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Please, let me start out by saying very very clearly that I don't want this to turn into any kind of argument. But I genuinely do want to hear both pros and cons of going digital, in the simplest possible terms. Detail can come later if we ( I really mean YOU experts!) can first establish the main sub-areas for consideration and discussion.

It would be great if the topic could progress in an orderly way that might serve as something of a digital check list, not just for me, but for any visitor who was toying with digital but perhaps a little shy of asking questions, or of feeling foolish. I may well even ask questions to which I think I alread know the answers, not only to confirm that my thoughts are on the right lines, but to fill in the gaps for other beginners.


I don't have any digital kit as yet and am not sure that I will ever go that way. I'm honestly in two minds about it and am sitting on the fence - have been for years!

I can see some nifty attractions, the more obvious and attractive (to ME) being constant lighting and possibly sound.

I suspect that one reality is that some enthusiasts use digital as a prestige symbol and also 'just because they can'. Sometimes, it seems that the technology itself may be be the main attraction, rather than it being of any great innate practical advantage. In no way is that reason 'wrong', it just isn't a persuasive one for me personally.

I'm also rather surprised at how much bother the various systems seem to create with apparent unreliability and a surprising amount of incompatibility, neither of which I had expected after all this time. Even if totally idiot proofed, I'm not sure that digital would be of more than marginal advantage when my prime requirement is simply to run a lot of trains under fully automatic control, which entails a good deal of track sectioning, no matter what.

Other than double heading, which I would almost never envisage for a layout of mine, when would I need two locos under separate control on the same section? For an auto system to work effectively, trains need to be kept apart in electrical blocks, hence my doubts as to advantages of digital control.

I am very concerned at the number of comments I read that older 3-pole motors just aren't amenable to digital control, full stop (That's a period for Dennis!). This is a huge deterrent to someone with a good stable of existing locos, painstakingly built up over many years.

The other obvious area for concern is price.
Digital systems are expensive, some of them horrendously so. I know there are cheaper starter systems, but they atill aren't cheap compared with orthodox control and the impression I have gained (and this could be very wrong), is that starter systems are not very expandable, could be dead ends and thus money down the drain, even in the relatively short run. PLEASE straighten me out if I have this wrong.

I may well think of other questions, but this should give us a good starting point, I hope.
 

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I'll leave the cost issue aside because there is no way around it. For me the Pros are as follows and not in any particular order.

1. The opportunity to spend a lot more money.

2. The opportunity to read a lot more complicated manuals than you ever had expected to.

3. The opportunity to learn German.

4. The chance to finally understand why you should have paid more attention to the teacher while discussing electronics in physics class.

5. The chance to experience 14 volts going through your body while thinking about how many decoders you just ruined by not having a proper programming track.

Oh and I have a few more ...

6. The ability to run multiple trains at a time without having to resort to a complicated block control schema.

7. The ability to add and control sound.

8. The ability to operate multi-locomotive consists.

9. The ability to run constant lighting.

10. The ability to fine tune speed control.

11. The ability to control all of this mess using a hand controller leaving enough room between you and the layout in case of fire.

12. The ability to control your empire using last year's computer.

13. With USP I can be as nasty as I want to be and my trains will still run.

Most or all are possible without DCC it just makes it easier or at least that's what the box says.
 

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QUOTE use digital as a prestige symbol I doubt that. It's not like you can take your DCC trains with you. I find a trophy wife works better for prestige.

QUOTE For an auto system to work effectively, trains need to be kept apart in electrical blocks, hence my doubts as to advantages of digital control.

Not sure why you think this. The best system for fully automatic control would include a train detection with two way communication. Curently you would need to look at one manufacturer for both you system and decoders since there is no standard. You might want to look at a system like Lenz's RailCom Support for bi-directional data communications.

Now some will say bi-directional communication is not necessary but if you want to do it right in my opinion this is the way to go.
 

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Ah cost, I can honestly say that I have spent less on control and electrics since changing to DCC than I did when using analogue! OK - except for sound decoders, but that's more of a luxury item, not an essential part of the kit.

Why do I use DCC?

1. I save a LOT of time and money when wiring up, if my current layout was analogue it would have around 10 isolation sections as compared to the 2 wires that run it presently.

2. The whole multiple loco's on the one stretch of track thing, I luv being able to bring a steam loco in to 'rescue' a 'failed' DMU without having to worry about where the section breaks are so I can bring them buffer to buffer. Banking, piloting, double heading, calling on, it's all soooo much easier with DCC.

3. Did I mention how simple the wiring is? When I get around to extending my layout to a continuous run there will be a place where there is 10 tracks crossing a baseboard join on 2 levels, plus all the signal, point and route setting controls will need to cross that join too; total number of wires crossing the baseboard join - 2.

