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DCC vs DC for someone just getting back into the hobby

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DCC vs DC for someone just getting back into the hobby
Posted by kevinihrke on Monday, February 05, 2018 3:24 PM
I am starting a large layout in N scale (it’s in a 16’x20’room that has a 4’ wing). I had a layout 20 years ago that I disassembled when I moved (it was DC). I have just been a collector of N Scale items for the past 15 years. I went to an estate sale recently and bought a box of DCC items and have no experience with DCC. The box contained 2 MRC Prodigy Advance 2 systems (both new in their boxes) with an extra throttle and a reverse loop component. The box also had a NCE Power Pro, a p515 power supply and a NCE PB105 Five Amp DCC Power Booster Station (all new in their boxes). I have tested all 3 systems and they all work fine (I think I got a good deal; 200.00 for the box). So now I am thinking of doing this layout in DCC rather than my original plan for a DC layout. My track plan is going to have a coal train (or whatever freight the grandkids want to run around) that will make a big loop with two hidden staging areas in that loop. I also will have another loop that will be an excursion train (grandkids just want to see trains moving). For my entertainment I will have a large switching yard attached to the main line loop and then a short-line track from that yard to another yard that will be a Great Lakes port that has a few industrial buildings and a reverse loop back to the main yard. My question is that when I've researched DCC I see that DCC has power districts, circuit breakers, power boosters etc. Since I have 3 DCC units would it be advisable just to run each of these 3 railroad districts I’m planning on having on these 3 DCC systems sort of as as their own power districts? Would I need power boosters then? Do these districts still need circuit breakers or is that a compnent in each of these DCC system's "main" unit? Lastly, would I need the NCE power booster and if so I assume it would be best for the larger switch yard and Great Lake port? Any suggestions/advice would be much appreciated, Thanks.
Kevin
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Posted by bearman on Monday, February 05, 2018 3:39 PM

$200 for the whole shebang?????  You did not get a good deal...you got a smoking deal.  In fact you stole it.  The MSRP on the Power Pro alone is over $500.  Although you can get it for closer to $400.  I am not an expert when it comes to DCC, but I believe you will find the wiring easier than for DC.  You should have a separate circuit breaker for each power district/subdistrict.  Even a DC system has to have power blocks if you want to run more than one train on the layout.  And you dont have all those switches to throw as a train runs into the next power block.  Check out a web site "Wiring for DCC by Allan Gartner" to get going about how you want to divide up the layout and how to wire it.

And, of course, there are any number of people who will respond to your questions on this forum.  These people know a lot more than I do about wiring and DCC.

Also, I do not believe that you should mix up the different DCC units.  Choose one and then recoup your $200 by selling the other two.  At 5 amps, especially with the booster, there should be enough juice to run the layout that you briefly describe.  If I was you, I would go with the NCE system.  I am biased, as I run my layout with the NCE Power Cab and just added the SB5 smart booster so I can add more UTP panels for walk around control.  I have a modest 50 +/- sq foot layout and if it were not for DCC, I would not have gone this big with it.

Bear "It's all about having fun."

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Posted by SpaceMouse on Monday, February 05, 2018 4:00 PM

kevinihrke
My question is that when I've researched DCC I see that DCC has power districts, circuit breakers, power boosters etc. Since I have 3 DCC units would it be advisable just to run each of these 3 railrod districts I’m planning on having on these 3 DCC systems sort of as as their own power districts? Would I need power boosters then? Do these districts still need circuit breakers or is that a compnent in each of these DCC system's "main" unit? Lastly, would I need the NCE power booster and if so I assume it would be best for the larger switch yard and Great Lake port? Any suggestions/advice would be much appreciated, Thanks.

I think you are thinking like a DC man. 

All-in-all, wiring for DCC is way easier than DC. 

The main reason for power districts is to isolate the source of a short quickly. This is a good thing if you have 4 or 5 operators going at once and you want to know quickly who is creating the problem. If you are operating by yourself or with another person, you'll know where the problem is right away without power districts. 

