After much consideration, reading and pondering, I have finally decided on a DCC system for my model trains. Digitrax. The Digitrax Zephyr to be precise. I am getting the older model, the DCS 50, because it was offered to me dirt cheap. (Are you picking up a trend in my model railroad? The “dirt-cheap” theme?)
Deciding between the different brands and types of DCC system is not an easy task. It is one of those Mac vs PC, iOS vs Android things that is likely to start a holy war in the forums in which you bring it up. In the end though the decision boiled down to two or three major factors.
The first of those factors is cost. In other words I have to be able to buy, setup and maintain the system as inexpensively as possible. But it also means that I have to be able to expand the system in the future so that I am not either locked in or forced to buy another system. That expandability also goes into my second criteria. The cost factor alone could be met by a number of system right off, so I began by considering everything from Bachmann EZ Command through NCE PowerCab. Of course in between there is Digtrax, Lenz, MRC and even Hornby.
The second criteria is that the system must be able to work with computer control. Hey, I am a geek and a computer hacker at heart. I have a vision of using JMRI, DecoderPro and PanelPro from my computer to program my trains, control my layout, and be the master of my domain. (Does this stuff work on cats?) Unfortunately that ruled out a few folk, primarily NCE, because they do not open up their specs for other people to work with. Just take a look at the JMRI documentation and you will see what I mean. Most systems must have some kind of work around or are not guaranteed to work. But Digitrax looks very solid here. They have an excellent USB interface and lots of people are using Digtrax with JRMI. Now all this may not happen with my layout for a while, but that goes back to condition number one of not having to re-purchase key components later.
The final major factor is support. And by this I mean community support. All of the major players in the DCC arena have at least fairly good websites and support structure. But, there comes a time where learning is best done at someone’s knee. I learned this a long time ago when I was beginning my work with British car repair. None of the tasks were particularly hard, and the manuals were technically correct, but I sure grasped the concepts a whole lot more easily and quickly when I could watch someone and ask a few question. To that end I went to the local Charleston Area Model Railroad Club to see what they are using. By and large it is all Digitrax. Sure different locomotives will run on the system and there are a few modelers who prefer other brands, but what I saw in people’s hands on on the layout in operations is Digitrax. Meaning that when I get to my wits end and want to ask a question, the experienced support or at least the commiserating shoulder is only a few miles away.
There you have it then. I am a Digitrax man for better or worse. As always, your milage may vary and I would love to hear other viewpoints. Now I just have to wait to get the actual Zephyr system in my hands.
Update: Forgot to note that I will also, somewhere down the line, be adding WiThrottle to the system. This is an app for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch that interfaces with JMRI over a wireless network so you can use the iOS device as a throttle. Very cool way to have a wireless walk-around train control system!