to DCC or not to DCC - that is the question

Discussion in 'FAQs' started by bobrien, Apr 16, 2002.

  1. bobrien

    bobrien Member

    OK. I understand the differences, but the question really relates to the fact that I am dreading the wiring part of my layout (when it happens) anyway.
    Is it that much more difficult to wire in DCC?
    And do the benefits of DCC outweigh it all?
    Is DCC the way a newbie should proceed or should I stick to the simplest?
    Just what are the benefits overall?

    (BTW - I am still in "significant research" mode and haven't yet even finally decided on my layout, so please be patient !)

    Bruce :D
  2. Woodie

    Woodie Active Member



    You're on the right track! Reasearch, research, research... Then do some more! :rolleyes: Yeah, I know you wanna get on with it, but the more research the better!

    Actually, wiring for DCC is easier than non-DCC, because you just have to supply 12V DC to every bit of track on the one circuit! However, the detriment to this, is you can only run one "analogue" loco at a time, until you install your DCC system (which is then a matter of just "plugging it in", and of course, the decoders in each loco).

    DCC is quite expensive though, and will give you the option of running many locos in many directions on the same piece of track. However, if your layout is not big enough to run more than one loco... then why bother???????

    I had no idea of wiring when I started Garahbara, however DID start a layout with the intention of throwing it away when I finished. The layout will have "one of everything" on it, just to practice. And you WILL, repeat, WILL make mistakes that you will have to live with, hence the "throw away" layout. BTW... I'm not ready to throw this one away yet, as I'm still learning.

    Should you choose too, you can "block wire" your layout, and still use DCC later (just turn ALL the blocks on to the one controller) then plug your DCC system into that.

    "Block wiring" is a very specific art and theory, and takes a lot of work, thought and "paper practice" to get it right for you and the way you wish to run your layout. DCC eliminates all of this, and gives you more flexibility as well!! So the decision is yours!

    I'm not going DCC just yet. (It's on the list BEFORE I do the "throw away", because all the DCC equipment can be reused of course. Again... one of everything on Garahbara is the go, before moving onto the "dream".

    This is why I do love my model TOOTs! :cool: They have a bit of everything. Woodwork, electronics, pooters, photography, art, design, travel (to examine prototypes)...... the lot! Not just motors wizzing round this steel track thingy...... It's a lot more than that!

    I have a fab book that explains "block wiring" in very simplistic terms. How & where to insulate etc. I'll see if I can post the article up here somehow.
  3. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    Bruce, Turnout selection has a lot to do with how simple/complicated wiring becomes. Atlas turnouts make wiring very easy, as power is routed down both routes of a turnout and no gaps are required to prevent shorts. With this type turnout (others may add other brands which are similar) and DCC, you can techically just run two wires to the track and be able to operate multiple trains. No block wiring required. If the layout is large, breaking it into several blocks is a good idea anyway, these blocks are useful for locating shorts, by means of turning off blocks till short goes away, revealing it's location. Shinohara, and at least some Peco's, are what I call power routing, that is, track power must come from the point end, and travels down only the selected route. These turnouts require gaps in the rails coming from the frogs, unless the track is stub ended, in which case the turnout can be used to control power on that track as long as no other feeds are connected to it. Obviously, after gaps another feeder is required. With DCC, you will run a buss wire for each rail under the roadbed, and run feeders to the track as required. With DC, you need to connect eack block to a switch which controls which power source is connected to that block. So the wiring for DC is more labor intensive. Despite being able to connect just two wires to use DCC, voltage drop caused by long runs of track will cause problems, if not immediately, then after a while. It is good practice to drop feeders to that buss, everyone has their own opinion as to how often, I handlay and have a feeder to every piece of rail. For flex track, I solder a feed to every other rail joiner, which is soldered to the track. Hope this hasn't confused you, it is always a good idea to pick up how to books for reference. I recommend DCC highly, even for small layouts, except perhaps where only one loco could possibly run at a time.

    Good luck, Gary
  4. rockislandmike

    rockislandmike Active Member

    I was quite intimidated by block wiring before I tackled it, but it's actually very simple. I just followed the diagram on the back of an Atlas switch (not a turnout, but a three-position electrical 'switch' - up for first controller, down for second controller, in the middle for off).

