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Beginner in DCC

6952 Views 28 Replies 10 Participants Last post by  mikeg
Hi all
I'm a total novice where DCC is concerned, so please be gentle with me!

The last time I had anything to do with DCC was in the 1970, when Hornby introduced their Zero One system. While this worked reasonably it did suffer from large chip size, motor incompatibility (Some motors overheated) and high resistance rails to wheel connections causing loss of data signal.
I am about to start wiring my new layout and until now I had only thought about a conventional common return DC system. However, I can see the advantages of DCC - two or more loco's running on same track etc.
If I decided to go down the DCC route what would you DCC experts suggest…
1) Do I buy two of everything - one setup (DCControl system) for the down line and the another for the up line etc or is one control system only needed? If one system how do you control up and down trains together without separate controllers or being a multitasker? My brain only works in 'slow mode' these days, so knowing which loco has what address is mind-blowing to me when perhaps four or more trains could be thundering around the layout on two tracks in differing directions!
2) Would my stock (some early 1990's locos - Hornby, Lima, Bachmann etc) run on these newer systems of DCC ok.
3) Are there still problems of 'loss of signal' due to high resistance connection (wheels to rail) which causes poor performance?
4) What general information - Web based, DVD or book form do you suggest for an electrically sound, but novice DCC beginner?
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Hello Brian
I have had a DCC set up for about 15 months now and although i have had some problems and are still suffering some i would not go back to conventional dc controls. the system i am using is the Lenz LH100, you can program your locos with this unit as well as operate your trains, you can give each locomotive an address of upto 4 numbers, i use the last 2 numbers on the side of my locos as their address, the problem i seem to have is with the older stock, there is a tread in the DCC section of the forum that is just starting to tackle what decoder should be fitted to what loco, as the older locos can be a bit temperamental, but hopefully the expertise of some more proficient users will help us all through the jungle of information.
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I was in a similar position to you Brian about a year ago. To attempt to answer those questions not already dealt with by Thunder:

The minimum you need is a 'command station' (which links to everything else and generates the data stream to control the trains), plus at least one set of controls (known as a cab) to drive them with. These two can be combined in one box, but on the more advanced systems the cab is a separate plug-in handset. Though the technology is different the basic configuration is similar to Zero 1.

With this setup you can control one train, but can leave several others running at a constant speed and take back control of them later, so for example two could be running round the up and down lines (assuming they are circuits!) while you shunt a third one in the goods yard. There is a display on each cab telling you which train it is controlling and various other information - some suppliers allow you to select and display trains by meaningful names rather than just the numbers used by the DCC system.

It is also possible to add more cabs so that several trains can be controlled simultaneously, but this may only be of interest to you if someone else is helping with the operating!

The rail resistance issues are similar to DC, though some people say the trains run better on DCC because full track voltage is present even at low train speeds. Lenz supplies a device known as the Power 1, which helps in this situation, but it is a bit pricey.

A good site for For a non-technical introduction to DCC is - although they sell some of the equipment mentioned the comments are quite even-handed and there are links to most of the other important DCC sites. Also worth a look is Steve Jones's opinions are sometimes expressed forcefully but he knows his stuff particularly the potential of using DCC in a more advanced way. [this para edited]

For books the Ames, Loiseaux and Freiburg one is often recommended, gives a good basic grounding but it was written several years back so does not cover recent developments. The only video/DVD I can think of is offered by Model Rail magazine - I haven't seen it myself but it was said on another forum that it's basically a sales pitch by a single supplier. Finally I find forums like this one to be extremely useful too!
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I would sugguest going the DCC route without question. I would be very anti mixing the two systems. The great advantage is with DCC you can drive your train or loco anywhere that has track pwer, no more section switches. Two bus wires under the layout (which why it's easier to go DCC from the off),and track feeds every metre or so or when ever you have a turnout. The book I would recommend is "DCC made easy"
on special at Amazon for 7.73 sterling. It's easy to read and understand. I'm not going to recommend a system or we could get into these mud slinging matches about my system is better than your's etc.

Provided your track is well laid there should'nt be a problem and you can continue to control your turnouts "if you wish" using push to make or contacts without using DCC it's certianly cheaper going that way.

Operating under DCC will improve your fun and satisfaction it's not complex.
Finally a friend of mine who uses two digit addressing has the appropiate numbers stuck to each cab. I prefer four digit addressing and here we normally use the last four digits of the cab side number. Beware many of the so called starter sets are limited in output amps, functions, and the address that they can handle. Talk to users and try different sets out.
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Some good points already made:

Let me just add a quick point by point, while your ordering the book MMD suggested.

