comparisons/advice on train remote control units

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comparisons/advice on train remote control units
Posted by JITO on Monday, April 17, 2017 5:48 PM

Greetings from Manitoba Canada. Most of the snow has melted by now in Southern Manitoba and thoughts turn to the great outdoors!

I've been trying to do some research on train remote control and battery power this past winter. Just when I thought I was getting somewhere with thoughts of the RailLinx controls, I'm told that production has stopped with an unknown certainty of what the future might hold. So, I'm back to the drawing board and need some help. My wife and I currently have a track powered outdoor layout of about 80 feet (and maybe more in the future?) and dream of one day adding remote control and battery power to deal with power issues. We've had it a number of years now and wonder on how to make things better with overall running and use.

We currently have 3 engines:

Bachmann anniversary edition 4-6-0 item # 91605. it comes with synchronized sound in the tender.

Bachmann Spectrum 55 ton three-truck shay item #82699. it comes equipped with DCC sound on board Tsunami sound technology

LGB 210 starter set engine, no sound

In particular, I've been looking at the new Revolution, the Rail Boss system, AirWire, and the currently unavailable RailLinx. I'm not wanting or needing anything overly complicated in order to run 1 train at a time. Cost is also a big consideration in taking this step. I get lost in some of the technical terms used to describe the systems so I tend to think the simpler the better as long as it will do want I need it to do. What might be suggested in this context in order to make the transition to get at least the Bachmann engine up and running this year with the others to follow so that we can enjoy our railway more?
Thanks
Michael

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Posted by ttrigg on Monday, April 17, 2017 8:08 PM

Have a look at Greg E.'s articles. Just find a post from him and follow the link at the bottom to his sitw where he talks of these issues. My RC experience is limited to flying above 1:1 trains and videoing them.

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Posted by Greg Elmassian on Monday, April 17, 2017 9:30 PM

I try to make decisions by elimination. AirWire gives you the most flexibility in chosing the decoders to use, you can basically use ANY DCC decoder with the CONVRTR, which is the configuration I recommend for AirWire. Some of your locos won't need the 6 amp unit, and can get the 2.5 amp unit, from $132 to $99 for the smaller unit. Then you add a DCC decoder with sound, for steam, the new WOW Sound unit is ok at $160.

But you say cost is a big issue, so I think I would eliminate AirWire, and if you are fine with the steam sounds the same on all the locos, the "new" Revolution is a deal that is hard to beat, lots of features and very inexpensive to boot. Also runs on 2.4 GHz, better technology and great range.

I like the inexpensive controllers from G Scale Graphics, but I think it would only save you money if you do not have sound. You could buy a cheap sound unit, but something like MyLocoSound is still $90. I think you can get the lowest price per loco, but you are sacrificing functionality and sound quality, in my opinion.

So, I think in your case, the Revolution is tops.

 

Regards, Greg

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Posted by JITO on Tuesday, April 18, 2017 7:26 PM

Thank you for your help.

Cost is always a consideration when buying from the States as we need to add approximately 40% to the price right off the hop due to exchange differences. It's a tough decision to make as I can't just go anywhere close by and check them out in person. I'm relying on the connectedness of the internet to help with my research! I like the visual simplicity of the Rail Boss with maybe Phoenix sound being added for better sound quality and the variety of sounds. But what would I lose in functionality that the Revolution has, that I should be considering?

 

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Posted by Greg Elmassian on Tuesday, April 18, 2017 7:43 PM

The Revolution has more programmability, consisting, LCD screen, more settings, etc. It's more halfway to DCC.

Also the receiver and motor and sound is all in one small, compact unit.

I'd suggest reading all the precisionrc.com site.

Greg

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Posted by JITO on Tuesday, April 18, 2017 10:21 PM

Sorry, but I can't access the precision site. Is that the same as revoelectronics.com?

If it is, the site doesn't really tell me anything. It has the products but it doesn't explain or promote its features and what they do. That's why I like the Rail Boss site as they explain and promote the different things that it does. It makes it easier to understand what it can or can't do. I don't get that same info with the Revo site which leads me to the questions that I have!

