I still can't decide what to buy.

Discussion in 'DCC & Electronics' started by KentBy, Feb 16, 2008.

  1. KentBy

    KentBy GN, NP, SP&S

    Here is what I am currently think.... I layout will eventually have about 150 ft of main line fit into 16x14 area (I hope). Should end up with two small yards and a some what separate logging operation and also a small mining operation. I plan to do this by going to two levels.

    I only have rough track plan at this point, most of it in my head, so can't share a picture yet.

    Eventually I could see two people having some fun with the trains. (Two throttles). The logging in mining areas would have only two locos each, with some time a visiting short line engine visiting to bring in supplies and remove product.

    The main line could support three to four trains with 2 to 4 engines on each.

    At this point I can't understand why I would put the turnouts on DCC. I would like to have sound in some of the loco's I think.

    I looks like I would need 5 amps or more.

    Now I think that this will take more then three years to build all of this, If not more. I don't what to buy more then I need and think that adding to it as I go makes sense.

    Now some questions.

    I am considering buying the Bachmann EZ controller. It is cheap and low on features, but I don't know what features I want this might fit OK for now. The immediate draw back to doing this is not being able to program all the CV.

    1. So can I buy something that would hook to my laptop PC and then to a programming track to over come this problem?

    2. Later when I know more about what I want out of DCC and buy a better system, can I just move the Bachmann to operate the logging or mining area? If so could I start a loco running on the short line controlled by the new DCC system and have it transition into the block controlled by the Bachmann?

    3. I guess that when I got smart enough to upgrade to the system that could handle it all correctly I could sell the Bachmann on eBay or just set it on the back shelf, after all they only are going for about $60 on the Internet now.

    So the big question is this a bad approach for someone that can make up their mined about what to buy?

    Thanks for you help.

  2. jwils1

    jwils1 New Member

    I can never bring myself to recommend the Bachmann DCC system. It's so limited in what in can do and is not expandable. I think for your purpose, you would be far better off starting with something like the NCE Power Cab or Digitrax Zephyr. For a little more money than the Bachmann you would gain some real hands-on experience with full featured DCC systems that would give you the experience to make a wise choice for your final system.

    Even if you don't like your original purchase you could still sell it on eBay and then go with what suits you best.

    It would be nice if you could start with a more powerful system now as you would spend a little less in the long run. But starting with a smaller set from one of the major manufacturers would still allow you to follow an upgrade path that would end up with not too much waste, if any.

    One thing to consider is just how you are going to run your trains. It sounds like you would need a system that would allow walk-around capability to follow a train as your running it rather than operating from a fixed location. If that is the case, then do you think you will want to eventually use radio control and eliminate the need to plug your throttles in and avoid tangled cords from multiple operators. If radio is in your future then take a good look at the type of radio that sounds best for you and maybe start with a starter set from that manufacturer.

    There are a lot of other considerations so don't hesitate to ask more questions and provide information that will help to narrow down possible choices. By the way, what gauge will you be operating?
  3. Harold Cole

    Harold Cole Member

    Kent,I started out in DCC well over 10 Years ago.Before i decided to purchase A unit,i sat down and listed all the things i wanted to do with it as soon as i got it and started to run it.Also listed the things i wanted to do at a later time,and then compared all the DCC units that were available at the time.First i wanted to be able to expand without buying a whole new set-up.I ended up buying the Digitrax Chief 5 amp unit,since then i've upgraded to the Chief 8 amp unit plus 8 amp booster and 5amp booster is used for Reverse sections and small yards.Also upgraded to several DT400 throttles and ready to get a DT400r.The original Chief i use for Programing and Turnouts.If you are anything like most of the Model-railroaders including my self you always are thinking of ways to expand.So whatever you decide to buy make sure it is expandable. Harold
  4. cidchase

    cidchase Active Member

    I would say go ahead and buy the Bachmann. It's inexpensive enough for a temporary setup. Like you say, no programming but if you get another system later you can program with that, and use the EZ Command for a test track or even for stationary decoders. Extra equipment like that seldom goes to waste!

    Of course, this is just my opinion. I have an EZ unit but have used it very little since I've been on the other side of the world for a while.:mrgreen:
  5. rogerw

    rogerw Active Member

    I went with the CVP system. Its only $229 for the starter set and you will never out grow it. Kalmbach publishing is using this system for their huge layout, the same layout that Model railroader uses for their test bench. There is a review of CVP's wireless controller in this months MRR magazine. I would stay away from the bachmann system. As far as a back up later ,according to charts I have been looking at the bachmann cant control stationary decoders.
  6. KentBy

    KentBy GN, NP, SP&S

    A little more info about what I want to do.

    I am doing this in HO. As stated I have a 14x16 space. One of the 16 ft spaces is against a wall. Both of the 14 ft side have doors in the end that I need to keep access to so that only gives me 10 ft and then a 4x4 cut out the last side would be open from the rest of the daylight basement so I can get to both sides of it.

