Wiring for a Proposed HO Layout

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#1
Hello all!

About six months ago, I tore down my old HO scale layout. It was a 4x8 built with the help of my Dad that never really worked. The track had been reused several times over (never a good idea, I learned) and we had made a bunch of rookie mistakes that, collectively, hindered operation. Rather than tear it up to fix LOTS of problems, I decided to rebuild.

The first step in the rebuilding process was to come up with a new track plan. I found a very compact 4x8 plan online and made some slight edits to its design. I shared it here and quickly got some great feedback. I ended up acting on some of this feedback and also making executive decisions of my own to incorporate exactly what I wanted to accomplish with the layout. The 'final' track-plan is below. Track has been ordered and is waiting to be assembled. The table has been built (it's in two well-connected pieces, hence the center-line in the plan).

Layout Wiring Plan #2.PNG

I'd like to consider the wiring for this project before I take any more steps. Unfortunately, I feel wiring is the area of model railroading I know least about. I think this may be due to my age; I'm currently 16. The last time we (my Dad and I) built a layout, I'm sure that both he and my grandfather simply did it and didn't involve me to a great extent (since I was young then (and now)).

I would strongly prefer to stick to DC, though I understand DCC is all the rage amongst experienced model railroaders. The reasoning for this is that doing so will enable me to use all of my locomotives. I have 5-6 DCC ready ones, and perhaps a dozen more that are high-quality and would warrant the effort to install a decoder. However, I have a few train-set quality (cheap plastic) locomotives that I still want to run AND that I could never justify spending money to put a decoder in. So it's DC and run these, or DCC and don't. Cost is also a factor, though I'm funding this whole project myself and can accept that my wallet will get thinner if I take any action other than stopping.

On my previous layout (the one that I tore down), we used a dual-throttle DC controller. The layout was, essentially, one loop inside another. Each throttle controlled one loop and thus any trains on it. Problems I encountered with this:

1) The loops were connected with two crossovers. We had insulated rail joiners to separate the current, but whenever a train would cross this line, it would jump (an instant increase or decrease in speed). The two loops didn't have the same amount of power.
2) Running a locomotive on the inner loop for an extended period of time would cause the power-pack to overload.
3) Running a locomotive on the inner loop would cause the lights to dim.
4) The re-used turnouts were AWFUL and made the whole thing unusable. No powered frogs.

As I mentioned above, I'm not familiar with how wiring works. However, I think the following things could have played a role in causing the above problems.

1) I believe we had the lights all wired to the inner-loop throttle, drawing current. This would certainly have had an effect, correct?
2) If you wire the power to the track unevenly, or have more track connected to one throttle (there was a branch off of the inner loop, connected to the inner-loop throttle), would this have an effect?
3) The power pack we had (still have) seems to be a quality pack. However, could problems like this be attributed to the pack's amperage (no idea what that unit means) limitations AND/OR a defect in the pack?

So all of those problems would have been very difficult to fix with less effort than it would take to start over. Which is why I'm starting over, but I'd like to get it right this time.

This new layout introduces some complications. Again, it's got two loops, and I'd like to be able to run trains at different speeds and going different directions on these loops. Further complicating things is the reversal track in the center. Again further complicating things is that I'd like to have wired frogs but don't know if this would affect anything on a large scale. As I said, have never wired before.

Layout Wiring Plan #1.PNG

So here's the track plan again with three sections. I'd like to power each separately (connected to it's own throttle). I could match the power/track-length ratios of all three sections to hopefully avoid the jumping problem. I've been looking for a tri-throttle DC power pack. I did come across this (<-- link), which is a Model Rectifier Corporation Tri-Pack Model 2. It looks quite old, though, and old generally means bad. I'm not keen on turning the dials to approximately the same place just to match the speeds either. A digital display to match numbers, maybe (even though this almost certainly doesn't exist). Would anyone be knowledgeable about a newer system?

It's a bit of a unique need, I'm sure, so I doubt I'll be able to get all (or any) of what I want. Any thoughts would be appreciated, I'm really trying to figure out what the best way to approach this project is.

Thanks for reading my novel!
 
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Iron Horseman

Well-Known Member
#2
I would strongly prefer to stick to DC,...
On my previous layout (the one that I tore down), we used a dual-throttle DC controller. The layout was, essentially, one loop inside another. Each throttle controlled one loop and thus any trains on it. Problems I encountered with this:
That is a very poor way to wire DC. It runs the risk of damaging the locomotives and the controllers both.

