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Discussion Starter #1
I have decided that sense I am just in the layout planning stages, going DCC now might make more sense than later :confused:
I have purchased a Digitrax Zephyr system, and have a few questions.

First off, is the track going to be wired different than a block style DC setup? if so, how is it wired differently?

Next, I have several really nice DC steam engines that I really dont want to let go of. When putting a decoder in them, where do you start as far as brand, and type of decoder for the type/size engine? and what about sound?

Also, I have Atlas code 100 NS track, does the turnouts have to be altered? and does the joints have to be soldered to work properly with DCC?

Lastly, I am going to probably do a bi-level layout with a coal yard and few tipples on the second level. What kind of seperate wire is going to be needed? and can you use the same Zephyr system with both levels?


Sorry for the "20 questions", just want to get as much info as possible before I get too far to turn back.
Thanks, Kevin
 

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Being a non DCC guy a few things come to mind. I have seen Digitrax on big layouts in the area. From what I have seen it is the most preferred. Some systems are different from others so wandering to another brand may have complications. Compatibility is key. First the system uses about 24 volt through the track. Signals are passed through the track. Each engine responds to it's own commands. The blocks are the engines.
DCC ready engine has to have the motor isolated from the frame.
Last question is yes. Decoders must fit and be compatible with the type of system you have.
Sounds are programmable.
I am sure Digitrax has a good site to answer these questions but I wanted to start up the discussion.
 

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Please allow me to tell you of my quest when I switched to DCC.

I did a lot of reading, researching, and inquiring of others that had made the switch before me. Now, we are talking about 7 years ago.

I did my best to research all of the units of the time. Our club used Prodigy. Another club I visited used Digitrax, while yet another used Lenz. And a friend had purchased the NCE system. I wrote down on paper what I wanted and expected my system to be able to do. MU'ing, multiple cabs, operate fixed decoders for switching, ease of operation, large address book, a controller that was easy in the hand, power,....

I had the opportunity to run many of the systems. That was a bonus, in my opinion. I simply started deleting the ones that did not meet my standards. Oddly, the Digitrax had a reputation of not being user friendly. I found that to just be a matter of familiarity with the system. The Prodigy was too limited. Lenz was too new and I did not know how long they would last.

Although I did keep Lenz in the running, the two companies that ended in the running were NCE and the Digitrax Super Empire Builder. I had methodically deleted the other Digitrax units as they did not meet certain requirements, power being the most obvious. I finally based my choice on the controller, as all else seemed relatively equal.

While the Digitrax may seem a more daunting challenge when programming. I still feel that it is a matter of familiarity. It is, in my opinion the premier system on the market.

That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

Bob
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Thanks for the input. So far so good. I havent received my unit yet in the mail, so I am still waiting. I have talked with several people and get a lot of the same answers, kind of.?
Has anyone on here dealt with TCS decoders yet? I have a rep in the area, and the locals seem to really like the ease of their ability to get the engine up and running smooth fast.
LMK, thanks, and keep the input coming.
Kevin
 

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playing with "DCC ready" and "factory DCC installed" Spectrums, my understanding is that DC jumpers need to be inserted instead of decoder to run DC.

Bob, is the solution you speak of some comprises sort of hardwire switch integrated into controller itself? or is it one of the configuration parameters the decoder configured with?
 

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Some decoders require removal and the jumper installed in its place. However there are "smart" decoders That are able to differentiate between DC and DCC. Some refer to these decoders as "dual mode" decoders.

There is no need to reconfigure the controller. The "brains" of the whole thing is the decoder, not the controller. The controller only passes along the information that tells the decoder what you want done, similar to a keyboard or the mouse on your computer. The computer tower with all of its components is the brains, the keyboard and the mouse are tools for the operator. Th same applies to the decoder and the controller.

I believe that NCE and Digitrax both offer dual mode decoders. But, I may be wrong. I don't have any engines that are equipped with them that I can think of off the top of my head. There may be a couple of oddballs on my roster that I am forgetting, though.

Bob
 

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That's fine. I was just wondering so that way next year i can upgrade from DC to DCC. I would only have to remove the chip or change the settings for now, then reinsert it later from what i understand.
 

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Carl (right?)
for now to run DCC locomotive with DC powerpack , as Bob have mentioned, you have to have dual mode decoder. if the one you have is indeed dual mode then you're good and it will run fine. if not remove the decoder and replace with DC jumpers. not sure which loco you got but my "DCC factory equipped" Spectrum came with set of jumpers. i'd think bach will do to.

oh, and about your link, i personnaly don't like bachmann to much.

EDIT: and i'm pretty sure it is not dual mode (i will be surprised if it is)


Bob, i said nothing about controller ;)
 

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@glgraphix

Sorry for the late reply, but I only recently joined the forum and have only started reading all the posts.

Some direct answers (and personal experience) to your questions:

"is the track going to be wired different than a block style DC setup?"
Wiring DC and DCC is almost identical--meaning that if you design your layout for DC, you can likely move to DCC with little or no modification to your wiring. Well designed DCC layouts still have blocks for power management and auto reversing.

"if so, how is it wired differently?"
The only diffenence I've encountered so far is turnouts. Make sure you get insulated-frog turnouts. Powered frogs end up in a short on DCC systems shutting the booster down and stopping anything controlled by it.

"...where do you start as far as brand, and type of decoder for the type/size engine?"
I chose Digitrax, because they're popular and seem to have a really good reputation--your mileage may vary. Digitrax has a chart on their website for choosing a decoder for a locomotive (http://www.digitrax.com/decsel.php). If that fails, you can contact them or the loco manufacturer.

