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What’s Best – DC or DCC?

John asks readers about DC or DCC:

“I think I posted a while back. I am getting into model railroading (My age 60 plus years) after being out from my childhood. I have bought some DCC on board locomotives on EBay. I get mixed opinions from the only hobby shop in this area. Some say go with DC only as it is much simpler, others say go with DCC. Need opinions since I am getting back into this hobby. Am looking at setting up a 4ft x 8ft with 3 different locomotives. Thanks for any input/advice.

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11 Responses to What’s Best – DC or DCC?

  • Newman Atkinson says:

    Hi John Newman here, Yes by all means go into DCC Dcc is a game changer and as you learn it it will make your railroading do more things than you could ever do with standard DC. And it really doesn’t matter which system you choose. I mean it shouldn’t But I have had people tell me to go with only one kind but I have run on several layouts that use different systems. I personnally chose Digitrax and I have had good luck with it. I chose it because there were so many clubs in my area that was using it I knew where I could turn if I had questions. I have also heard good things with NCE. I will admit that Digitrax takes some time to learn but once you do you will like it.
    the nice thing about DCC is you can run different trains at the same time and on the same track even going different directions There are groups running Operations and switching all at the same time running even a dozen trains or more all at once (yes you will need a few extra throttles to do that but yes wiring is easy, You can run switch motors right from your throttle a head of your train. Add the sound on your engines and there you go. To really get hooked you need to find a club near you and visit. I am sure they will get you an engine acquired and get you out on their layout and let you try it out. I have done that as I am learning. I will bring folks in on mine and let them experience DCC Once you try it and get used to it you will fall in love with it. Now programing has it’s moments but as you learn it that will become easy.
    If you already have a DC layout it is just a matter of pulling the old DC System off and powering up with DCC system. Sounds like you already have a couple of DCC engines to work with. So start with them and get used to it. and as you get to converting your older engines then you can eventually have your whole fleet up and running again. I am always around so you can ask me if you have questions. As your layout increases in size you will need to run BUSS Wire under your tracks instead of connecting your power in only one place You don’t want to loose voltage the farther away you go from your power source. That is what keeps you connected to your engines and that chip needs constant voltage to keep performing to your commands. Yes by all means go for it ask questions and keep talking to other railroaders near you and they will help get you going. Because DCC has constant voltage on the tracks you don’t want to set a DC engine on the track with DCC as just sitting there will overheat your motor as if you are running it. The same goes for DCC engines I don’t recommend putting them on a DC track unless the engine can do both. Check out some of my videos on YOUTUBE my Page is SHRINEHILLRAIL. You will see large trains, switching trains, Trains with multiple engines. Try and do all that on standard DC. Once you are in the know you will never go back to Standard DC. No more will you ever have to shut off one train to run another You can run them all even in opposite directions right up to each other , Consist them as a team and run them as a pair. You can have helpers in the middle of your train and it they are all adjusted the same you can control them all from one throttle. . I took my DCC system to a guys house that he says he will not leave DC. But in a matter of minutes we had his huge layout buzzing. Even his DCC engines he was using on DC (he had engines that could do both) What little sound he was getting on DC really came alive with sound on DCC. Some hobby shops don’t always know much about DCC (and some do.) But get out with clubs and fellow Model railroaders near you and see what they are doing. Go For it. Oh I already said that. from Newman

    • John Fish says:

      Newman, Thanks so much for your informative post. You explained it in such a way that I am sure I will go DCC instead of DC. The only hobby shop in this area has model trains and equipment, however, the owner is breaking away to model planes and helicopters. The model train layout at his business is DC so I am not sure since he is going for the model aircraft that his interest is with model trains and he is not really up on DCC control. I also viewed your videos. You have an awesome layout. (Don’t think my wife would sacrifice her garage space in our drive-in basement to let me expand my layout into her bay) Will continue to read your posts. Thanks again, John

      • Newman Atkinson says:

        John, That was funny about maybe not letting you expand in the garage. My wife has found out that she is not really fist fiddle because of trains but now the dog showed up and now she is now is third place. But she always knows where to find me. Ha I have a 3 car garage and the third bay ended up as my layout. Divided by a double glass Patio door someone down the street was getting rid of. Inside that door is a 3 track gate I was building about 5 1/2 years ago and these beady little eyes were staring at me in the corner of the glass. Thought I had a raccoon in the garage as I still had the doors open But it was a 10 lb 3 month old pup which never left in fact lying across my foot as I write this. A narrow shelf around the garage with drop link across the doors works wonders when space is a premium. That gate in on my youtube (SHRINEHILLRAIL) and took 2 months to build and I go through it 20 times a day and for 5 years now not a problem. Go to Micro-Mark you will find DCC systems there at least 2 or 3 there and on sale sometimes. We have lost all hobby shops within 80 miles now around here including my well stocked favorite. But that catalog has usually the stuff you need in Digitrax and Lens for sure. You will need at least one throttle to make changes with The others are just a matter of acquiring the engine and go running. I have also a portable layout that is a 4 X 4 double track Loop that I take to shows I can change from DC to DCC just by unplugging the DC at a Trailer 4 pin plug and plugging in my DCC system. Just holding me back is I have cheaper engines for the turns and I still need chips installed in those engines. But getting close. Check out my Caboose Parade video, 2 of which are on my youtube page 32 and 34 cabooses on those 2 runs and more on the last 2 runs not on my page yet. Makes for a very colorful train One caboose was my original on my very first train. For years it was broke and now is up and running with the best of them. That caboose is from 1957.
        I am now rigging a drop in bridge that will go through those doors and link to all my modular sections I have had for years in the second bay for when I have the guys over. I will probably be the first who has linked his modular with his main layout. But I will have some track for them to run on. If you got any questions I will keep checking in here Good Luck and happy railroading
        from Newman