Wiring them is just a matter of isolating the district and suppling a seperate circuit breaker for that district. The DCC units themselves have built in circuit breakers, but very quickly try to reset themselves. A shorting locomotive may get fried if it is subjected to on off shorting.  Believe it or not, you can use an automobile brake light as a safeguard instead of a circuit breaker. When the track shorts, the light comes on and creates resistance saving the locomotive (and indicating which district has the short.)

As for boosting power, that depends on the layout and the number of locomotives you will be running simultaneously. Your MRC units will power a pretty good sized N-scale layout by themselves. I operated on a layout about your size in HO (ten operators running 10 trains) and it was powered by a single MRC unit. The controls on the MRC are pretty user friendly BTW.  I'm pretty sure the NCE will not help your MRC system, but I think you can use the second MRC unit to boost your power if you need it.

I don't think I'm all that biased when it comes to DCC control units. I've run on all the big three--MRC, NCE, and Digitrax--and they all work as advertised.  With the MRC, you can get something running out of the box so to speak. With the NCE you'll have to purchase other components.

 

Chip

Building the Rock Ridge Railroad with the slowest construction crew west of the Pecos.

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Posted by cuyama on Monday, February 05, 2018 4:06 PM

SpaceMouse
With the NCE you'll have to purchase other components.

No, he won't. PowerCab is at least as complete as MRC. And more expandable.

I think it would be a mistake to try to run multiple DCC systems on one layout. IMHO, the Original Poster should pick one (I’d suggest NCE), and then sell the others. With the proceeds, he can pick up additional throttles, circuit breakers, etc. as desired.

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Posted by bearman on Monday, February 05, 2018 4:07 PM

One other thing to consider at the beginning is the track bus.  The DCC manufacturers all have recommendation regarding the minimum wire AWG that you should use for whatever length of bus your layout will require.

Bear "It's all about having fun."

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Posted by bearman on Monday, February 05, 2018 4:12 PM

cuyama

No, he won't. PowerCab is at least as complete as MRC. And more expandable.

I think it would be a mistake to try to run multiple DCC systems on one layout. IMHO, the Original Poster should pick one (I’d suggest NCE), and then sell the others. With the proceeds, he can pick up additional throttles, circuit breakers, etc. as desired."

 

I think I may start haunting estate sales.  I agree, sell the other two and you are well on your way to financing the extras that the OP might want.

 

Bear "It's all about having fun."

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Posted by SpaceMouse on Monday, February 05, 2018 4:12 PM

cuyama
No, he won't. PowerCab is at least as complete as MRC. And more expandable.

Totally read over that. I only saw the power boster.

 

Chip

Building the Rock Ridge Railroad with the slowest construction crew west of the Pecos.

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Posted by bearman on Monday, February 05, 2018 4:13 PM

Actually it is the Power Pro not the Power Cab.

Bear "It's all about having fun."

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Posted by selector on Monday, February 05, 2018 4:42 PM

kevinihrke
...My question is that when I've researched DCC I see that DCC has power districts, circuit breakers, power boosters etc...

Kevin, just as you need more power to run more locomotives, it works the same way in DCC.  All DCC does is help you to communicate your druthers in terms of locomotive performance directly to a brain resident in the locomotive.  As we say here, DC is a lot about managing the rails, while DCC is more like driving the locomotives.  This is because of the architecture involved.  With DC, you need block control because the motors respond only to track voltage and polarity.  In DCC, the motors only respond to the decoder...the intermediary.  And they do that irrespective of the PHASE of the voltage on the rails because in DCC it is constantly full-voltage AC.  It's just a digital AC, so-to-speak.

