DCC or DC Wiring? The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, Follow This Guide to Make Sure Your Locomotives Don't Fry!

DCC wiring

Understanding basic wiring is one of the most important skills for model train beginners to acquire to ensure that their locomotives run smoothly and at the speed they want to achieve their ideal railroad layout.

How did model trains move before DCC?

The standard way model trains use to run was by varying voltage and polarity on the rails to create different speeds and directions of the trains. By controlling model trains by voltage, the higher the voltage the faster the locomotives moves and the lower the voltage the slower it moves.

How was direction controlled?

If the right rail is positive with respect to the left rail, the locomotive moves forward, if it is negative, the locomotive moves in reverse.

What is DCC?

DCC stands for Digital Command Control. It is a system where digital commands are sent to the locomotives through the rails.

Benefits of DCC

  • DCC is allows independent control of multiple locomotives without complicated wiring, toggle switches or power packs
  • DCC provides for digital control of turnouts and signaling
  • DCC allows for sounds, block detection, momentum control and ability to latch together various locomotives
  • DCC is an NMRA standard, which means that locomotives that use decoders from different model train manufacturing companies can be used with any DCC system

Biggest mistake model train beginners make with DCC wiring is mixing DC and DCC can ruin your DCC electronics by potentially frying them. Don’t combine both!

Another big mistake model train beginners make is converting old locomotives to DCC. Converting old locomotives can take a tremendous amount of time!

 

How to choose the right DCC starter set?

  • Buying a starter set will give you everything you need right out of the box and be more cost effective than buying individual items. Your starter set should include the command station, booster and throttle. Some sets combine the command station and booster together.
  • Choosing which DCC brand to use is very important. Usually the command stations and throttles are not interchangeable between manufactures. Make sure the brand you choose offers upgradable systems, to allow you to grow with your needs. Also, try to find a brand that allows for computer inference to use in the future for computer automated signals; automation and even programming sound decoders.
  • Find a brand that employs a full featured throttle network

How much power do you need?

  • Most starter sets come in amperages ranging from 2.5 to 8amps
  • Calculating track length is not necessary for power, the track does not consume power, it just delivers it
  • HO scale layout will need the least amount of wiring, S or O scales will need double compared to an HO scale
  • Too much amps can cause serious issues, such causing a short, derailments at turnouts and damage to your locomotives, so pay as you grow and don’t purchase the largest power supply or booster

DCC item list:

The following is a list of items that can be purchased to expand your layout. These are ideas to keep you on track to running your locomotives. You can pick and choose from below which best suits you.

  • The starter set is just that, a starter set. It gets you moving a train. But, if you have a few locomotives, you’ll need a few more decoders.
  • However, before installing that decoder, we recommend you test it with a decoder tester. They typically run about $30 and can be found from various vendors.
  • If you have a reverse section, you’ll need an automatic reverser. Boosters typically have these built in, but if you have a reverse section, it’s best to wire that independent of the main track. There are many different auto-reversers from various manufacturers, it’s hard to find a bad reverser.
  • It’s fun running trains with friends. You’ll need an additional throttle for each engineer. The Digitrax Zephyr lets you use 2 “old-style” DC power packs as ‘jump throttles,’ so you get 3 throttles for the price of the one Zephyr.
  • Your need a throttle network to plug those additional throttles into. Each manufacturer has various ways of setting up their network. This typically involved running a wire from the command station to the area(s) where you will want to control the trains. The wire is terminated into a jack that allows you to plug throttles into.

Need help answering any of these questions?

  • What is a DCC system and can analog locomotives be run with decoders on a DCC system?
  • How do you convert your analog layout to a DCC system and should you even consider DCC?
  • Why you need boosters in your system and how to calculate how many locomotives you can run at one time with 1 transformer?

Model trains is not necessarily an expensive habit but beginners who fall prey to the standard trial and error format of learning how to build model train layouts end up losing motivation due to the costs of making errors.

Especially when it comes to wiring, Do not go down this route…spend a few bucks on a guide that will save you hundreds of dollars in the near future. This is the secret that will put you ahead of any other mode train beginners and save you time, money and a whole lot of frustration.

Next, learn detailed step by step directions on the following:

learn how wire your model train layout

  • Installing decoders in Locomotives
  • Programming Decoders
  • Competitive Equipment Comparisons
  • Requests to wire your layout not accompanied by generous rewards
  • Fixing Problems if you already wired it or messed with it. (for any rewards no matter how generous)
  • Track power bus
  • Cab bus wiring
  • Handling common track features – turnouts, reversing loops
  • Requirements and Installation of DCC Wiring
  • Basic power and track wiring

The most important part to running smoothly operating model trains is planning wiring ahead of time. To avoid endless frustration due to analog / dc, soldering and trains that stop moving, understanding the dcc wiring is crucial. The best feeling in the world as a model railroader is enjoying a fully operation layout with all the bells and whistles.

To master analog and dcc wiring will take countless hours trying to figure out the exact process for each.

You must know each of the bullet points above to ensure your locomotives do not have erratic stops, derailments or lack of speed on gradients.

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