4. Control Panel?

5. When I want uncouple I just press a button and uncouple anywhere on the layout, none of this remembering where the magnets/ramps are.

6. I can run my entire layout from the palm of my hand, while sitting in the kitchen praparing dinner, with no wires trailing around (yes there is line of sight from the kitchen to the layout).

7. PANIC BUTTON!

In reply to Dennis' comments;
1. I don't have a lot of many to spend (donations accepted of course), and hence don't spend it.
2. I don't have complicated manuals.
3. I don't know German.
4. Beyond the basics, I'm not an electronics wizz. In fact I chose DCC so I wouldn't have to be.
5. That tingles kinda fun huh? Although the only only decoder I've ever ruined was when I drilled a hole though one, but we won't mention that.
 

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Lisa brings up an important point, DCC allows you to go easy or go hard. You can go easy and still have a lot of operational control or you can of course just go nuts. One thing to note, DCC has really had an impact in the US and the weapon of choice here is Digitrax. Take a look at their site and you can see they offer a lot. If you don't like their controls consider buying one that is compatible (LocoNet) but use the rest of their system. Also think twice about using the same companies decoders if you are hoping to use all of the bells and whistles.

I think Lisa uses Digitrax. They have a system they call Transponding for bi-directional communication. Zimo the The Mad Austrian company uses RailCom.

BTW, How many wires do you use again Lisa?
 

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I'll keep this breif ...

For: The ability to run loads of loco's off of one controller, The Fleischmann system being programmable down to points and signals, Less wiring.

Against: Not ideally suitable for small layouts, Lack of factory fitted decoders for UK stock, Cost of converting to DCC.
 

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QUOTE (Dennis David @ 23 Dec 2005, 03:31)...I think Lisa uses Digitrax...
Indeed, I do.
QUOTE BTW, How many wires do you use again Lisa?
2


QUOTE (Jennings @ 23 Dec 2005, 08:49)...Not ideally suitable for small layouts...
As I've mentioned elsewhere on this forum, my current layout is just 8 feet long by 10 inches wide, some of the movements required on the layout would require some very complex wiring if I wasn't using DCC. And that's not including such special movements as the previously mentioned rescuing of a failed DMU with a loco. DCC is often even more suited to a small layout than a larger one, although I wouldn't dream of wiring up a big layout for analogue control; I don't have that much time or money to spare.

QUOTE (Garry D100 @ 23 Dec 2005, 13:10)Lisa,
How do you remote uncouple without magnets?
That interests me, I was going to use Kadees for mine.
A spare function on a decoder, a small solenoid, and a length of wire to connect the solenoid to the coupler, result = activate the function and the coupling uncouples!
Do a Google for DCC Uncoupling - should get you some pictures and techniques.
 

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I've been using DCC since 1994. Digitrax from 2000. I simply would never return to the bad old days of section breaks. For me DCC is the freedom to move a loco, train, anywhere on the layout. Its freedom, it's operational realisum. I have a lot of loco's with sound, but this isn't the real attraction of DCC. Model Railways are hobbies, and anything that improves your enjoyment makes it worth while.
I have over 80 loco's all with decoders fitted and running,
http://home.intekom.com/wurzel/index.html. This layout sadly isn't anymore it was cut up with a chain saw, prior to moving continents. The next one will be American H0. Don't choose your DCC control equipment on price........always buy on features.
We have three basic camps in DCC
Loconet = Digitrax
Expressnet = Lenz
other cab bus sytems = NCE, Zimo etc.
Although there is a standard for Decoders and their operation, and the basic principles of DCC, there is a division by cab bus. The Cab Bus is the control used to tie the system to the command unit. So handhelds and stationary decoders, boosters and autoreversing modules are tied to the comand unit by the Cab bus. Loconet uses networking cable, I think it's telephone cable in the case of Express net. They are very similar but very important not interchangeable. There are many addon's for both systems from third party suppliers.

Which one to choose, by a couple of books and get to grips with the subject. Try out a couple of systems, DCC will sell it's self. If you don't have the money for a top end system budget for one, and save a bit up. another thing you don't have to install decoders in all your loco's immediately. Do one or two a month. The price of decoders is still dropping, and the features are going up. DCC is not rocket science
it's easy to get to terms with, and as I said will add greatly to the enjoyment of your model railway.
 

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Yikes
- I wasn't expecting quite such a massive stampede!
Digesting that lot could keep me out of mischief for the entire weekend, or even more!


I'd like to pick up on just a few very basic points at this stage please.

Simple?
"Which one to choose? Buy a couple of books and get to grips with the subject."
Should a newbie really have to do that?
Seriously, if that's a pre-condition it could be losing a lot of potential customers and I think I could be one of them.