So, you'll still have amperage draw, and the more locomotives and lights you have taking up the available current, the more you'll need to provide.  Same, same.  All a power district is is a 'block', except, as Chip says, you are attempting to keep the power better arranged and monitored.  Each district has a booster, usually, which does its own track monitoring for the dreaded shorts that can heat up and destroy a decoder inside a second.  Each booster keeps the voltage high because it is only feeding a portion of the rails, not the entire layout.  The robust voltage helps the various short detection circuits sense them more quickly and to remedy them.  That is why we have what we call the 'quarter test'.  Really, any metal across the rails to test them will have your properly 'fed' rail system showing the shorts quickly, and your booster or command station will shut off track power.  If it's a booster, you'll know where the short is because that part of the layout will have no activity.

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Posted by cuyama on Monday, February 05, 2018 5:03 PM

Looks like I read it wrong in the first place, and perhaps it's been revised. I now see:

kevinihrke
The box also had a NCE Power Pro, a p515 power supply and a NCE PB105 Five Amp DCC Power Booster Station (all new in their boxes).

That, again, would be a very complete system, lacking only a throttle or two.

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Posted by MisterBeasley on Monday, February 05, 2018 5:04 PM

I'm a big fan of DCC.  With DC, you run the track.  With DCC, you run the trains.  If you're going to have multiple trains and possibly multiple operators, you want to spend time running the trains and not have to concentrate on where your blocks start and end.

Yes, you only need one DCC system, and in fact that's the preferred way to do it.  That way, you can assign a throttle to the train and that throttle can stay with the train everywhere.  With most systems, if you prefer, you can switch command between throttles also.  On my Lenz DCC system, I can start a train and it wil keep running while I start another and then another.  Switching back control is a simple as punching the engine number into the throttle.

Each engine needs its own electronic "decoder" installed in the locomotive.  This can be tricky.  If you have a lot of engines to convert over, it can be time-consuming and perhaps expensive, as well.

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

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Posted by betamax on Monday, February 05, 2018 5:31 PM

You only need one command station.  Plus a booster, more if needed, which each one having its own power district.

Start here.  Lots of information.

https://dccwiki.com/Main_Page

 

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Posted by bearman on Monday, February 05, 2018 5:38 PM

"...which each one having its own power district."

Not necessarily.  I just added an SB5 to my layout which has two power subdistricts and it appears to work fine.

Bear "It's all about having fun."

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Posted by BigDaddy on Monday, February 05, 2018 5:52 PM

Debbie Downer weighing in.  If you have held on to your old locos, they will need to be converted to DCC.  You can't simultaneously run DC and DCC.

It IS doable.  It gets a bit more fiddly if you have to swap out bulbs for leds and find room for speakers in a loco that wasn't designed for speakers.

In full disclosure, not everyone likes sound and not everyone is a believer in DCC.  Like you, I had a 20+ year pause in my model railroading.  I like sound and DCC, but I am slow on the DCC conversion process.  There are lots of videos on how to do it.

 Welcome to the forum.  Big long blocks of text are hard for some of us to read.  It's a visual thing, like dyslexia. 
 

Henry

COB Potomac & Northern

By the Chesapeake Bay

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Posted by richg1998 on Monday, February 05, 2018 5:55 PM

The club I use to belong to runs the five amp Power Pro and sometimes about eight to ten sound HO locos with no issues.

One large room and one small room all connected together. Most PFM, couple Tortoise turnouts.

Rich

N

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Posted by kevinihrke on Monday, February 05, 2018 8:29 PM

Thank You all for your quick responses and input. I did find the MRC quite easy to use on my little test track section but eventually figured out the NCE. It appears that between the MRC and the NCE I have a more complete system with the NCE. Can I use the MRC reverse loop control with a NCE system or should I stick with all NCE "components"? I have a nephew that wants to start a layout so I will give him one of the MRC units with the extra throttle and sell the other. Any further comments on my original post are still welcomed. Thanks again; you are all amazing how willing you are to help out and how quickly you respond!!! What a great support Model Railroader offers us newbies.

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Posted by rrinker on Monday, February 05, 2018 9:36 PM

 If you have the throttle for the NCE - you can get your $200 back by selling the two complete MRC systems individually. 

