Who is running DCC?

Discussion in 'HO Scale Model Trains' started by vanda32547, Aug 27, 2003.

  1. vanda32547

    vanda32547 Member

    I am thinking about going DCC when I demolish my current layout and build a new one. Any advise? Problems? Suggestions on brand of DCC System? :rolleyes:

    Any advise would be appreciated.

  2. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    Hi Bob, I've been using DCC for several years now. I love the freedom from block wiring. It's not so much the wiring I disliked but the requirement of throwing switches to keep the throttle controlling a given train as it progressed around the layout. Now, DCC is capable of doing much more, and it will no doubt grow even more capable. However, other than adding sound as my budget allows, I don't use the other functions. I have no desire to throw turnouts from my throttle. I would like to add signalling (time to wire those blocks again!) but frankly am not up to it at this time. I am lacking in computer knowledge and the desire to obtain it, you would think (correctly) that my DCC knowledge would be similarly constrained. Signalling (Digitrax, as far as I know the others don't offer it yet) requires computer interface, unless a friend appears who wants to guide me it won't be happening for a long while. But...
    The talk you hear about DCC being complex is false. In its basic form, controlling locos, it is very easy! Installing decoders in some of the older locos can be a challange. I've hard wired many, in Athearn, Life Like P2k (older without sockets) Stewart, etc, none were a problem as long as you have basic soldering skills. Often, figuring out how to get the shell off is the hardest part! Most of the new locos (I'm talking HO) have sockets now so installation takes a couple minutes. Programming? If I can do it anyone can. Again, I don't use extra lighting functions like strobes or ditch lights, I understand these are sometimes confusing to program. Probably most people would have less trouble than I with that. The reason DCC is perceived as difficult, I think, is that it offers so much more above the basic functions I use.
    The only advise I can offer is in regard to reverse blocks. Use the reverse modules from Tonys (www.ttx-dcc.com) they work great! I had no luck with the MRC ones, I have a couple laying around if anyone wants them. They worked unreliably and not at all with steam locos. I believe that is because the lead axle on a steam loco is insulated on one side and the design of the MRC unit must require a current flow. Diesels would operate it, tho sometimes with a short delay. Using Tony's, you can not even see a light flicker when the gaps are crossed. Digitrax makes a reverse module, I haven't bought one so can't comment on it from first hand experience, but having read comments on the Yahoo list, it's not for me! I like it simple, thank you.
    Concerning brands, I would think they all are good, I'm happy with my Digitrax, a friend has NCE, it seems fine too. I've heard bad things about MRC and early Atlas units. Programming limitations. BTW, the Atlas decoder equipped locos are great.

    I hope some of this is helpful. I'd be glad to answer any questions you have about the basics but others will have to help beyond that.

    Have fun, its great!
  3. davidstrains

    davidstrains Active Member

    Hi Bob,

    I agree with Gary on everything. My first layout many years ago was the "block-wired" multi-switch affair. That is all not necessary with DCC unless you go into signalling and block detection. I haven't advance that far and probably will not.

    Wiring the layout is a snap. The bus wire (I use #14 house wiring) follows the track under your layout. If you read the manuals on wiring. (Kalmbach has 2 books out on wiring and DCC and Digitrax publishes a DCC Primer that applies to just about any system), you find that you divide your layout into "power districts". On my layout I have a double track main line, a branch line, 5 track yard, and 4 track staging area. They are electrically isolated from each other. I have run a set of bus wires for each of them (including 1 for each main) so I have 5 power districts. The principle here is that an electrical short (ie derailment) in one district will not shut down the entire layout. Only the district with the problem.

    Control of your motive power is the greatest advantage. As Gary said before, in the block system you controlled the block switches in order to run the train. You could only run 1 train in a given direction through a block. With DCC you control the engine and train around the layout through any power district you want in what ever direction you want regardless of the direction that another engine is operating (unless it is coming straight at you in the opposite direction to what you are running on the same track) and are limited only by your imagination and pocketbook on how many of anything you want to run at a time. Of course you will probably not be running 4 or 5 separate trains at one time by yourself but you could. I find that 3 is all that I can reasonably handle with my 1 controller. BTW I use a Digitrax Chief -Radio sustem.