    My thoughts would be for two levels. Either a folded dog-bone or a donut with a bridge that I could lower to get in the middle (I don't want to crawl under anything).

    The lower level would have one large yard and the main line making two or three laps around and this would give me about 150 ft of mainline track. I think that I could get 26" min curves in. I would also like to have to upper level sections. One with logging and another with some mining operation.

    Operationally; the main line would support both freight and passenger traffic. I already have three Athearn F7 unit (NP) that I would convert over to dcc. I also have a proto 1000 RS2 that is DCC ready and a Rivarossi Heisler that is also DCC ready. The Heisler would stay on the upper level doing some logging.

    I plan to have a mill on the upper level and maybe add a 2-6-6-2T to the logging roster. I would move the ruff cut lumber from the mill to the lower level to have it planned into finished lumber before shipping out on the main line freight.

    The logging area would also need some kind of speeder to move my loggers around.

    I could see have maybe one guest from time to time so would need two throttles. A lot of the operation would be best viewed from within the donut, but the part of the area that is open to the rest of the basement would be better operated from that side. And who knows if I could expand in that direction someday.

    I need to finish up my track plan and start building some bench work, but I would also like to start converting some of my equipment to DCC. I am thinking about buying one engine with DCC on board just so that I have one that is known to work correctly before I start my conversion.

    If I run a couple of trains on the main line at once (each with 2 to 4 engines) and I have one or two engines running in the logging area I think that I would easily exceed 3 plus amps.

    Keep in mine that I think that this would take me more then a couple of years before I would need all the capability.

    Hope this gives enough information about what I want to do without putting you all to sleep.:wave:

    Looking for advice.

  7. rogerw

    rogerw Active Member

    With any system make sure you can add more boosters as the layout grows. A typical starter system will start out with about a 3 amp booster. If you grow out of that you dont have to waste it just break up your layout in power districts. Use the smaller 3 amp booster for a switching yard and up grade the main lines to something bigger. Heres what cvp has out
    CVP Products
    this has 7 amp with a 30 amp surge. What ever system you get just make sure you can add to it.
  8. rogerw

    rogerw Active Member

    Kent have you seen the comparison charts ?
  9. KentBy

    KentBy GN, NP, SP&S


    Where do I find it?

  10. rogerw

    rogerw Active Member

  11. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Amount of track is mostly irrelevant to which system you choose. We'll have to start counting locos, below...! ;)

    Two throttles is not a problem for most systems. In fact, some (like Digitrax) have the ability to run two trains from one "throttle".

    But to count up the engines - 2 on the logging line, a "visitor" (1), plus up to 4 trains x 4 engines. Ultimately all powered, all with sound. So that's about 20 engines. At the very least, this will likely require 10 amps, so probably 2 power districts of 5 - 8 amps each. Probably better to go for a few more districts, just in case the balance of locos does not work out.

    The thing to keep in mind is the number of locos operating simultaneously on the layout. Simply sitting on powered track counts as "operating", especially with sound. :)

    There is no need to, if you can reach all the turnouts and don't want routing or to emulate CTC (for example).

    Yup. ;)

    I would not recommend this for the same reasons that others have noted above. As you note yourself, you would be better off with something that can be incorporated into your empire as you build it. The Digitrax Zephyr would offer all that you need right now (programming, support for sound - although you may need a programming booster depending on the sound decoders you use), and is expandible/usable with all other Digitrax components, and some "after market" ones too.

    JMRI makes software that works with Digitrax components. One of our DCC gurus was running his laptop at the last setup to monitor the entire layout. We were using a combination of Digitrax Chiefs and Empire builders (5 or six in all) to power the layout. JMRI software can also help with programming I believe.

    Not easily. While NMRA-compliant decoders can be used by any system, you cannot easily use different systems together. If the logging area is completely separate, then you could use it this way, but you cannot simply "drive" the loco from one section to another and have it automatically come under control of the other system.

    Yes, you could. But if you start with something that can be expanded, then you will not have wasted even $60 - $100 to buy the Bachmann in the first place.

    No it's not a bad approach, although I think you may be getting a feeling for its limitations. In model railroading there are many "right" answers for every question. The key is to find the one that is right for you.

    Hope that helps.

  12. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    Just some food for thought:

    You mention yourself and a guest running trains, each having a throttle. That is going to be the limiting factor right there. How many trains can each of you operate simultaneously?

    I would suggest that leaving a long train with 2-4 locos running by itself, pretty much unattended, to create "noise and distraction" while you focus on switching moves is an open invitation to disaster. Unless your trackwork is superb (and flat), and your rolling stock gauge-perfect - and kept that way - long trains pulled by multiple locos don't run for periods of time without attention.