 

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Posted by David N on Wednesday, April 19, 2017 9:20 AM

Hi, 

I am exactly where you are, trying to decide on the next wireless remote control system.  I ventured to the East Coast Larger Scale Train show in PA and was able to do some research with vendors.

Economically, the Train Revolution seems the way to go.  It has a very low entry price for the transmitter and first receiver, and each additional receiver is as low cost as the others.  For that price, you get train control, and a sound system, with every receiver.  My only concern is the staying power of these companies, but my old Train Engineer systems still work, so I am ready to gamble that a Revolution system will outlast the company if short-lived, and there were a lot of vendors selling the Revolution system, so parts will be around for some time.  

You may wish, however, to rethink battery power.  This is where the money comes in.  You will need batteries and a charger, and the batteries do not run long or last long.  I have decided, as I build my new layout, that it is easier to add a $10 capacitor board to each loco, and go back to track power. No longer will I start every season replacing worn or dead batteries.

 Maintaining 80ft of track may be much easier than maintaining a fleet of batteries.

 

Best regards,

 

 

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Posted by Greg Elmassian on Wednesday, April 19, 2017 2:22 PM

I get what you are saying about "features"

Go here: http://trainelectronics.com/RevoElectronics/LinearBase-USB/

TONS of articles, how to's videos, etc. on the Revolution.

Go to the revoelectronics.com support page (sorry about the wrong url!)

And keep asking questions!

Regards, Greg

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Posted by JITO on Thursday, April 20, 2017 10:04 PM

Great, no worries, the address works now!

Thanks for all the help. I'm still pondering and checking out the support page.

 

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Posted by kstrong on Tuesday, May 02, 2017 11:43 PM

David N

...and the batteries do not run long or last long....

 

I would disagree. Today's Li-Ion and Li-Po battery technology is leaps and bounds beyond the older NiMH, NiCad, and lead acid batteries of yore. I routinely get 2 - 4 hours run time out of my lowest capacity packs (2200mAh), which in most installations I can quickly swap out for fresh when they do go flat. (Charging them takes roughly 90 minutes, so with two packs, I can run indefinitely.) For locos where I can't easily swap out the batteries, I use higher-capacity packs (4400 - 5200mAh) if I can fit them, and get typically 6 - 8 hours out of them. Hard to say, exactly, because I rarely run trains for that long at a stretch, but I'll usually get two or three operating sessions out of them between charges. (2 - 3 hours per session.)

 

Cost is a factor with the batteries. They'll run you around $45 for a 2200 - 2600 mAh pack, and the higher capacity packs will run you around $80. I've been using Li-Ion packs since 2009, and I'm just now beginning to see my oldest packs not hold a charge. "Experts" suggest Li-Ion batteries have a shelf life of around 5 years; I got 7.

 

The Li-Ion packs will hold their charge from season to season. I can put a locomotive away in the fall, and the battery will still have a charge come next spring.

 

Later,

 

K

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Posted by Greg Elmassian on Wednesday, May 03, 2017 10:11 AM

"Last long" is a nebulous statement. Without a frame of reference, David's statement stands, but I would argue a frame of reference should be given.

Clearly newer battery chemistries have much more capacity for the same volume. So, for most people, running a loco for 2 or 3 hours is fine. This is pretty easy to accomplish, so in this case I'd agree with Kevin, they last a long time.

BUT I run smoke, sound, often with 2 speakers and heavy grades and long trains, and lots of lights. Battery power would NOT "last long" for me! Also I often have a train running for over 5 hours, no way that can be done with batteries and the conditions I REQUIRE of my trains.

So, it's all relative. Many people are fine with 2 or 3 hours, and I would say that's pretty easy to achieve with a narrow gauge loco, moderate grades, moderate length trains and a sound unit.

Nothing in this hobby is black and white that is for sure.

Greg

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Posted by David N on Wednesday, May 03, 2017 10:02 PM

Yes, good input, as as Greg points out, it is relative do what you do with your trains.  I call it "signal to noise" ratio.

