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Digitrax versus NCE

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Digitrax versus NCE
Posted by reasearchhound on Saturday, June 15, 2024 10:13 AM

Our club currently has Digitrax but we have had some issues with it shutting down during periods of prolonged heavy use, such as during our annual Open House. Our electrical guys have been pretty thorough in trying to determine the cause but have really been unable to find a specific reason. The current thinking is it might simply be human error from those members using the throttles accidentally hitting the shut down button. That function has now been disabled and many members are now using their phones as throttles but we haven't tested the layout to see if the problem has been "fixed".

Be that as it may, these issues have opened up the discussion on whether we would be better off scrapping Digitrax in favor of NCR. We have a string contingent of anti Digitrax members who feel we should abandon it, sell off our components, and switch to NCE. As President, I am of the opinion that I need to be convinced of the need to do so, as are several other key members of the board such as the layout manager and treasurer. It is an expensive action to recommend to the membership that the club should pursue, but if the benefits are worth it, I would support the transition.

Would like to hear some some of you guys on your opinions on the two systems and whether one is really that much better than the other, and why. Hopefully this topic doesn't open up a HUGE can of worms, I would just like to hear some rational, commen sense thoughts about the systems and their comparative strengths and weaknesses. Thanks in advance for any replies, Dan.

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Posted by richhotrain on Saturday, June 15, 2024 10:25 AM

Neither.

My advice?

Switch to NCE.

Rich

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Posted by CNR378 on Saturday, June 15, 2024 11:00 AM

Find and fix the issue you have. My club has been using Digitrax for over 20 years and don't have issues with it "shutting down". Exactly what do mean by shutting down? Is it track power turning off? Or is the Command station turning off? A heat issue due to the location of the CS and boosters maybe needing better air flow?

Power supply to the CS starting to fail? I've seen this on Digitrax and NCE.

Don't switch to an inferior product like MRC.

Peter

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Posted by hon30critter on Saturday, June 15, 2024 1:31 PM

If you are going to switch, I would second Rich's suggestion to go with NCE.

Having said that, I really think that Peter has the right approach. There are literally thousands of Digitrax systems working properly around the world. If most of them had shut down problems, Digitrax would have been out of business long ago.

Have you contacted Digitrax directly? If not, I strongly urge you to do so.

Maybe all you need to do is to divide the layout into smaller blocks and add a booster or two.

Something you might also want to check is the current draw of each locomotive. If, for whatever reason, several of the locomotives are drawing more power than usual, you may be inadvertently overloading the system.

Cheers!!

Dave

I'm just a dude with a bad back having a lot of fun with model trains, and finally building a layout!

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Posted by reasearchhound on Saturday, June 15, 2024 1:39 PM

Sorty all - total brain fart this morning. MRC is NOT an option. Meant to type NCE instead. That'll teach me to try and post too early in the morning.

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Posted by reasearchhound on Saturday, June 15, 2024 1:42 PM

Sorry all - total brain fart this morning. MCR is NOT an option. Meant to type NCE instead. That'll teach me to try and post too early in the morning - before my first cup of coffee.

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Posted by tstage on Saturday, June 15, 2024 1:50 PM

"NCR" will buy you a cash register, which is NOT any good at operating DCC.  "NCE", OTOH, is very good at it.

That said, I agree with the suggestion that tracking down the reason for the shut downs is more important than switching DCC systems, at this point in time.

Q: Was there a layout change that took place right before your club started experiencing these shut downs?

Tom

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Posted by jjdamnit on Saturday, June 15, 2024 1:52 PM

Hello All,

reasearchhound
...we have had some issues with it shutting down during periods of prolonged heavy use...
The current thinking is it might simply be human error from those members using the throttles accidentally hitting the shut down button.
That function has now been disabled...but we haven't tested the layout to see if the problem has been "fixed".

A few troubleshooting questions (along with the others posted):

  • How big is the layout?

  • How many boosters power the layout?

  • How many power districts are there and what brand and model are the circuit breakers?

  • Where are the power boosters located?
    If they are in areas with little or no ventilation heavy usage could cause thermal overload.

  • Are there LocoNet signal repeaters installed and at what interval?

  • Has anyone done a calculation of power draw (amperage) when running the maximum number of locomotives versus the maximum amperage of the boosters?

  • Do you have Amperage/Voltage meters on the output side of each booster to monitor the power draw of each unit?

If the components are truly faulty no one will want to buy them.

Even if the components are fully functional you probably won't get anywhere close to what you expect on the used market.

reasearchhound
We have a string (SIC) contingent of anti Digitrax members who feel we should abandon it...

