Model Train Forum banner

1 - 20 of 48 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
177 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
Some of you have provided input to my new member intro, I feel that had gone well part an intro and probably better move here.

As mentioned, I'm new. Looking to get my son his first train, and let's be honest... Dad's in to this too! I've never run any model train stuff before and I'm trying to learn about what's out there in hopes of scouting costly mistakes.

So teach me a little bit of the basics with regards to power control, sounds, lights, etc. At first I figured sounds were just generic generated onboard each locomotive... Seems that's not really the case and is more involved than that.

I also kind of assumed that per was on or off, supplied through the rail, but seeing different trains run separately kind of leads me to believe there is more to it there as well. Can someone point me to a good internet source that give a tutorial on the basics? What do you need to run one train, multiple trains, multiple tracks and what you need to add sounds, lights etc? Thanks in advance!

Sent from my Moto Z (2) using Tapatalk
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
658 Posts
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
658 Posts
Help a new modeler to get started
It's in Forum: Beginner Q&A
Go to Page 1.
Says it ALL better than I ever could!! :D
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,782 Posts
Welcome.

Prior to the mid-90's, with some sophisticated exceptions, power control was done by powering the rails with variable DC or AC voltage. You changed the locomotive's direction by switching polarity (in DC) or phase (in three rail O gauge and other systems such as European scales).

Since the 90's, DCC is the new way of doing things, and even it is in some competition with more advanced systems being brought to market. Digital Command Control has full 'scale' electrical power to the rails all the time. It varies by scale due to the 'work' variations between the scales; O gauge items are at least twice as heavy as those in HO, for example, and often quite a bit more than that. So more voltage needed and more amperage conveyed by that increased voltage.

Instead of you dialing up the voltage and speeding the trains, the decoder chip inside the locomotive does that for you. Remember, full voltage to the rails. The decoder 'decodes' your commands from your hand-held throttle and meters out voltage to the motor and to the lights, but also to the amplifier and speaker in DCC locomotives 'with sound'.

The decoder switches phase and polarity when you click a button to get the locomotive to move in reverse. That is why two locomotives in DCC can move towards each other on the same contiguous length of powered rail. This can't be done in DC.

You will need to do a lot of reading and asking, I'm afraid. It can add up, the plastic spending in this hobby, and not in a good way. Best to chill a bit, include your child in your discoveries and ruminations, and the both of you can build something mutually exciting. Pick your track plan, or create one, carefully, and figure out what type of trackage you will use to build it. The EZ-Track and others with plastic 'ballast' already attached is VERY COSTLY. You pay for quick access to fun and for quick construction. If you really want that product, get as little as you possibly can and learn with it. Before long you will want to tackle 'flex track' which is infinitely more flexible in terms of the geometry you can craft.

There is no 'best' DCC system. Every one of them is excellent and will do tons for you. They're all very good, reliable, well engineered. What you want to know is how much amperage you'll need from it, what it can safely deliver, and whether you might want to purchase 'extra' now for the inevitable growth you'll want. For example, maybe only one locomotive for the time being, but what if your son wants his own in a year...or both of you now have two or three favourites. Will your system be able to power all of them pulling trains? Better consider future needs.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
177 Posts
Discussion Starter #5
Thank you for the links, I had not come across that page yet. And for the synopsis, that helps a ton!

Sent from my Moto Z (2) using Tapatalk
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
658 Posts
"DCC sound and cheap are rarely seen in the same sentence. " MichaelE

vette, you can run a DC loco with a simple power pack, and many still do. Even though it's 2020. :rolleyes:
You cannot run multiple trains and routes, etc. I'm just saying that you can certainly get started
much more cheaply using DC without a big investment in controllers and decoders. You and
7-year old can have a fine time using DC.
If you have a local hobby shop, with a real train section, you may find all kinds of second-hand
equipment to get you started. Lay down a few feet of test track with a used HO loco and you
will be running trains tomorrow. Major decisions can be deferred until you get some sense of
what you all might prefer! IMO
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
8,510 Posts
DCC (Digital Command Control) may sound complex, but it is actually a very
simple system to use, especially for those with limited electrical skills.

