Command Control System Survey

Discussion in 'Operations' started by Rick McClellan, Nov 14, 2011.


What command control system (if any) do you use on your layout?

  1. Railcommand

    1 vote(s)
  2. CTC80

    0 vote(s)
  3. Lenz

    1 vote(s)
  4. North Coast (NCE)

    15 vote(s)
  5. Easy DCC

    5 vote(s)
  6. Zimo

    0 vote(s)
  7. MRC

    4 vote(s)
  8. Digitrax

    27 vote(s)
  9. Other - Please specifiy in thread response.

    3 vote(s)
  10. I don't use a command control system.

    21 vote(s)
  1. klrwhizkid

    klrwhizkid Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporter

    Up to now I have held off weighing in, but finally thought I should provide some insight.

    I spent a considerable amount of time researching the various systems from all angles. A lot of people said not to make a purchase without operating on the systems to learn which I would like better, but the geek in me required that I delve deeper into the system architecture, electronic and software. If you possibly will run more than 8 locomotives, then the system design becomes more important.

    In the architecture of one of the systems, the throttles and command station are constantly talking back and forth to each other. Each time another throttle is added, chatter on the network increases, resulting in a need for higher network speeds in order to try to ensure communication is not lost. As network speeds are increased, the network becomes more susceptible to outside interference. Additionally, this system uses a single centralized command station that provides for programming of decoders on the mainline or programming track or the make-up of locomotive consists.

    In the other two systems, the throttles only transmit if there is a change in any of the settings on the throttle. In this design, a lower, more reliable network speed can be used. In their architecture, mobile controllers are used that can plug into the system network anywhere on the layout you place a network jack. This allows users to program consists of locos whereever a consist may be put together. Also more than one of these controllers can be connected to the system. Physical size and shape is the biggest difference between these two.

    After careful study of the designs of the three major players that I had access to (Digitrax, Easy DCC, NEC), I made a purchase before even operating on any of the systems. After having operated on layouts using each of these three systems, issues I have observed with two of them while operating reinforce the purchase decision I made based on system architecture and overall design - Digitrax.
  2. FriscoGeorge

    FriscoGeorge Frisco Employee

    I don't have a layout right now, but in the past I just wired my layout up "old school" with two throttle packs and block wired selectors. I used this method mainly because of the large inventory of really old (and rare) kit locos I have in my fleet that are not DCC compatible. I personally do not have the time, money, or patience to convert all my old locos to DCC, so DC it is for me.
  3. FriscoGeorge

    FriscoGeorge Frisco Employee

    Let me give you a word of warning on soldering ALL of the rail joiners on your layout. Just as in a prototype rail the nickel/silver rails used in HO scale track expands and contracts with heat and cold. Soldering each and every joint will prevent this expansion and contraction and cause your track to warp over time, trust me I know because I goofed and did this on a layout and the track pulled up from the roadbed as a result. Just sayin'
  4. FriscoGeorge

    FriscoGeorge Frisco Employee

    "And a warning, I recommend NOT getting the Bachmann EZ command, because it can lead to several problems down the road."
    Just wondering Ethan what problems you experienced with the EZ Command? I am aware that because of it being a 1 Amp system you can only operate no more than two locos at a time without a booster pack, which makes a consist train out of the question.
  5. Iantha_Branch

    Iantha_Branch Member

    I don't have an EZ command. Didn't know it only had one amp so ya that is a problem. But I was referring to the fact it can not program at all (just an address between 0-10 and direction.) How is this bad? Well sometimes decoders SNAFU and you need to be able to put in CV30 = 2 or CV8 = 8 (factory reset) to fix the problem. Or put DCC into a Frisco model, complete with roof beacon and gyro light? Wont be able to set those up.
    But the main problem just comes back to not being able to program.

  6. Jim James

    Jim James Staff Member Staff Member

    Thanks for the sage advice, FriscoGeorge. I probably would never get around to really soldering all the joiners but soldering them all would for sure cause troube down the line. I'll leave it alone until I have power troubles which I doubt I ever will. Speaking of DCC, I thought the MRC Prodigy looked like an easy starter kit. I guess a layout set up for DCC can't accommodate a DC loco?
  7. bob_wintle

    bob_wintle Member Supporter

    A DC loco can be run on a layout that is controlled by DCC. Using the address 00 will operate the DC locomotive. You could run more than one loco on address 00 if they were all together. However you would not want to try and consist a DC loco with DCC locos.
    For those of you on the list that do not have DCC you are really missing out on a good thing. If the reason you have chosen not to get started is because you think you have too many locos to convert, I recommend that you convert two or three to get started. Once you get your feet wet you will see. No matter if you have DC or DCC just run the trains and have fun. I wish you all happy railroading!
    Bob Wintle MMR
    Parsons, Ks.
  8. SteveM

