Microchip decoders are installed in each train, which allows for independent and customized control of each locomotive.
The biggest trend in model trains can be summed up in three letters: DCC. With Digital Command Control, model railroaders control multiple trains at multiple speeds in multiple directions on a single track without the need for complex wiring or toggle switches.
“DCC has revolutionized the way that model railroading works,” reports Zana Ireland, who along with her husband A.J., founded Digitrax, a supplier of DCC systems, 13 years ago.
“In its simplest form, DCC allows one to individually select and control any locomotive on the layout even if another locomotive is right next to it on the same track,” explains Mark Gurries, a member of Silicon Valley Lines, an HO-scale model railroad club in San Jose, Calif. “This was not possible with the traditional direct current (DC) power system. DCC also offers additional features, starting with something simple like headlight on-and-off control … [and] moving on to full engine sound systems.”
Explaining the technology further, Deborah Ames, marketing manager for Lenz Agency of North America, reports that microchip decoders are installed in each train, which allows for independent and customized control of each locomotive. DCC took a major step forward when the National Model Railroad Association brought worldwide manufacturers together to develop uniform DCC standards, which have been in place since 1994.
“The standards [facilitate] inter-operability among companies,” reports Ames, noting that the early work of Lenz Elektronik, GmbH, Lenz Agency’s German-based parent company, was instrumental in developing the standards.
Ames adds that there are approximately two-dozen companies now producing some form of DCC. “DCC is a multi-million business because of this cooperation,” she reports, estimating that approximately 18 percent of model railroaders currently are using DCC, with much more growth potential possible. The trend is being propelled by club enthusiasts and by individual hobbyists, who run the trains in their basements or recreation rooms.
Falling costs also have made DCC more accessible to a wider range of hobbyists. Ireland reports that Digitrax’s decoders typically sell in the range of $20 to $50.
While DCC is growing quickly, Gurries concedes that it will not completely replace the old DC control system. In fact, he reports that some train vendors are adding some of the benefits of DCC technology, such as sound, to DC systems. However, while DC control systems still account for a larger market than DCC, Gurries predicts that it is only a matter of time before the situation is reversed.
The following model trains reflect the DCC trend.
The Genesis 4-6-6-4 Challenger by ATHEARN INC.
This is a stunning reproduction of the 4-6-6-4 Challenger in HO scale. The model shown here is a replication of the Union Pacific #3985, which is still an operating steam locomotive. Authentic sounds are channeled through a factory-installed DCC and soundboard with speakers. The DCC automatically senses what type of power supply is in use (conventional DC or NMRA-compliant DCC) and adapts its functions. Functions and sounds available to DCC users include: bell, whistle, water injector, air release, blower hiss, fire box door, lighting direction, coupling, brake squeal, conductor’s voice, sand release and cylinder cock/flange squeal.
This example of a realistic steam locomotive in HO scale features all-new tooling with the correct boiler, tender, cab, etc. Featuring a factory-installed Quantum sound system with dual speakers, the C&O 2-10-4 model offers authentic engine sounds, synchronized chuff, engine whistle, bell, blower hiss, squealing brakes and more. Authenticity is the key with this and other model trains offered by BLI, and that extends beyond the visual rendering of the model trains to the sound.
Zephyr Digitrax Command Control Basic Set by DIGITRAX
Zephyr offers everything needed to get started in Digitrax Command Control for a low price. Perfect for beginning, intermediate and advanced model railroaders, Zephyr offers excellent speed control plus a full range of programming features. The set includes: DCS50 Throttle/Command Station/Booster All-in-One; PS315 Power Supply; and One LT1 LocoNet Cable & Decoder Test Kit. UL listed, it´s the company´s most popular DCC starter set. It includes a separate 2.5 amp power supply as well as instructions and technical manual.
The LGB 72255 Digital Starter Set by LGB OF AMERICA INC.
This set includes two LGB locomotives equipped with MTS decoders; two freight cars; a big oval of track with two switches and station siding track; a powerful 6-amp transformer; an advanced “Type 2” MTS Central Station; a handheld Loco Remote; MTS how-to CD-ROM plus instructions, cables and more. LGB trains are G-scale, which is four times larger than HO-scale trains. The trains are appropriate for outdoor and indoor use. They are made of a high-impact styrene that is UV-resistant and water-resistant when the controllers are covered.