Your point 1

Certainly not. You buy one dcc system:
Three classes:
High Spec

All will supply the power for up/ down and yard shunting e.g.3 locos. You simply call up the loco you want.

If you want to know about one and two above post a new link and ask system specific qestions. About three, download Lisa P4 table above it is worth a thousand words and then ask here again.

Point 2 Please see ongoing discussion about old motors and join in. If you have old stock it is not a dcc issue but a track/wheel issue. Use code 100 or sell the old stuff is the short and sweet answer.

Point 3

I use ordinary house-hold wire, over 50 ft, no problem whatsoever. What are you planning to use?

Point 4
See 1 above and post here again.

look forward to hear how you are getting on. You will not regret the upgrade to dcc.

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Book ordered!

For those thinking about it just be careful about shipping if you are in the UK as most sellers seem to ship from Canada or the USA.

Happy modelling
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Thanks all for your replies
I have now ordered the book from Amazon at an amazing £4.99 plus p&p.

So I'll soon be reading all about DCC once it arrives and be back with more questions no doubt!

Hi TVBG - In answer to Point 3 and your question, I already have laid a 1.5mm bare copper wire all around the layout in ring fashion (as a bus bar)which was going to be used for the DC systems common return, but now with the possibility of using DCC I might run a second 1.5 ring too. Your views if this is correct/ideal etc?
BTW assuming I continue to use conventional point and signal operation (Non DCC) can one of these DCC bus bar command ring wires be common to the conventional system?
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Sounds perfect to me.

Also sounds like you have already been reading up a little. Putting your 'ring main' down (power bus)is a great start whatever dcc system you buy.


You have edited that one on me!

Your copper wire turns out to be a single common return wire for DC!


Ok - I cannot go down that route with you; I would not advise you struggle with mixing the two systems, dcc and dc at all. Lenz do a LT100 to do this -if you must.You can download the manual at ... if you must....

But- 1:

If you are using a a dc controller's ac outputs power to thrown switches and signals; continue to use this system. Great; the hard work is done. Call this system of power and wires, whatever colour or type; your 'accessory bus' and do nothing more with it. Fine; many people do this and do not like to switch points in dcc, you are one of the many.

2: run another copper wire around your existing layout so you have the two close together. Call these two your main 'power bus' feed.

3 Any Dcc system you choose to purchase can now be connected to just these two wires.

4 attach your track feeds and section feeds around the layout to these two wires.

5 I think you have not seen that a 'single' top Lenz system, for example, puts out five amps and can therefore control more trains that you can possibly handle; Cabs in dcc are just another hand controller or computer or mobile phone attached to in the one box - amplifier.

6 In short, what I am suggesting, is that you do not try to save you dc stuff and worry about dual systems! You simply make the jump to dcc in one go.

The above seems more dogmatic than I would like, so I shall add, it is just my humble opinion, if I have understood you correctly after your editing!


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There is a useful section at the back of the DCC book offering a comparison between various types of system available at the time the book was printed and listing prices(in dollars sadly).
It is worth buying but can take some digesting in places to come to terms with some of the terminology used of which there seems to be loads.
I think I would add to that, if money isn't a constraint, then buy your DCC system on features. When buying a system be feature critical. Only a top end system will give you all the toys you want. However if you only want to run a couple of loco's, not experiment with your programming, not run double headers and bankers, then I'm wasting my time typing this

There are really only two contenders Digitrax and Lenz. Either buy a lenz 100, or a Digitrax super premium chef set don't comprimse. Go to the dealers and try out both systems.
I chose Digitrax because of availability and support, at the time I was living in South Africa. It's generally not my policy to promote individual systems. I've looked at all the major systems I'm glad I made the choice I have. Digitrax has never had to do any software upgrade major or minor, the system is stable, has all the features and all the power and expansion capabilities I will ever need. Lenz users will probably be just as keen to support the system they chose.

If you feel you want to comprise then look at NCE and MRC. In the budget end of the market Digitrax is far superior to Lenz with the Zephur, this is a fully featured DCC system it has all the features of a top end system but with limited amps. The Lenz compak is limited in features and amps. I'm not mentioning EZ-DCC, even with the new addon's. Perhaps they will add a frying pan next week for all those cheap nasty decoders. If you want to wait for Hornby yawn yawn you might be waiting for a while
yawn yawn. times too short to wait for next year.......
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I think that it's a great idea to try-before-you-buy (if you can).

The Hornby system looks like it will be a hit. A great way to expand your DCC requirements - very cheaply.

If I was to get a new DCC system today, I would go for something that is compatible with the Hornby system. So I would look for an Xpressnet system.