    Read the literature and if possible visit a friend or club that runs DCC to see what it can do and if does what you want it to do.

    Tony's website is a good place for information as well as Loy's Toys. Both provide excellent information and product support.
  4. davidstrains

    davidstrains Active Member

    Need to qualify this. I can run trains in the opposite directions on the same track in any district. If the trains are at opposite ends of the layout it is of no concern. It also applies on the approach to a passing siding. Train 1 can take the siding eastbound while a westbound Train 2 runs by on the main. The tracks are connected to the same bus wire. The difference in DCC is that the voltage on the track is AC while the voltage being fed to the motor of the engine is DC and it's polarity ( thus the direction of the engine) is controlled by the decoder in the engine.
  5. Dan Vincent

    Dan Vincent Member

    I hope this thread gets a lot of responses because I am almost clueless about DCC operation.

    I assume you have a power supply with a fairly high amperage capacity connected to all tracks so you can run multiple locos.

    I am further assuming that there is a locomotive control which sends specific frequency commands over the tracks which will cause one loco, with corresponding frequency, to respond.

    The previous posting said the track power is AC...Is this true?
    No problem, the phone company has used superimposed AC on DC lines for years for ringing current.

    How many Amps should you have for a small layout with possibly four locos in operation at one time? I'm thinking about getting into On30 and could possibly start out with DCC if it's worth the trouble and expense.

    Is their a block diagram shown somewhere of the components needed for DCC operation?
  6. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    Dan, I am familiar only with Digitrax, but others are similar. Two units are available, 5 amp and 8 amp. I have a large layout and have run 5 or 6 trains at a time, with perhaps 12 locos and some lighted passenger cars with my 5 amp system. I also have not yet divided my layout into power districts. so the current drawn is all from my one booster. The booster has a circuit breaker which acts quickly in the event of a short. I have never had a problem with this high current. It is important to make sure your wiring is good, by using the "quarter" test. This is simply placing a quarter on the powered up rails to create a short. the booster should shut down immediately, if it doesn't you have too much resistance and need to check your connections or add feeds, or increase the size of the bus wire (should be 14 gauge minimum). Digitrax makes a "power manager" which can be used to divide, say the 8 amp units output, into 4 two amp districts. I imigine other systems have something similar.
    DCC does not use a frequency, such as some of the older command systems, to control a specific loco. Here my knowledge is largely incomplete, but I believe the data for a specific decoder is encoded digitally. Voltage and polarity (speed and direction) info is sent ( I don't remember how often, something like every second) to the decoder from the command station, passing thru the booster (amplifier)
    The voltage supplied to the rails is square wave ac. The decoder rectifies it to dc for the motor. Analog locos (without decoders) "sing" as their motors reverse direction at whatever the frequency is, I don't remember. While annoying, this does not damage the motor. This is a topic of great debate on some yahoo lists, bottom line seems to be there is one type motor, sorry I can not recall what it is, a coreless can motor is all I seem to recall, that will not tolerate the ac. This motor is not supplied in any of the major manufacturers locos nor in any brass I've ever seen. But some modelers install them due to very low current draw, I believe. If you remotor or buy specialty locos you should check. However, analog locos will not be able to use the reverse block modules like decoder equipped locos can, so the same type reverse block wiring is required in that case. I provided this on one track of each of my staging/reverse tracks in order to accomodate analog operation. I haven't used it in years! I now only run analog when I am testing a loco for performance prior to installing a decoder, in order to see if there is a problem before I do the installation so I will know it wasn't my installation.

    Hope this answers your questions, if you'd like clarification, let me know.
  7. Matthyro

    Matthyro Will always be re-membered

    I use Digitrax too and love it. Have reached the stage where running trains is a pleasure as I use the infrared wireless method which is great for walkaround. Gary has explained it all very well so I won't repeate it all . I am just into getting ditch lights to work. It's fun.
  8. Ben H

    Ben H Member

    Our club began looking into DCC 3 years ago and finally settled on North Coast. Its been great no more flipping switches to get track power. Running session are flexible and the powered consists have allowed for trains up to 156 cars.

