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Analog Vs Digital Trains - How To Retrofit
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Analog vs Digital Trains  -  How to Retrofit

Assuming you have an understanding about digital command control for model train sets, this article will attempt to clarify what it will take to convert a DC (analog) set into a DCC (digital) set without spending too much time or money. It will help you understand what elements of your previous set can be reused. As an avid model railroader, it will help you decide what is important when it comes to choosing the right control system.

What tracks can you reuse? What will you need to buy?

You'll be happy to know you can reuse all your existing track, but you'll want to give them a good cleaning, because DCC needs better electrical contact than the old DC system. The reason for this is that in addition to electricity flowing through the rails, now data is as well. That said, it is good practice to make sure the rail segments are soldered together.

What can I do with my old locomotives?

As a general rule, you should only be buying DCC-installed or DCC-ready locomotives. Quality analog (made to run on DC only) locos with strong motors can be retrofitted to run on DCC... though it can be a challenge. If an analog loco's motor is a good enough quality, it will not burn out while sitting on the higher-voltage tracks of your new digital train set. You will need to find a place for the DCC decoder to sit in the loco chassis. Rarely is there room for one without having to carve a new place out. If your loco has a tender, this would be a great place to hide the decoder and speaker, and just paint the connecting wire to the loco black. You need to connect the contact wires to the decoder, and connect the decoder to the motor and light(s). You'll probably want to upgrade your light(s) at this time.

Functionality and Expansion

You may have a panel of switches for your motorized turnouts. It probably took a lot of time to get them installed and working. Upgrading each of them to a stationary DCC decoder is a pricey proposal, especially if you have a full switching yard! You may just want to keep the old panel of switches as-is and upgrade just the mainline switches to digital control.

Choosing the Command Station

When choosing a digital command system to operate with, get a good picture in mind about the future of your layout. Will it be expanding to involve multiple operators or multiple consists of locos? Be aware that not all systems have the same capacity for expansion, functions or multiple controller support. The price difference reflects that, so be prepared to spend more for extra features. However if your layout is small and will remain small, you won't want half of the 'bells and whistles' that a super set offers. A starter set will be just fine.

Electrical Blocks and Power Districts

If your old layout was more than just a loop, it was probably divided into individual electrical blocks, so that all sections had individual control and no short circuits shut down the entire layout. Not to fear, those same electrical blocks can be wired as power districts in your DCC layout. It will no longer be used to divide control, but to maintain maximum power to the rails... so you don't experience voltage drop over long sections of the track.

DC Wired Locos on a DCC system?

Not all systems will allow an analog train to run along side digital ones. If you'd like that functionality, the system you choose will only be able to accommodate one analog locomotive (assigned to address 0). As stated before, just make sure it is a quality engine.

Once the struggle of analog vs digital trains is past, you will have the infrastructure in place to take advantage of the newest technological improvements this evolving industry is producing. You'll have a lot to talk about with your model railroader friends. Congratulations are due because the upgrade to a digital train set is the biggest step you will need to make to your layout, and it will be well worth it!

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