DCC, RCC, DC & Dead-rail DCC

What Does all of that mean?

Well, in short, it means that these trains are not likely the same ones you may have played with as a kid.  They are on a whole different level of animated models, using sophisticated electronics.

Using a combination of skills as an artist and electrical engineer with a focus on computers, and a lot of skills from building models and working on computers, I’m able to install and program complicated electronics into high-end models. And when given a chance I detail and weather in such a way that it looks real, only it’s miniaturized.

For me, it’s fun!

here are the basics along with a brief description of what the terms mean.

DC means Direct Current.
a DC locomotive uses a transformer plugged into an AC wall socket to produce a Direct current voltage that is applied directly to the rails, usually identified as positive and negative. the Transformer simply converts AC to DC and allows the user increase or decrease the voltage as well as switch the polarity.
What this does, it makes the locomotive move back and forth at different speeds, as well as power lights and or smoke generators. many locomotives have basic DC circuits that allow for flickering lights and power simple sound cards that can be triggered to make different sounds via reed or magnetic switches.

however, to add extra lights, or special features to the layout, such as Wye’s or reverse loops, you need to electrically isolate various sections of track and add physical electrical switches, that control the current flow and power to various lights.

DCC stands for Digital Comand Control.
basic DCC uses a base station to add a digital signal to direct current that is fed to a decoder within a locomotive. The decoder knows that it’s being talked to via an address, that is assigned to it during the installation, the address is typically set to the locomotive’s road number.  the decoder is then used to make the locomotive move in a given direction and rate, to turn on/off lights, add effects to the lights such as flickering, as well as play a verity of sounds.

more sophisticated DCC Decoders often add more control to effects like a smoke generator that is controlled so that, it will pulse with the sound and movement of the locomotive. while adding servos to animate the movement of doors, windows, bells and so on, bring the model to life.

to program a Decoder, you need to be able to talk to it using a Base Station and a computer a separate device, that is often referred to as a CAB, this provides a typically  wired remote control like device that gives access to a series of Function calls, that allows movement of the locomotive, turning on/off its lights and playing the various sounds. The CAB also allows the user to program the Decoder through the use of what are called CV’s or Configurable Variables.

many of these CV along with the color of wire used are defined through standards set by the National Model Rail Road Association (NMRA)

however, not every model is built the same or even ready to simply plug in a decoder, any more than the verity of decoders are build for a specific model, thus making each install unique to the model and desires of the person who owns the model.  We are lucky that that NMRA has set standards, allowing different brand base stations and cabs or computers the ability to talk to differently branded decoders.

Additionally, like DC rail systems, you need to electrically isolate sections, of rail for things like Wyes and reverse loops. However, DCC systems have the ability to use digital switches to automatically reverse polarities, without you having to wire a physical switch while also allowing you to digitally control animations, lights, and sounds as well as scheduling operations of trains, and various animations. throughout the layout

It’s relatively easy to set up a DCC system, provided your system is set up for DC. It, however, becomes more complicated, when you need to run boosters, to support several locomotives at the same time. You then need to isolate sections, breaking them into zones, each zone becomes an independent circuit, and a breaker, that in theory protects both the decoder in the locomotive and booster.  This is where DCC setups become complicated. Ideally, when developing a layout for DCC, These zones are defined, along with a central location for things like the breakers, base station, boosters, and any other independent circuit boards such as reverse loops,  zone or block detection, and accessories such as turnout controls and signal lights.  This is when DCC becomes complicated, it becomes more complicated when installing this setup over a basic DC layout, this type of install is called an overlay, one needs to worry about power distribution and how much is being drawn in a specific area at a given time.  It literally becomes a thought process power distribution, while thinking about ways to protect the electronics involved in the locomotives as well as all of the IC boards.  for installs of decoders, we start using different gauge for wire as fusible links. etc.

As annoying as it may be, wouldn’t you rather have a small piece of wire burn up than you $200.00 decoder, or even your DCC base station or booster, due to overloading or a direct short from a derailment, or an electrical hotspot. Overlay installs attempt to break down that power distribution.  generally speaking, from what I’ve seen most installs for large-scale trains are within the same price range, it often takes a couple of days to install and program a decoder.

Then adding animations and power to lights and, you simply pull power from a bus line or your rails, and individually address each system, this actually removes the need for physical electrical switches and the requirement of extra wiring.

RC or RCC and Battery
RC simply stands for Radio Control, RCC helps sperate the term out for model trains while trying to match up with DCC, you can say that RCC stands for Radio Command Control.

RC systems such as CVP’s Airwire system utilize the standards as a DCC system, or rather the DCC standards incorporate standards set by CVP.

Through the use of a remote control similar to a CAB, the user has the ability to move the locomotive activate lights, and play sounds.  however, rather than receiving the command signal and power from the rail, the locomotive and/or accompanying car has batteries and a receiver card, and possibly a sound card.

With this type of system, you do not need to have power to the rails. however, if you want separate animations or lighting in buildings, the ability remotely change the direction of a turnout, you need to add batteries to everything or run power lines with some sort of control system. I believe CVP is one of the few companies that strive to create the ability to run hybrid systems.

the type of system, really depends on the user, what they want to do, and where they want to put their money.  with DCC, a lot of money is focused more on the DCC system, than in the locomotive. with RCC, more money is tied up into the electronics and install of the locomotive. with that being said many people who run live steam or even RCC/DCC dead rail. do not run power through the rails, This allows them to use lower cost rail.