    At home I had to follow suite. Bought and set up my own North Coast system last fall and installed decoders in half of my motive power units. Its been fun and visitors get a real kick out of the units working together.
  9. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    I went to a few DCC sessions at the NMRA convention.
    At one, it was emphasized that for scales smaller then O, you should not put a power unit over 5 amps on; if you need more power, break it into power districts. The extra power can create major problems if you have a short.
    I talked to the Lenz people and they said that there would be available a "filter" module for analog locos that should cure the noise. (This was for special situations where you can't cut the circuit from the frame to the motor brush.)
    We also decided that there was a problem with too little amperage. We were using an old power pack -- 2 or 2.5 amps -- and the recovery from a short was taking too long. Locos were taking off at full speed before the controllers had reset.
    If you run an analog loco around a reverse loop, you just have to stop and change direction after it flips the reverse loop connection at the exit. The loco will back up at the exit; you have to stop it and reverse it.
  10. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    To expand a bit on Davids comments, and mine from above, in regard to using an 8 amp booster for HO or smaller, if your requirement is over 5 amps you can use an 8 amp unit instead of two 5 amp units if you wish, but the full 8 amps should not be permitted to be seen when there is a short. As I somewhat inadaquately stated above, the 8 amp output can be divided and run thru, say, 2 amp breakers connected between the booster and the section of railroad it powers. You then gap the layout into 4 sections, each powered by one of these circuits. This way the full 8 amps are never available to arc weld your wheels to the rails. You could of course do the same with the 5 amp supply. All I mentioned above was that Digitrax has a power manager that does this, I didn't state why it should be done.

    In regard to reverse loops, my experience is a bit different than what David wrote. First, a few words to describe my arraingement for my reverse block. I have a double track main, with the two tracks wired so that both north rails are the same polarity. This allows crossovers with no concerns as to polarity. The double track main has return loops at each end. These are reverse blocks, inasmuch as they connect the north rail of one track to the south rail of the other. In other words I have a big circle but rather than wire it as such, it is wired as double track with reverse loops at each end. OK, hre is what happens. The reverse block needs to be double gapped at each end, same as DC. It gets its power thru a reverse block module, I use Tonys. The way these modules work(at least Tonys) is they sense the difference in polarity between the main block and the reverse block, and change the polarity of the revers block before a circuit breaker can react and shut down power. This happens as soon as a gap is bridged. Changing polarity under a decoder equipped loco is no problem, remember the track power is AC and the decoder rectifies it and supplies the motor with whatever polarity is needed to run in the direction the throttle is telling it. As fast as you can change track polarity, the decoder does the same, the loco never changes direction. An analog loco however will change direction. To get around this, I use two dpdt switches. One of them simply decides whether the reverse block will be operated digitally of analog. The other is wired the same as a DC reverse block. The first switch takes the reverse module out of the circuit. The second changes polarity of the reverse block manually. To run an analog loco thru the reverse block, I switch the first switch to ananlog, and make sure the other switch is set for inbound (I always run the same direction thru this block) I run the train in and stop it in the reverse block. I change the switch to outbound and also change the throttles direction command. Now I am ready to depart.
  11. IAIS 604

    IAIS 604 Member

    Hi Bob

    I have the Digitrax Zephyr DCC system, and really like it!

    It can run up to ten throttles (addresses), which is enough capabilty for my small (4X8' now, but will be expanding in a 11X13' room) layout. That's ten locos, but if you have decoders with advanced consisting, you can run more locos at one time than that. MUing locos together in a single train is easy! The Z has a built in throttle, and if you have a DC power pack or two you can use them as add-on throttles ("jump ports"), too. Of course, you can add and use any other Digitrax throttle you wish to use thru the loconet system. I currently use the Z's throttle to control my decodered locos along with an old Athearn power pack as a jump port throttle to control my one undecodered train (on address "0").

