower motor. On the older whistles, not sure whether the DC was plus or minus to activate the relay but when they added a bell they reversed the DC polarity so that one way it closed the bell relay and the other way it activated the whistle relay. Solid state boards don't use a mechanical relay as in the past but the approach is the same...DC one way activates a bell and the opposite way activates the whistle. Ray Hobin NMRA Life # 17XX; TCA # HR-78-XXXXX; ARHS # 2XXX Durham, NC [Where tobacco was king; now The City of Medicine]
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I still don't get how that works. You say it's a DC relay, but doesn't the AC going through it make it buzz? Maybe there's a resistor in series with it?
Anyhow, I gather that somehow it does work.
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David Starr spake thus:

So now I'm really curious: how the heck does this thing work? Would be easy to see how the opposite would work (AC superimposed over DC): you'd just need a capacitor to filter out the DC.
Must be some clever arrangement of diodes (selenium rectifiers of the era) and resistors to separate the DC from the AC. Anyone know how this works?
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David Nebenzahl wrote:

A DC relay activates the whistle or horn in Lionel Locos. The AC alone does not lift the armature, a small DC differential imposed onto the AC causes the relay to close. Very simple.
http://i9.ebayimg.com/02/i/000/86/1b/4c26_1.JPG
It can be used for other functions, too:
Reversing(Magic Electrol):
http://www.toytrainrevue.com/electrol.gif
Coupler activation(Teledyne):
http://www.toytrainrevue.com/teledyne.gif
At the transformer end, a disc rectifier is switched in to the circuit by a make-break action, momentarily, for initial "pick-up" DC current, and as the switch is pushed all the way, a resistor wire shunt is switched in over the rectifier to provide a lower "holding" DC current, and to protect the rectifier from the full current draw of the train set.
With modern transformers & whistles/horns, solid state circuits have replaced the relay & shunting.
Rob
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Spender wrote:

Try it at 1/3 to 1/2 throttle...
Rob
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wrote:

I believe I tried it at most every throttle position since I was watching for how quickly the lights brightened.
Either way, it should work at any throttle position. The CW-80 will blow the whistle with the throttle so low that none of the cars are lit.
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Spender wrote:

As it should. Now try it in neutral at full throttle on the CW.
Rob
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wrote:

I just tried it, and the whistle blows.
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Spender wrote:

But not as well as at part-throttle. Hold the whistle button down, and adjust the throttle up & down to observe the effect.
Rob
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wrote:

You're right. With the CW-80 the whistle blows consistently, but there is a noticeable loss of power near the top of the throttle. It is strongest at about 1/2-3/4 throttle (and, as I mentioned, it works at so low a throttle setting that the cars aren't lit yet.). It does still blow at full throttle though, just not with as much force.
I got the new ZW yesterday. The whistle button works at most all throttle settings, but not once you get to full throttle. Then the whistle device just spins up without whistling. Is this to be expected? Or will it work once I have gotten my Bershire loco back from the shop (or my new Chessie diesel arrives) and it is helping to draw more power from the track?
It's not my last ZW anyway... This one has a large gouge in the front of the case, where the top of the case meets the bottom. It looks like someone at the factory went a little heavy on the grinder when trimming the flash off the plastic after it came out of the mold. The gouge isn't just unsightly, it is large enough that the top doesn't fit flush with the bottom, leaving a gap large enough that you can actually see into the transformer.
And to think the outside carton had that nice green label saying "Q.A. PASSED". I think I am getting an idea of what some here are talking about when they disparage Lionel's quality. The Lionel name may be legendary, but it can't cover up shoddy craftsmanship forever.
All the Lionel rolling stock I have bought has arrived in pristine condition. $30-$80 cars. This is a $385 piece of equipment and I have had two bad ones so far.
The vendor (WholesaleTrains.com) is replacing it again. They have one left and said they would open and inspect it before shipping. At least I hope that's what they are doing... I hope they don't plan on sending me a returned item. When I pay for a new product, I expect to receive a new product.
Maybe I should have just asked them to exchange it for an MTH Z4000. When I dreamed of an all Lionel layout, I wasn't aware of the kinds of problems Lionel was having.
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Spender wrote:

Bingo. You will really not use the whistle at full throttle under normal conditions with no load.

I'll have to ring up Lantz's and see if they will be returning those to Lionel or selling them at a discount... I'm within driving distance to them...
Sorry you're having so much trouble...
Rob
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wrote:

It's only two bad units. I suppose I'm overreacting because I also had the nearly invisible smoke problem with the Berkshire. That track full of cars looks pretty sad waiting for a loco to come along.
I'm not surprised you'd want to do business with Lantz's. They have been really courteous and helpful when I've talked to them.
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