Ask a daft question: What is Digital Command Control?

Digital Command Control (DCC) for newcomers to the hobby is explained by Nigel Burkin, a long-term user of DCC.

Digital Command Control (DCC) has become the leading method of controlling model railways of all shapes and sizes in the last 15 years.

The number of manufacturers offering complete control systems together with accessory hardware and even complete digital train sets has expanded dramatically as modellers have come to realise the benefits of DCC.

The attraction of DCC is that it brings realistic train driving to the layout in a manner not possible with traditional control systems (called traditional Direct Current (DC) or analogue control).

Many newcomers to the hobby are attracted to DCC because they have no preconceived ideas about control systems and DCC is immediately seen as a logical and flexible way of running a layout. A train set may be the entry point; or an advanced system may be chosen from the outset.

Railway modelling is a great way of recreating the drama of main line steam in the home. DCC brings the excitement of driving a real train as is possible to achieve with a model railway, particularly if digital sound is used.

All DCC systems are supplied with comprehensive instructions and are intuitive to use, with the odd exception where the use of complex menu systems has been employed to keep the number of buttons on controllers to a minimum.

The reality is that DCC systems are no harder for newcomers to use than any other system and in some instances, the special operating effects most desired by modellers are easier to implement with DCC than traditional DC control.

What is DCC?

When this question arises at model railway exhibitions when displaying a digital layout, I believe it is unhelpful to jump straight into an explanation of decoders and other technical features. As important as they are, the true answer to that question is: ‘DCC is a great way to operate a model railway.’

The amazing benefits of DCC are realised through the use of digital signals or packets to transmit control instructions through the track to on-board controllers called decoders which are fitted to locomotives. Digital packets are embedded in the track power supply, which is always present even when trains are not required to be moving.

The constant supply of current allows trains to operate independently of each other and for on-board features such as sound and lights to be used to great effect. The digital packets tell the decoder how the lights, motor and sounds should be controlled, all determined through the use of the driving controls.

Little technical knowledge is required to use a DCC system on any size of layout and the practicalities of using DCC have become even easier with manufacturers of locomotives and stock equipping locomotives with decoder sockets, factory-fitted decoders together with on-board digital sound.

Although DCC is very flexible to use compared with analogue control, the benefits may not seem that obvious until you try it for the first time. You will soon come to realise that it is a very realistic way of driving trains, for train driving is what DCC is all about! The experience is very liberating compared with operating a traditional DC-controlled layout.

There will be no section switches to remember to throw to set up the power in the track and the ability to control lights and sound in the locomotive being driven will add exponentially to the pleasure of operating a layout.

For the full article, see November’s edition of Modelling – available now!

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