When you buy a DCC system you get the Power Supply and the Controller. The
controller, in many cases looks similar to a TV remote. It sends a continual modified
14 volt AC current to the track on 2 wires. It also sends on the same wires digital information that
decoders in the locomotives use so that you can control Forward or backing motion
and speed. Each loco uses a decoder with a 2 or 4 digit 'address'. You 'punch'
this 'address' into your controller and loco A can be run as you like...You can then
keep it running as you punch in the 'address' for loco B...you can now have two
locos running, each individually controlled. You can even run more than 2.
What you 'tell' local A to do has no effect on loco B. It's as simple
as that. Decoders are available to upgrade most any old DC loco.

There are 4 popular DCC makes on the market. Digitrax, NCE,
MRC and Bachmann. Any one of those would be suitable for the
type of layout you propose. (There are a few other makes available also)
The least expensive and easiest to set up and use is the Bachmann EZ. But
it lacks the ability to 'fine tune' loco decoders, a feature not usually
needed on a small layout. Because we have NMRA standards you can
use any make loco or decoder with any make Controller.

You can buy locos and or decoders that do not have sound, or for more $
your loco can have the sound associated with that model...diesel starting up,
running slowly, ring it's bell, blow the horn, in addition to other sounds. Steam
locos have very distinct sounds that the big guys make...chugging, steam
escaping and the like.

Don
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
177 Posts
Discussion Starter #8
Extremely helpful information guys! I've downloaded the PDF files and will read through then as well.

Can you mix and match brands of track? Seems like used lots on eBay might be economical, especially if track is interchangeable. I understand the size is standard, but worried about connections.

Sent from my Moto Z (2) using Tapatalk
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
177 Posts
Discussion Starter #9
And Sally, I do not have a decent model shop close that we can look at stuff out tally to someone. There is one about two hours away that has some pretty big tracks running. Of course they are closed now anyway. I'm surprised there doesn't seem to be one in Destin or fort Walton, at least not that I have found.

Sent from my Moto Z (2) using Tapatalk
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,157 Posts
The neat thing about most DCC setups is that while it is fairly simple to get up and running, moving trains around on the track, DCC also provides a lot of extras for you to explore as you gain an understanding of how it work. For example, when you start out you set a throttle speed for a loco, and it goes that speed. However later on you may want a more realistic operation -- a long train doesn't just immediately start and stop, it has significant weight to it. DCC allows you to set momentum, so you may set your throttle for 50% speed but it could take 15 seconds, a minute, or longer to actually work up to that speed. The same goes for slowing down, you set the momentum and the train will slowly drop in speed. If you get a sound decoder on a loco, it can work with what the loco is doing... If you are slowing down rapidly you may hear the sound of brakes. If you start going up a hill the sound may get louder as the loco works harder to climb. And many of these sounds can be made automatic so you just run your train and the appropriate sounds are played.

If you think you're going to be involved with model trains for awhile, it pays to get a more expensive control system. There are cheap systems which only do the basics, but they don't provide for any upgrade options, so take some time to do the research, ask questions here as you get ideas of what you want to get out of DCC, and folks will steer you in the right direction.

While learning about how you want to control your trains, you might also want to consider if there's a particular theme that appeals to you. Do you want steam locos or deisels? Modern or a period you remember from your past? Do you want to build vast industrial complexes or rolling farmland? Mountains or flatland? Do you want to fill a basement with your empire or do some small-scale switching on a shelf? Do you enjoy creating complex scenery or do you want to just tack some track down to a sheet of plywood? Do you want to model an existing railroad or create something entirely from your imagination? More than likely you will want a combination of ideas, and as you proceed you will find new ideas you want to incorporate. It's your railroad, so anything goes and there are no wrong answers, but it helps to try and get some early ideas to guide where you're going.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
9,546 Posts
So I agree that the best way for you to get started is to read a bunch of that beginner stuff, and then come back with some more focused questions.

To address those that you have asked so far, yes, you can freely mix brands of track, provided that 1) it doesn't have attached plastic roadbed and 2) the rails are the same code (Code = rail height in thousandths of an inch). Neither of these is a show stopper; they just make it harder. The second is fairly easy, just requiring a special joiner and a little shimming. The former means performing a little surgery to the roadbed itself.

