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Monday, December 20, 2010

Your First Railroad Part 4.

After the bench work has been laid, it is time to figure out your power.  Like most things today, electricity powers most appliances and model trains are no exception.  But there are also other ways to power your trains.
Live Steam;
Popular in the garden railroading community.  Live steam literally powers locomotives by steam from a fire, just like in the real world.  However, anything below 1/48 scale gets a little too small for live steam, and so has largely remained in the garden railroading section of the hobby.
A form of electricity that is stored in a little package. This has become another favorite in garden railroading because the batteries remain light enough that the motors can pull the battery as well as a train.  However you would never be able to do this in anything less than O scale.
AC electricity;
AC electricity has become the standard method of power to O and S scale trains.  AC is different than DC in that, AC alternates the direction of current a few thousand times every second.  This enables the electricity to flow farther and cleaner than DC.  however, there are draw-backs.  AC motors are a lot noisier than DC motors, and the power pack cannot be used with any other scale.
DC electricity:
DC electricity is by far the most popular method of powering trains.  The motors are quiet, LED lights can be used, boosters can beef up the amperes.  used in every scale except O and S, DC electricity dominates the market, but there is one more method of power that might just take the thrown.
DCC in recent years has increasingly become more popular along with the knuckle couplers. DCC works by transmitting signals on DC current to specific locomotives on the track.  These signals are read by a decoder which relays the signal into functions that control light, sound, speed, direction, and even radio crackling.  This system has become popular because it allows engines within the same block to operate independently, something that could never be done with AC or DC power.  this is also the recommended choice for anyone who wants either, A; cool functions that make operation realistic. or B; want independent control of different locomotives. Or you can have both A and B on your layout.  for On30, HO, and N scale, locomotives are available that are already equipped for DCC.  The manufacturer of these locomotives is Bachmann, however, Athern and Atlas are starting the same thing.  You can even use old locomotives, just put in a decoder and it is ready to go.
My favorite DCC system that you can use go as following;
NCE power cab; MRSP: $189
NCE has recently produced a very nice starter system.  Many locomotives can be at your control, and with plug sockets and a three Amp booster, you can easily expand to include up to three other throttles.
Digitrax Zephyr; MRSP: $199
Digitrax was one of the first to explore starter systems for DCC.  Their basic set may not look like much however throttles and boosters are available so that it can be upgraded to something similar to Digitrax larger sets.
Bachmann E-Z Command; MRSP: $120

Although a good set it does have its limits. E-Z Command can only support ten locomotives in its memory and can only have one more throttle.  but it is cheap and a great way to start if you are sceptical about DCC.  But just so that I am not knocking Bachmann, they did create the Dynamis which is one of the best starter systems for wireless throttles on the market to date.
Easy DCC's BSS: MRSP: $280

The Easy DCC BSS is a good system that makes your layout look professional.  It includes a double throttle command station with buttons to control loco addresses and functions.  This system is highly expand able to include both tethered and wireless throttles, Boosters are available, however the BSS already has a large 5 Amps of power, much more than most starter systems.
For more info on DCC systems, buy the Nov.08 issue of Model Railroader Magazine.

Those people that run O scale also have two similar systems to choose from that will allow the railroad to operate like DCC.
Lionel Legacy Control; MRSP: $350.00

by far, Lionel is one of the best known train Manufacturers in history.  Lionel is almost a household name.  So it is natural that the best creates the best wireless control systems. And that is just what Lionel did, Lionel created the Legacy system to upgrade from their famous TMCC which dominated the market of the 1990's and early 2000's.  Is it better than its rivals? Depends on what side your on.
MTH DCS:  MRSP $299.99

MTH, better known as Mike's Train house, has created a very good rival to the legacy control.  This system allows for four DCS tracks or two DCS tracks and two analog tracks.  This means that an operator can control non-DCS equipped locomotives to run with out modification, something that has a few troubles when operating Legacy Control.

So which system is better?  the answer depends on who you ask, a classic O scale Operator will likely want Legacy, however, if you ask a young club or new operator DCS will be the system of choice.  in order to decide for yourself, it is best to try out both at a club or hobby shop.

After power has been selected, time to buy the track and get to track laying.  But be sure to read part 5.

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