 MRC reverse loop controls are about as basic as they get. You'll have better results with a more modern type like the PSX-AR. Especially if you will have sound locos.

 You only need to stick to NCE components on the cab side. Once it comes to the track signal - it's all NMRA DCC compatible so you can mix and match - you don;t have to use NCE decoders in your locos, for example. But you can;t use one of the MRC cabs on the NCE system, you have to get NCE cabs if you want to add more throttles. NCE has some less expensive simpler ones that are designd to run trains and don;t do the decoder programming and so forth that the big throttle does - they are smaller and cost less and are all you need to allow another person to run trains at the same time.

                                     --Randy

 


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

Visit my web site at www.readingeastpenn.com for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

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Posted by garya on Tuesday, February 06, 2018 9:07 PM

BigDaddy

Debbie Downer weighing in.  If you have held on to your old locos, they will need to be converted to DCC.  You can't simultaneously run DC and DCC.

It IS doable.  It gets a bit more fiddly if you have to swap out bulbs for leds and find room for speakers in a loco that wasn't designed for speakers.

In full disclosure, not everyone likes sound and not everyone is a believer in DCC.  Like you, I had a 20+ year pause in my model railroading.  I like sound and DCC, but I am slow on the DCC conversion process.  There are lots of videos on how to do it.

 Welcome to the forum.  Big long blocks of text are hard for some of us to read.  It's a visual thing, like dyslexia. 
 
 

I believe you said you are in N scale--I would think the NCE system you describe would have more than enough power for an N-scale layout.  I am not well informed about N, but you may find some locos difficult to impossible to convert to DCC.  If you have many locos from before your hiatus you might find buying decoders will eat up whatever you can gain from selling an MRC system.

Gary
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Posted by RR_Mel on Tuesday, February 06, 2018 11:11 PM

Once again I’m here to defend MRC Prodigy.  I’ve been running MRC Prodigy Advance² for 11 years without an ounce of trouble!  It does everything I need and the 3½ amps is more than enough for my layout.  I have a Rob Paisley DCC current meter and I’ve never seen it much over 3 amps.  All of my trains are much heaver that NMRA Standards and I have 3½% grades.  The max trains I can run on my layout is two dual locomotive passenger trains because when I designed and built my layout 30 years ago I didn’t plan on DCC so the max is limited to two.  I do leave several diesels idling with sound with sound on in my yards for their sounds.  I like the DCC sound!
 
If I were to start over today I would still go with Prodigy.  I’ve never had any problems with any MRC power pack since my first one over 50 years ago.
 
I have no monetary involvement with MRC I’m just a very happy user of their power packs.  I really like the simplicity of both hook up and ease of operation.  I haven’t used any other products so I’m not saying it’s a better product than any of the other systems as I have no knowledge of them.
 
Personally I’d keep at least one of the Prodigy controllers and give it a shot before spending more $$$.  If it doesn’t fit your needs then spend the $$$ on another system.
 
 
 
 
Mel
 
Modeling the early to mid 1950s SP in HO scale since 1951
  
 
My Model Railroad   
 
Bakersfield, California
 
I'm beginning to realize that aging is not for wimps.
 
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Posted by bearman on Wednesday, February 07, 2018 5:59 AM

Mel, I dont think anyone is knocking the MRC system.  I for one am not, and for no other reason that I have absolutely no experience with it.  I started off with the Digitrax Zephyr and graduated to the NCE Power Cab when I realized I wanted walk around control and felt that expanding the Zephyr was a little too pricey for me.  At that point I also realized that most of the railroaders around here were using NCE so I went with NCE.  If the MRC works for you, hey, fantastic!

Bear "It's all about having fun."

