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Converting Dad’s Layout to DCC

Trevor H sent in this question:

“I inherited my late fathers train set and only have a limited knowledge of running trains. Watching my Dad operate the trains has fond memories for me, and if I could half as much pleasure from the layout as he did, I know I would be stoked!

I am keen to learn but would but the main problem I want to rectify is that my Dads layout was never set up for DCC. I don’t want to rush out and buy lots of things without first understanding what I can and can’t achieve in the way of converting the layout to DCC. I suppose the first question is can I run a train loco that has DCC on the layout? And, how difficult will it be to upgrade to DCC? The track is already in position as is most of the scenery and structures. Will I need to revamp everything and start afresh?

If all I need is DCC control and power pack then that would make things easy? If I can get the trains running on DCC then I can concentrate on converting lights and other accessories later. I am just thinking out load and trying to get my head around how difficult the conversion will be, not that I’m not up for the challenge, I just want to work through things logically and at my own pace. Advice from your experienced followers would be greatly appreciated thank you.”

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26 Responses to Converting Dad’s Layout to DCC

  • Robertsays:

    I have a 20 foot long switching layout in O scale 2 rail. Installed a DPDT switch with one set leads to DC and the other set of leads to DCC. Depending on how large and what scale the layout is that has worked fine for me. Other wise you will need to brake the layout up into isolated power districts. with parallel feeder lines under the layout, but that is a worst case scenario.

  • Robertsays:

    PS, it may take more than what I suggested if you run more than one large Steamer, I run disease L’s
    LOL

  • Richardsays:

    Trevor, congrats on the the new layout. A suggestion, research everything you can before starting to convert anything to DCC. It’ll save you alot trouble going forward. It’ll be a great experience. You’ll learn alot. I have. Have fun.

  • Steven Attiassays:

    I don’t run DCC myself, but besides a DCC controller system ($$), some additional track wiring, all the Loco’s you want to run will need to be converted to DCC ($$). Besides buying DCC boards to install in each loco, there could be work involved in isolating motors from frame (unless the Loco’s are DCC ready). If you have older Loco’s (many of mine of pre – 1990), doubt they are ‘ready’. There are lots of primers out there and youtube video’s available to explain DCC operation. Basic purpose of DCC would be to (a) ‘easily’ run multiple trains on the layout (b) add realistic sound, lights, other operations.

    • Timothy Purdysays:

      I run Athearn HO Diesel Locomotives. I’ve got about 250 total old blue box Loco’s. What I did was go to digitrax and but their conversion kit that will allow you to convert a blue box loco to DCC. They even have a step by step video on how to do this. You can covert one loco for about $30.00 that’s a lot cheaper than scrapping the loco and purchasing one for $300.00.

  • Ken Lambornsays:

    I have older dc mantua and rivarossi locos ho size and they cannot convert to dcc. So conversion depends on what your dad has. Do the research. Dcc is hot stuff now but dc has been around for ages. I can live without bells and whistles.

  • Glenn Morrissays:

    Hi, Trevor, I would like to wish you every success and enjoyable pleasure in your quest to convert your father’s layout to DCC, However I myself have an extensive analogue layout, it being very likely to pass to one of my Grandsons, when I pass on to play with the great train set in the sky. The particular Grandson, and I have many an operating session, and maintenance of the layout and rolling stock. Which is great fun, but has allowed me to learn new things and also given me the opportunity to pass on skills and education of knowledge of Railways in a positive fun way. When my layout does become his, if he wants to go down the DCC route, that’s his choice, however I really wish that he builds his own DCC layout, and keeps the current layout DC. Even if he converted most of the Locomotives. Therefore, I ask would your Father want you to keep it DC, and enjoy it as it is, or go DCC? The biggest problem in converting to DCC will be the expense, where if it works well DC keep it as is and learn how it works and just enjoy playing trains.

  • Stephen F. Duncansays:

    Depends on what your dad’s system is wired for. If he had it wired for DC with twin cab block control with isolated blocks, it is pretty easy. Just replace one of the cabs with DCC. This was the way I entered the world of DCC. If it is a small layout it is not a big problem and works rather well. Mine was a twin cab modular layout with about 15 blocks if I remember right. On my new layout I kept one loop where I could use a double pole double throw switch to choose between a dc cab and my dcc system. That lets me run my dc only locos, but only on that loop. I could someday make them all this way, but having one loop is enough for me.

    I love the Digitrax Zephyr for small layouts, plenty of power for the number of locos ai can keep track of. I got the Digitrax LNW1 receiver which allows me to use my iPhone, iPad or even iPod as a wireless controller. When friends come over, I let them run using one of those for the throttle.