I had all Lithium ion batteries, but entertaining kids and such, they wanted to run the heavy-weights and the long consists, load up the hopper cars with candy, and see smoke and hear bells, (constantly). But what they did NOT want to do was wait around for me when they were done while I changed or charged batteries.

 Even showing an occasional neighbor or visitor meant running the trains for a short time, and then moving on to the next event - dinner, ballgame, etc.  When I came back to the trains, the batteries were all discharged and I had to charge and change batteries to get going. I needed a charger for every power unit, or I was always unable to run something.   In the end, I was not running trains enough, I was maintaining batteries, and I did a poor job of it, and I suspect that's what killed the batteries early.

So, round III is back to track power.  I can run the trains, stop and walk away, and then go back and run trains for as long as I want, any time I want.

 I was living on the water at the time, and we likened it to boating.  If you don't mind furling and mending sails,  washing down the rigging and lubing winches, a sailboat works. If you just want to climb on, turn the key and go, (and turn the key and climb off), you need a power boat.

My second lay-out was stainless track on crusher fines, and never needed cleaning, and I really can't recall why I went to battery power, (I guess I like to try the latest stuff), but my first, and third, layouts were brass, and now that I know what I am doing, it really takes no time at all to keep ready.

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Posted by kstrong on Thursday, May 04, 2017 11:43 AM

Greg Elmassian
Also I often have a train running for over 5 hours, no way that can be done with batteries and the conditions I REQUIRE of my trains.

 

Anything's possible; how much money you got? Wink

 

I'm not trying to be flippant at all. My rule of thumb for battery installations where I can't swap out a battery pack is to use the highest capacity battery feasible for the space available to maximize run times. There are two criteria for choosing a battery. (A) how fast do you want to run, and (b) how long do you want to run. Higher speeds = higher voltages. Longer run times = higher capacities. Higher capacities + higher voltage = higher price, and more space needed.

 

For a train as Greg describes, I'd recommend a 22.2 v, 7800 mAh (or greater) battery pack--the biggest you can fit under the shell of the locomotive. That gets you the voltage you need for "mainline" speeds (70mph+), and a capacity which will likely get you 5 hours. There's also LiPo and prismatic batteries which offer higher capacities. The downside is that you're looking at $130 - $400 just for the batteries in each locomotive depending on the battery type and its configuration. (Hence, "how much money you got?")

 

I agree wholeheartedly that for someone wanting to run modern mainline trains in an environment such as Greg describes, track power is the most practical way to do that. However, for someone already operating in a battery-powered environment who decides they want to run such trains, they can most definitely do so with current battery technology. It's just gonna cost 'em more.

 

Later,

 

K

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Posted by Greg Elmassian on Thursday, May 04, 2017 1:25 PM

Actually, there is a point where track power is cheaper than battery power. If you use "normal" battery setups, where you do not run smoke, or long trains, that tradoff point is about 4 locomotives, has been hashed and rehashed over the years and this has been proven.

 

If you want "more" from your battery setup, then the tradoff point, where track power is cheaper it's more like 3 locos or less.

 

This is the reason I am track power DCC. Batteries would be way too expensive for me, with about 40 locos with sound, not to mention getting to run smoke and lighted passenger cars cheaply.

 

So, it's really not how much money, but more where and how you spend your money.

 

Greg

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Posted by ttrigg on Thursday, May 04, 2017 2:43 PM

As a confirmed analog dinosaur I must say that I have a pair of battery powered remote control engines along side the twenty analog prime movers (transformer control) and a scratch built goose (runs on 4 "AA" batteries). My two battery units are dedicated MOW units. Both are used prior to major runs when I've not run any for an extended time. One unit runs in reverse pushing a track sweeper car for dirt, leaves, animal deposits from the track. The other pulls my fleet of 5 track cleaner cars. 

