Slow intro to DCC needed

Discussion in 'DCC & Electronics' started by Andy_T, Aug 31, 2004.

  1. Andy_T

    Andy_T New Member

    Hi folks,

    After many years I'm picking up the model railroading hobby again. I'm starting very small, but have moderate ambitions to expand a small layout to a large one. As background, before the actual DCC question, I'm planning a outdoor On30 setup and trying to immerse myself slowly to avoid sticker shock. At the same time, I remember all too well losing interest with really cheap train sets. To keep my interest up I've decided to buy fewer higher quality pieces over a longer period of time. My first step was to place an order for the Model Mountain Imports D&RG K-27. Should the model ever get released, I figure I'll have a great looking model all set for DCC. But, I get stuck on how to power my modest effort. I know I want DCC in the long run, but in the short term I'll only have the one engine and my trackplan will be a pretty linear terminal or switcher, so even with DC the wiring will be minimal.

    My question then is should I buy a 5 Amp DC powerpack to drive it, figuring the sound decoder and motor will eat more current than a cheaper pack; or should I invest in a basic DCC setup like the Digitraxx Zepher? I'm REALLY interested in getting the most bang for the buck, but I'll have a hard time just spending the $200 for the Zepher. Alternatively, is there a way to ease from one to the other? Are there minimal components needed to run a single engine with DCC that doesn't require a full set? If not, and I have to spend money on a good DC pack, can that be reused when I buy the DCC components?

    It's obvious that my budget for the hobby is very minimal for individual purchases. My purchase of the K-27 ate my entire budget for getting a minimal systen going with a Bachmann On30 starter set. As a result, it's a good thing I'm not holding my breath for the engine to be delivered as it would sit on a shelf until I can afford to buy some track!

    My instinct is to get the DCC startup set and take the beating, but if I don't have to I'd like another option.

    Thanks everyone for sharing your experiences.


    btw, I've been browsing for some time, and have read many of the DCC sites that are referenced here. I've learned a lot, but for some reason this particular issue eluded me.
  2. Alan B

    Alan B Member

    How much power you need depends on your locomotive's current draw. Most HO locos draw about .5 Amps. Thus a Zephyr with a 3.0 Amp power supply will support six typical HO locomotives.

    Check the current draw on you K-27 and see what it is. If it's less than 3 Amps, go with the Zephyr and don't worry.

    If you are going with a big layout with lots of trains, or your K-27 and sound will eat up more than three amps, the Lenz Set 90 or 100 are available with 5 amp power. For those really big jobs, the Lenz Set 01-10 has 10 amps. (You might even find a Set 02-10 around on the second hand market for around $200.) The Lenz Set 90 will run you in the $300 range. The Set 100 will run in the $375~$400 range. The Digitrax Super Empire Builder is probably going to cost about as much as the Lenz and not really be as good. The Super Chief will run around the same price as a Set 100 and is pretty close in quality and features.

    Another option, since you are in no hurry, is the MRC Prodigy Advance. It is made by Lenz, so it's a great system. They ditched the menus and put them right on the hand throttle. Some may view that as an improvement. I prefer the LH 90 for operating and using a computer for programming. But, at a street price of $240, this may be for you.

    Yet another option is buy the MRC Prodigy. It has a maximum Amperage of 3.5, and is pretty cheap right now. There's one on ebay with a buy it now price of $121.

    Here's the basic run down:
    ~3 Amps
    MRC Prodigy Street price $121
    Digitrax Zephyr Street price $160

    5 Amps
    MRC Prodigy Advance Street price $240 (Delivery around Christmas, you may have to wait for the street price, MSRP is $299.98.)
    Lenz Set 90 Street price $300
    Digitrax Super Empire Builder Street price $300
    Lenz Set 100 Street price $375-$400
    Digitrax Super Chief Street price ?

    8 Amps
    MRC Prodigy Advance with Power Station 8, Expensive.
    Digitrax Super Chief with 8 Amp powers, Expensive.

    Hope this helps.

    Alan Bradley
  3. Andy, I wouldn't plan on a DC power pack to power any DCC system. Most DCC systems come with their own power supply suited to that particular system.

    Do I have this right, you are planning an outdoor layout that is DCC?
  4. Woodie

    Woodie Active Member

    Whatever you buy to control/power your loco using DC will need to be ditched when you go DCC. The controllers and powerpacks are not compatible.

    Some DCC systems come with controller and "booster" (powerpack) in one unit. You only need one DCC controller to control all your locos. Just 'switch loco number' on the DCC controller and the other loco will be controlled.

    However, should you want to run more locos that the combined "controller/booster" can power (i.e. a 5 AMP DCC Controller/booster combined), then you'll need to ditch the entire "combined" system and go for a more powerful one.

    However, what you can get (and it may cost a little more initially) is a separate DCC controller from the "booster" (powerpack). That will allow you to plug more than one controller into the "booster" (for a friend), or if your booster needs more AMPs, then you just need to replace the "booster", not the entire controller/booster.

    Might cost you a little more, now, but save further down the track. so to speak.

    Some combined controller/boosters also allow you to add another booster, then divide your track into separate sections and power each section from different boosters. i.e. 1/2 of your track uses "booster 1" (giving 5 AMPs there), and the other half uses "booster 2" giving 5 AMPs for the other half as well. You would only be in trouble (power supply wise) if you were running ALL your locos one particular 1/2 half of your track, and none on the other half.