    I was cautious when I started DCC, but I don’t think I’d ever go back. There is so much fun to be had.

  • Kevin Chingsays:

    Hi Trevor
    I don’t know what area you are in but I would suggest you contact a local model railroad club there you will find other members to help you. It will take some expertise to convert your loco’s to DCCespecially the older ones that are not DCC ready. If the track is already laid in sections with switches to isolate tracks for Dc operation you may just have to turn all the sections on, However, I would suggest that you run the trains as-is for a while while you get yourself used to running the trains

  • David Liverettsays:

    A DCC engine, in general speaking, will run on DC track. Sometimes you can set up a DCC engine to not run on DC track, however from the factory it should come set to run on DC track. As far as converting an engine from DC to DCC, some are harder than others. I would refer you to YouTube to watch videos on how to do a DCC install.

    DCC is very simple. At the most basic, you power up the track/DCC system, dial up your engine, select which way you want to go and increase the throttle. In the old DC days, you had power blocks. Which means that you would run on that block without interfering with other trains. When you were to go from block to block, you would have both blocks powered until your train is in the other block’s Power District, then turn the old block off. That is assuming your dad had these. With DCC, you don’t need power blocks. They still have their value, for example, if you had a short circuit somewhere, you could narrow it down to what block it’s in. But this would be more handy for a club size layout versus a home layout. In my experience, transferring from a DC layout to a DCC layout usually involves removing wiring (the block system) and simplifying everything. Since you are literally running the locomotive and not the track with DCC, there’s no need to set separate blocks. Unless you wanted to have track powered off for storage which is not a bad idea.

  • nelson t stahlsays:

    You need to learn as much as you can before you try to convert. Check out the DDC clubs. I have seen guys build a system for almost nothing, but it does take time to learn.

  • john gouldsays:

    Hi Trevor, welcome to a new experience to DCC. I had to build a layout 18×8′ for my DC trains when I moved here to Panama, set up as blocks with a common rail, engineers side live, USA style. I also inherited some dcc locos, I can now run both but with a rider! My system was wired in blocks using altas equipment so for one circuit I can run a dc loco and on another dcc, but never the twain should meet, crossovers etc. I agree with what Steve Duncan wrote keeping a loop for dcc works well or lifting all non dcc locos off the layout and switching all blocks together. I still have many locos to convert so you should jump into the pond ,I made a few mistakes but am still on the learning curve, next issue is the programing so good luck for the future.John

  • Geoffsays:

    The easy part is converting the track to work with DCC, which could be as simple as swapping the DC power pack for a DCC one, but probably will require some wiring changes. DCC is more susceptible to power loss and thus needs more frequent feeder wires. Some people put as much as one feeder every three feet of track.

    Also, best practice is to divide the layout into zones, each with a separate main feeder from the control, via some sort of circuit protection device. Short circuits will inevitably happen, having zones means that only one part of the layout fails!

    If your dad has separate blocks on the layout, controlled by DPDT switches or similar, then you can use these as a basis for the feeders and dividing the track into zones. You can do away with the switches or just leave them switched on.

    The harder part is converting the locos to DCC operation. Newer models can be changed relatively easily, but for older ones, you really need to want them to get the conversion done.

    There’s lots of information on the internet, and if there is a club in your area there will almost certainly be people willing to give advice. (And there are lots of us here who will offer advice, as you can see!)

    You should think about the order you intend to do things in. DCC locomotives can run on a DC layout, but DC locomotives will be damaged if put on a DCC layout. You should probably consider building up a fleet of DCC locomotives first and then converting the layout to DCC. If you do it the other way round, you would have a layout and no means to checking it out!

  • Jeff Cohensays:

    If you get a chance, post an image of the track layout and board dimensions, and if possible how the layout is currently wired to the powerpack (i.e. simple 2 wires from powerpack to track, or more pairs of wires to several places, or using Atlas Controllers or something similar for DC block control. Also, if your locos’ brands still exist, you might want to check with those companies for advice on conversion or check YouTube as David suggests. That gives all of us a better indicator of the best way to ease into DCC. Robert’s suggestion above to use a DPDT switch is excellent in that it lets you keep running with DC while also adding DCC depending on which way you throw the switch. One very important piece of advice: if you have a DCC engine, it doesn’t mind DCC or DC power on the track, but might need to be programmed to run in DC. However, don’t ever have a DC only loco on the track with DCC power. Although some old locos are hard if not impossible to convert to DCC, you could buy a new loco with DCC already installed (not to be confused with DCC ready) when you select a DCC power system to get started more quickly. Then brush up on your soldering skills to start converting engines. It does get easier as you go.