1) The loops were connected with two crossovers. We had insulated rail joiners to separate the current, but whenever a train would cross this line, it would jump (an instant increase or decrease in speed). The two loops didn't have the same amount of power.
Generally No, that would be the locomotives getting too much power from both power supplies, or getting conflicting power from the two controllers that cancelled each other.
2) Running a locomotive on the inner loop for an extended period of time would cause the power-pack to overload.
That is just a problem with the power-pack. The solution is to throw it away and get a new one. It is very likely that Item #1 caused this problem.
3) Running a locomotive on the inner loop would cause the lights to dim.
Anytime power is shared between two different loads this will happen. The solution is to get a separate power supply for the lights.
4) The re-used turnouts were AWFUL and made the whole thing unusable. No powered frogs.
That may have nothing to do with whether the frogs were powered or not. Many people run non-powered frogs for decades without issues.


As I mentioned above, I'm not familiar with how wiring works. However, I think the following things could have played a role in causing the above problems.[/FONT]
1) I believe we had the lights all wired to the inner-loop throttle, drawing current. This would certainly have had an effect, correct?
2) If you wire the power to the track unevenly, or have more track connected to one throttle (there was a branch off of the inner loop, connected to the inner-loop throttle), would this have an effect?
3) The power pack we had (still have) seems to be a quality pack. However, could problems like this be attributed to the pack's amperage (no idea what that unit means) limitations AND/OR a defect in the pack?
So all of those problems would have been very difficult to fix with less effort than it would take to start over. Which is why I'm starting over, but I'd like to get it right this time.
1. yes.
2. no.
3. well, the lights dimming yes; the trains speeding up/slowing down, no;
4. To get this "right" you need to use what is call cab control wiring. This requires breaking the layout down in to many more segments that just two separate loops. Each of these segments is called a block. A wire will have to be run to each block, and each block will require its own selector switch. There have been many books written about this topic through the years as this was the standard way to wire a railroad since the 1940s.

So here's the track plan again with three sections. I'd like to power each separately (connected to it's own throttle).
No, that is the same problem you had before. Look up "cab control" or "block wiring", that is the right way to do it. In this manner the power from a given power-pack follows the train through the layout. The train never skips from one to the next.

I could match the power/track-length ratios of all three sections to hopefully avoid the jumping problem.
No, that would not help. It has nothing to do with "matching" the power the issue is getting power from two different control units at the same time. This can damage the controllers, this can damage the locomotives. Don't do it. The only way to successfully use totally separate controllers is to have a section of track to move the train into. Stop the train. Switch the controller. Start the train with the other controller.

It's a bit of a unique need,
There is nothing unique about what you are trying to do. Cab control wiring has taken care of all these problems for model railroaders for years and years. After you look up and read about model railroading block cab control. and understand it a bit, you might find that it is almost as expensive as DCC and definitely more complicated.
 
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#3
I don't have much time to look at this right now ( I'm at work and just taking a quick break:)'), but there are a couple of things I would like to quickly point out.

I know you said this is the "final" plan, but I would strongly suggest that you move the double crossover a little ways away from the end curves. As it is now, gong through the crossover from lower left to upper right (or upper right to lower left) creates a reverse curve that you should try to avoid.


...I would strongly prefer to stick to DC, though I understand DCC is all the rage amongst experienced model railroaders. The reasoning for this is that doing so will enable me to use all of my locomotives. I have 5-6 DCC ready ones, and perhaps a dozen more that are high-quality and would warrant the effort to install a decoder. However, I have a few train-set quality (cheap plastic) locomotives that I still want to run AND that I could never justify spending money to put a decoder in. So it's DC and run these, or DCC and don't...
One thing to consider is if you go with Digitrax or Lenz, you can run a DC locomotive on DCC. There are some issues with doing this - they tend to not run as well as on straight DC and they buzz. Also, you do not want to let a DC locomotive set on DCC power while not moving for an extended period of time because it can cause the motor to overheat.

Personally, every engine that I have that warrants running, warrants having a decoder installed.
 
#4
Thank you both for your detailed replies!

__________________________________
@ Iron Horseman:

I figured that the way we had wired my previous layout was bogus (granted, my explanation may not have done it justice either). I looked up block control this morning, as you suggested, and, as you also predicted, turns out the DC wiring can be even more complicated than I thought. One of the questions I had about it was "how does one determine where each block will be?". Aside from a paragraph suggesting that mainline blocks should be about the length of the longest train one intends to run, I didn't find anything regarding this matter.

Thank you for taking the time to address my many questions one-by-one.

__________________________________
@ CSX Robert:

I can move the double-crossover slightly to the right, but I don't know if this will alleviate the problem any, as all of my trains would be longer than the 9-inches I can move it by. Luckily moving it doesn't affect my track requirements (I forgot to mention I'm using flex-track as opposed to the sectional track depicted in the plans). Avoiding the double-crossover altogether was suggested numerous times when I proposed the track-plan on here, but I have a double-crossover on my N scale layout and enjoy how it can effectively double the mainline length for continuous running.