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Posted by rrinker on Wednesday, February 07, 2018 7:16 AM

 He already has 3 systems, 2 MRCs, and an NCE. He's not buying anything. Given the choice, the NCE is just going ot be a better overall system. MRC is nice, it's simple - but in many cases it's simple because they simply don;t tell you things you might need to know once you get past initial train running. Sure, the others have big, thick manuals - but they ALSO all start out with just the basics, and then supply all the detailed advanced stuff for if and when you want it. That doesn't make them more complicated - no one says you need to read the whole thing past the getting started part if you don't want to.

 And some of it is just odd - MRC touts using common RJ45 plugs on their system, then why, as mentioned in the thread about cab panels, do they charge MORE for their panels than NCE or Digitrax, when the Digitrax ones even have the power injection needed when you add more than a few cabs? You don't want to ask what MRC charges for their powered panels... 

 If all he had was the MRC< i wouldn;t tell him to go out and buy NCE. But he already has both, and since he should be able to get > $100 each for the MRC systems, it's going to end up that he was paid to get the NCE. Given existing ownership of both MRC and NCE, NCE is going to be the one to keep. It's just more capable.

                                         --Randy

 


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

Visit my web site at www.readingeastpenn.com for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

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Posted by kevinihrke on Wednesday, February 07, 2018 4:30 PM

I have 331 locomotives 139 atlas, 108 kato, 5 athearn, 17 intermountain, 2 microtrains, 1 round house, 14 bachmann spectrum, & 45 lifelike; 25 have decoders, none with sound. I believe 25 is an ample amount to get started and I can get a few of my favorites converted to DCC once I actually run trains. I know some of the engines are not dcc compatible but most are of them are in display cases so the non-dcc ones will be for display only plus coverting over 200 engines seems a bit excessive. I believe I will keep the NCE system and donate a MRC system to my 14 y/o nephew who wants to build a layout. I will try to sell the remaining MRC system. Thanks again for everyone's help.

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Wednesday, February 07, 2018 4:43 PM

Welcome to another Kevin.

.

Since you are just getting back into the hobby and will probably be buying mostly new stuff, do not even hesitate to go with DCC.

.

I am sticking with DC because I have too many brass steamers and Kato F units that make up the core of my fleet. I am comfortable with DC control, maintenance, and troubleshooting. I also plan to run my railroad alone, and I hate sound systems.

.

What is right for me probably would never be right for you.

.

Have Fun! Don't Be A Stranger!

.

-Kevin

.

Happily modeling the STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD located in a world of plausible nonsense set in August, 1954.

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Wednesday, February 07, 2018 4:45 PM

kevinihrke
I have 331 locomotives

.

Whoa! I missed this! How did you get 331 locomotives?

.

I only have 20-30! Not really sure. I need to do an inventory.

.

-Kevin

.

Happily modeling the STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD located in a world of plausible nonsense set in August, 1954.

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Posted by mbinsewi on Wednesday, February 07, 2018 9:00 PM

kevinihrke
I have 331 locomotives 139 atlas, 108 kato, 5 athearn, 17 intermountain, 2 microtrains, 1 round house, 14 bachmann spectrum, & 45 lifelike; 25 have decoders, none with sound.

OK then, now you tell us!  Laugh  So much for thinking your "just getting back into the hobby" and assuming you were starting over. 

Never mind, I guess you have this all figured out!

Mike.