  • phil johnsonsays:

    I’ve converted my layout to run both. I used rotary switches as I had 2 DC pack on my mains and yards. Positions 1 & 3 DC, 2 is DCC. Thus far the only problem I’ve encountered is the lack of gaps on the frog side of some 35 y/o turnouts

  • Stephen Hayessays:

    Hi, The first thing I’d do is clean your tack and the wheels of your locos as you fit dcc chips, depending on the complexity of your dads lay out you only need to change your controller, and install power feeds to any sidieings. once you’ve change the controller check each run of track for power with a volt meter so you know where you need to run extra feeds. I’m currently making the change and this is what I’m doing, Hope it helps you

  • john turnersays:

    I converted from dc to dcc, first of all, converting the track if in good condition is quite easy go for a nce controller second I converted many dc locos to dcc but my honest opinion is it is not worth it
    also do not buy ddc trains that are dcc ready they are buggers to fit sound chips in expressly Hornby
    buy trains with dcc sound which will greatly enhance your pleasure

  • Wayne Normansays:

    Hi Trevor,
    Welcome to the best hobby in the world, but don’t rush in to it. If done correctly, it will give you many hours of fun and pleasure Learn as much as you can before investing $ into purchasing DCC equipment or converting older locos. There are many many sources of excellent info out there both in written and video formats which explain in detail what you should and should not do to achieve your goal. Spend a bit of time on research up front and you will reap the benefits down the road. Good luck with it and happy railroading !!

  • Frank Bsays:

    Step 1) Get a good grasp of basic electronics. There are free online courses.
    Step 2) Buy a book on DCC railroading, and get a good overview of the system.
    Step 3) Then decide how far you want to go.

  • Tom Roisesays:

    Wow Trevor, I’m not sure if you need anymore advice than what you have here. great options for you to choose from. Just remember that DCC is more expensive. Decency is more sensitive. You will have to worry about shorts. You will have to check all of your switches. DC motors tend to run and run and run. DCC motors tend to have more electrical connectivity issues to deal with. At the end of the day, it comes down to how much you want to do or how much you want to just enjoy what you have.

  • Mike Addissays:

    There is only ONE potential major problem in converting to DCC and that is the loco’s themselves.
    If its old then it probably isn’t convertible, I’ve found this out the expensive way.
    Do some research – Opening/removing the body from the chassis, then look for a small printed circuit board, if there is one then its DCC ready. If not I suggest that you take one to a model shop that does repairs and ask them. That will answer the issue for most of the locos with similar motors.
    Welcome to the hobby and many hours of fun and frustration.
    PS the 3 steps in the above post are good advice

  • Morgan Bilbosays:

    Trevor H. The best advice I can think of to give you is: Visit some model rr clubs or an individual’s layout. Get to see what it’s like. Then, as many have mentioned, you can decide whether or not to spend the money on DCC. It is an expense. Even if you don’t buy decoders and convert your DC engines. The idea of doing a new layout in DCC might be less of a hassle and don’t have to break the bank. But everything in DCC is more expensive than it was in DC.

  • BobWsays:

    Just to add into the thread, my plan is to have the best of both worlds. My current track is DC with several older engines that I cherish. My plan is to add in some “toggle switches” on my panel control board that when flipped, and which are tied together, will “cut over” all power connections from the 3 DC controllers over to 1 DCC controller to the entire track layout. Regarding the engines, I have no plans to fuss with the cost and effort to convert an older DC engine to DCC. I want to keep them as is anyway. Instead I am purchasing new DCC with sound engines. I will simply swap out the engines when I toggle between the two control methods. In theory, I think this should work fine, right?

    • Geoffsays:

      In theory, yes, but you need to make sure that your cherished older engines are on an electrically isolated section or removed from the track before you switch from DC to DCC. Otherwise, your older engines will likely fry. For added security you may want to have “toggle switches” that have a “centre off” position, and then when you switch over turn all of them off before turning them to the other power supply. Whatever you can do to make it foolproof. It seems to me that everything could work fine, but all it would take is a brief moment of distraction after a few months when it’s become routine and then a switch gets turned at the wrong time.

      Also, fFor DCC, you may need to add additional feeder wires to the track – some people have a feeder wire every three feet, and some of your existing sections may be longer than that.

      • BobWsays:

        Very sage advice. I will certainly take it to hart and think about this more before proceeding. Thank you for the additional input.

  • Sheldon Clarksays:

    It depends on how complex the railway is and what you want. Then simpler the railway is, the easier it is to wire (DC or DCC), but the less need there is to go for DCC – unless you want the advantages of DCC sound (superb, but expensive).

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