dcc model railroad

Is It Easy To Convert From DC To DCC?

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I watched DCC Systems come about for some time now. All that time dragging my feet, I felt like it was not for me. I grew up on old standard DC for my HO trains since I was young.

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How to Handle the DC verses DCC Dilemma

I have friends with major DC layouts and they are not sure they want to do this. I myself, have lots of standard DC engines. What do I do with them?

Using Standard DC is just simple circuits to and from the transformer usually via 2 wires maybe with on/off switches. Simple right, or is it? Then you add a circuit to another track, then to a siding and so on, you now have lots of control switches and wires that can get confusing.

DCC can’t be easy, (so I thought). Now that I have made the switch, it’s not as bad as I thought. It is actually simple.

Is the Wiring for a DCC System Simpler than for a Standard DC System?

Basically yes. You can purchase multiple types of DCC systems, such as Lenz, Digitrax, NCE and others. I chose one, but did I make the right choice? I looked at clubs and railroad friends around my area for my information avenue to ask questions. I wanted to build my new main layout from the ground up on DCC. What I found out was that my original DC layout with all the standard stuff would be easy to install. Wiring it to the existing wires where the old transformer was, worked surprisingly well. On reflection it would not have mattered which brand I purchased. They all work in a similar way.

Will a DCC System Provide Better Control, Better Realism, and more Fun?

Again the answer is yes. I turn on all the tracks and just left them all on. No longer do I have to shut one train (track) off just to run another. Everything would have power on it at all times. Just leave all your tracks on. I can run multiple engines even on the same track and in opposite directions.

What Other Benefits is there With DCC Operation?

I can switch from engine to engine on the same throttle while the other is running, but the best way was to add extra throttles to control different engines at the same time even multiple engines called a Consist (just like the real prototypes do). Speed control of an engine is a very good reason to change to DCC. DCC is easier to control, offers better realism, and in my opinion is more enjoyable to operate.

Can You Run and Old DC Engine on DCC?

You will want to have your first engine equipped with that DCC computer chip to run it. Yes, my new system can run a standard DC engine as if it had a chip installed in it. But note; this is a little hard on the engine to do that for any amount of time, as the voltage is just a bit higher. However, that gives you a chance to see how the old DC engine will run on the new DCC system before sinking money into it by buying a DCC chip.

Are There Any Warnings When Using DCC Compared to DC?

Just don’t let your engine sit on a DCC powered system stopped or parked. It has power to it all the time and just sitting there will make the motor get hot without it moving. DCC has power all the time where DC only had power when you throttled up. Your DCC Chip in your engine unit is responsible for controlling the power to the motor, lights and extras. Your chip will do the controlling based on what you request from your throttle. I have as many as 12 engines ready to go and powered up on the layout with several more coming later as I convert my old engines.

Operating Engines without a DCC Chip?

Even on a slow setting, my Bachmann Thomas the Tank Engine, runs way too fast. It runs so fast that his eyes on the front move as a blur as it goes by. Under DCC (without a chip), I set the Throttle on engine code 00 for engines without a chip, It will creep slowly and his eye’s move slowly looking incredibly real at a slow speed. It makes his eyes look like he is looking around. This engine is now in line to get one of the next DCC Chips I will be installing. Pretty Cool!

Installing the chip has to be a separate subject. Several things have to happen when wiring the chip in. So I won’t scare you just yet. But it is not that difficult. Sometimes taking the body off is harder than installing a chip. A chip with sound is not out of the question and after you get going in DCC you just might order one for a future engine.

Is Installing a DCC Control System on your Layout fairly Simple?

Yes it is. Feed the track power from the new system to each rail feed (basically where you wired in the old DC Transformer. Ensure you don’t have any crossed wiring that would cause a short, (you shouldn’t have a problem if it worked OK on Standard DC. Some systems have the throttle built right on the unit just like your old DC Transformer. Most have the capability for separate throttles to add on later.

Then power up your system and call up the engine by its assigned number. If you have not set the engine number yet, all DCC chips or new engines with them already installed will have an 03 for the engine address until you change it. Most modelers will use the serial number of the engine so they can remember what code each one is on

How Do You Call Up Different Engines With DCC?

When you finally expand to more than one engine on the layout, you will want to change the engine codes. When engines are all on the same code of 03, they all will move at the same time. A little reading of the instructions will help you change them. Then you will be able to call up each individual engine and send it on its way. So that little circle of track you grew up with that has always been the hometown model railroad empire doesn’t have to become extinct. In fact, it will now become alive with very real movements and yes even sound if you would like to pursue that (more likely sooner than later).

What About Converting Your Old Engines to DCC?

I suggest your first engine be purchased with the DCC Chip already installed. It does not have to be an expensive one. Get use to the new system; while you do that, start to check your older engines and find out which ones run good on DC and consider converting them as you go.

Why Do Some Locomotives Operate Better Than Others?

Remember if your engines don’t run well in DC then they might not work any better in DCC. An engine that stops because it just doesn’t make good contact with the track will always do that. Pick engines that have several wheels that pick up power from the track. There is no reason to trash your whole fleet to get yourself into this new system. Take these good engines and convert them one at a time. Just think of it as an overhaul of the engine and while doing so, adding new features to include LED lighting.

How Do You Power Your DCC Trains for Maximum Performance?

If your layout has extended lengths of track, your wiring needs to be of better quality to send your power around the layout. When power is fed only via the track rails, the farther away you go from your power source, the more power it will loose. The more rail connectors and switches the power has to run through the less power the engine picks up the further it is away. This lack of power will drop the signal to the DCC chip, the further away it gets. A similar thing has probably happened with your old Standard DC system when you noticed speed loss at your far most track. If your trains run slower on the other side of the layout then you are losing power.

On my portable layout the power does not travel very far, so one connection just through the rails was good enough. But if I did that on my main layout, I would have very little working on the other side of the garage.

What About Wiring for Track Expansion?

As you expand your layout, run buss wire under your layout to follow each rail around. 16 Gauge (stranded not solid) trailer wire has worked well for me. I then run drop wires from the rails every 4 to 8 feet using basic 22 gauge house phone wire to the buss wires below. Be sure to use different color wires to follow each rail so not to get the wires crossed or confused to the other rails. I chose the colors of the single phone wires. Following a color code will help reduce shorts from wiring to the wrong rail.

So, are you ready to try the new system yet? Go For It. Go run trains in a real setting. You will be glad you did.

DCC Conversion

DCC Systems

Configuration Variables

Reversing Track

DCC Throttles

DCC Wiring Diagrams