Two wires?
That IS appealing, VERY!
But is it really adequate? Always?
I can think of some reasons why perhaps not and have read many cautions that suggest it isn't really so. But I won't make a fool of myself by talking about what I don't know and wait to be straightened out (if that's possible!).
The answers could well related to the point below,

Layout size
My newbie (not even a newbie yet!) thoughts were that digital would be more suited to a smaller layout, where I'd expect there to be a lot of shunting operations etc. I think I see the advantage quite clearly there with short track runs and locos running around other ends of trains. But there does seem to be some diagreement on that already. Could we develop that area a bit more please?

So, before we get onto the actual type/make and other technicalities, please could you expand a bit on the basic queries above? And please don't avalanche me or I might not survive!


Oh, and please don't anyone feel left out - I'll definitely be coming back to all the points and get me a full education here!
 

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While I think a book or two might be helpful, just reading product literature would be enlightening. You'll see terms like USP, transponding, EMF, etc. It's good to understand what these mean and how they might be used on your layout. But these features are extras and not required.

I don't really see what DCC has to do with the size of the layout since even the largest layouts may have separate operational areas, in essence small parts that make up a whole. Either small or large layouts would benefit from DCC.

Two wires can be sufficient and Lisa's layout proves it. I'm only doing a little more because I want to and not because I have to. In either case it's a lot easier than block control in my opinion.
 

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QUOTE (Rail-Rider @ 23 Dec 2005, 19:07)Simple?
"Which one to choose? Buy a couple of books and get to grips with the subject."
Should a newbie really have to do that?
Seriously, if that's a pre-condition it could be losing a lot of potential customers and I think I could be one of them.
Step 1. Decide what features you need.
Step 2. Decide what other features you'd like.
Step 3. Compare the available systems to see which one suits your needs - http://www.p4me.net/dcccc/systems.html
Step 4. See if you can try out the systems that meet your requirements, visit a layout that uses them if possible.
Step 5. Buy!

QUOTE Two wires?
That IS appealing, VERY!
But is it really adequate? Always?
I can think of some reasons why perhaps not and have read many cautions that suggest it isn't really so. But I won't make a fool of myself by talking about what I don't know and wait to be straightened out (if that's possible!).
The answers could well related to the point below,
My largest layout to date was 18'x12' double deck, guess how many wires it had? 2.
Some will say it isn't really just 2 wires because there's the cab BUS as well, I say use wireless throttles and you don't need a cab BUS!

QUOTE Layout size
My newbie (not even a newbie yet!) thoughts were that digital would be more suited to a smaller layout, where I'd expect there to be a lot of shunting operations etc. I think I see the advantage quite clearly there with short track runs and locos running around other ends of trains. But there does seem to be some diagreement on that already. Could we develop that area a bit more please?
Big, small, average (what is an average size layout?), they can all benefit from DCC, with a big layout you'll save miles of wire and piles of switches, with a small layout you'll save, urm, miles of wire and piles of switches! Really though, operation is simpler and more realistsic, wiring up is simpler, playing at trains is more fun, what more do you want?
 

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Many thanks for all the responses so far.


I had a bit of a rest from thinking about this and probably shouldn't have, as it is now difficult to re-assemble my thought patterns. Copious quantities of all that is 'bad for you' probably don't help much either!


Before attempting to make a digital feature list and then attempting to match various systems to fit that list, I feel we need to establish which, if any, digitally enabled features are of real practical advantage and see if there are any offsetting down-sides.

I see this as still dealing with the TWO WIRE discussion.

Starting from basics:
ISOLATION
Electrical isolation of locos/trains has always been the basis for collision prevention and isolating turnouts are the primary stage of applying this principle. So I have been brought up with the principal of isolating turnouts (points). This is usually the very first piece of 'electrical education' a newcomer meets when about to expand his/her basic oval with a siding or passing loop

Almost all points (a bit easier to type than turnouts!), whether live or dead frog type, are of the isolating type, because electrical isolation automatically prevents a loco from attacking a trailing point that is set against it, thus preventing derailment and/or collision with another train.

One exception (there may be others) is the Fleischmann system, whose point blades are spring loaded (including double slips!) so that trains CAN run through trailing points that are set against them. In their natural, as-supplied state, Fleischmann's points incorporate spring wire electrical clips to ensure electrical continuity on all routes at all times. Although this 'feature' does have some advantages, even Fleischmann has wisely made provision to very easily remove (and replace) the spring-wire clips for swift conversion to the conventional electrically isolating type.

Again, the normal convention is to then provide every isolatable siding or loop with a single rail break (often double, but it's too early to get into that) a safe distance, (about a loco length) before the point. Although this rail gap is not absolutely necessary for a single dead end siding, it can still be very advantageous and, with precious few exceptions, is close to essential for passing loops. At this stage, we are talking about a little additional wiring and possibly electrical switch(es).

