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Image by Clayton Cardinalli

Module 24A

Power & Control : Manufacturers & Suppliers

Power & Control : Suppliers

Basic Terms of Eectricity

So, let us begin in the customary manner, with a brief explanation of the basics as they apply to model railways – especially where the locomotive uses electricity from the track for propulsion. Rather than be overwhelmed at the outset by the vast array of electrical terminology I propose to identify the key words and explain their particular relevance to model railways as we go along. 

Of course, if you if you have no intention of using electricity to power your layout at all you can skip most of this module altogether. 

In Module 24 we had a brief introduction to the various methods of powering your railroad and provided some examples of the proprietary electrical solutions available if you stick to the "conventional" DC (although I wonder whether this terms of the increasing use of modern digital systems afforded by Digital Command Control (DCC)? I touched on the likes of Aristo-craft, LGB, Bachmann and Gaugemaster as examples of some of the ways in which manufacturers have sought to encompass in their product range their own branded design solutions. A basic control system is often included with their starter sets to save you worrying about compliance and compatibility issues, facilitate an 'out of the box' plug and play solution and generally improve their brand image. 

In this supplementary module I will attempt to provider a broader summary of available DC based systems available from the large scale railway manufacturers and suppliers. Some, like the old Aristo-craft controllers are getting increasing difficult to find and as most tend to be sourced from second-hand sources the quality and electrical safety of such products can be hard to discern from an advert or listing.

  

 

 

 

 

 

                             

                             

 

 

 

 

 

 


                             

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

 

 

 


 

 

 

Power & Control : Suppliers  ARISTO-CRAFT  

 

 

 

                                                                     This device proved popular but quickly became outdated so                                                                                Aristo-craft brought out a more sophisticated version called                                                                                “Revolution” which significantly improved on the original Train                                                                              Engineer and although it performed many of the functions of                                                                                DCC it was still not compatible with the NMRA published DCC                                                                            standards so must be regarded as a competing alternative to                                                                              DCC. This device, which can be used with either track or battery                                                                          power, has also gone through further development since 2009                                                                            and later models introduced sound applications.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For a comprehensive run-down on the “Revolution” we turn once again to Greg Elmassian who has contributed a very detailed analysis of the systems strengths and weaknesses available on his website.

 

 

 

 

This YouTube Video records a customer’s first time use and initial impressions (it was quite a few years ago).:

 

 

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ottawa Valley Garden Railway Society website also posts some tips on the evolution and operation of the Revolution TE extensively used by their membership. Drill down on the relevant ‘View Page’ link for more detail  regarding how to install and use.

Aristo-craft Train Engineer.jpg
Aristo-craft Revolution.png
Bachmann Controller.jpg

 Lineside Feeders 

Advantages & Disadvantages of Track Power    

Popular Analogue DC Equipment Solutions    

A typical example of a ‘Power Pack’ comprising separate units is the Piko Basic Analog Throttle 35006 (Max. Input 22 V DC) with matching Weather Resistant Power Supply 35000 (Max. Output 22V DC) and Track Power Clamp 35270 for G Gauge. All have to be purchased separately. 

Piko Speed Controller.jpg
Piko Transformer.jpg
Piko Clamps.jpg

RULE

Increasing the voltage output reduces the current capacity.

RUNNING ADDITIONAL LOCOMOTIVES   

The main problem with DC comes when you wish to run more than one train at a time on the same length of track. This is simply not feasible with an Analogue control which only permits one train on the track at a time without fairly complex modifications.

  

The solution adopted in the past was (and still is to the present day) to create separate ‘zones’ or “blocks” of track insulated from its neighbour with its own power supply and sectional control equipment, but this often proved complicated to install and liable to produce short-circuits if not installed correctly. 

The irritation of track powered lighting automatically going off as soon as the current is switched off also has to be endured unless you resort to fitting battery powered leds in passenger cars etc. 

Some manufacturers, notably the much missed, Aristo-craft, supplied a mobile form of control using a rudimentary form of Radio Frequency (RF) entitled the “Train Engineer”. This entry-level hand-held device had few wires to connect and enabled the operator to change the speed and direction of the locomotive over up to about 300’ distance away provided there were no physical obstructions. More of that later as whilst Aristo-craft are no longer in business the RF side of things is still available at the time of writing from Crest Electronics (recently acquired by Precision RC trading as Revoelectronics just to complicate matters further.) 

