Considering DCC

Discussion in 'DCC & Electronics' started by nachoman, Jan 2, 2008.

  1. nachoman

    nachoman Guest

    I'm building a new layout of 4'x8' proportions, and for this one I am considering switching over to dcc. It's going to be a combo HO and HOn3, and include some dual-gauge trackage. While I am familiar with DCC basics, and should have no problems installing decoders, I am unfamilar with many of the features - especially knowing what i need or don't need. I worry that I will buy something then later learn about a feature that would be handy but my sytem doesn't have.

    The main reasons I am considering DCC are:
    1) to simplify wiring, especially dual gauge. Even on a 4x8, wiring toggle switches and keeping the blocks organized is tedious.
    2) to allow others with DCC locos to run on my layout, and to allow me to run my DCC locos on other's layouts.

    Features I really have no interest in:
    1) Sound. While sometimes sound is cool, it is also sometimes annoying and can sound hokey. I don't want the unnecissary expense.
    2) Enormous amounts of functions/lighting effects. My era is 1915-1920, and things like ditch lights and flashing beacons have not been invented yet.

    Features I may be interested in:
    1) contolling turnouts and other accessories (turntable). I was planning on using simple caboose industries ground throws, but I am open to the idea of DCC controlled turnouts or a turntable.
    2) Walk-around capability. I plan on having 2 areas of switching on my layout, and uncouple my cars manually. Walk-around control is a BIG plus.

    So, that's basically what I am looking for. The layout will be set up so that two trains can be run at the same time, and more than likely I would have one train running around a loop while another is doing switching duties on the narrow gauge branch. I really can't see ever having more than 3 locomotives moving at one time.

    So, what am I looking for here? What system is best for me?

  2. nkp174

    nkp174 Active Member

    I'm in a very similar boat to nachoman...with only an MRC Command 2000 system...and having never really connected it to a layout.

    Unlike nachoman, I'm interested in sound after getting a PCM goose...but I previously did care for them nor do I trust that I will be able to get a good sound decoder for the 1880s...but I'll need a new DCC unit if I do get nice sound decoders as I want to be able to blow wistles.
  3. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    All systems will be relatively the same in this regard, although wiring for DCC does not necessarily simply wiring. Wiring can be complicated by requiring signalling, train detection, etc. However, it does not sound like you will be wanting these features.

    Some systems allow the operation of non-decoder equipped locos (e.g. Digitrax on address '00'), although this is not ideal. Whether your locos will run on someone else's layout is not really a function of what system you chose, but whether the loco in question has a decoder that can be controlled by the other system (and watch for issues like duplicate addresses when visiting!).

    These features are generally a function of the decoder, not the system. However, the system must be able to program and or access the features. This has been a bit of a problem with newer decoders that have sounds assigned to F9 and higher, with some systems only allowing for F0 to F8...

    But again, for you, not a concern.

    Not all basic systems (Bachmann EZ DCC for example) allow 'advanced' operations like controlling turnouts. Again, Digitrax can do this, as can some other systems. Note that there is a significant additional expense to remotely controlling turnouts - Tortoise machines, and stationary decoders, etc. As you note about ditch lights, etc, in your era, CTC was not yet invented, so throwing the turnouts by hand (or as if they were controlled by interlocking) is more "realistic" anyway.

    Walkaround is available in many DCC systems (and DC as well). Digitrax uses a network (LocoNet) that uses 6 conductor telephone cable and jakcs (RJ-12) that can be found at many electronics stores, so it's easy to expand your system. They also offer IR and radio wireless.

    Lenz has a somewhat unique system in that you can use cordless telephones as throttles. So you can get additional wireless control for as cheap as the cheapest phone.

    Given your description of how you want to run your layout, I would suggest you look at a Digitrax Zephyr (base unit/controller/power supply/programming) with one or two additional UT-4 throttles. If you want to go wireless, you can use the built in IR (requires an IR receiver), or go to the UT-4R and a radio receiver.

    I have quite a bit of Digitrax experience at home and with, and note that a good number of the local modellers use it as well. Basically, there is lots of support for it in my area, and so that's what I chose.

    Hope that helps.

  4. railwaybob

    railwaybob Member

    If you want to run more than two trains at a time on your layout, or if you want to run one train and then run another one, then DCC is definitely the way to go. Or if you have friends over for operating sessions.