    Bit complicated, I know, but the cheaper the DCC system, the less "add-on" flexible it is, which may result in false economy, by having to ditch the whole system, just to run that extra loco, when your original DCC "combined" system runs out of grunt to power your multiple locos at once.
  5. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    I'm not familiar with the Model Mountain product, does it have a sound decoder similat to the Broadway Ltd HO models? If not, you may not be able to control the sound with a DC pack. All the HO locos which come with sound from the manufacturer (to my knowledge) use QSI decoders, which work on DC. Soundtraxx decoders will not work on DC.

    The Zephyr, by Digitrax, will allow you to use your DC pack as a throttle after you convert to DCC. Also, Digitrax, and I think NCE and Lenz, but I do not have those systems and I'm not sure, allow adding multiple boosters easily. I'm not at all familiar with the present offerings from the like of MRC and Atlas DCC units. In the past they have offered little ability to be expanded and are rather limited. My opinion is they are ok for those who know they will never need more flexibility than they need today. If you plan to expand, go with one of the "big 3", Digitrax, NCE and Lenz.

    On30 outdoors? Have you done this before or know someone who has? That size track isn't all that strong and will be subject, I would think, to some abuse, at least frequent track cleaning. I know it's been done, but not by many. Another option you may want to consider for power is battery with rc control. The rc control offers all the benefits of DCC without worrying about keeping the track clean. Certainly not cheap tho.

    Good luck, and let us know how you make out!
  6. Andy_T

    Andy_T New Member

    Thanks Gary,

    The K-27 does use a QSI sound board, and is similar to the one used in the Broadway Limited On30 C-16, so it can be used with DC. I have not done On30 outdoors before. I originally wanted to go with a 1:24 G layout, but my yard is so small it would look just like a really big HO 4" by 8". On30 seemed the best compromise for what I like. I'm accutely aware of the delicacy of HO track, and so I'm planning to use outdoor benchwork. The plan is to build a raised layout deck with a depth of about 3 inches for rock garden plantings, and a formed concrete roadbed for the track. This should alleviate stability and track shifting problems. The cleaning is a big question mark. I would very much like to use radio control, but as you say it's pricey. But if it looks like a proper DCC entry is going to cost a few hundred, maybe I should look into the radio a little more.

    Thanks All!

  7. Andy_T

    Andy_T New Member

    Thanks Alan,

    That's a great summary of the available systems.Sure helps get a good overall feel. I don't know what the loco's current draw is; I haven't been able to find that anywhere. But it's a big model so I suspect it'll be on par with the average smaller O scale offerings. I don't think I'll ever have mor than three engines running at once so I don't need to plan for huge expansion. My vision is more of a laid back country branch line rather than a division point.

    Thanks for the help
  8. Andy_T

    Andy_T New Member

    Yes, I'm planning for outdoors. I've seen some rather large outdoor G scale layouts in Garden Railways that were DCC and the owners seemed quite happy. I'll be starting small; maybe a 10 foot x 3 foot switcher on sawhorses on the covered patio. If that works I'll move it off the patio and add some plantings and see how direct exposure to the elements affects performance.

  9. Andy_T

    Andy_T New Member

    Thanks woodie,

    It seems that if I ant expandability I'll need to go with one of the better complete systems. Since I don't plan on running (or even owning) a large stable of engines, Gary's suggestion to look into radio control may be better investment; I'll only need to buy a receiver when I buy an engine. I'll need to make sure that the QSI sound system will still run from a battery. It should run as if it was straight DC.

    Since It'll be outdoors and eventually (I hope) encompass a large portion of my yard I'd probably be wanting a wireless cab anyway for the DCC, and that means the Zephyr would be headed for obsolescence as soon as I buy it. You've given me a good bit to think about and now I've got some other options. Thanks!

  10. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    Andy: Last year Lenz was showing a controller module using a wireless telephone as the controller. I think some of the control functions were a bit more complicated than the dedicated controllers, but the units are available everywhere. (Haven't heard if it's in production yet.)
    If you go for DCC oudoors, you're going to want a collection of track cleaning cars.
  11. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    Andy, The Zephyr provides wireless operation with the addition of a throttle and receiver. You can go radio or IR. Radio is better but I use IR on my fairly large indoor HO railroad. IR is much cheaper. Check Tony's or Loy's for pricing, DT300 versus DT300R, I can't remember right now the receiver #'s. UR something.

    But yes, when you total the Zephyr, throttle and receiver, the battery and rc unit may not cost more. A drawback of battery operation is short time between recharging. I'd guess 4 hours or so, less with sound. So, exchanging batteries needs to be easy. One thought is to have a couple cars, freight or passenger, whatever you're planning, hold batteries and just swap them out when needed. A jack on the car allows connection to the loco and also the recharger. I have a small G scale railroad in a garden and have been on the fence about going this way. Cleaning the track is a pain. BTW, I have Digitrax chief in my basement and thought about running wires out to the garden and installing a switch to connect the track output to one or the other railroad (the Chief has a switch on its front panel to select scale{output voltage} you wouldn't want the G scale voltage to hit the HO layout!) but it would be a lot of work to do so and I'd still have to clean track. So for me the DCC investment has already been made, but I'm still inclined to go battery/rc. for the moment I'm doing nothing, something I'm pretty good at!
  12. Andy_T

    Andy_T New Member

    I did some research and it looks like a basic LocoLinc system will run about $225 plus the batteries and charger, and an RCS starter kit would be $335, plus B&C. Not much different from a starter DCC set. With all the mention of track cleaning it sounds like the scales are tipping towards RC control. But in the short term I think I'll get a basic $40 power pack to run my initial switching layout and buy into the higher tech control down the line as I expand the layout or buy another engine. I can always use the power pack later for a test track. Thanks a bunch everyone for your help.
  13. fifer

    fifer Active Member

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