And the question you didn't ask: purchasing supplies and equipment. Brick and mortar retailers who sell model train stuff are an endangered species. There are plenty of good, on-line suppliers, though. The two I use most often are MB Klein (www.modeltrainstuff.com) and Trainworld (www.trainworld.com). Only the latter has a brick and mortar location, and those are in New York City, so you can be sure they're only doing business on-line at the moment. I would also recommend a visit to Walthers (www.walthers.com). They are primarily a wholesaler, so they always sell at MSRP, but they have an enormous selection of stuff, and it's a good place to browse to get an idea of what is available. There are plenty of manufacturers they don't carry, but they're still the biggest model railroad wholesaler in North America.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
177 Posts
Discussion Starter #12
Thanks everyone, I'm starting to get a good grasp of at least the basics here. Looking at the controls I think DCC makes sense and I think sound is almost a must at this point. I know that comes at a cost. I also think it needs to be a simple unit that my son can work. That said, the simplest design I see is the Bachmann EZ Commander. I know it's somewhat looked down on here for it's simplicity and lack of expandability, but I don't see us running more than two trains at once and the ability to still run a DC train is appealing as well (my Corvette train is a Bachmann DC... Don't know much beyond that yet, but there is no PCB inside, just a few wires to the motor and light).

I realized that if we want more down the road it will mean another investment, but the ez Commander can be had for $125. That seems like the cheapest way to get into DCC and the simplest control interface.

For track I'll be looking at a basic oval to start, 36 x 120. I think I can do that with some flex track fairly inexpensive.

That leaves the locomotive. I'm looking for a decent DCC/sound locomotive fairly inexpensive. Rolling stock and DC locos seen readily available on eBay fairly cheap. But I would like one good DCC/sounds loco to start out. I'm fairly handy with tools and soldering, so may be able to update my DC train, or another one later.

Looking for thoughts on this plan or suggestions for a loco.

Sent from my Moto Z (2) using Tapatalk
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,116 Posts
You can have a lot of fun with the Bachmann EZ DCC. Not a bad start.
Flex track is a good way to go, not so expensive and pretty easy to work with.
If you deside to go with turnouts best bet is to spent a little extra and get good ones.
Peco, Walthers etc. saves a lot of frustration, not so much Atlas.

Almost any newer DCC/sound loco will be a good runner, what cost more is the fine details.
Bachmann locos run just fine and are low cost but lack detail and will match up well with what you are trying to do.
I have 4 F7 units and am happy with them, good runners and look ok for now.
Walthers, BLI, MTH etc. will cost more and may sound a little better and have much more detail but at a cost.

I like your plan and doing the research, a good way to go.
Good luck and happy railroading.

Magic
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
9,546 Posts
EZ Command is a good unit, but just be aware that it is not a full featured system. You can't have more than one throttle, and you can't program decoders with it (which means you can't fine tune the performance of your locos). You also might not be able to use all the features of your decoders. And it will handle a maximum of 10 trains. Perhaps it's biggest drawback is that it's not upgradeable. If you find it too limiting, you have to buy a new system.

While many of us operate on a budget, cheaper isn't necessarily better. Do some research (at least, look at the couple of dozen threads on this forum where it has been discussed. Full systems from MRC, NCE, or Digitrax are all excellent (the main difference being the interface and human engineering factors). Roco's z21 system allows the use of smartphones and tablets as throttles (which may or may not be right for you, because of the lack of tactile feedback and difficulty of fine adjustments). Digitrax and MRC also have adapters available to use standard Wifi devices. My preference is MRC; in my experience, most people will recommend the system they have.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
658 Posts
for $35 more u can find an NCE PowerCabStarter Kit. At least, I saw that price at Lombard's. And, ?read about RailPro?? (ducking)
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
177 Posts
Discussion Starter #16
Ok, I kind of expected some negativity toward the ex command, but I'm not quite sure what I'm missing. Power cab would be tempting for the price difference, but it just doesn't seem very used friendly for a 7yo without additional purchase. The ez Commander looks easy enough for him to figure out. Few buttons, big controls. I'm positive that once I set it up, he will be able to run it.

What I expect from DCC is mainly the ability to run two trains and sounds. It would be nice if it would allow the trains to throttle up slowly, but not really a requirement. And the ability to control a few turnouts. But nothing crazy.

I'm not sure if I understand right, but if I do, the ez command will allow you to switch to DC only? That's a bonus as I do have a DC locomotive. I'm not sure of others do that.

So what is EZ Commander leaving on the table?

Sent from my Moto Z (2) using Tapatalk
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,782 Posts
I don't believe the EZ-Command has the sophistication to do what you will eventually want it to do. Remember what I cautioned you about...growth. Evolution. The EZ-Command is a dead end IMO. It has very limited throughput in terms of rail power, and it can't control volumes (which I assure you you will want to do before long), it can't programme the CV's for other sounds if the whistle file you get eventually wears on you, you can't control the bell ring rate, you can't alter lighting arrangements, you can't affect inertia or momentum, you won't be able to consist...oy...it's just not a good purchase. I actually had one for a whole two weeks and ended up spending five times as much on a Digitrax system, now 14 years ago.