    SteveM Member Supporter

    Jim, most of the systems will run a DC loco using address 00 (or some such) but few folks will recommend doing it much. For a small layout, it may be better to have a switch or relay to convert over to DC when you want to run that special loco (with all the DCC locos off the layout or on dead tracks.) It's theoretically possible to toggle a multi-block DC layout over to DCC and back (and I can show you one big one that does) but then you are really talking about a rat's nest of wiring and lots of potential troubleshooting later on.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 21, 2011
  9. Jim James

    Jim James Staff Member Staff Member

    Thanks. Maybe I'll try DCC sooner than later. I really like the Bachmann Spectrum 4-4-0 modern. It's DCC ready and small enough for my tight curves and light enough for the lightweight Castor bridge. How hard would it be to convert my Rounhouse 2-6-0? It's my best, smoothest runner.
  10. gjslsffan

    gjslsffan Staff Member Staff Member

    I too, have held off as to my comments regarding DCC and I ponder as to why some DCC people seem to be so willing, to take the time and energy to tell me that my DC operating practice is somehow sub-par, inferior, and or otherwise just not up to the " current standard", of the hobby, " Let's remember Hobby". I am not saying it happens on this site so much, but it seems to be the normal thing to say. I respect the individuals choice but....
    I cannot tell you how many times I have witnessed a club or individuals DCC operation at a complete stand still, waiting for a DCC operator or system to program/reprogram/re-reprogram/re-re-program a multiple unit consist to operate. while someone yells "STOP", "YOU JUST RAN INTO MY TRAIN". or listen to the crickets while the whole thing gets re-re-programed again.
    I will make no apologies for using DC operation for long, heavy, MRR trains as well as switching operations, with 40+ blocks, some as long as 300', for my MRR.
    When one of you DCC guys comes out here and shows me up, then I will gladly eat Crow. I am sure a video will follow :), Until then, I will continue to use multiple block DC control operating practice with no apologies, I will stack this operation next to about anyone's, when it comes to switching, making, and running trains.
    I understand or am trying to understand why all the hoopla, over DCC, it gets a little too much for me.
    It seems that sometimes, all you see in about any MRR magazine is all the goings on about DCC, well there are a few of us left, that just want to run our junk like we want to, you can use all the DCC you want. but don't be-little the people that don't want it , for what ever reason.
    Still DC,
    Tom Holley
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 21, 2011
  11. Jim James

    Jim James Staff Member Staff Member

    "Listening to crickets", ha ha! That's a good one. Like you said, this forum isn't like that. Brass snap-track and horn hook couplers or hand laid track with wireless DCC. Everyone on this forum is respectful of each other. That's why this is the only mrr forum I mess with. Everybody feels welcome here.
  12. gjslsffan

    gjslsffan Staff Member Staff Member

    Thanks Jim
    Yep, the folks on this site seem to be the exception to most, if not all, other RR sites. World class people here. Will help you every chance they get. I think it might also be the reason I have only bought maybe 2 MRR magazines over the last 6-8 years, as so much of the magazine is devoted to DCC, I felt kinda like the whole thing passed me by. This Thread is very interesting, seems like there are a few of us dinosaurs left.:D:D
    Tom Holley
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 22, 2011
  13. pbender

    pbender Member Supporter

    That sounds like a layout with an inexperienced operating crew.

    I have been doing modular model railroading for the last 20 years, and
    I have sworn off doing DC on a layout again after my last foray into DC
    at a national train show.

    The problem in this environment is that on a show layout with anything
    more than about 2 scale miles of track, you need to be able to run more
    than one train at a time... You can do this with either DC or DCC... but,
    As you put it, the dinosaurs who still run DC have trouble running on
    multiple block DC as well. This makes setting up multiblock DC not
    worth the extra wiring headaches on large layouts.

    As far as DCC goes, the number one thing you gain by going DCC is
    the freedom to run independent locomotives in the same block. In
    addition to making yard wiring simpler, This means no more "I ran
    the block, you have control of my train".

    I still may want the blocks, but the blocks are in place for signalling and
    power management, not train running.