I could go on and on about this, but no point (
), yet.

So, after a long preamble, the next question:
How do digital devotees deal with this fundamental loco/train isolation principal, please?
 

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Nice diagram!
Two thoughts occur here:

1. We do appear to require electrical sectioning as usual.
A train travelling from left to right would require the indicated rail breaks to be a loco's length to the left of the point so that when the point was set against it, it would automatically come to a halt, short of the point itself - a detail, not a problem.

2. We have one turnout and immediately we need an extra pair of feed wires. Not a problem either. But surely it's then no longer '2 wire'? An extra pair of feeds is required in all similar situations. Am I misunderstanding what '2-wire' means in some way?

In this situation it seems that the required rail breaks and wiring are the same, whether digital or not. I Have no problem with any of this, but it does seem to cancel out two of the claimed 'advantages' of going digital.
 

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Not really. The break seems to show a non-electric frog.

Don't forget with DCC the points can and should also be chipped so that you can program routes and the points will automatically switch.
Another option is train detection which works well with DCC.

Two wires are a bit of a misnomer. I think Lisa means two wires from the power pack/control station to the track and not the multiple wires required/ toggle switches of using block control where operating multiple trains is like the juggler controlling several dishes spinning at once. You still need feeder wires and wires for the electric switches.

Here is where I may differ a little with Lisa. I don't put a lot of weight in comparing setups. Sometimes it's a wash. Adding switches is more or less a separate issue. The clear advantage for DCC is in operating the layout and when running more than two trains the advantage grows exponentially.

One way to look at the options is to develope a scenario and discuss how you would do this using DCC and Analog.

Here's a simple one, you have three trains and two operators running on a medium sized layout. (My layout for example) Each train runs at a different speed. One is a switcher, one is a high-speed express and the other is a multi-unit freight. You have one power pack/control station and one remote cab. Trying to figure how to make it work in analog gives me a headache. With DCC all the control is in my hands, no frantic reaching for toggle switches.
 

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QUOTE (Rail-Rider @ 29 Dec 2005, 00:22)Nice diagram!
Two thoughts occur here:

1. We do appear to require electrical sectioning as usual.
A train travelling from left to right would require the indicated rail breaks to be a loco's length to the left of the point so that when the point was set against it, it would automatically come to a halt, short of the point itself - a detail, not problem.
You could do that, although I don't really think it is necessary to extend the length of the section coming off the point and splice rails (err, that's the 2 rails leading out of the frog). In fact I'd probably consider it bad practice if, like me, you are short on space and need to get the maximum length of usable track, as this would effectively make the track which the point is set against shorter by anywhere up to a foot or more. But then it's your layout.

QUOTE 2. We have one turnout and immediately we need an extra pair of feed wires. Not a problem either. But surely it's then no longer '2 wire'? An extra pair of feeds is required in all similar situations. Am I misunderstanding what '2-wire' means in some way?
Electrically speaking, there is still only 2 wires, you have a left rail and a right rail BUS wire, you then have a short dropper wire connecting the BUS to the rail. Take the example of a garden hose, as it comes you can water 1 plant at a time with it, but lay it along the garden bed and punch a few holes along it's length and it can water the whole garden at once, but it's still only one hose. As I said previously when I get around to extending my layout to a continuous run there will be a place where there is 10 tracks crossing a baseboard join on 2 levels, plus all the signal, point and route setting controls will need to cross that join too; total number of wires crossing the baseboard join - 2.

QUOTE In this situation it seems that the required rail breaks and wiring are the same, whether digital or not. I Have no problem with any of this, but it does seem to cancel out two of the claimed 'advantages' of going digital.

In some situations this is the case, a basic circle of track for instance, however try running 2/10/100+ loco's independently on that circle and you start to see just how simple DCC really is.

QUOTE (Dennis David @ 29 Dec 2005, 01:19)Don't forget with DCC the points can and should also be chipped so that you can program routes and the points will automatically switch.
Another option is train detection which works well with DCC.
Controlling points with DCC certainly reduces the length of wiring needed, as you can position the stationary decoder in amongst the point motors and have wires that are a few inches long rather than stretching back to the control panel. Of course there's no reason why you can't change them with your hand if you want!

QUOTE Two wires are a bit of a misnomer. I think Lisa means two wires from the power pack/control station to the track and not the multiple wires required/ toggle switches of using block control where operating multiple trains is like the juggler controlling several dishes spinning at once. You still need feeder wires and wires for the electric switches.
Explained above I believe.

QUOTE Here is where I may differ a little with Lisa. I don't put a lot of weight in comparing setups. Sometimes it's a wash. Adding switches is more or less a separate issue. The clear advantage for DCC is in operating the layout and when running more than two trains the advantage grows exponentially.
Agreed! my italics.
 
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