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DCC Control For New Layout

Bob asks readers for advice:

“I am now retired and going to build my first system in HO. All new layout. I have obtained cheaply ($1 each) about 70 HO rolling stock. All locomotives will be purchased new.

I have space for a 12’x4′ main layout with space for a 3’x8’+3’x4′ L shaped extensions off the main layout. The main will be constructed first.

I am interested in yard operations but also want a passenger train loop.  Most of the rolling stock is modern ( circa 1980 and later) so I am expecting to build out a modern era layout that is intermodal focused.

I am a good programmer in many languages and very technically inclined. My system will be DCC from the start.  I do not want to needlessly spend money to get what I want and need, however, that said the cost of the DCC controls is not a constraint.

With the above in mind I am interested in advise on which DCC system would best:

1. Allows me to control the entire operation under automatic programmed computer control.
2. Allows control via IPad and IPhone
3. Allows automated control of block control lights, gates, etc.
4. Be as simple as possible but no simpler

I am not tied into anything now so this is a “clean slate” design. While I am not going to have a prototype layout I am interested in simulating as many modern prototypical operation aspects as practical.

Any guidance on makes, models, software, tips and traps, or any other help on deciding which DCC system is appropriate for my needs would be greatly appreciated.”

9 Responses to DCC Control For New Layout

  • Dennis Ricesays:

    1) Run JMRI on your computer and use a SPROG to interface the computer to your track. This allows for just computer control and costs about $100, no hand unit is required. It will support one locomotive with no problems, if you want more you can purchase a booster (have seen several vendors but not sure at the moment).
    2) Assuming the PC is networked and you have wireless connectivity, you can download an app for the ipad / iphone / android phones / tablets which will allow you to control the train. No hand controller required.
    3) Your computer will need to be running JMRI and through that you could control other devices. Two additional options are available by using LCC or the Arduino / CAN transceiver to control devices. LCC is expensive at about $50/node whereas the Arduino / CAN transceiver can be set up at about $5/node, but does require some software coding knowledge. (A friend and I are working on a system to provide the software for such.)
    4) Everything is really very simple and inexpensive with the exception of trying to add on more devices such as cross arms, signal masks, or block detectors.

  • Shanesays:

    NCE Power Cab is a good system that allows you to run multiple DCC decoder equipped engines as well as control other functions. Check out their website! You may already know this, but when I inherited a bunch of older rolling stock I spent a LOT of time cleaning new track. I learned the hard way to clean the wheels on the rolling stock before putting them on the track. Good luck, best wishes, and keep us posted on your progress!


  • Billsays:

    Congratulations Bob on your retirement and hope you have many enjoyable years to participate in this great hobby. In response to your numerous questions I hesitate to recommend any one system over another. I suggest you do a lot of reading. I went through the same situation a little over 2 years ago. Ultimately I selected Digitrax but that could have just as easily been NCE. These 2 represent about 75% of the market. Do you have friends in the hobby? What are they using? You may want to go down that path so you can work together to resolve issues.

    For automated operation you will have to look at Java Model Railroad Interface (JMRI). There are 3 sections Decoder Pro for programming decoders, Panel Pro for operation, signalling,and control panels and Sound Profor controlling lighting and sound. Just google JMRI to find the website.

    JMRI works with most (if not all) DCC systems. This will allow you to use your smartphone or tablet as a cab. Digitrax has an adapter to allow you to directly from your phone or tablet to the Loco Net via WI-Fi. Others may have this also (they probably do but I am more knowledgeable on Digitrax).

    As long as you have access to the internet you can find all the info you need and a lot more than you need. When I returned to model railroading I purchased The DCC Guide. This won’t answer a lot of questions but it gives you enough info to search complete answers on the internet. The host of this site also sells a lot of info about getting started in DCC.

    Good luck and have an enjoyable time.


  • Dennissays:

    Hi Bob,
    There are many choices for DCC and all will depend upon what suits your pocket.
    I use a LENZ system because I can use my iPhone or iPad or my pc for control.
    I use JMRI and SPROG II to programme my decoders.
    Hope that helps.

  • Briansays:

    Hello Bob, As for which dcc controller to use, I have little experience of such, of all the articles I have read, I’m still not sure if any are better than the next, all down to personal preferences. As for running all the systems, in your creation that you wish to control and with your experience in programming, why not try a Raspberry Pi/ Arduino micro unit, you can program this with Python/Linux etc, the more control you require just add another module. Not familiar with Apple stuff, so not sure if you’d be able to dual boot your iPad. If not than buy a used monitor. The Raspberry/Arduino units are about £30 (GBP) and quite powerful. Give you another new hobby to get your teeth into!! KR Brian

  • Timsays:

    Hi Bob, great news on your retirement, can you send me money so I can too. Good luck to you and you have fun.
    Here’s a can of worms I will open. I said this ten years ago and still believe that DCC is a precursor to radio control. Maybe another avenue of enquiry. This excellent magazine is hinting towards that now and I can see the big manufacturers going that way now as it’s simpler, more user friendly and will be cheaper.

  • Stuartsays:


    I would recommend NCE as it is scalable and couple it with JRMI as others recommend. Have a look on YouTube for some instructional videos to see what you think.

    I had a friend come round and he used my iPad and I used my iPhone as controllers. So easy!

  • Briansays:

    Bob, I’ve already made a comment, but I came across this website quite accidentally this morning. freiwald.com
    Someone may have already posted this site, so sorry for any repeat. The software looks as though it could be what your looking for. Prices start at 110 EUR up to 509 EUR + the taxes, expensive, but could save you time, as I’m sure you’re rushed off your feet since retirement!! Although a German company, the program is available in various languages. Enjoy your retirement. KR Brian

  • Petersays:

    Hi Bob, I use NCE power pro and CTI computer control with their Tbrain software, cti-electronics.com
    I run many trains fully automated, CTI control boards are not cheap but are very reliable.

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