Sound Cards
sound cards are generally speaking small independent IC boards with digitally recorded soundsthat allow sounds to be activated via reed or magnetic switches, or signals generated by the receiver, they require their own power. That power can be DC from the rails or DC from an independent battery or a shared for the receiver or DC from a separate battery.  Often times when upgrading a locomotive to DCC, it’s easier to remove the previous sound card and install a DCC decoder with sound.

As far as I know, there are no receivers that incorporate a sound card, however, there are any number of DCC decoders that do, the advantage of this is simple integration while allowing digital control over the sounds while easily assigning specific sounds with actions. eg turning on the lights and having a dynamo spool up, and as it does the lights grow brighter.

DCC Dead Rail
This is a relatively new term, simply meaning you do not gain power or a DCC signal from the rail. You instead use a wireless radio control command station and a wireless receiver, that draws power from batteries, translating the Radio signal into a DCC Signal.  This adds more complication to the mess and expense. So, why do it?

The simple answer is that DCC Decoders often offer more features and tend to be more compact while including a built-in sound card. however, you need to work with a receiver that can receive a radio signal, and convert that signal to a digital signal and add it to the direct current from the batteries.

All of the systems have their advantages and disadvantages, most of them surround the source of the power. using track power has its problems just as much as using batteries, this all depends on the layout, type of rail and again what is wanted.


brand names and details. 

DCC is nice, there are several very good brands of base stations and decoders, that offer everything from basic motion control to the whole nine yards of motion control, sound lights, and animation. As the Europeans basically developed DCC Their DCC decoders are very complex and offer the most features. when someone wants more features, I have to start using brand names such as Zimo, Lenz, and so on these decoder cards often use sound projects that are recorded from real locomotives and are played back in the best possible sound quality, then allowing you to tune those sounds to the specific model. allowing each model to sound unique. and real.

other decoders like Soundtraxx have again recorded sounds, however, basic sounds have been digitized, and in return are synthesized as generic sound for example for a steam locomotive, you choose between about six different chuff sounds, that can be marked for 3 cylinders or articulated. you can then choose different types of air pumps, whistles, and bells. however, you are limited to air pumps, if a different locomotive has the same style air pump, it’s going to sound the same as the other. you can change the sound with features like reverb and sometimes advance programming such as tone.  also comparing a Soundtraxx to say a Zimo is like comparing a luxury car to an economy car, they both have their disadvantages and advantages.

Receivers, there’s a handful of different receivers, however, the primary one, as well as the longest standing one, is the Airwire system by CVP.  they offer different versions.

So, if someone says they want Airwire and sound, it basically means they want an RCC system with a digital sound card such as Phoenix sound card.  however, the also want chuffed smoke, with Airwire, it’s easier to upgrade to a DCC dead rail system using something like a Zimo decoder and use whats called an Airwire converter.
curiously this really doesn’t cost any more than an Airwire Receiver with a Phoenix sound card.

Then finally DCC ready, all this means is that the locomotive will have some sort of board in it that allows the installer to easily install a decoder as well as keeping the power pick-ups separate from the motors. if a Loco is being converted to RCC or DCC the power source needs to be isolated and if it is not DCC ready, the loco typically needs to be re-wired, separating the power from the motors, early Bachmann models often need to be rewired.

I sincerely hope I’m not confusing people.

More terms that I use

Arduino, Raspberry Pi, JMRI, WiThrottle?

What the heck, I like raspberry pie..  what an Arduino, is that some Italian swear word?

To start with an Arduino is an inexpensive easy to program, open source microcontroller. it was created to provide and allow artisans, hobbyist, makers, and instructors the ability to add life to their creations or teach basic electronics through the ability to control motors, lights while reading sensors and/or even playing sounds
they add an unlimited amount of possibilities to model railroading.

my DCC base station is created by using an Arduino, and some open source code that I downloaded and installed on the Arduino.  The base station is called DCC++ Base Station.

the Sprog base station is basically an Arduino, however, it has their own software installed.  another note about CVP; CVP has been around since 1974, they literally wrote the book about DCC. they also wrote some articles about building your own base station and boosters. The use of an Arduino is simply an expansion and simplification of what CVP has been promoting for several years.

Raspberry Pi (not to be confused with Pie) is a low voltage micro-computer (think smartphone) that was created as a low-cost educational computer. it was designed to teach people about and how to use a computer.  like any computer, it has a few In/out or rather in modern terms Universal Serial Bus or simply USB ports, this along with aa network port, and a High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI port) allowing you to connected it to a HDMI monitor/TV and a network, and gain internet access. Different versions are faster and allow more features like built-in wi-fi.  these cost about $40.00s people often use them in conjunction with an Arduino for the brains.

it’s really amazing what can be done with the combination

JMRI stands for Java Model Railroad Interface it is Open Source software that allows you to control your model railroad via a computer, as it’s primarily written in Java it operates on Windows, Mac O/S, and Linux/Unix, it also provides some useful tools such as Decoder Pro, that allows me to program any given Decoder through an easy to use interface. At the present time, I use JMRI installed and connected to my DCC++ base-station to control and program DCC Decoders. JMRI also works as a server that allows me to connect my cell phone to JMRI via Wifi to control the locomotive, using an App called WiTHrottle, turning my cell into a wireless CAB.

my eventual goal is to create a single box, that works as my base station, using my Raspberry Pi as a server for WiThrottle.

there are many different ways, that JMRI can be set up and work as a computer interface for a given DCC system, it is compatible with virtually all DCC systems.

In the End, all we are doing is adding the bells and whistles to model trains, bringing them to life while brightening the faces of children young and old.

as a fellow maker said, I was going Disney, and in a sense, in the long run, that’s all that this complicated stuff means. but if I start saying things like DCC Dead Rail, hopefully, you’ll have an inclination of what I’m saying.











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