    I'm going DCC on my garage layout on my birthday (late September), as that's when I'll be getting the DCC from my wife (prob with some of my money or other birthday money thrown in). In the meantime, I'm going block wiring anyways - I've heard it's easier to track down electrical problems that way even after you install DCC. I'm going to use DCC-friendly turnouts right from the beginning too.
  5. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    Gary: Peco make 2 types of turnout, Electrofrog and Insulfrog. The electrofrog are the ones that may need insulated gaps beyond the frogs because both the rails there are the same polarity. On Insulfrog one of the rails is dead (at least, it doesn't get power through the switch) and won't cause shorts.

    Mike: definitely have lots of blocks that you can turn off. If you don't want to build a control panel, put them under the layout or wherever you can get at them. One of the fun bits of using DCC is that the whole layout stops when one operator gets a short and then you can either laugh at him or everybody tries to figure out what they did to cause it.

    Our major cause of shorts right now is wheels bridging the gap between the points and the stock rail. The layout owner is doing regular work on ancient turnouts to bring them up to modern standards.
  6. Bob Collins

    Bob Collins Active Member


    Do you think I'm "qualified" to address this question:rolleyes: :rolleyes:

  7. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    David, Thanks for the info on Peco turnouts. I handlay my turnouts and am not familiar with the characteristics of some of the commercially available turnouts. However, I do like to know about them so I can advise others, since most folk don't want to handlay. One big advantage of handlaying is avoiding one of the two common problems with commercial turnouts. One problem being wheels shorting out when touching both the stock rail and point rail in a Shinohara type turnout. This is caused by the two rails being opposite polarity, due to the point rails both being the same polarity. With handlaid turnouts, the points can be gapped before the frog and powered from the adjacent stock rail. Can someone tell how the two versions of Peco handle this? The other common problem is a dead frog, usually only a problem for short wheelbase locos, like 0-4-0. Slow speeds thru such a turnout can result in stalls. Again, handlaid turnouts have powered frogs with the polarity controled, usually, by a microswitch thrown with the turnout. Atlas turnouts used to have this problem, do they still? Also, does the insulfrog version of Peco do this as well? I am most familiar with the Shinohara type turnouts, which require power to come from the point side, and route the power to the thrown route. The other route will seem dead, but both rails actually have power, but they are both the same polarity. This is why gaps are required prior to the next feed from a power buss. Atlas, and if someone could confirm, Peco insulfrog turnouts maintain proper polarity in both diverging routes regardless of which way the turnout is thrown. Would I be correct to say that if the unpowered frog is not a problem, then these turnouts would be the way for beginners to go in order to simplify their wiring?

    To sum up, could someone answer the following questions? Are the two point rails the same polarity on insulfrog turnouts? On electrofrog turnouts? Is the frog dead on insulfrog turnouts? On electrofrog? Are both routes always powered with insulfrog turnouts?

    Thanks for any info, Gary
  8. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    Bob, Have you gotten to the point of determining if the benefits outweigh the wiring?

  9. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    On the Peco electrofrog turnouts, the point rails are the same polarity, and they're hooked to the frog, just like traditional all-rail turnouts.

    On the Insulfrog, the point rail not in use is dead, unless it gets powered from the track beyond the frog. If that happens it should be the same polarity as the stock rail.

    The design has varied a bit over the years and there may have been a version of insulfrog where the points were electricly joined.

    Usually insulfrog has a big plastic frog and electrofrog is rails; I seem to remember a version where insulfrog had a rail frog.
  10. Bob Collins

    Bob Collins Active Member

    Gary, et al;

    I definitely think the benefits outweigh any comments or questions anyone has about installing DCC. I am just barely finished doing the basic installation of my Super Chief Digitrax system, but am far enough along to know that I wouldn't have it any other way. My layout has two reversing loops and several double crossovers, with two yards, two turntables and two spurs and I can't imagine being able to fully enjoy the layout with DC as I will be able to with DCC.

    I will primarily operate alone ( I don't like people!), so being able to move my controller around will really make it much more fun. I need to learn more about decoders and the like, but I think with the help I've received here on the Gauge even my simple little brain has been able to figure it out and make it work.

  11. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    Thanks David. Sounds like electrofrog turnouts have the same potential for shorts caused by wheels bridging the gap between stock rail and point rail as the shinohara's have. I should point out here that tho this problem is real it is not a given. I have two Shinoharas which I have never had this problem with. However, on a previous layout, I did have this problem, and that was with DC power. The problem has nothing to do with DC/DCC, it is more dangerous with DCC due to its higher currents. With 5 amps typical, and 8 amps available, this current flowing thru the slender point rail can do some damage. While the circuit breaker would normally trip before damage is done, if there is much resistance in the circuit (say poor contact between the point rail and stock rail) the breaker may not trip and you wind up with a miniature welder. This is why the gap is usually quite wide on these turnouts. One thing I still would like to know is do the insulfrog turnouts have stalling problems with short locos like 0-4-0.