"and what about sound?"
Sorry, I can't answer this. While there are several decoders with sound, I've chosen not to have sound on my layout yet.

"I have Atlas code 100 NS track, does the turnouts have to be altered?"
Likely not. The only exception being if there's a soldering point for powering the frog--you'll likely have to remove that.

"and does the joints have to be soldered to work properly with DCC?"
A lot of the model railroading veterans I've spoken to say "track joiners will eventually let you down--guaranteed". I'm inclined to accept their experience, but it's your layout and your choice. I've chosen to modify that slightly by alternating the soldering so every joint has one side soldered (usually with a power feed) and one not (joiner only). This allows for a bit of rail expansion/contraction while still ensuring that every piece of track is adequately and reliably powered. I've also left switch joints unsoldered (joiners only) to make future repairs/replacements easier.

"What kind of seperate wire is going to be needed? and can you use the same Zephyr system with both levels?"
I'm not sure what you mean by this. The way DCC works is it sends signals through the rails (similar to modulated AC). Every part of your track can be powered by the same booster/command station and you can have multiple locos on your layout. When you select a loco using DCC, it is the only loco you can send commands to. You shouldn't need separate wires, just make sure RAIL A and RAIL B match on both levels and that there is a power feed at least every 6 feet. Does that answer your question?

If you have any other questions, I'll be glad to answer.

Cheers!
Randall
 

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Carl and Randall, though my layout had power districts, it was because I chose to change horses in the middle of the stream. That is to say, I decided to turn to DCC during construction instead of planning on using it from the very beginning. Power districts are not needed when using DCC, that is, not a necessity as using them in a DC configuration.

As far as the reverse loop application, many decoders now "sense" the polarity change and make needed adjustments internally.

"Blocking" a layout is both time consuming and tedious. One of the grand chores now made redundant by the advent of DCC. However, I would recommend blocking a layout. One never knows when the DCC system should fail and that would lead to the layout to be rendered useless. At least with a blocked layout, one can revert to DC operation until repairs or replacement can be made.

If you are wanting sound, the Tsunami system is probably the best there is. I use the system and am pleased as punch. The options, and the realistic sound are second to none.

As far as the connectivity, I have wires soldered every section, or every three feet, at opposite ends of each section for opposite polarity. It may seem like overkill, but I'd rather be safe than sorry. Soldering is recommended even for a DC layout. Though I know of friends that have used the Atlas connector track modules. Soldering also makes the layout look "cleaner", no funky connector track poking its ugliness about. Also, make your connections on the OUTSIDE of the rails. Otherwise, you will experience problems with the solder joint and the flanges of the wheels.

Some turnouts will need trimmed. That is all dependent upon the layout. Most do not, but there is always those uncooperative few that tend to be a bit ornery. And this varies from layout to layout. You will find it best to have the layout together before nailing it down. At least that is what I have found from my experiences, some 50 years of trial and error in some cases. And I must say that it is usually, but not always, the tail that needs trimmed. And I do use insulated frogs. They prevent any potential of shorting out.

One other thing that I would suggest. I would plan on an "isolated programming track". A siding that can be used to program your locomotives' decoders. I have found this to be a real blessing. It surely cuts down on the "handling" time for each locomotive. And you can just "roll" the engine out of the siding and right onto the layout when finished to test the engine and have it join your fleet without handling it a bunch. It reduces the chance meeting with the floor. Clumsiness happens at the most inopportune moment(Murphy's Law #416).

Another thing that I would suggest is that you build modular and use the NMRA guidelines and best practices. By using them, you give yourself a continuity in the construction of your layout.

To add a note here, My layout was destroyed a few weeks ago during a break in. So, I will have to rebuild the biggest part of it. I doubt that it will be rebuilt to the size of the older one, but, I will use the same techniques I used before. I will still have a large yard, one or two smaller ones, lots of industrial switching, and a significant amount of sidings to prevent "cornfield meets". I doubt that there will be the number or length of quad track, but instead I will have just as much, if not more, double and triple track.

For any questions on DCC, I would suggest Tony's Train Exchange. These guys are great when it comes to answering any questions you may have. First class group of folks.

Bob
 

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Thanks for the additional detail Bob. I was simply answering the questions, as no one had answered them all yet.

I didn't feel it was necessary to state whether blocks were necessary or not--and I agree, they're not necessary but are recommended. I chose to separate my layout into 5 tables--each one a block to make wiring and moving easier.

Cheers!
Randall
 

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Discussion Starter #20
Ok, I have had my Digitrax system for a while now. I have instaled 5 decoders in Steam engines and so far so good :D

By far Digitrax is the WAY to go. I have talked with the tech guys a few times and they have been great, and wouldnt let me get off the phone until they were sure I understood where and what I was doing.

I have had great luck with the install of my Digitrax decoders and it really isnt as bad as you might think. I was really dreading it, as how I was afraid of getting in over my head. But now I got my first one out of the way, and it ran better DCC than just plain DC. It really made the engine smoother and more able to get it down to a crawl.

I have come across a few sites and want to pass them along also.....

http://www.tonystrains.com/index.html (so far this is my favorite)

http://home.roadrunner.com/~mrwithdcc/index.html

I have a few more, but will have to hunt them back up...

Stay tuned, as how I will keep everyone posted with DCC
Thanks, Kevin
 
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