What other factors are influencing them to abandon an existing system?

CNR378
My club has been using Digitrax for over 20 years and don't have issues with it "shutting down".
Don't switch to an inferior product like MRC.

reasearchhound
...many members are now using their phones as throttles...

Are they satisfied with this solution or is it fueling the anti-Digitrax conversation?

reasearchhound
Hopefully this topic doesn't open up a HUGE can of worms...

As Albert Einstein was quoted as saying, "The only way to get all the worms back in the can, is to use a bigger can."

If you decide to switch systems I also recommend NCE.

Hope this helps.

"Uhh...I didn’t know it was 'impossible' I just made it work...sorry"

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Posted by betamax on Saturday, June 15, 2024 3:58 PM

What exactly do you mean by "shut down"? More details would help.

Probable cause is overheating of the booster. They need air flow around the heat sink, and if they are being overloaded, they will shut down to protect themselves from overheating.

Are the boosters contained within an enclosure which limits air flow? That could cause issues over time when in heavy use.

Maybe they need a fan to move air across the heatsink(s).

Spreading the load across additional boosters is another solution.

Scrapping the entire DCC system would be a large expense in both time and money. Finding the cause and solving that will save a lot of money, with a nominal cost in terms of spending time to figure out the cause and solutions. Adding a couple of additional boosters would probably be less costly in terms of time and effort too.

Tags: DCC
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Posted by MisterBeasley on Saturday, June 15, 2024 4:36 PM

Yup.  An RRamp meter is a lot cheaper than a lot of new DCC stuff.

"Investigate before you invest."

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

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Posted by hon30critter on Saturday, June 15, 2024 5:13 PM

Hi reasearchhound,

I would point out one other reason for solving the problem instead of scrapping the system. There is the possibility that the problem lies outside of the DCC system. As I suggested, perhaps the locomotives are drawing more power than expected, or there is some sort of problem with the track and/or feeders. You could spend a fortune on a new system only to have the problem recur.

I  suggest that you create a list of possible causes and eliminate them one by one in a methodical manner. Then you can decide whether or not to switch to NCE (which personally I would be in favour of simply because it is a much nicer system to operate).

Cheers!!

Dave

I'm just a dude with a bad back having a lot of fun with model trains, and finally building a layout!

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Posted by rrebell on Tuesday, June 18, 2024 9:19 AM

Sounds like overheating to me but could be user error. If you change out your system you could just go with a newer Digitrax. The real difference I think personaly between NCE and Digitrax are the throttles. I personaly like the Digitrax as you can get old school feal throttles and very simple ones. NCE does some advanced stuff easier so it boils down to what kind of members do you have and what do they all have at home also if only a test setup.

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Posted by tstage on Tuesday, June 18, 2024 9:28 AM

Hi Dan,

Suggestion: You might want to edit your subject title since MRC is not in the discussion.

Tom

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Posted by wjstix on Tuesday, June 18, 2024 10:07 AM

I was an alumni member of my old college's model railroad club for a while. Everytime they had an open house, the layout would shut down repeatedly. From what I could work out, it was underpowered. I made a point when I built my home layout to avoid that so it is (I'm sure) overpowered, with three boosters spread out around the layout.

FWIW I started with Digitrax, but found their radio control system to be very hit-and-miss, even with multiple receivers. I switched to CVP, and can operate from anywhere in the basement with just one receiver.

Stix
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Posted by reasearchhound on Tuesday, June 18, 2024 7:35 PM

I am not the electronics guy in our club so all I can tell you is that during periods of prolonged heavy use the operating system simply shuts down so that everything stops. Overheating does not seem to be the issue, it has been extensively checked into (although the way things stop operating would seem indicate that could be the problem). Current thinking seems to be that users are inadvertently turning the system off via their throttles, or that more boosters are needed.

What I really want to know is if there are specific pluses or minuses between the two operating systems that would indicate one is far superior than the other.

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Posted by maxman on Tuesday, June 18, 2024 8:14 PM

reasearchhound
Current thinking seems to be that users are inadvertently turning the system off via their throttles,

Seems to me that you should be able to disable this feature.

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Posted by MrMe on Tuesday, June 18, 2024 9:27 PM

reasearchhound

I am not the electronics guy in our club so all I can tell you is that during periods of prolonged heavy use the operating system simply shuts down so that everything stops. Overheating does not seem to be the issue, it has been extensively checked into (although the way things stop operating would seem indicate that could be the problem). Current thinking seems to be that users are inadvertently turning the system off via their throttles, or that more boosters are needed.

