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Power and Rail Length Limitations

Bob asks:

“Greetings, I am looking to return to model railroading after many years. Due to space limitations indoors, I am looking to build outdoor layout. Cost factors have me looking at nickle track HO. If I read correctly the newer DCC presents options. I am looking to see how many feet or meters of track can be supplied per power source? Any other support information is gladly welcomed.”

5 Responses to Power and Rail Length Limitations

  • geoff says:

    The recommendation is one feeder for every three feet of track. Use 12 or 14 gauge wire for the bus, and 18 – 22 gauge for the feeders.

  • Bill Gittins says:

    Using DCC is different from your past it is digital. The rail carries with electrical power as well as a signal similar to an ethernet. This signal is what allows for control of the layout rail served devices. It should not be confused with the newer Layout Control systems.
    Power id not as limited on a distance, but more by what is using the power. Nickel track is an excellent conductor. So the distance of the power distribution is more by the Track Bus *power lines from a DCC command station.. If you use 12 gauge wire for your Bus a point 50 ft from the command station should be adequate. Since the Power Bus is set at one voltage by the DCC system the limiting factor is the usage, usually stated as amperage. Each locomotive will draw a certain amount of amperage. (Check the specifications for your locomotives). Add this up and see how much current you are drawing. In DCC all locomotives draw a small amount of current to keep them active, When they are in motion they draw more. So you need 2 values, one for all at idle and another for the max you will draw. Yjos is the sum of the locomotives that will be operate4d at one time. If these draw more than your DCC Rated amperage a booster station will be required. I believe tat you should only consider a booster after your collection has grown. It is easy to add boosters.
    Also check all electrical devices that you use to see if they need “track Power” for their basic functioning.These must be included in you amperage consumption.
    The other key factor is the “feeder wires” which are the wired from the rails to the DCC Track Bus. Using 22 gauge versus 18 gauge will affect how many feeders are required per length of track. Many individuals recommend a feeder of 22 ga every 3 tp 4 feet. I have found that I can get 5 feet between the feeders. 16 gauge feeders will provide longer distances between the feeder locations.
    This is only ab attempt to change your mindset from analog to digital.
    There is a ton of information available on line and many books have been published. The level of sophistication is from raw beginner to someone with digital experience.
    Good Luck.

  • Chuck says:

    Welcome back!, all good info but my main concern is with your first statement: “due to space limitations, … I am looking to build outdoor layout (HO with nickel track).” AFA outdoors, are you talking about in an outbuilding such as a shed, or literally on the ground as is done with the large scale garden layouts? AFAIK HO equipment is not designed to be out in the weather, and would be like looking out the window of an airplane to watch if on the ground. Nickel silver is really a misnomer as it contains no silver and commercially is more properly called “white brass”, it still tarnishes albeit more slowly than yellow brass. The oxidation in between the sections of track and joiners is where much of the electrical problems happen, and DCC is not going to help that any. You might want to do more basic research before settling on major compromises. Have you considered N scale? It has improved greatly over the last few years and is becoming a strong competitor to HO in much less space, you can build a complete layout in as little as 2′ x 3′ than could be slid under a bed, or built in a closet.
    DCC is not a solution to correct poor conductivity, but is a modern method of control that allows more scale like operations such as slower running/starts, independently controlling more than one train on the same track at the same time, adding extras like synced sounds, and partial to complete computerized control of switches, signals and collision prevention.

  • David Broad says:

    Critical factor outdoors is rail joiners. Wire every piece of rail to a feeder don’t rely on rail joiners, they don’t work outside. I gave up on track power. Currently outside I run very basic Radio Control with onboard battery power, but advanced R/C is available with almost all DCC features, and its immune from dirty track.problems. If you do wire for DCC make sure you have multiple power areas so you can switch off sections of track for fault finding, as you will have lots of problems with 12 volts if you have 4 amp circuit breakers, I certainly did.

  • Frank B says:

    For an outdoor layout, O scale would be the smallest recommendable scale. If powered track is permanently laid outdoors, use stainless steel track to avoid corrosion problems, other wise you may spend an awful lot of time cleaning and polishing your track..

    Otherwise, go down the “Deadrail” route, with the track being electrically dead, the train being powered by batteries, controlled by radio, and provides all the functions of DCC. There are even some systems that can be controlled by Bluetooth from a smartphone.

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