  14. renapper (Richard Napper RIP 3/8/2013)

    renapper (Richard Napper RIP 3/8/2013) Passed away March 8, 2013

    I think that of all the MRRs around, only about 25% of them are DCC, so your DC layout is actually in the majority. My first layout in Manhattan, KS was block operated DC. When I moved to Topeka, KS in 2000 I looked long and hard into DCC. I actually got started in DCC by wiring a friends layout for DCC that had been built with block DC. It was another ten years before I actually made the plunge. I took the time to study the various DCC systems and watch others operate DCC on both home layouts and Modular layouts. I finally decided to do both. My layout will be block wired completely for DC operation. I have added a selector switch to chose between DC Power supply trottles or DCC system. In my oppinion this gives me the best of both worlds plus since I can turn off any block I want, eletrical trouble shooting is very easy. I plan on a CMRI interface to all mainline signals with a fully operating CTC panel for my railroad. You have to understand that I am a retired Electrical Electronics Engineer thus I am heavy into lighting, sound, and signals. The two modular groups that I belong to have both DC/DCC capabilities.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 25, 2011
  15. Rick McClellan

    Rick McClellan 2009 Engineer of the Year


    Thanks for your input. This survey has shown me that there are quite a few DC guys in our group. Given your experience and scale of operation, you might be able to provide some advice to those wanting and/or using block control. Not trying to make a DC moderator out of you but it's good to know what some of the guys are running so we can ask questions, avoid mistakes and run trains faster in a DC environment.
  16. gjslsffan

    gjslsffan Staff Member Staff Member

    Thanks Rick, I will do what I can to help where I can, you guys have been so good to me, I owe the group that at least.
    As info; A member of our Frisco nation is planning on a trip to the "junction" next year we hope. I am in the process of adding the 10th operating cap to this outfit and that cab will be a couple wires that can go to a DCC appliance that he just might bring with him:D
    Paul and Richard also make very good points about the DC/DCC side and makes for things to consider.
    Thanks for the additional input guys,
    Tom Holley|-|
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 22, 2011
  17. Rick McClellan

    Rick McClellan 2009 Engineer of the Year

    Hmmm wonder who that could be?
  18. klrwhizkid

    klrwhizkid Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporter

    Up until last week, I had no experience operating on a purely DC layout. In terms of moving locomotives/consists about on the layout, the differences between DCC and DC were as follows:

    1) DC operations require breaking the track into blocks controlled by individual switches to allow more than one throttle to control locos in a given area. Operating this way requires a little more thought and an ability to translate a track diagram, with switches on each controlled segment of track, to the actual track on the layout. One has to concentrate on the operation of the track as well as the locomotive.

    2) It may have been the particular layout and its setup but operations were more mechanical and less fluid. Things had to happen in a choreographed sequence since multiple trains could not be in the same block, even if headed in the same direction.

    3) It is more difficult for two crews to work in close quarters because of the block power routing to the two different locos.

    4) Since I am spoiled and have gotten used to sound, I really missed the sound of active locomotives with all the bell, horn and whistle signals.

    Wiring a DC layout (especially a large one) to accomodate operations is, technically, more complicated than using DCC, so my hat is off to those who have done so and can make it work for them.

    I can completely understand someone with a moderate to large DC layout looking at conversion to DCC and wondering if they want to, or can, spend the extra money to put decoders in each loco on top of purchasing the system itself, but for someone who is starting out and has yet to build a layout, the cost is spread out over a longer period, and the benefits, if operating is desired, would tend to lean one in favor of DCC - never mind the possibility of sound.

    I hope Tom Holley and all the rest with DC layouts understand that my endorsement of DCC is not to be construed as a condemnation of DC. It's just different - no offense intended, none taken.

    p.s. Grand Junction will get exposed to DCC and multiple DCC/sound locos.....
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 22, 2011
  19. gjslsffan

    gjslsffan Staff Member Staff Member

    Keith no worries here, no offense implied nor taken here either. You just need 2 wires right? devise, 18ga to buss then 12ga to 18ga feeder wires.
  20. Iantha_Branch

    Iantha_Branch Member

    I will say this to those who are on the fence about DCC. Back in spring of '09 I was running DC on a small layout. I had always been fascinated by the abilities of DCC and had wanted to get into it, but it just looked like too much money. I had a taste of it, playing with a little sound equipped switcher on DCC and then I bought a loco with DCC in it and it didn't run right on DC, so that finally gave me enough sway to get a system. And when I got it, I vowed never to return to standard DC. Sure it's expensive, but I think it is well worth it. Especially if you are doing any type of switching. And MUing locos together can be a pain in DC, but with DCC it's rather easy.

    So as others have recommended, get out to a layout and try it for your self. I could see it not being worth the expense if all you ran was a loop of track, or a small operation with 1 or 2 locos.

    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 22, 2011

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