        • John Fish says:

          Newman. You seem to be very knowledgeable about model trains. I don’t want to be a nuisance, but this new era leaves me with a lot of questions from my days 60 years ago with my Lionel set. One of the locomotives (both of them Bachmann purchased off E-Bay) is marked “DCC On Board”, the other marked “DCC Sound Value”. Can you help explain what this means to me? Thanks for your help and input. John

  • Bill says:

    John,
    DCC On Board means that it has motive DCC ie no sound. Probably a bare bones mobile decoder with no more than 28 speed steps. It will work but movement may be somewhat jerky compared to a more upscale decoder.
    DCC Sound value means that there is some sound. The sound may not be prototypically accurate for the engine it is in. It probably doesn’t have all the sounds that the manufacturer (Soundtraxx) puts in their stand alone decoders. The quality of the sound is not as good also. These decoders are produced for Bachmann (in this case) and are generally not available for the general public to purchase. If you go to to Soundtraxx website you can see the manual for these and compare it to to their other decoders.
    In response to your original question, DCC or DC, definitely DCC. You will have to do some homework, wiring is important and make sure your turnouts are DCC friendly. Virtually all the info you need to get up and running is available on line. The thing to remember is that with DCC you are controlling the locomotive, with DC all you control is the track.
    Bill

  • Robert says:

    Dcc is much easier to operator and easier to wire. you have six wire going around the layout, Two for one main line, another for second main line, and third for sliding and branch lines. I did mind
    you should be able to do your.
    Bobby

  • John Fish says:

    Newman, Bill, and Robert. Thank all of you for your help and advice. I still have a bunch of questions since the hobby store in this city is getting away from model railroading and more into planes, helicopters, etc. Can a DC only locomotive be hooked to a DCC locomotive and work properly? The local hobby store owner could not advise on this as the only layouts in his store are DC only. Thanks again for all your help. John

    • Bill says:

      John;

      A DC loco will not function on DCC. DCC is technically AC current so you will probably do serious damage to your loco. The decoder converts it to DC to run the motor, hence why it is so important to make sure the motor is isolated from the electrical pickups, frame etc when doing your own install.
      The reverse is possible with most decoders today (you can run a DCC loco on DC) but you won’t get all the benefits and it isn’t recommended for extended periods of time. That being said there are some RTR locos that are designed to run on both, you can get a lot of the sound benefits with DC but they generally are designed for use with one specific DC system manufacturer and any DCC manufacturer.

  • Jay says:

    DCC systems and decoders have become more affordable over the years. For me, a DCC/Sound locomotive has a personality, it comes alive. Being able to address your locomotive, and run it independently while others are running around the layout makes operation so much better. My layout is setup for both DC & DCC, because I do lots of locomotive restorations and repairs, so my layout is a big test track. I do like adding DCC & Sound to older locomotives, it’s like breathing life into them. You learn as you go, to program all of the parameters in a DCC loco, the way you want your loco to run: Sound levels, momentum, lighting effects etc. You then move on to controlling you turnouts and layout using your computer and JMRI, the list goes on. I still use blocks that I can turn on and off in my layout to isolate problems, or to just shut off to park trains. I recently realized that you can quickly reverse the polarity on a DCC power buss, while a DCC loco is running, and it will continue in the same direction. This I did when I added a reversing loop on the layout. I didn’t have to change the polarity on the rest of the layout coming out of the loop. DCC is the way to go, and you can always convert your favorite DC locomotives, you won’t regret it.

  • Lloyd says:

    Dcc gives you more features, 1 controller ie nce,digitrax, can control more than 1 loco, dcc sound decoders add more realism, can also control turnouts, lights etc. Consider if you are buying new dcc ready, dcc equipped, dcc equipped with sound. If you are converting dc locos to dcc you will have to take the loco apart and rewire. Ho gauge is larger thus easier to work on, where n gauge is smaller so more layout can go on the4x8, But this means it is harder to work on. I run an n gauge 31/2 by 7 ft in dcc. There is a roundhouse, a turn table, a yard, 2 loop around outside tracks. Also consider if you are a tech person because dcc is a computer system. The hand held throttle is your programmer. The layout can be connected to a lap top through interfaces ie like jmri, if you wish. I have been stretched with n gauge and programming, and rewiring dc locos to dcc but I like the challenge. With dcc the track and truck wheels must be very clean. Keep alive capacitors installed in the loco will help
    Also if you are converting n gauge dc loco to dcc sound consider if speaker width will fit in the loco shell . Decoder manufactures provide decoder and speaker specs for their locos YouTube videos are also helpful. My first layout was dc similar size. In my opinion dc is cool dcc can be cooler

  • Stewart says:

    Hi John,
    I found myself in your position about 18 months ago, I spent time going to exhibitions and looking and taking pictures asking question, you find model railroader love to talk, I then visited my local club and became a member, that in it’s self is priceless, the wealth of info the members have is like the Internet only real, As I had never constructed a model railway before only as a child and my dad assembled it, I had no preconceived ideas, I opted for DCC, as it IS the easiest to wire up and the control options are fantastic, the models are evolving all the time from sound to lights to smoking chimneys it’s is a great time to be involved, My one bit of advice is take your time, do some work, and check it, most of all Enjoy it, it’s about having Fun.
    Stewart

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