Snowy Soo

Winter Railroading.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

A switch to Digitrax?

Due to a sale price too good to pass up, wireless Digitrax has arrived at the West Toronto Junction. Will it replace the popular NCE system already in service? Stay tuned for future updates. 

More than two years ago, shortly after I began construction on my layout, I purchased an NCE PowerCab DCC system and I haven’t looked back. I really like the system and I’ve since added three UTP panels and a Cab 04 so I can walk around my room-sized switching layout and follow the train.

When I started building the layout and making my return to this great hobby after a long time away, I knew I wanted to go DCC right off the bat. I began to research the different systems. As many do, I narrowed it down to Digitrax vs. NCE. I worked through all the pros and cons of each system (as I saw them) and made my choice. I won’t repeat the factors I chewed over in deciding to go with NCE, but you can read my old post about it here.

And although I like the NCE system very much, I always thought that if a reasonably priced used Digitrax system came my way I might pick it up. Why?

  • To have as a backup system.
  • As a way to become familiar with arguably the most popular train control system out there.
  • I’m considering getting involved in modular model railroading and it seems these groups almost always use Digitrax, though I’m sure there are some exceptions.

I figured the Digitrax starter set that would suit me best would be the Zephyr. But when I saw an ad in my area for a Super Empire Builder Xtra with Duplex (this one) for $150, I jumped at it.

The deal also included a Digitrax PM42, which is a circuit breaker than can separately protect four different sections of a layout. It's an $80 value.

The system I bought had never been out of its box. The previous owner had decided to get out of the hobby before they could execute a planned switch from DC to DCC.

Those of you familiar with Digitrax will know this was a great deal. Digitrax lists the system’s MSRP at $575. The booster/command station alone is worth at least $150. The Duplex equipped DT400 is more than $200. 

Buying this system allows me to try out a Digitrax system and operate my layout completely wireless instead of walking around, plugging and unplugging (though to be honest, I don't much mind this). Moving my NCE system to wireless would require buying an RB02 (they’re about $140) plus buying a radio equipped throttle or converting the ones I’ve got now to wireless.

I picked up this used Digitrax Super Empire Builder Xtra equipped with Duplex for $150. I plan to run the layout with this system for a while, then compare it with the NCE system in a future post. For now it's fun to operate wirelessly and become familiar with this popular train control system.

Discovering the Digitrax

Before I could try out the Digitrax, I had to buy an AC adapter to power it. One complaint I've heard about Digitrax is that some of their starter sets, including the pricier ones, don’t come with a power cable. This was no big deal for  me, I picked up one for $9 at a surplus electronics store near my work. It's essentially the same one I once had for an IBM laptop.  

When I got home, I unplugged the feeders from my PowerCab because I didn’t want the two systems both trying to run my layout at the same time, for obvious reasons! I powered up the Digitrax system, connected it to the layout’s power bus and after a few minutes working through the startup guide, I was running trains wirelessly from the DT400D.

I plan to write a future post that offers some detailed observations about how these two systems compare, so I’ll stay away from any “review type” comments for now.

For now the Digitrax will operate while sitting loose my workbench. Should I decide to keep it and sell the NCE stuff, I will install the DB 150 and the UR92  panel inside the layout fascia.

So am I selling my NCE system?

I now have the option of keeping the system I like best and selling the other. Each would make an attractive package to a modeller. I’m certain I could get more for the Digitrax system than I paid for it, if I opted to sell it and stick with NCE. My NCE stuff is in great shape and I have all the boxes, manuals, etc.

For now at least, I’ll likely keep the Digitrax even though I do acknowledge the silliness of owning two very robust DCC systems for what is a rather small HO scale layout. 

I have heard other modellers who possess both Digitrax and NCE products, even if only a throttle, so they can bring their throttles while operating at another layout. 

So stay tuned for future updates as I discover the Digitrax and compare and contrast it with the NCE. 

I welcome your comments on all this.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

September Layout update

All of this still needs work, but here are the beginnings of the underpass beneath the tracks at Runnymede.

Greetings everyone. As I said in an earlier post, I've not worked on the layout too much over the summer. 

I did manage to paint the track, get some scenery done and get the framework started on the underpass at Runnymede Road. I've also started on the parking lot where the Lambton yard office is. 

I was dithering about what colour of materials to use, where to start etc. I found that between magazines and online material I was reading more about model railroading that actually doing any of it!

I won't go into a blow-by-blow description of how I did everything to get the layout to this point. Here's the basics:

The start of the scenery and access road. The cardboard shimming the track will be covered with ballast. 

  • Scenery: I draped plaster gauze over balled up plastic bags to form the hills on either side of the underpass. I then pulled the bags out after everything was dry. I painted the scenery brown with a cheap acrylic paint and used ground foam for the grass. The gravel road is a mix of four different ballast colours (two greys, a brown and a black). There's still plenty more layers of scenery material to apply here (grass tufts, foliage clusters, etc. etc.)
  • Parking lot: This is done pretty much exactly how Lance Mindheim describes here. It's Rustoleum grey primer paint, followed with an India ink wash applied with an airbrush. The road paint (parking lots lines) also follows the Mindheim technique described here in the Aug. 24 post on his blog. I'm going to redo the road markings on the street that runs along the underpass. I  made a failed attempt at that before reading Mindheim's technique. 

  • Track paint: here I used Brown camo paint from Home Depot. Looks oK but it's a bit too uniform, I want to go back and weather up the rail and certain ties. 
What's next?

I've got to finish the scenery here in the yard, including the ballast, which I'm not looking forward to. It's a tedious job. I'm also going to a train show in a few weeks that will give me a chance to pick up some of the background structures I need. I'm also preparing some  rail photos I shot over the summer around the area to laminate buildings and use for the photo backdrop.

Sorry this isn't more detailed. I will include more pics in my next post. 

Here's a look to the right of the bridge. The cardboard rectangle in the background is a mockup of where a warehouse building will go for the spur that runs there.