I am positive you won't be able to run a DC locomotive with the EZ-Command. I can do that with my Digitrax using the address '00', but it's a horrifying experience. The alternating current makes the DC motor yowl and growl, and sing, and ping. It'll screech like a horny cat. If you forget and leave the loco immobile for more than a few minutes, you'll fry the motor. Probably not because it'll scream at you the whole while.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
177 Posts
Discussion Starter #18
Ok, not sure I'm tracking other than lacking the ability to add custom sounds. None the less, how about the NCE DCC twin? That's the only other station I've seen that has the simplicity I'm looking for and relative low cost.

As mentioned previously, I don't expect our future growth to go too crazy. If we really get into it part the capability of one of these entry level units, we'll have to invest in another controller, I get that. Since future expansion is a plus thought.

On the DC side, is the only real option to disconnect the DCC controllers and switch to a DC unit? I havn't researched how the EZ Commander weekend but I assumed that when you use stain 10( I think) it switched from AC to DC power for DC only operation. Not so?

Other than more power, what are the benefits of the NCE controller over the Bachmann.

Sent from my Moto Z (2) using Tapatalk
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,782 Posts
Yes, because you do NOT want to feed DC current into the grid that is already being powered digitally by a DCC/DCS unit. The are incompatible, and you'll have an expensive doorstop on your hands with the DCC unit. However, a great many older DC players, say over the age of about 50-is, might have some nostalgic pieces that they and their fathers/siblings played with back in the late 70's. What they do is run them with DC powering the rails, but through a DPST. That kind of toggle switch has perhaps DCC power going to two poles, but also issuing from those two same poles. The other two poles have DC power going to them, but also issuing from them. This way, the toggle position isolates the rails from mistakenly applied simultaneous power, or simply powers the rails via one power system at a time. Perfect isolation, no mistakes.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
9,546 Posts
Ok, I kind of expected some negativity toward the ex command, but I'm not quite sure what I'm missing. Power cab would be tempting for the price difference, but it just doesn't seem very used friendly for a 7yo without additional purchase. The ez Commander looks easy enough for him to figure out. Few buttons, big controls. I'm positive that once I set it up, he will be able to run it.

What I expect from DCC is mainly the ability to run two trains and sounds. It would be nice if it would allow the trains to throttle up slowly, but not really a requirement. And the ability to control a few turnouts. But nothing crazy.

I'm not sure if I understand right, but if I do, the ez command will allow you to switch to DC only? That's a bonus as I do have a DC locomotive. I'm not sure of others do that.

So what is EZ Commander leaving on the table?

Sent from my Moto Z (2) using Tapatalk
Not negativity. But you have to know what you're getting. Or not.

If it's few buttons, big controls you want, look at the MRC Prodigy Explorer. It, too is a limited feature system in that it doesn't program decoders. It's about the same price as an EZ Command, but unlike the Bachmann, you can upgrade it buy buying a higher end set, and the throttle from the Explorer will still work on the new system (provided it's an MRC -- manufacturers components are not interchangeable). Having two throttles would be a key feature if you both want to run trains together. But really, a 7 year old could be taught to operate ANY DCC system. You would have to do the initial set up for him, most likely, but after that, he just has to know what buttons to push to get sound, lights, etc.

All the DCC systems I mentioned in my initial post come with only one throttle (except the z21, which has none, but you would use a smartphone or tablet). Which means only ONE of you can issue commands at a time (although trains would continue to follow their last command until a new one was issued from the throttle). With EZ Command, you can't ever use a second throttle. Period. Also, if you get a loco that won't start until you've cranked the throttle halfway one, you may get very frustrated with the inability to run at very low speeds. Being able to overcome this is a huge advantage of DCC, and the EZ Command can't do it.

You're right, though. A 7 year old just wants to make the train stop and go, activate the lights, hear some engine growl, and blow the horn. But I have 3 boys of my own, and I can assure you that your son will not always be 7 years old. Yes, he may lose interest but he might not. Do you want to railroad him (pun intended) into a dead-end future, or give him something that can grow with him?
 
1 - 20 of 48 Posts
Top