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Posted by kevinihrke on Wednesday, February 07, 2018 9:29 PM
They have been in display cases or in boxes on a shelf, never ran any of them, I just like how they look!!! So I certainly don't have anything figured out; the proof will be when I start to lay track and wire this layout. My brother is a property manager for hundreds of rental properties and he and I sometimes do scab work on the side and when I did these jobs I'd buy 2-5 locomotives before my wife could spend the money (it appears this is a common theme in this hobby; keep the wife in the dark about how much I have and how much I paid for it). I actually paid for 1/2 a wedding by selling all my old locomotives (300+ of them mostly old Bachmann Spetrums, blue box Kato, old atlas/kato and some other brands from the 80's and duplicates I had) 3 years ago. So my collection is just that; a collection and no experience with DCC until a few months ago when I got these DCC systems and put up a few lengths of test tracks and played around with them a little. I have been collecting buildings, train cars, vehicles, electrical components, scenery, track, switches etc. for years while my kids grew up and now am an empty nester with a little spare time to get back into the hobby. However, so much has changed since I built my last layout years ago I just felt more confident using DC. I must have thought at one time that I'd switch to DCC because I found a Command 2000 DCC system still in the box I bought years ago and never opened thaty I didn't even know I had. I believe its obsolete now. When I start building I pretty much have a lot of stuff to keep me plugging along but will likely need to buy a few additional items as I go. My plan was always to spread out the cost of this layout over many years and then hoped I would be able to afford what I needed once I actually started; we'll see how well I did once I start. Thanks to all the input I'm going to jump both feet in and try to learn what DCC is all about. My bench work was built 6 years ago; I read that it was advisable to build it and let it sit especially in MN where I live so that any warping etc could be dealt with. So I am now ready to lay my first section of track but needed to know what I should use; DC or DCC and what system/systems to use and thanks to all these wonderful suggestions from all of you kind people I feel I can figure this DCC thing out and start laying track this weekend (unless we get another 19'' of snow which means I'll be snow blowing most of the weekend). Thanks again all of you and if anyone else would like to give me some tips or advice, I'm all ears. 
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Posted by mbinsewi on Wednesday, February 07, 2018 11:04 PM

OK, I read your story.  With the DCC equipment you already have, go ahead and jump in to DCC, I'm sure you'll never look back.

But, just to twist things up abit, my situation,  I tore down a huge island style "plywood central" about 1994.  I had actually just gotten back into into railroading in 84, but life changes, and things happen, so the island style layout had to go.  It was wired for cab control, 2 cabs, using all Atlas products.

Fast forward to 2009, my daughter awakens the "bug", with a Hawthorn Village, HO scale Green Bay Packer themed train set, and off I go again.  At this same time, I just finished building a storage rack system for all of our Tupperware containers full of family "stuff".  I was going to use the bench top of the storage system for a basement work shop, but it all changed, and decided to build my current layout on the bench top.

All my equipment was DC.  I saved all of the rolling stock, locos, and track from the former island layout, so I had a good start with the new.

Then, along comes a DCC system, bought off an ad from Graigs List, for a HO scale model railroad stuff, the total of it all, retail, was about $2,200.  I bought the whole shebang for $250. Life had changed for him, too.

I built my current lay out with the bus wire and lots of feeders, intending on using DC to start with, with cab control, until I leaned more about the DCC system that came with my recent purchase.  After reading many threads on here,  I decided instead of using "common wire",  I gapped both rails, making the future transition to DCC easy.

The rest is history.  By moving the switches on the Atlas controlers from cab A to cab B, flipping a toggle switch, unplugging the DCC and plugging in the DC, I can go back and forth.  Cab A is the DCC and cab B is the DC.  I just remember to NEVER run both at the same time, and the toggle switch keeps any "back current" from entering the system I'm NOT using.

Not sure if you can gleen any info from my story, but you'll decide what you want to do.

By the way, I took on the DCC challange, and my lay out has been on DCC since 2011.  Many of my great running DC locos have been changed, and I'm liking the whole thing.

I'm just starting the new challange of doing my decoder programing using JMRI, since I got a new lap top from the kids for Christmas.

Have fun and good luck!

Mike.

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Posted by joe323 on Friday, February 09, 2018 6:33 AM

Actually I did an inventory in connection with moving the SIW I have 9 DCC equiped locomotives more than enough power for a small layout where maybe one or two run and a third might idle.  If I were starting out again I would buy 3 or 4 DCC locos and the NCE system and not bother with DC at all. As things stand my DC only locomotives are relegated to the new display case that was bought with some money I received from my late mother in law‘s estate and is dedicated to her memory.

Joe Staten Island West 

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