Aristo-craft Train Engineer.jpg

In some respects the programming and user documentation supplied with the Train Engineer was found wanting by some so George Schreyer penned a very useful webpage containing tips on how to get the best out of this device.

Aristo-craft Revolution.png

Prior to their demise  Aristo-craft also brought out an updated system called “Revolution” which significantly improved on the original Train Engineer but whilst it performed many of the functions of DCC it was still not compatible  with the NMRA published DCC standards so must be looked upon as a competing alternative to DCC. This device, which can be used with either track or battery power, has also gone through further development since 2009 and later models introduced sound applications.  

For a comprehensive run-down on the “Revolution” we turn once again to Greg Elmassian who has contributed a very detailed analysis of the systems strengths and weaknesses available on his website.   

 

This YouTube Video records a customer’s first time use and initial impressions:        

 

The Ottawa Valley Garden Railway Society website also posts some tips

on the operation of the Revolution TE extensively used by their membership. Drill down on the relevant ‘View Page’ link for more detail including how to install and  

You may also come across some older style Analogue DC Control Systems like the following USA Trains Train Power 10. The advice with all these systems is to try before you buy as some of them may have had very heavy usage or be underperforming in some way. On balance I would not recommend buying second-hand power equipment online unless you are able to return if you are unhappy with the equipment for any reason as it is impossible to assess the performance without a practical session. Also make sure that they are suitable for your household mains voltage which differ in different parts of the world. In the UK 230v AC is the norm whereas in the USA most mains circuits are 110v AC and need a step-down-transformer to work in the UK.: 

LGB Multi-Train System (MTS) 

LGB  MTS.png

In around 1995 LGB also introduced their own form of digital remote control using their in - house proprietary Multi-Train System (MTS) developed in association with Massoth. This was essentially a DCC forerunner but with limitations compared with today’s advanced DCC systems capable of controlling up to 256 locomotives, points, lights, sounds, etc. 

 

As previously explained, with conventional analog operation, the motor is powered directly via the tracks. When you turn the throttle knob, the track voltage increases and the loco moves forward or backwards baccording to the setting. If there are two locos on the tracks, both start moving at the same time and in the same direction. To operate several locos at the same time on an analog layout, the layout must be divided into separately powered track blocks. With digital operation and the LGB Multi-Train System, the situation is entirely different. The tracks are always live and carry the maximum voltage. All commands to the loco are relayed in real-time via the tracks. Because of this constant voltage, with some locos you hear minor background noises during certain operating conditions. These noises are sometimes louder with analog locos during “Analog Control” operation than with digitalized locos. A decoder is installed in the loco and controls the motor and other loco functions such as lights and sound. 

 

MTS evolved over the years in a number of generation releases MTS 1, MTS 2, MTS2P and MTS 3 (pictured), which proved successful for a while but as international standards were established for DCC its popularity waned due to problems getting it to work with decoders fitted to other brands of large-scale locomotive. Incidentally, LGB refer to the combined “Command Station” and “Booster” as a ‘Central Station’.  

In essence the LGB Multi-Train System, although based around many of the principles of the NMRA "DCC" standard, went a little bit further than the published standard by offering certain additional features, particularly in order to ensure full compatibility with the digital sound systems found in LGB locomotives.  

However, MTS, in common with many proprietary control systems developed in the 1970’s and 1980’s, is old technology with MTS1 and MTS2 relying on serial communication as opposed to the faster parallel communications incorporated into DCC.  

The third generation LGB MTS III Central Station (LGB 55006) is capable of addressing up to 23 locomotives (0 – 22) but if you substitute the Massoth DiMAX Navigator you can, in theory at least, go up to 10,239 individual loco addresses. 

Although possibly cheaper, MTS does not really stand up to comparison with the latest DCC systems available. It has also not been significantly enhanced to any great extent for many years and unless you have already invested significantly in this obsolescent technology it is probably better to move to a more advanced and non-proprietary DCC solution covered in Module 22. 

Apparently, you can run an LGB engine equipped with an MTS decoder on the Piko Digital System (actually manufactured by Massoth) but I cannot guarantee this unequivocally so please make your own enquiries if appropriate. 

To view the LGB MTS Instruction Manual use this link:   

This is a longer, but rather noisy video:

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