Remember that you can't run more than one Command station on a layout, so if you get a command station today, the Hornby Elite and Hornby Select will not work with it as they are both Command stations.

If you picked up a Lenz Set 90 with a LZV100 Command station, you could use it with the included LH90 cab controller (round knob) and then add more cabs as required for £69.00 per LH90.

No doubt hornby will release cab controllers at a leter date.
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I've edited the post above that I made last night as I realised that the Hornby Select was also a Command station. For a moment there I though that it was a simple cab controller, but it is sold with the sets so it has to be a control station - albeit a simplified one.
IIRC the Select can act as a cab for the Elite, so although the Select includes a command station it must be possible to de-activate it. Most of the other entry-level command stations can do this too.
I also get good vibes about the Hornby effort, I really think it's going to do what most people want and that's drive trains, work a reverse loop, and establish DCC as an equal in term of market share. Yes we will continue to see the diehards in the Toddler consumming hours wiring sections and control panels. But for most people the way forward will be DCC.
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Now extremely serious about taking this huge step and changing over to DCC.
But I don't have a fortune available, so I'm looking for something around the £200 mark as a start.

I have seen the new Gaugemaster Prodigy set and rather like the look of this, but I also know all this really is, is an imported MRC Prodigy Advanced system from the USA with a Gaugemaster label stuck on it! I can buy, direct from the USA, a Prodigy Advanced set up for around £160 with four decoders thrown in.
So my question is...Does anyone own an imported Prodigy Advanced system and what are their views on it?? Is it worth the money Does it work well etc etc?
(BTW in case anyone looked, this question has also been asked on the MSD forum too - though over there they do seem to suffer from a lack of forum input!)

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Was it your Ashford web site that I was looking at this afternoon, and have you just guessed Lisa p4's diagram, or am I just getting my Brian's hopelessly mixed up?

Anyway, I would love to know how some of the new Gaugemaster people are getting on with the rebadged system too - so I hope someone posts here.

Importing from Usa - I have imported the Power Pax unit from Mikes Models and with import tax and shipping the dollar price was close to the English pounds price. Also I had to mail order a US - Uk adaptor from Maplins plus postage - You need to factor this in!

I think, for what its worth, you should have a look at the Lenz system 90 (two hundred and forty quid I think) and use this as your bench mark to test against the Digitrax system and the Gaugemaster.

Re Lenz - fancy a trip to bonny Scotland - big dealer there!!

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Not 100% sure what you mean by "Ashford site" Yes I live in Ashford Kent and Yes again, I used my electrical knowledge to try an unravel LiseP4's diagram. But I may be totally off course here?

I am sound electrically in DC systems but DCC is new to me (other than many years ago a short encounter with Hornby's Zero 1!)

I still like the Prodigy Advanced (Especially the price!) but I would really like to hear from someone who's already using it.
I hadn't considered import tax! though shipping costs are included in the final price shown. Not sure what to do now?

Take care.
'Off course here...'

No - just me Brian. Made an assumption about what you knew because LizaP4 said the device was for DCC and I couldn't remember the full web site details you gave. Thats All. Will take another look at your site in the morning.

If price is the key e.g. two hundred pounds, no more, but hopefully less. I think I would wait for the Hornby Elite (see reviews above), build up my knowledge base about the other three systems and buy in 6 months-ish!

This maybe should have its own thread; buying from the USA.

After some good and some bad experiences I would only buy from Mikes Models and Walthers direct. Walthers will do you the Prodigy for 199 dollars (my 2004 catalouge!)
Walthers are also as safe as houses, with real support for us here in Europe, if you must go surfing USA, then thats who i would go with.

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On the Walters site, they sell the Prodigy Advance for a 'sale' price of $249.98 (regular price: $329.98) and the Prodigy Express for $129.98 (regular price: 184.98).

The UK RRP for a Lenz 90 set is about £200. At Tony's Train Exchange (in the US), you can get it for $229.95 (£130). For a German product sold in the US, go figure...

Tony's Prodigy Advance (3.5 Amp) is $229.95 (£130) List: $329.98. The Prodigy Express DCC System is $119.95 (£67.71) List: List $169.98.

I've bought from Tony's a few times. I buy all my Lenz decoders there. Very reasonable shipping and no taxes.

Just remember that the UK 'edition' is £225.00...

The Prodigy Advance system needs a power supply giving 15-16 volts AC or 16-17 volts DC, 3.5 Amps. Not too difficult to find in the UK. If you buy anything from the US - ask them to take out the 110V transformer. For one it won't work here and for two it will save on the postage. You may even get a discount for letting them have it back.
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