    In addition to the locos, the Zephyr can also control other stationary decoders (for turnouts, etc), but I haven't gone there - yet! This is in addition to the ten loco addresses.

    One important consideration is the number of functions a DCC system has. These funcitons control such things as various loco lights (main headlights, ditch lights, marker (class) lights, etc. and sounds (horn, bell, etc.). The Z has 9 functions to run these "goodies".

    Another important consideration is the ability to write to and READ the CV values in a decoder. Some systems can not read a decoder's CV values, but the Z can and it is a BIG help! You change CV values to do things like change a locos address (to it's road number, perhaps), adjust loco speed (create speed tables) to match different brands of locos you want to MU together, change the light or sound function buttons, etc., etc. It is wonderful to be able to read the decoder to see if your CV change really "took"!

    Besides the Zephyr, the Atlas Commander is another fine starting system. Do look at the comparison chart on Tony's site that the other guys linked you to, and ask questions - you've got a good pool of information here!

    DCC is a lot of fun, and much easier to use than it sounds! Do your homework, get the system that's best for you, and jump in - the waters fine!
  12. rsn48

    rsn48 Member

    Digitrax is the most popular system in North America, and Lenz is the most popular in Europe. Then there are the rest of the systems. I own Digitrax but I wouldn't hesitate to get a Lenz.

    In Vancouver, BC, Canada, you are smarter to stay with Digitrax because 95 % of the dcc systems here in this city are digi so when it comes time that you need help or advise, there's lots of help. The last system you want is the system where you are the only guy in the city owning. You will never have a "live" person to help you with your problems.

    The cab in your hand sends a signal out through the command station, which in turn routes it through your power source which boosts the signal so it is stronger (which is why they are called boosters and not power packs or systems).

    The "advertised" reason for getting into dcc is that you can get rid of block running (but not necessarily blocks). But there are other great reasons, some are already out there, some are in development; and I'm sure some I haven't heard about yet:

    1) New decoders with less reliance on track for signals and power
    2) Automatic uncoupling (great for switcher engines)
    3) Sound
    4) Consisting
    5) power routing
    6) computer running
    7) lights control
    8) speed steps (helps when two loco's you want to consist run faster or slower than the other one)

    I'm sure I've left something out. However all the R & D is in dcc and especially decoders, there is no R & D in dc.

    It is best to get into dcc as quickly as you can so you don't end up owning 200 engines that need decoders.
  13. bpate

    bpate Member

    I started out almost immediately with DCC and am very glad I did. The brand almost doesn't matter as I am sure they all have their strengths and weaknesses. It is a personal choice, of course, as to what will suit you best.

    As it all was new to me I started out with a 3 amp Roco Starter set at the end of last year. It was a good price, is very easy to use and has an upgrade path of sorts by being Lenz XPressNet compatible. It is simplicity itself to set up and the kids love using the handsets so it has helped them get into it. I am now looking at the Lenz PC interface to use DecoderPro for easier programming of decoders.

    The handset is what you use most so I think it is important to be happy with that. The rest is what features appeal the most.
  14. Mastiffdog

    Mastiffdog Member

    Digitraxx from the start

    This my first post and enjoy all the tips from the pros. I am beginner enjoying the Super Empire Digitraxx system. I am getting excellent support from my train store. I have an 8x8 layout in a 12x12 room. I have enough room to add a nice "L" when I am ready to shift the layout to the corner of the room. The DCC, while confusing at first, the more you read and use it, the more you will know. I am using DS-44 stationery decoders to control my Tortoises. Thank goodness it's only 8x8 with about 12 switches, otherwise my back would easily be broken by now. I am having fun!

    Mastiff Dog
  15. UPJunkie

    UPJunkie Member

    I am just getting started in DCC ,Think that i will have alot of fun running DCC. I never new you can do so much with it I just found out tonight that you can run your layout with a computer WOW I have been out of Model trains for years and just getting back into it but enough of this bla hehe here id my controller that i will be using

    The guy told me that this is the best one to get started with Is this true:confused:
  16. bpate

    bpate Member

    Welcome Mastiffdog to the forum.

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