    Thanks, Gary
  12. Billybob Reuben

    Billybob Reuben New Member

    The benefits of using DCC do not, repeat, DO NOT, outweigh the disadvantages, and the larger the layout and number of locomotives being run, the worse it gets. Consider the following:

    1. With every inch of track on your layout wired together, how do you locate a short circuit when one occurs? Answer: it is very difficult. Without blocks to switch on or off independently, it is next to impossible to isolate the area where the short occurred and you can spend hours in attempting to locate it. Block wiring, of course, solves the problem. But then, if you've got block wiring, who needs DCC???

    2. When running two or more trains at the same time with DCC, since they are all essentially running on the same block, how do you keep them apart? Eventually, one train will run into another, and if you think otherwise, you are wrong. Murphy's Law says "...if it can happen, it will happen..." and you can bet on the fact that it will happen on your layout with DCC.

    3. DCC is difficult to learn to use properly and if you are lucky enough to have a large layout that can operate three or more trains at a time, unless you are a single operator with enclosed, isolated loops for each train (unlikely), then you will be operating with two or more operators, one for each train. In that case, chances are that one or more of your train engineers will be less experienced than others and they will almost certainly tend to screw up the operation for everyone else. Don't forget, operating sessions are a joint effort, and they can only be as good as, and as much fun as, your least experienced operator can make it.

    3. DCC is very expensive and if you have more than a dozen or so locomotives...each of which requires a DCC decoder installed to become operable....then the whole DDC experiment becomes prohibitively expensive. By the way, some engines simply do not have the room inside for a decoder. What do we do about those???

    4. The block system has been in use in both the real world and on model pikes for generations. It is safe, it keeps trains apart and it works! And no, it is not difficult to wire. Yes, it does require a basic understanding of how the system works, but you can learn that from reading any of the many texts currently available at any hobby shop. For anyone just starting out in the hobby, it is a no simply learn the basics before you start to build your first layout, and the basics of building a layout are based on the block system. Later, for those inclined to the more technical aspects of the hobby, you can go on to DCC or even RCC, which to many is a much better and easier system to use than DCC could ever be....but then, this is not the proper forum to discuss that.

  13. shamus

    shamus Registered Member

    Hi Bruce,

    The wiring of any model railroad can be as simple or as complicated as you wish. For instance, if you use Peco insulated points all you need are a couple of wires connected to a piece of track and the whole thing will be live and run anywhere. Obviously, you can only run one train at a time. On the other hand if you go to Electro-frog points, then a whole new ball game is going to happen in the form of BLOCK control. All this is explained either in the Academy/Archives or in the N-gauge forum as I have just replied to a new member on this subject of wiring.
    Oh, do we have fun with model railroads, why can't we all have radio control instead.
  14. farmer ron

    farmer ron Member

    Bruce: I have a small to med size layout and at this point in time I am unable to justify the Canadian cost of the DCC system. In saying that, this does not mean the I will someday progress to DCC so I am planning ahead and wiring my layout in blocks, that can easily isolate areas if there becomes a problem, so that when the DCC system is implemented I only have to undo two wires that conect the regular powerpack and hook up the wires for the DCC. I am using double throw, double pull, center off switches so if need be I can be interchangeable if visitors bring engines. I hook up two power packs as is and can at least run two engines now. As others have stated, spend the time and do lots of research and plan ahead. Ron.
  15. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    Billybob, Your arguments against DCC are typical of what I've seen from the segment of the hobby which hates the popularity of DCC and wishes it would go away. If you feel it is a bad product you are certainly entitled to that opinion, but that is all it is, your opinion. I will answer your objections in order:

    1. Although it is commonly said that you can run DCC by attaching just two wires, as I stated above it is a good idea to cut the layout into blocks. These blocks do not neccasarily need to be arrainged the same way the blocks would be for DC, as they aren't used for operating the trains, just troubleshooting. Therefore, a spst switch mounted at a convinient spot, rather than a dpdt or rotary switch on a control panel will suffice.

    However, DCC wiring can become more complex when adding detection or using features such as turnout routing from a throttle. You can opt not to use the features at first, or at all. I will agree that wiring simplicity is not a reason to go DCC. Being able to control your trains without flipping switches is.