    Wiring is very straightforward. No DPDT switches on a control panel to decide which train will be powered from which power pack - even with dual gauge. No spider webs of wires from the control panel out to the track and back.

    At its simplest, two wires from the command station/booster from one end of your layout to the other - the track power buss. And two wires from the track power buss into the command station/booster that are screwed down under two terminals. Track feeds about every 3' - 4' to make sure you got juice to the rails connected into the two wires.

    As to what you want the decoders to do - that's up to you. All decoders usually will control basic light functions on the loco. It's up to you to hook up the lights - if you want to. And if you want sound - that's up to you too. You decide what function you want or don't want. However, a word of warning! Once you start using these functions (headlights, ditch lights, sound, etc), you will be hooked. Guaranteed. But, you will be the one to decide what you want.

    Controlling turnouts with DCC - that's easy enough. The turnout controlled by a tortoise switch machine which, in turn is connected to a stationary decoder. Dial up the switch/decoder number on your throttle, push a button and the switch points move. Or, you can program a route so that a series of turnouts move. But that's getting a little bit beyond th basics at this stage.

    Signalling gets a little bit more complex if you want to use DCC. But the wiring is still simple. If you are planning to get into signalling, then insulated blocks become important - something you should think about before you start building a layout. The wiring is easy enough - wrap a couple of turns on one of the track feeder through the induction transformer on the block detector and out to the rails. Depending on the block detector and signal system you use, this can be as simple as two wires from the block detector to the signal control board, or as complex as 10-wire ribbon cable to a signal control board. But I'm probably getting way ahead of myself.

    I too would recommend the Digitrax Zephyr as a starter but only because I use Digitrax. But, if you're planning to visit with your friends, then you'll want to bring along your throttle so a DCS100 Chief with a DT400 throttle might be what you are looking for. If you're planning to get into DCC, one of the main considerations of the system you buy will be what is most popular in your area. And, if you're going to be visiting friends, what systems do they use? The problem won't be with the decoders - all decoders are interchangeable. It's the throttles that aren't. Throttles are unique to each manufacturer. Digitrax happens to be very popular here in Ottawa with NCE a distant second. I also belong to a module railroad club that uses Digitrax. So, I use Digitrax. Another consideration you should take a look at is expansion - does the system you buy have the capability of being expanded?

    A whole lot of other things but keep on doing your research.

    Bob M.
  5. rogerw

    rogerw Active Member

  6. rogerw

    rogerw Active Member

  7. Dansco

    Dansco Member

    Short and to the point.
    If not for DCC, I wouldnt be doing this.
    Key Features of DCC that drew me in
    Mulitple engines without complicated blocking
    Proven tech. Current generation of DCC stuff is rock solid. My previous generation Atals Commander works flawlessly every day.
    Because DCC is established, used hardware is redily available and cheap. ( you can easily find an Atals commander or similar with hand throttles for under $100)

  8. cntown

    cntown Member

    good day everyone I too am starting a layout with my son and I am not sure which DCC system is right for me.When looking around I was told by George's that NCE was the system to use but others have said Digitrax was better. I have 2 locos already DCC and 2 locos DCC ready.Would I be better off purchasing the next system up from the starter system of one these maker or is the wireless system better in the long run.
  9. TrainNut

    TrainNut Ditat Deus

    One of the big reasons I like my Digitrax system is that it will allow me to run 1 DC engine at a time along with my DCC engines. Any DC engine simply uses the 00 address. I have many DC engines I never plan on converting and this allows me to still play with (er.... I mean operate) them as well... something NCE will not allow you to do.
    I started with a Digitrax Zephyr command station and have added a UR91 as well as a DT400R. The UR91 enables my DT400r to become wireless.
    Zephyr - Zephyr Basic Set
    UR91 - Product Listing Wireless Digitrax Command Control
    DT400r - DT400R Super Radio Throttle
    I like the DT400r because it enables me to control two trains at once without having to pop back and forth between addresses... something that can be quite frazzling with an impending collision!
    PLUS - if you go with the Digitrax system, when you get that layout up and running, I can bring my ol' mudhen and my controller over and we can play.... I mean.... have an operating session!
  10. rogerw

    rogerw Active Member

    I have a question for digitrax user's. Can the software in the command station be upgraded? I see in some charts that it can and some say not software upgradeable.
  11. cntown

    cntown Member

    thank you for the info TrainNut my kato has a digitrax decoder in it already but i know that its compatible with each system out there for sale.The cost between the starter sets is close but I will probably save up to buy the wireless system. I can still run my trains on DC while I am building the layout but will start wiring for DCC instead .This forum will help me down the road when I start wiring. Thank you for taking the time to respond.
  12. railwaybob

    railwaybob Member

    Hello CNTown. George's Trains seems to show a bit of a preference for NCE over Digitrax. The question will be which is the most popular in the area that you live in and at what level of investment do you want to make.