    Multiple locomotives showing off their sound capabilities gets annoying - you tend to focus on only the one you are actually controlling at the time. Turning off sound in the other locos helps you focus.

    I would suggest that your maximum real load is only going to be 8 locos (in two trains) at once, and only 2-4 of them sound. Most DCC starter sets offer 2-3 amps, which would certainly keep you in power for a while. If needed later, consider expanding to 5 amps.

    If you can juggle more trains than that simultaneously - you're a better man than me. Two is my limit, and even then, one is just circulating on a fixed, non-interfering route. That circulating train has to be the ultimate in reliability because I am focused on the other. Most of the time, I just give in to my abilities and run one train at a time. Seems to work better that way - for me.

    my thoughts, your choices
  13. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    Another thought or two.

    If you use your DCC throttle for controlling turnouts, that is time that your train you were controlling is doing its own preselected thing.

    Which is why I prefer independent control of turnouts, lights, uncoupling ramps, etc.

    My operating preference is to run my train as engineer, brakeman, and conductor rolled into one. I am focused on the switching moves I have to make, aligning turnouts correctly, running at scale speeds, adjusting for grades, planning ahead so that the simulated momentum of a heavy train doesn't cause me to stop in the next town, easing the slack out of the couplers as I start the train, spotting cars at the unloading platform or ramp, etc. Coal and water consumption have to be considered, as does weather and train length. In other words, I have plenty to do just running one train at a time.

    The ideal control system for me is walk-around radio hand-held throttles. Turnout and uncoupling controls are on the fascia near their physical location.

    But if your operating preference is more of the "railfan" persuasion - watching multiple trains run through a scene - then a different sort of control system might be in order.

    Let the control system suit your operating preferences.
  14. baldwinjl

    baldwinjl Member

  15. KentBy

    KentBy GN, NP, SP&S

    You guys are Great, One and All.

    I have add all the suggested reading to my trains/DCC reading list and am working my way through it.

    So far I have done the most reading about MCR systems. And have the following list of questions. Some are statements, but if I have the statement wrong, please correct me.

    Not that I have decided on the MCR yet, but here goes:

    MCR: assuming that I start by purchasing a Prodigy Express starter setup.

    Assuming only 10 locos does that give me 15 switches that I can control with this setup?

    Function remapping: is this done in the decoder or the DCC controller?

    If you shut down power while the loco is still moving, when power is turned on for your next session will the decoder remember it previous speed and start running without input from the throttle?

    With "Universal Consist" all the information about the consist is kept in the DCC controller. The controller will send each decoder in the consist the same control packet to make the engines work together. Only one Universal consist per DCC controller.

    Is the "Universal Consist" (decoder list) remembered between sessions? (power down/power up).

    Decoders: All CV are remembered between sessions. (power down/power up)

    Decoders: How well do the Speed CV need to be tuned to run locos in a consist? (speed tables, top speed, etc)

    Prodigy wireless: How long can you operated with a fully charged handheld before needing to plug it in for recharging? How long do you need to operate it plugged in before it is fully recharged?

    Do you keep a written log of the decoders/engines CV?

    Prodigy Express can have problems with reverse loops. There is an upgrade from MRC (bring up the power output to 2.5 amps). How much do they charge for doing this?

    Prodigy Express handheld can't control accessory decoders (turnouts). You need to buy Advanced handheld.

    How is routing done?

    Reasons to upgrade from Express to Advanced throttle: Need to control turnouts and routes.

    Are routes save between power-ups?

    There is only one master cab and it is the only one that can control routes?

    Why is direction displayed as "FWD" sometimes and "FWDG" at other times?

    Why is direction displayed as "REV" sometimes and "REVH" at other times?

    The prodigy Advanced throttle needs to be added to allow reading of CV values.

    Can I add a DPDT switch so that my programing track can also work as mainline track?

    Now the harder questions:
    My layout will (I hope be a donut with three sides against the wall. Most operation will be from the inside, so would only be 6 ft of so from any point in the system. One side of the donut will have an outside to it and would be 8 to 10 feet from the center. I would need to walk around to see and control the trains while they are in that location.
    So do I put in another jack and unplug/walk around/plug back in?

    How hard is that or should I just spring for wireless.

    I think even if I upgrade to the 2.5 amp Express that I will run out of power as my roster/sound/switches grow. What do I buy next to overcome this problem?

    Also how do I divide my layout for the extra power zone. Divide the main line in two. Separate out yards from the main line. Separate out my logging area from the main line?

    Can two boasters be added in the same block? IE two 3.5 amps would give me 7 amps for my main line?

    I think that I would have no more the two or three people running trains at once on my layout, so what would be the upgrade path for throttles? I could add an advance for myself and use the express for the visitor. I could get a wireless. Is there a cheap throttle for visitors?

