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The expression 'DCC Ready' is now an established note in the catalogue against many Bachmann locomotives.

What does it mean?

It means that the locomotive has space for a DCC decoder and a standard NMRA socket to plug it into.

And that means?

DCC - digital command control - is a control system for the model railway where a decoder onboard the locomotive is used to provide control of speed and direction of the motor. The instructions are passed from the 'throttle' to the decoder by means of digital signals that are superimposed over a constant track voltage. Put simply, you control the locomotive and not the track.

As well as output to power the motor, many decoders also have a number of auxiliary outputs that can power other functions: lights or smoke for example, and really fancy decoders also have sound.

As there is always voltage at the track these functions are not related to train speed as happens with lights on direct current (DC) controlled trains.

There are also decoders that will power stationary operations - points, signals, etc. - all from the same handset as you run your locomotive.

But aren't we talking about a model railway that's being run by a computer?


Automated systems can be used with DCC just as they can with DC. It's not what DCC is about.

DCC means that separate power sections and isolating switches are completely eliminated. No more of those cunning control schemes that electrical experts come up with to pass trains around a big layout. As the whole layout is live you set your route and drive there. Stop trains where you want and move control to another. Put two trains to a platform at the station like the real thing. Put three in the same siding in the engine shed.

DCC systems allow double heading, and typical 'real railway' moves like adding a pilot engine or joining multiple units can be done with ease. As there is now absolutely nothing to stop trains being driven into one another, on a medium to large layout with several operators you are likely to need a signalling system to drive by, and maybe another operator to be signalman!

But haven't we been here before? Back in the 70's with Zero-1? What's different and isn't this another passing fad?

Yes, there have been several proprietary systems in Europe and America that haven't made it. What's different is that DCC is an established, open, standard to which many manufacturers make products. Lenz developed the system and ensured its success by allowing it to become the NMRA standard (NMRA is the National Model Railroad Association, the main model railway standard setting body in the US). These standards mean that it is possible to combine products from different manufacturers and have them work together. Was the development of two-rail fifty years ago just a passing fad?

The DCC decoder can enhance the operation of individual locomotives and get the best from them. The minimum and maximum output voltages can be set. Adjust these so that your locomotive just starts moving as you turn the control knob one notch and not a quarter of the way round as happens on your DC system, and set an appropriate speed for maximum on the control knob whether the locomotive is a Pannier or a Pacific. The decoders have inertia settings. Adding a little removes some abruptness from stopping and starting and makes it a pleasure to run.

There are two downsides: fitting decoders and the cost.

Fitting is getting easier as locomotives start to have sockets, but there are also hardwired or circuit board replacement options for other locomotives. Many Bachmann locomotives that do not have sockets are straightforward to fit, though some of the earlier split chassis designs are more challenging.

Space for the decoder is often a problem; however, decoders continue to get smaller and smaller. The cost is getting lower. A Lenz unit to run a small layout starts at £75, and there are sets for medium to large layouts from several manufacturers costing from £200, though the number of handsets and total power required will vary the cost.

Decoders are now starting from £15 each. There will obviously be fitting charges if you don't fit yourself. Undeniably there is a large cost consideration for those with a large fleet of locomotives, and a DC / DCC mixed approach may be the way forward. Look for suppliers advertising in the model railway press, and it's a good idea to compare systems if you can by visiting layouts run with them.

At the moment DCC is taking off rapidly amongst modellers in this country. Currently locomotives are being sold that have sockets and space to accept a decoder. We believe that it won't be long before models of British locomotives are sold with the decoder factory fitted: American and European models already are.

You can be assured that as these developments gather momentum, Bachmann will be providing products that will ensure that they remain leaders in the field.

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