    Hello RogerW. The upgrading of "software" is not necessarily a major issue with DCC systems. What you should be looking for is whether the DCC system can accept new features that periodically come out which don't require upgrades to the command station. Two examples which come to mind are "transponding" and signal systems. Because Digitrax is based on the concepts of a LAN (Local Area Network) which is called "LocoNet", the additon of new features hasn't been an issue.

    Another major issue is whether you can add components to the system and not lose your investment. As Train Nut pointed out, he started with the Zephyr and added a UR91 radio receiver and a DT400 throttle so that he now has wireless walk-around control of his layout - a good example of how he was able to add features to the command station without losing his investment.

    Alternately, he could have gone directly to the DCS100 Chief or DB150 Empire Builder which comes with the DT400 throttle. However, he chose to first go with the inexpensive Zephyr and add features. An example of how you can grow the system.

    Bob M.
  13. rogerw

    rogerw Active Member

    Railwaybob I was thinking more on the line of major changes. Like when dcc went from 2 digit address to 4 digit. Something a add on wont take care of.
  14. RonP

    RonP Member of the WMRC

    I believe digitrax's popularity would require it to handle such a change easily.
  15. cntown

    cntown Member

    I was at Trains on Brant today and they sell sell the Zephyr around $180 and Empire/Chief around $350-$400. The wireless about $200 more .Kevin there said that for smaller layout the Empire/Chief would be perfect.Wireless would be better for larger layouts and multiple users.My layout is not going to be that large so I am probably looking towards the purchase of the Digitrax Empire Builder.Thank you for responding railwaybob
  16. MarcO

    MarcO Member

    Im in the same boat here. Im building a 3' x 9' N-gauge layout, I have no friends that are in the hobby and Im not in any clubs. Why would I get the $200 Digitrax Zephyr (online for $163) instead of the $100 Bachmann (all over ebay for $60)? Looks like th Bachmann can handle a DC loco, thats important to me (so no NCE or MRC strater systems). Look like the only drawback might be 2digit addressing?

    And would an old MRC Command 2000 work as well? I see those on ebay for ~$50.
    Anybody wanna knock the Bachmann?

    Im never going beyond 3 x 9 and three locos in N gauge.

    $163 for the Zeph Caboose Hobbies, The best place to enjoy the hobby of model trains, Toy Trains, Model Railroading!
    Can anybody beat that price??????

  17. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery


    If you really are sticking with the 3x9 and 3 or fewer engines, can live withoput programming your decoders, and have no need to expand the system (in any way - more locos, more track, more throttles, etc), then you probably don't need anything more than the Bachmann set.

    You will have to live with calling your locos 1-9, instead of their actual number, and you can run a non-decoderized loco (not a great thing to do on any system).

    On the other hand, if you want expandability, to fine tune the performance of the locos, and to address your locos by their actual number, you will need to go to the Zephyr or something like it.

    Don't forget to factor taxes and shipping into the price before you decide which price is really lowest.

  18. MarcO

    MarcO Member

    MJ, Thanks the added info is helpful. I didnt know that I couldnt progy the decorders with the bachmann, Im sure ill want to do that. And I like the idea of running them by the road numbers. Its only money, and money is only good for toys.
  19. rogerw

    rogerw Active Member

    Just another system to look at by a company called cvp. They have been around the longest I believe. Ten years ago they had a article in model railroader on how to build this system. Its called easy dcc not to be confused with bachmann ez dcc. The starter system is $229 and that comes with two cab control, read/wright cv's, 4digit address and 3 amp booster. It is fully expandable and has one off the better wireless systems, you can aquire a loco address from the wireless control without plugging it back into the jack. The only downfall is it dosnt have loco net which I think is slick. It does have a rs232 to hook to a computer. Just wanted to bring this system up also to help inform what is out there. Sorry here is the link
    CVP Products
  20. TrainNut

    TrainNut Ditat Deus

    That would be nice!

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