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Model Railroad Lighting With DCC - Increasing Realism
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Model Railroad Lighting with DCC  -  Increasing Realism

DCC train sets are pushing the boundaries of realism, closing the imagination gap between prototypical train operation and our layout. Model railroad lighting using a DCC controller is another chapter in the story of analog vs digital trains.

DCC Locomotive Lighting - Analog vs Digital

The locomotive and passenger car lights of older DC sets just didn't work very effectively. The bulbs would be dark if the train wasn't moving because there was no voltage to the rails. To keep lit while sitting stationary, a separate power source or capacitor was needed. This is an awkward solution at best. Not to mention it isn't very realistic for a slow moving loco to have a dim lamp... getting brighter as the loco moves faster. Lighting with DCC solves this issue by supplying full voltage to the rails to the DCC decoder whether or not the locomotive is moving. Because the light is independent of the throttle, this means that lights can be turned on or off and any combination of lighting configurations can be added as long as the design of the command station can afford one more feature.

Lights are independently controlled - Beyond the HeadLamp

Theoretically, if a model train needs a headlamp... we assume it is going to run in darkness at some point. A realistic layout doesn't have to operate only at high noon. Model railroads can take on a whole new mood in a night setting. In fact, how would a layout appear in the twilight of a sunset when streetlamps, billboards and home lights are just starting to flicker on... and when stars are just beginning to appear? With the use of small, efficient LED lighting through fiber-optics, tiny lights (and even clusters of lights) can appear where they couldn't before. Different colored overhead lighting can simulate the many different hues of the day. You cen even make a convincing moon out of a soft blue spotlight. And all of these controls can (but don't necessarily have to) rely on the functions of a DCC controller.

Occupancy sensors and Automatic Signals

Can you imagine what it would be like if a curbside police officer had to manually change the traffic signals of an intersection to allow the traffic to flow smoothly? That's how it once was... and it didn't take long for municipalities to figure out how to automate signals. Now most traffic signals adjust to smooth traffic flow by using occupancy sensors. This principle also works on real railroads, showing train engineers when tracks are occupied or free to travel on. A model railroad can also showcase realism with automatic signals that change between red and green when tracks are free vs occupied. A new level of realism is reached when automation allows the layout to respond automatically to to the proximity of train. The use of stationary DCC decoder and occupancy sensors help achieve that, and can also trigger a bell to sound and crossing gates to lower.

As we well know, a train layout is a finite space. We model railroaders always want more depth to the scenery and we often exaggerate landscapes and unnatural scene shifts like highrises near rolling hills. One great way to make the scenery take a whole new life is by using intelligent DCC locomotive lighting and atmospheric 'mood' lighting. Your 'Moonlight Express' passenger train will take on a whole new life (from the 'daytime' mode) when passing the streetlamp-lined roadway across the flashing railroad crossing signal. Like a paintbrush, you can change the whole feel of the layout with light. Model railroad lighting with DCC will create 'new' layouts from the one you have already built.


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