    2. Pay attention.

    3. What makes people think DCC is difficult? Yes, there are aspects of it that are difficult. Your first decoder install. Programming the features you want in a particular loco. Programming other optional features such as detection and turnout controls from throttle. But installing the system and selecting and running trains is about as simple as it gets. Part of my railroad is a rather long circle, about 260'. I have operated 4 trains by myself on it with no problem. You can set their speeds pretty close (exact if you really try). This is no problem. Not much in the way of operation however. For operation oriented sessions, I have a couple friends who come by, each is given a throttle and an assignment. I have to tell you that new operators are much more likely to screw up a session on a DC layout, by forgetting to flip a block switch. All a new operator on a DCC system has to do is control direction and speed, both very simple, I assure you. Throwing turnouts is much the same as DC, or can be. I do not use DCC for turnout control. I mount switches for turnout control in the fascia in front of the turnout.

    2nd 3. I won't argue expense. Although prices are coming down, as they tend to with all new electronic products. When I went DCC, I had maybe 30 decent locos. About 10 of them, my favorites, have had decoders installed. About 20 new locos all have decoders installed. The locos available for the past 5 years or so are so much better than from my early days I see no point in installing decoders in the balance of my old fleet. Presently, you can install decoders at $15 a pop. This will be $12 soon. Since you can spread this over time, not so bad. It depends on your priorities and situation. No HO engine I'm aware of is so cramped you can't install a decoder. It can be some work however. First attempts should be easy ones, till you gain experience and resultant confidence. You shouldn't go into DCC thinking you won't need to learn soldering skills! Plug and play exist, I haven't used them but have heard some negative things such as poor contact causing poor operation. My inclination is to solder all joints and never worry about them again, but each to his own. N scale could be a different story, I have no experience here. I know that most installs in N involve loss of weight, which is unfortunate. However, there are a lot of N scalers using DCC.

    4. The argument from historical precedance! It's always been done this way. I've been modeling since 1960, and have wired many large DC layouts. It is much more difficult to explain block wiring to someone than to do it. Block wiring is simple, just tedius. Again, the advantage of DCC is eliminating control blocks, and control panels with them.

    I may have come across a little harsh, if so I apoligize. Many people raise these same issues, some in a rather histerical tone (not you). Some seem to see DCC as a dangerous element to be fought before it becomes the standard. Reluctance to learn something new is widespread as most people know. I do not think those who desire to continue using DC have anything to fear in regard to availability of straight DC equipment, but it may well become secondary to DCC in terms of sales at some point.

  16. billk

    billk Active Member

    Billybob - Don't you know that any criticism of DCC will not be tolerated? It's like a cult or something, and we all must conform.
  17. Bob Collins

    Bob Collins Active Member

    I second everything Gary has said.

    I just switched (pun intended) from DC to DCC and have not regretted it for a moment. Yes, it isn't cheap and may not be for everyone, anymore than driving a Jaguar is for everyone.

    I have two reversing loops on my layout (10' X21') and using the proper reversing boards is a snap.

    I did very little in modifying my DC wiring when I converted. I too wanted several blocks for trouble shooting, with my reverse loop wiring I have five blocks which I feel is plenty. If I feel I need more it is certainly simple to add more.

  18. Bob Collins

    Bob Collins Active Member


    Since I see no smiling faces on your post I assume you are serious:confused: I certainly hope not! The only thing approahing a cult on the Gauge would seem to be the RI group:rolleyes: :rolleyes:

  19. billk

    billk Active Member

    No, I was serious (well, maybe not about the cult part, depending on how you want to interpret it.) It is an observation based on seeing so many overly-defensive responses to criticisms of DCC, mostly on other forums.

    From reading a lot of the DCC threads, again mostly on other forums, you would think that model railroads got by on wind-up motors or something before DCC came along. My old curmudgeon side just rebels against all the enthusiasm, because I sense a little bit too much rationalization in some of it, as in "Well, I spent all this money, time and effort, now I need to justify it to everyone in order to justify it to myself." I really didn't intend to start any arguments over this, don't consider it worth it arguing over anything having to do with a hobby.
  20. YakkoWarner

    YakkoWarner Member

    Wiring in blocks is just plain good sense, wether you run dc or dcc. transforming from dc to dcc is as easy as turning on all of the switches. I helped a friend convert form dc to dcc by mearly replacing his on/off/on switches with on/off and running a larger amp rated transformer to power all of the track. What is the big complication of dcc wiring?

    The fool spends several hours a week programming his controller but who am I to judge, I spend several hours a week cleaning my bike. We all enjoy different things and it seems this is one of those times when everyone needs to leave others to their otherness.

    and you RI guys are scary!;)

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