The layout :

Rolling Stock  

Scenic Area

Fiddle Yard

Sound

Computer Control
Computer Control

There has been much discussion and confusion about Digital Command Control or DCC

I decided to investigate all the pros and cons

On the negative side are the higher costs, as the control equipment is typically more expensive and each motor needs to be converted or fitted with a decoder

On the positive side trains can be operated on any section of the layout, removing the need for blocked electrical sections
Trains with directional lighting can have that lighting on at all times, unlike DC

My previous experience of DCC was the original Hornby Zero 1 system
Instead of a variable DC voltage, DCC uses a fixed AC supply to the tracks at all times
These latest systems may also use a higher frequency, within this AC signal are the commands which are sent to the relevant decoder

The result, and main benefit as far as I was concerned, was the directional lighting

Equipment -
I looked at various systems and the Lenz was chosen due to a local agent (which has now sadly ceased trading)
A Lenz Set 100 was purchased, typically £300, which includes a TR150 transformer, LVZ100 command and power station, and LH100 handset

The first issue was the output from the TR150 rated at 5A
Each decoder in N gauge consumes up to 0.1A when idle and up to 0.5A under load
The Lenz agent advised the maximum number of trains that could be operated was 10
Above this one additional power unit (LV200) and power supply (TR150) would be required
However, DigiTrains later advised this was not the case and Circuit Breakers could be used instead
I therefore decided to wait until enough models had been converted to determine what the limit was, as the control unit (LZV100) would cut out as per the manual
So far this, with 50 models installed with decoders, has never happened

Installation -
The track layout has one section where the polarity conflicts
The solution is to use a special Circuit Breaker, known as an Auto Reverser
This is then connected to an short isolated section of track between the two sections with the polarity conflict
This module detects the short circuit, due to the polarity conflict, and reverses the polarity such that the change is not visible to they eye
For thois section a DCC Specialties On-Guard OG-AR Auto Reverser is installed
This is placed on the loop, around the Fiddle Yard

Programming -
After each decoder is installed it requires to have an address assigned to it
This is done by placing the model on a special short programming piece of track
The handset is then placed into programming mode
The address is then set
For the models four digit addresses are used, typically the last four digits of its TOPS number
As example 47704 become 7704
Care has to be taken to make sure there are no duplicates, otherwise models with the same address will move at the same time
An example here is 37707 and 47707, as the Class 37 is causing the conflict, these become 3707 and 7707

The next issue were models where two or more decoders have to be installed
An example of this is the Dapol Class 156 DMU, which requires two decoders
There are two options -
Programme all the decoders to the same address, all the lights then change together
Programme each decoder separately, the unit can then have its lights controlled separately as they would be from each cab

There are other options available during programming, such as voltage, acceleration, and deceleration
This will be discussed at a later stage when this is required

Handset use -
Each decoder is then set to 28 speed step by default, tests with 128 speed steps were carried out but little benefit was found

Where the model has lights the 0 (zero) function is used to turn these on / off
The direction button is then used to select direction
The > button is used to increase speed in single steps
The >> button is used to increase speed in steps of 8

After viewing some exhibitions layouts in the period 2012 to 2015, I was impressed by Computer Control
I decided to investigate linking the Lenz system to a computer
However, I found this would require an additional interface and system update

Sadly I found the Lenz handset fiddly and for intense use was quite distracting, so disposed of this

I then purchased the SPROG 3 system, typically £70
Initially this looks like nothing more than a small box, not capable of much

Next was a new laptop, an ASUS X453MA, typically £175

Finally, an interface is required to be used on the laptop
After reading several reviews and seeing it in use on exhibition layouts JMRI was installed on the laptop

Sound Decoders -
As part of the Mercig Studios conversions, initially two models were converted with Sound Decoders
I was so impressed with the results all subsequent conversions had both elements included as standard

JMRI

Personally, the manuals for JMRI are nothing beyond useless after installation has been completed, referring to menus and options relating to programming, files and code

Decoder Pro -
This interface allows direct programming and control of the DCC system

PanelPro -
This interface allows control by creating a Control Panel

Using Decoder Pro -
The first stage is program the addresses for each DCC device, if they have not already been assigned
The model is placed on the Programming Track
Decoder Pro will normally identify the type of decoder installed
The address can then be assigned
The model can then be placed on the main layout
The process can then be repeated and a roster is created

The Throttle can then be opened up, the address then entered to control the model
SPROG only allows one active Throttle at a time
However, by selecting a model from the roster multiple Throttles can be open
They can then be placed on the screen for ease of use

More to follow in due course