    Would you have the same equipment if you started with the Express and added one advanced handheld as if you started with the advanced and added on express handheld?

    I couldn't find owner manuals for the advanced squared and wireless systems. Can someone point me to them?

    I will be looking forward to getting "more smart" from all your input. Next I will be reading more on the NCE system and will understand more of what I read.

  16. jwils1

    jwils1 New Member

    Hope this helps.

  17. jwils1

    jwils1 New Member

    When considering small starter sets it's good to consider upgrade possibilities as many people are eventually going to want to upgrade. It's almost always more economical to start with a more powerful, full-featured system if one's budget allows.

    Here is a look at costs for upgrading the Express and Power Cab. Please feel free to correct this If you see anything that is not right. Upgrade paths can vary because of so many possible combinations but this will give some idea of what's available:

    Upgrade path for Prodigy Express:

    Prodigy Express: $120 (1.6 amps)
    Add Advance2 cab: $75 (adds programming accessory decoders, programming routes, Universal consisting, read CVs, fast clock, yard mode)
    Upgrade to 28 functions: Send unit in to MRC $? (cost is said to be minimal)
    Upgrade to 2.5 amps: Send unit in to MRC $? (cost is said to be minimal)
    Add District Boosers (3.5 amps): $117
    Add wireless conversion: $170

    Compare to full featured systems:

    Prodigy Advance2: $200 (3.5 amps)
    Prodigy Wireless: $350 (3.5 amps)
    Add wireless conversion to Advance2: $170

    Upgrade path for Power Cab:

    Power Cab: $150 (1.7 amps)
    Add 04p engineer's throttle: $72
    Add SB3: $108 (increases system to 3 amps - includes power supply)
    Add radio: $265 (includes 04pr throttle and RB02 base station and can be added to basic Power Cab)

    Compare to full featured systems:

    Power Pro: $453 (5 amps and includes power supply and computer interface)
    Power Pro radio: $596 ( 5 amps)

    Of course there are other misc. costs involved such as plug-in stations for tethered cabs.

  18. KentBy

    KentBy GN, NP, SP&S

    Thanks Jerry

    I found the wireless manual and will read it tonight.

    The manual for the express that I downloaded from MRC on page 6 top right corner has a picture of the handheld display with REVH. On page 7 right side middle has another display picture with FWDG.

    I noticed in the in the wireless manual on page 16 where they are talking about fast clock there is a picture of the display with FWD and then a circular arrow. It kind-of looks like a G.

    Again thanks and I'll keep reading.

  19. KentBy

    KentBy GN, NP, SP&S

    My last set of question on MCR, I think.

    I have finished reading the wireless manual and have the following question:

    Only four loco are allowed in Universal Consist. Is this MCR only or do other system have this restriction?

    Can an accessory in the route control more then one turnout?

    When shutting down operation for the night should I have all the equipment on a power strip with one ON/OFF switch?

    If I used my remote throttle until it was about time to recharge it and then decided that it was time to go to bed, do I plug it in and then leave the power on over night to make sure that it got recharged for tomorrow?

    I am reading the manual for Power Cab now and will have question about it tomorrow.

  20. KentBy

    KentBy GN, NP, SP&S

    OK, now for some NCE questions.

    Question after reading NCE power cab manual:

    Looks like you can work with two trains easily at the same time with the recall button.

    Both trains will either be in normal mode or yard mode. You can't have one normal and the other yard. Also it looks like as long as you use the throttle in power cab mode you don't even have the choice for yard mode.

    The cab key programing look like a great feature, but might be tedious to setup. Can this programming be done on a PC and then downloaded into the CAB?

    The use of RS-485 standard would see to leave open other companies to add to the control bus. Does NCE publish the software protocol packet information for there cabs?

    Whoops! It looks like you can easily use the wrong cable (4 pin/6 pin) when plugging in the power cab, because they use the same RJ12 connector. What happens if you do this?

    OK, now I am confused. On page 24 it states that the power cab can have:
    2 cabs (is this the recall button usage)
    12 trains at the same time (how?)
    16 advanced consists (OK this is in the encoder so that makes sense)
    4 old style consists with 2 loco each (this is what is being kept in the
    controller). Only two locos seem restrictive.

    Do the speed buttons only work in Pro Cab mode and not Power Cab mode?

    If I installed a NCE decoder that supports the kick rate/depth, can I program it with another system (say MCR)?

    I am not sure that I follow the "decoder function key remapping". Is this being done in the decoder or the controller? This sounds very flexible, but in real operation how often would this be used? Can someone give me an example of how they use this feature?

    What is the upgrade path for NCE? If I start with a Power Cab (2 amps) and add SB3 (3 amps) can I now wire two zone? 2 amps in one and 3 amp in the other?

    Or should I start with one of the other systems? They look a lot more expensive.


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