Are you really in control of your layout?

Now you have planned out your layout, and built the baseboard its time to decide how you are going to control your locomotives before installing the track work.

We have two options Analogue or Digital?

Choosing the most suitable controller for your layout can often seem like a daunting task. This is mainly due to the number of controllers on the market, along with the fact they all have slight variances in design and use. This considered, there are only a few things to think about before you can select the perfect controller for your requirements.

The first is the type of control you want over your layout. There are two methods of control on the market today. One is analogue, and the other is digital.

DC refers to the type of power being supplied to the track, in this case a DC current at 12 volts powering an analogue layout. This is seen as the traditional method of controlling model railways, and involves a variable current speeding up and slowing down a locomotive on a single track.

DCC stands for Digital Command Control, which works in a different way. On DCC layouts the track is constantly live, and the controller sends a signal down the track to decoder chips in each locomotive which interpret the instructions and power the motor or functions accordingly. So, as you may have guessed, the first question is Analogue or Digital.

Basic Analogue Controllers
Single track controllers are the most simplistic in operation. Generally found in starter sets, these controllers offer limited functions above the control of the layout. Some controllers are simply a wall plug transformer connected to the controller, with two wires connecting to the track. A few basic controllers like the COMBI also include a 16 volt AC~ power supply for accessories. As a single track controller, it has the capacity to control one locomotive on the section of track that it is connected to. If you add further tracks to your layout, simply add an extra controller per track or a consider upgrading to a multi-track controller.

With this type of control system running several locomotives can be challenging as you need different sections of track that can be isolated, and then controlled from other controllers.

Digital Control (DCC)
DCC or (Digital Command Control) is an alternative way of controlling your layout that is slightly different to the traditional analogue method. Conventional DC operation relies on a variable current being passed through the track – the higher the current, the faster the locomotive runs. If you add a second locomotive onto the same track, it will closely mirror the action of the first. Digital control gives you much more flexibility. All digital controllers are putting a constant voltage to the track, generally between 14 and 16 volts as AC~ current. Each locomotive has a DCC Decoder inside. A decoder is a small computer chip which communicates with the digital controller and converts the AC current from the digital system to DC, allowing the locomotives to run correctly.

Once a decoder is installed in each of your locomotives, the ability to control multiple locomotives from one controller at the same time becomes a reality. In essence you can have multiple locomotives running on the same track, in different directions, at different speeds, and all with one controller. Aside from the obvious merits of refined control of the locomotives, digital control still has more to offer. Instead of just controlling the locomotives, many digital controllers can also allow control of your points, signals and other accessories, which means every aspect of your layout can be accessed from one controller.

There are many controllers on the market today, each offering a slightly different take on the control of a digital layout.

I recommend that you contact a local model shop who can answer your questions in more detail.