Are you monitoring LocoNet with JMRI or another tool? If it's user error with the throttles, that will tell you right away. And even if it's something else, LocoNet may still give you a clue.

reasearchhound

What I really want to know is if there are specific pluses or minuses between the two operating systems that would indicate one is far superior than the other.

 

 
No. DCC works the way it works. Basically the major differences between any two DCC brands are ergonomics, and in some cases the philosophy of how some task is handled.
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Posted by gregc on Wednesday, June 19, 2024 5:23 AM

reasearchhound
We have a string contingent of anti Digitrax members who feel we should abandon it,

the MD&WV club has been using Digitrax without such problems for decades during long week long open houses.   The club has air conditioning and it does have fans behind the boosters

the layout has lost track power for no apparent reason.   our best guess is people inadvertently hitting the wrong buttons on the new  controllers.   There are menu items for turning it on/off with the DT602d controllers.   Power is quickly restored when using those options

section 5.4 of the DT602d manual says to press Power/Back key to turn track power back on

greg - Philadelphia & Reading / Reading

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Posted by rrebell on Wednesday, June 19, 2024 9:16 AM

I think you have a short in the track that is caused by a gap being spanned as it heats up. Seen a gap compleatly close on mine by a temporary short that finally permanintly shorted, only way I would have ever found it.

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Posted by jjdamnit on Wednesday, June 19, 2024 3:23 PM

Hello All,

hon30critter
There is the possibility that the problem lies outside of the DCC system.
You could spend a fortune on a new system only to have the problem recur.

As the old saying goes, "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water."

No matter the DCC system- -if the problem(s) is/are not resolved- -buying a new system won't cure it.

reasearchhound
I am not the electronics guy in our club...

Perhaps they need to be included in this discussion.

Other things to consider...

Do the members bring and run their own locomotives and/or rolling stock?

Are there club standards for locomotives and rolling stock?

If there are standards, how are locomotives and rolling stock inspected to make sure they conform to club standards?

reasearchhound
What I really want to know is if there are specific pluses or minuses between the two operating systems that would indicate one is far superior than the other.

That question might be better answered by your members.

I suggest a survey of the members might be needed.

Some questions to ask: 

  • Do you have a DCC system on your home layout and what brand?
  • What guided your decision to purchase and use this brand?
  • What features of your DCC system do you like?
  • What features of your DCC system would you add if you could?
  • What features of your DCC do you dislike or find useless?
  • Do you prefer wired or wireless throttles?
  • Do you prefer a throttle from the manufacturer or a smartphone or tablet?
  • If the clubs DCC system is the same as the one you use on your home layout would you want to use your personal throttle?
  • Other comments or observations...

Some general running questions to determine which system might fit the clubs needs...

When consisting (MU-ing) locomotives how does the club prefer to handle this:

  • Basic Consisting: When all locomotives have the same address.

  • Universal Consisting: The command station stores the consist information.
    The DCC system must support this type of consisting.

  • Advanced Consisting: The decoders store the consist information in CV 19- -which must be supported by the decoder(s), not the command station.

A feature of Digitrax throttles- -as you may know- -is two (2) throttle knobs so the user can control two locomotives from the same throttle.

Some people find the old Digitrax throttles are too bulky and cumbersome while the newer throttles have better ergonomics.

Another reason I chose NCE was the ergonomics of their throttles and a thumb wheel over the knobs on Digitrax throttles.

The way NCE handles advance consisting makes it very easy to make and break consists for switching or adding helpers.

Does or will the club use automated running software, ie JMRI Decoder Pro, or other software?

If using wireless capabilities, understand for NCE throttles use a proprietary radio system and to add smartphones or tablets a WiFi interface is necessary.

To say which system is superior over the other is like the "Ford vs. Chevy" debate.

Both have their strengths and weaknesses according to their devotees and detractors.

There is no one simple answer.

By considering the questions I have posed- -along with others, and any you might think of- -the club can come to a compromise that works for the members.

Hope this helps.

"Uhh...I didn’t know it was 'impossible' I just made it work...sorry"

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Posted by snjroy on Friday, June 21, 2024 10:18 AM

At our club, we have a Digitrax system and the guys divided the layout into 6 blocks. In addition to boosters, we have auto shut-off devices for each block. That way, if there is a short in one block, it does not affect the other locos in the other blocks. I did not install these myself, but I'm guessing that it's a pretty easy install if you kept your wiring clean (i.e., using one bus).

Simon

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Posted by richhotrain on Friday, June 21, 2024 10:28 AM

snjroy

At our club, we have a Digitrax system and the guys divided the layout into 6 blocks. In addition to boosters, we have auto shut-off devices for each block. That way, if there is a short in one block, it does not affect the other locos in the other blocks. I did not install these myself, but I'm guessing that it's a pretty easy install if you kept your wiring clean (i.e., using one bus).

