Converting to DCC

Converting to DCC

By Roger Heid


There are a great number of folks out there who got started with model railroading a long time ago, possibly as far back as the early 1950’s. Gradually, the layout became bigger and more complex. After a number of years of utter enjoyment, the interest in this hobby faded, giving way to new endeavors and challenges. The whole kit and caboodle was boxed and stored somewhere in the basement or attic. Chances are, you belong to this segment of folks.

Decades went by; possibly you may even be retired, by now. For one reason or another, your interest in your childhood/youth hobby saw a revival. The old toys in the attic found a new home in your living room or den; something they had yearned for what seems an eternity. Just looking at all these things brought back wonderful memories of bygone Christmas Days.

This sort of thing is quite common among older folks. I went through this experience myself. I got started in 1954. In 1963, I sold out using the money to pursue new interests. In 2008, one year away from retirement, I decided to go back into electric trains. I started out with brand new items and have been at it since then. By the virtue of good fortune, my wife, also retired, enjoys my ancient hobby right along with me.

So you are enjoying the on-goings on your old layout. Fortunately, everything still works the way it used to. Then your grandson comes for a visit. He looks at your trains for a while, seemingly not very impressed. He lengthily tries to explain to you the advantages to be had by going digital. You don’t understand everything he babbles about all this new-fangled hullabaloo, but it sounded interesting.

As the days go by, it really starts to bug you. You become fascinated by this new idea and you decide to follow through with it. But how? You are basically clueless. The last thing you are going to do is to ask your grandson for advice. Successful completion of this wretched project shall be a surprise to your grandson, if nothing else, just to prove to him that, after all, you are not as old-fashioned as he seems to think.

A visit at a local hobby shop turns out not to be as fruitful as expected. Christmas is not far away, the place is packed, putting the clerks behind the counter under quite some pressure. A clerk asks you a bunch of questions, half of which you can’t answer. He places a pile of unfamiliar items on the counter, mumbling about this and that. You can’t hear all of it because a kid close by starts bawling. You go back home and skim through the Yellow Pages to see if there is another dealer in town.

If all this sounds familiar to you, never fear, help is here.

Here is the first thing you need to know. Any power pack/speed control you now have cannot be used in a digital environment. It does not provide the correct form of electricity needed for digital operation. It needs to be replaced. The new one will not have switches and a speed control on it. The new power supply will power up another new item you need. It is called Control Station or Digital Command Control (DCC). It takes the place of the speed control and switches. This setup will provide power to the tracks.

For turnouts and signals, plus building and street lights, you need an additional power supply. Powering these by the above mentioned power supply needs to be avoided as doing so will cause problems.

Another thing you need to know concerns your locomotive(s). In order to function as intended in a digital environment, a locomotive needs to have a decoder installed. The one(s) you now have are without it. Very old locos make this impossible without expensive surgery which could exceed the value of the loco. The motors of these very old engines are not suitable to work with decoders. The amount of electrical energy they draw will destroy the decoder. For a given loco model, seek advice from a competent dealer or from the folks at Reynaulds.

Now come the tracks. More than before, clean tracks are of utmost importance. (See Forum > Miscellaneous > Track Cleaning)  Also make sure that all track connectors are tight and provide a good electrical connection. If your old system is based on Maerklin, you will probably have M-Tracks, the road bed made of metal. Unfortunately, they are not suitable for digital operation. Just take my word for it. If the layout is small and not complex, they may or may not work. You need either C-Tracks (with road bed) or K-Tracks.

Digital Control Systems are made by several manufactures. Basically, they all do the same job. Features and prices vary. If you have not already done so, you should read the Blog titled ‘What is DCC and what does it stand for?’ At the bottom of this, including the comment, you will see a list of applicable systems.

Now you should be equipped with all the basic knowledge you need to get started. If you have questions, the folks at Reynaulds will be more than happy to assist you.

One Response to Converting to DCC

  1. Jorge Sabater says:

    I maintain two large DCC layouts. I love DCC but I wish I had used Märklin C track instead of the two-rail system. Believe me, polarity problems can be a nightmare and many locomotives stall on the turnouts. I also maintain an AC analog large layout with C-track, except for flex K track on bridges. Sincé the 3rd. rail is inaccesible after scenery is done, I advice my friends to solder feeder wires to every single section of track. Use C-track! K-track connectors are quite unreliable. J.

4 Responses to Converting to DCC

  1. William Stokes says:

    Do you know anything about converting DC locomotives to AC digital? Is feasable or easy to do?

  2. Ernest Robl says:

    Roger Heid who wrote the above article no longer participates on this site.

    While I have never done so myself — I model two-rail DC — it is my understanding that it is possible to convert DC locomotives to AC digital. How easy this is will depend on the locomotive and its age.

    Today, both DC and AC versions of the same model use the same DC electric motors. Compensation for the AC is done by the decoder. This is why, in most cases, manufacturers will only sell digital versions of the AC locomotives — because they need the decoder to deal with the AC. These digital locomotives can, of course, still be run on analog AC layouts.

    If a model was offered in both DC and AC versions, you may be able to buy the parts that are different on the AC version, such as the pickup shoe. You would still have to change some of the internal wiring.

    – Ernest

  3. Ernest Robl says:

    You need to contact Reynauld’s directly by e-mail or telephone for specifics.

    In case you are not aware, this Blog is a volunteer effort, with content provided by people who are not employees of Reynauld’s. The staff at Reynauld’s do not monitor or post to this site on any regular basis.

    – Ernest

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