I found it interesting to hear that there are DCC systems compatible with DC locomotives. I had not known this, and would have thought that mixing the two in any capacity would damage the equipment. This is now something I am investigating and considering for the layout. So thanks.

Personally, every engine that I have that warrants running, warrants having a decoder installed.
This is a very good way to look at it. Though, I still think that adopting a DCC system makes the hobby more than what it needs to be for baseline enjoyment (often the best kind). No longer is the hobby about a man in his basement operating motors on wheels; today it's got its own sophisticated technology and supports its own electrical industry.
 
#5
You need to isolate the reversing loop with either system. I agree that DDC is wasted on a small switching layout. But if there's a chance you will end up with a second locomotive running you won't have to rewire the system to add that capacity. Today the price is about the same for a base model DCC unit and a dual throttle DC pack.
 

wombat457

Well-Known Member
Staff member
#6
Ron,

I know as much about electrics as I do flying to the moon; however, I do know that most, if not all, popular DCC Systems can run DC as well as DCC. I have a Digitrax and an NCE DCC System and both will run DC Locos (which I have).

I also know that the DC Loco's don't run as well on a DCC system as they do on a straight DC System. I was more or less like you regarding your thinking about DC and DCC. DC is, in my opinion, the only way to go if you have a simple single line layout; however, if you have anything more complex than that, as you do, you would be mad not to go with DCC. Personally, considering the limitations of DC, I think you would be much happier with the end result and what you could do using DCC.

I can also tell you that trying to wire a layout for DC, and wanting to run more than one train, is going to get complex and costly and just could end up being more costly than buying a DCC starter System from the outset. Keep in mind this also, DCC is the current "norm", while DC is becoming less and less supported. Basically, if history repeats itself, DCC will become cheaper and DC will become more expensive which could result in you being (almost) forced to transition to a DCC system sooner or later anyway.
 
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#7
I know as much about electrics as I do flying to the moon
I like how this could be taken either way. For all I know, you could be a recently retired astronaut :)

If I'm opting with DCC, the question then becomes "what DCC system shall I use"? I think this question is probably the most common on the forum, so I'll try to do my research tonight and avoid wasting everyone's time :p

In terms of what I would want, however: having all the bells and whistles - literally! - isn't something that is important to me right now. It could be that I don't know what I'm missing out on though. Would be interesting to hear everyone's opinion on sound adding/subtracting from the hobby.

Tony, you make a good point about how DCC is becoming a cheaper (and more widely supported) option.
 

wombat457

Well-Known Member
Staff member
#8
Ron,

Yeah, I'm a retired astronaut ... whoops hang on a tick, there's a little light thingy on the whats a name flashing and making all sorts of weird sounds, oh crap, it's the microwave, at least that's what it says on the door! :D

Which DCC to use - that is going to open a can of worms, I can tell you. There seems to be a few DCC manufacturers or systems around; however, the two main or most popular or most advertised or pushed manufacturers seem to be Digitrax and NCE. I think it is fair to say that they offer the most options when it comes to DCC Systems and gear, probably Digitrax more so. If I am correct then I would opt for either a Digitrax or NCE Starter System.

As I mentioned, I have both Digitrax and NCE - why? Because I am retired astronaut and can afford them :)

Okay, enough of the astronaut stuff. Of the two I, as a DCC electronics idiot, much prefer the NCE due to its simplicity and because of its cost compared to Digitrax. Essentially just trying to read and understand the Digitrax Instruction book required a doctorate in electronic engineering; where as, the NCE was much more straight forward and therefore much user friendlier for the novice. As a novice who only has DCC to be able to run and control two trains independent of each at the same time, and someone who doesn't delve into the dark hidden secrets of DCC, both the Digitrax and NCE seem to do the same thing and have the same or very similar functions. Is one technically better than the other? Wouldn't have a clue and to be honest, I don't really care so long as it lets me run my trains, and allows me to have my sounds, and both do.

So, to put it simply, if I were you I would seriously look into getting an NCE Starter System and go from there. One other thing, DCC can be as easy or as complex as you want to make it ... keep it simple, and it isn't much different to using a DC system. Start getting into automated running and JMRI and so on and then it becomes complicated. One other thing, with the NCE system, it is basically plug and play - pull it out of the box, plug it all in and run your trains.

All the bells and whistles ... yep, they are nice I think. I say I think as I have most likely not even scratched the surface of what is achievable with DCC. What I will say is this - it is better to have something and not need it than need something and not have it. Basically, it will all be there with DCC, what you use is entirely up to you.

The question on sound is another can of worms thing as well. Some people love sound and wont/cant run their trains without it, others deplore it because it gets annoying to them. My own preference is to have sound as it adds to the realism and atmosphere of the layout - brings it all to life so to speak. The nice thing with DCC and sound is you can turn on and off any sounds you want, that are available for a particular engine. You might even be able to adjust the volumes of the sounds so you can turn down those that irritate you and so forth. At the end of the day, sound is very much a personal preference and I think it should remain that way as well.
 