Simon

Actually, you are better off using separate buses (sub buses) to create power districts within a booster district.
 
It would also be beneficial to use different colored wires for each power district (e.g., red and black in one power district, blue and orange in another power district, etc. That way, it is easier to identify different power districts from one another if and when you have to climb under the layout to diagnose a problem.
 
Rich

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Posted by snjroy on Friday, June 21, 2024 11:16 AM

Agreed, I should have written "a bus" instead of "one bus".

Simon

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Posted by richhotrain on Friday, June 21, 2024 11:22 AM

snjroy

Agreed, I should have written "a bus" instead of "one bus".

Simon

 

Yes

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Posted by wjstix on Friday, June 21, 2024 1:19 PM

maxman

 reasearchhound

Current thinking seems to be that users are inadvertently turning the system off via their throttles,
 

Yes, I'm not clear how they could turn the DCC system off from their throttles - is it a function button or something on the throttle or ??

Stix
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Posted by jjdamnit on Friday, June 21, 2024 1:36 PM

Hello All,

The more I read and reread the OP it occurs to me they are using one booster with no power districts.

reasearchhound
...we have had some issues with it shutting down during periods of prolonged heavy use...

That would explain the entire layout shutting down.

It seems that there are two (2) components to this thread:

  1. The shutting down of the layout due to an undiagnosed cause or causes.

  2. The dissatisfaction of the members with the Digitrax system.

As we all agree Digitrax DCC systems- -when properly installed- -is a robust system, and replacing it with a different manufacturer might not cure their issues.

If the membership is dissatisfied with the functions, ergonomics and/or features of Digitrax that is a separate issue.

Until we hear back from the OP it's pure speculation on all our parts.

Hope this helps.

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Posted by snjroy on Friday, June 21, 2024 2:55 PM

It's quite easy to turn the system off with EngineDriver (a cellphone application), via Wifi.

Simon

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Posted by richhotrain on Friday, June 21, 2024 3:17 PM

Sometimes, speculation is all that we can engage in because of the fact situation. I have gone back over this entire thread, and I find a lot of good advice about possible reasons for the shutdown, Digitrax versus NCE, and the recommended division of the layout into power districts. The main issue here is the shutdown of the entire layout during prolonged periods of use.

To me, the most likely cause of the shutdown is the overheating of the booster. If the cause of the shutdown is a member pressing a button on his throttle, something is very wrong there. On my home layout, powered by an NCE 5 amp PH-Pro, I have never once inadvertently shutdown down my layout.

Rich

Alton Junction

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Posted by jjdamnit on Friday, June 21, 2024 4:46 PM

Hello All,

richhotrain
To me, the most likely cause of the shutdown is the overheating of the booster.

I agree...

richhotrain
On my home layout, powered by an NCE 5 amp PH-Pro, I have never once inadvertently shutdown down my layout.

I am not familiar with the Digitrax method of shutting down the entire layout- -cutting booster power.

After reviewing the NCE Power Pro System Reference Manual; pg. 61, a complete shutdown- -cutting booster power- -requires three (3) distinct and deliberate presses of the "Emergency Stop Button".

reasearchhound
The current thinking is it might simply be human error from those members using the throttles accidentally hitting the shut down button.

That seems unlikely.

snjroy
It's quite easy to turn the system off with EngineDriver (a cellphone application), via Wifi.

But according to the OP...

reasearchhound
That function has now been disabled and many members are now using their phones as throttles but we haven't tested the layout to see if the problem has been "fixed".

If the "Shut Down" function was disabled are you speculating that the WiFi throttles override the command station?

richhotrain
If the cause of the shutdown is a member pressing a button on his throttle, something is very wrong there.

I'm of the opinion- -like others- -it's a thermal shutdown caused by either poor airflow to the booster(s) or amperage overloading of the system.

CNR378
A heat issue due to the location of the CS and boosters maybe needing better air flow?

betamax
Probable cause is overheating of the booster.

rrebell
Sounds like overheating to me...

wjstix
Everytime they had an open house, the layout would shut down repeatedly. From what I could work out, it was underpowered.

Hope this helps.

"Uhh...I didn’t know it was 'impossible' I just made it work...sorry"

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Posted by richhotrain on Friday, June 21, 2024 5:18 PM

I may have missed it, but as I re-read through the entire thread, I don't believe that the OP ever mentioned the specific Digitrax system that is being used at his club. 

Rich

Alton Junction

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