On a typical usage I send the MOW trains on their way, go fire up the coffee pot then pole sand (green pad) the yard complex and the three major sidings. Now I am fully aware that my battery power is not quite the battery power in this thread, but I beleive both battery power and electrons pushing down the rails are both benificial to garden railroading. At least in my garden it works for me.

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Posted by kstrong on Thursday, May 04, 2017 9:35 PM

Greg Elmassian
Actually, there is a point where track power is cheaper than battery power.

 

Without a doubt. Folks who do battery power generally don't do it to save money. Each of us has our own personal preferences for how we operate our trains, and spend our money to accommodate those preferences. Some spend money on DCC command centers and stainless track. Others spend money on batteries and on-board receivers. At the end of the day, we all do the same thing--sit in the back yard with a controller in one hand, a cold beverage in the other, and watch trains run in the garden. Who cares how it happens. The important thing is that it happens. Wink

 

Later,

 

K

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Posted by Greg Elmassian on Saturday, May 06, 2017 12:02 PM

Actually, if you read the hundreds of posts on this on all the forums (which I have), cost is the most often referenced thing in the recent years. This is because of increased track cost, and also the heightened awareness that stock rail joiners are usually poor for conducting power over time, and rail clamps are pretty much required.

The cost of brass or stainless track AND rail clamps is what people "add up" first when planning.

The older people who have been in the hobby are the ones that first focus on no track cleaning.

Kevin you and I are "old", look at the newcomers questions, the first thing they think of is the track cost.

Anyway, it's sort of moot since the conversation quickly goes to track cost, cleaning, battery cost, chargers, DCC, joiners, wireless, etc.

The total cost thing has been hashed out and proven time and again when you get any number of locos.

This is why a lot of my web site is composed of beginners FAQs and to get people to think about the overall picture and future first, as opposed to running off and making a decision right away.

Greg

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Posted by kstrong on Tuesday, May 09, 2017 2:05 AM

Greg Elmassian
cost is the most often referenced thing in the recent years.

 

I see where you're going with this--that a newcomer looking at battery power often will view the savings in track costs as a big benefit for going battery. However, I don't think there's anyone who's been doing battery power for any length of time suffering the delusion that battery power in and of itself is cheap.

 

There are far too many parts of the equation for it to be taken that simply. The "cheap track" option often means hand-laying or using flex track. A newcomer may not want to learn that, relying instead on sectional track. There goes the "cheap track" option unless they found a whole bunch of sectional track used somewhere. The new stuff is expensive, no two ways about it.

 

It comes down to determining what each of us wants to spend our time in the hobby doing, and how we value our time. This is something unique for each of us; no "right" or "wrong" way to value anything. For me, I don't want to deal with cleaning track. Did it for 4 years. Reverse loops. Aluminum rail. Tree sap. No thanks. Not my cuppa. Battery power eliminates that need for good electrical conductivity between wheels and rails. Been doing it now for 32 years.

 

I enjoy installing motor and sound control electronics, so no matter how I chose to run my trains (track or battery) I'd be taking the loco apart to customize it and add control electronics. That can be a process that takes as little as a few weeks to a few months or longer depending on the amount of custom work I'm doing. (Scratchbuilds take even longer.) The extra time it takes to wire in a battery and receiver is inconsequential in that process--an extra hour or two at the most. The extra costs associated with adding battery power (receiver, battery, power switch, chargeing jack, fuse) comes up to maybe $200/loco, if that much. I add one loco per year on averge, so that's pretty insignificant. I spend that and much more every year maintaining the garden!

 

How I value my time and activites is going to be different from how Greg values his, Michael values his, and anyone else who is following this thread values theirs. It's 100% up to the individual. As I wrote above, the "how" doesn't matter. Each of us will find the "how" that is right for us. So long as we enjoy the hobby, life is good. It's cheaper than therapy...

 

Later,

 

K

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Posted by Greg Elmassian on Tuesday, May 09, 2017 11:53 AM

A small correction, my point was not that battery power was cheap, that inital analysis by new people seems to be what is cheaper, and get hung up on track before they consider the future and how the overall cost is in the long run.

 

Greg

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