#9
...I can move the double-crossover slightly to the right, but I don't know if this will alleviate the problem any, as all of my trains would be longer than the 9-inches I can move it by...
Yes, it will definitely help. Ideally, you want a length of straight track between opposing curves that is at least as long as your longest rolling stock, regardless of train length; however, if that is not possible any length of straight track will help.

...I agree that DDC is wasted on a small switching layout...
If you will only have one moving train at a time, true (unless you want sound); however, add a second or more and I believe DCC becomes even more valuable on a small layout where it is harder to have decent sized blocks.

most, if not all, popular DCC Systems can run DC as well as DCC. I have a Digitrax and an NCE DCC System and both will run DC Locos (which I have)...
NCE will not run a DC loco. Their Power House Pro use to have the ability, but that feature was drop several years ago and the Power Cab has never had that ability. Actually, most DCC systems will not run a DC loco. Of the "Big 5" (Digitrax, NCE, Lenz, MRC, EasyDCC), only Digitrax and Lenz will run a DC loco (the first couple of systems that MRC produced would, but none of their current systems will).
 
#10
Hello all.

I've been looking in to the Zephyr Xtra (from Digitrax). I'm far more comfortable with its price ($170.00 new on eBay) than I am with the prices of pretty much everything else I've seen, and it seems to have all of the features everything else has (just slightly less power, but my layout isn't going to be 10,000 square feet anyway).

One of the biggest pluses regarding this system is it's ability to run DC locomotives when the address is set to 00. However, I'd like to understand more about how this works. The analog locomotives are controlled by how much power runs through the rails; one of the few things I understand about DCC is that there's always power in the rails, and the locomotives are told when to recognize that power. So, if I want my DC locomotive to run at a crawl, for example, would that mean that any DCC locomotive currently on the layout would be restricted to such speeds too (as there wouldn't be as much power in the rails)? I don't want to have to run my DC locomotive(s) at 100 all the time, and have them fly off of the rails.
 
#11
...So, if I want my DC locomotive to run at a crawl, for example, would that mean that any DCC locomotive currently on the layout would be restricted to such speeds too (as there wouldn't be as much power in the rails)?..
No, there will still be full power on the rails at all times. The DCC power is an alternating current (AC). Normally the plus and minus pulses are equal length, resulting in an average voltage of zero and no movement of a DC loco. By stretching either the plus or the minus pulses, the command station can control the average voltage of the DCC signal, causing the DC loco to move.
 
#12
I've been looking in to the Zephyr Xtra (from Digitrax). I'm far more comfortable with its price ($170.00 new on eBay) than I am with the prices of pretty much everything else I've seen, and it seems to have all of the features everything else has (just slightly less power, but my layout isn't going to be 10,000 square feet anyway).
I was thinking I was going to do the same thing by picking up a Zephyr Xtra, but one thing that made me hesitate a little on buying from eBay is the Digitrax warranty. "All warranties on Digitrax products apply to the initial retail purchaser for one year from the date of purchase from a Digitrax retail dealer only." So I didn't want to get one have an issue and be stuck with a $170 paperweight....maybe I'm crazy but that was my concern. just wanted to throw that out there.
 
#13
I was thinking I was going to do the same thing by picking up a Zephyr Xtra, but one thing that made me hesitate a little on buying from eBay is the Digitrax warranty. "All warranties on Digitrax products apply to the initial retail purchaser for one year from the date of purchase from a Digitrax retail dealer only." So I didn't want to get one have an issue and be stuck with a $170 paperweight....maybe I'm crazy but that was my concern. just wanted to throw that out there.
I'm not sure what your concern was, that is pretty standard fare for a warranty. For example, NCE's states "Within the first year full repair or replacement will be made to the original purchaser of any item that has failed due to manufacturer defect." Many consumer warranties are for the "initial purchaser."
 
#14
I'm not focused on the original owner part as much as I am the part that states the warranty is only valid if purchased through Digitrax Retail Dealer which the eBay seller is not.

There are a couple other places out there you can pick one of these up for a few dollars more and have the warranty.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

Iron Horseman

Well-Known Member
#15
I looked up block control this morning, as you suggested, and, as you also predicted, turns out the DC wiring can be even more complicated than I thought. One of the questions I had about it was "how does one determine where each block will be?".
I have a few rules of thumb for this. I would always have an absolute minimum of 4 blocks per loop of track preferably 6 (six gives one an "empty" block between two trains). I always start/end a block at a crossover. The reversing "loop" is always its own block. Any side track where I want a train to pull into and let another pass would be its own block.

Looks like I would go with about 14 for the plan you had outlined.
 



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