How can I make use of DCC in my layout?

Six answers to commonly asked questions about DCC. Answered by Nigel Burkin.

For many people making a start in railway modelling, Digital Command Control sometimes seems like the most logical choice of layout control system. I adopted Digital Command Control (DCC) 15 years ago, despite the cost of installing decoders in a sizeable collection of locomotives and EMUs.

Unsure about the benefits of digital command control? A starter train set is a good way to experiment before committing to DCC with a larger project. Many digital train sets are equipped with authentic models, which will suit both the newcomer to the hobby as well as established modellers. The set shown in this picture was produced by Bachmann and came with an E-Z Command controller and DCC-on board locomotive: everything a modeller needs to try DCC for the first time.

Today, I have several layouts of various sizes and scale all of which are operated by DCC systems. The layouts vary in style and concept, but each one benefits from the same operating features offered by DCC such as close operation, simulated driving conditions, constantly illuminated lighting and sound.

DCC is a very natural way to control a model railway, which allows the modeller to adopt different driving techniques depending on the design, shape and size of the layout.

A digital train set is a great place to start if you are unsure if DCC is the control solution you are seeking. Furthermore, the advances in traditional analogue control systems is closing the gap between the two technologies, which makes it important to try DCC before spending a lot of money.

The key to the success of DCC is making the driving experience much more realistic and enjoyable. Now that digital sound is universally available, with factory-installed digital sound a common feature in ready-to-run models, the driving experience is further enhanced. It all happens thanks to the constant presence of power in the rails on a digital layout.

No longer are trains operated by controlling the electrical current in the track as with traditional analogue control, but through digital decoders that work as on-board controllers in locomotives and multiple units.

Some manufacturers such as DJ Models are developing models with simple access points to reach the interface socket. The DJ Models’ Austerity 0-6-0 tank locomotive is a good example of how careful design of a model can make decoder installations simple.

For those of you that find DCC attractive but are yet to make a start; it is generally best practice to start slowly, buying only the barest essentials to equip your layout and become
familiar with the technology before buying further equipment.

I know from when I first started with a basic Lenz set, a combination of reading the instruction manual and discovering the many benefits of DCC kept me occupied for a long time; long before I expanded my system!

I was able to keep the initial outlay to manageable proportions as a result.

If you can buy decoders to fit N-gauge models, small OO-gauge tank engines such as the kit-built Andrew Barclay and Hornby ‘Peckett’ 0-4-0ST locomotives shown in this picture are easily equipped with micro decoders intended for N-gauge models. The smaller motors used in such models draw very little current allowing the use of micro decoders.

I know that many modellers remain reluctant to make a start with DCC and given that there is a great deal of misleading information about DCC, this comes as little surprise.

To help answer some of the more common questions, I have compiled answers to half a dozen of the questions I hear the most at exhibitions when I am exhibiting either my Dudley Heath or Wheal Annah layouts.

I hope they clear up some of the myths, mystery and confusion that is sometimes communicated about DCC.

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