My son has recently become a model train enthusiast and asked me how to control multiple trains on the same track. Is it possible and how would one go about building a controller?
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To do what you want you will need to use the system called DCC. To see an explanation of how it works, see Practical Electronics, Jan 2021 where they show (on page28) how the voltage going to the tracks is encoded with digital control information as well as being the power source for all the trains and other equipment controlled by the system.
I suggest reading the magazine at a book sellers place while enjoying a drink because the magazine costs $12. I would not suggest building the circuit when similar factory built units are available, because the blank circuit board is 12 Pounds each plus VAT and shipping from GB.
Amazon lists a DCC controller called NCE PROCAB #5240010 which looks like a large TV remote with a display that can control your whole layout. This equipment is not cheap.
A review of the Bachmann HO scale "ChargerSC-44" diesel locomotive with AmTrack Cascades 1400 paint as shown in Model Railroad News, May 2021 is pretty favorable. It is part #67904 MSRP $469 from Bachmann Trains. 800 356 3910 https://bachmanntrains.com Also check out Walthers 800 487 2467 https://www.walthers.com for some less expensive models.
I hope this will be useful and get you started in the right direction.
You and your son are in luck, controlling multiple trains on the same track is a problem already solved with Digital Command Control (DCC). The beauty of using DCC is that the National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) has a series of electrical standards that define the signal between the transmitter (known as the command station) and the receiver (known as the decoder). The NMRA published the first of the DCC standards (see https://www.nmra.org/index-nmra-standards-and-recommended-practice) 20 years ago, so these standards are well established and stable.
There are multiple manufactures of DCC systems. Each system has a command station to create the signal and a booster to amplify the signal that is sent out over the rails. The manufacturers differ in the manner they input the user signal into the command station, via a throttle (also called a cab), since this in not covered by the NMRA standard.
A decoder is placed in each locomotive. There are also multiple manufactures of decoders. Compliance with the NMRA standard allows any manufacturer’s decoder to correctly interpret any manufacturer’s DCC signal. Should you wish to purchase a “starter set”, my advice is to avoid over-researching, since given the time-honored DCC standards, there are no “bad” systems on the market. Rather, find a neighbor, friend, or local model railroad group that is willing to assist, then purchase whatever DCC system they are using.
Being a Nuts and Volts reader, you have other options to explore. Type “DYI DCC” your browser’s search. You will find numerous variations using an Arduino or Raspberry Pi to provide the signal while an old computer running a Java-based cross-platform program, JMRI (see https://www.jmri.org), provides all interface. If your son’s locomotives do not have a manufacture installed decoder, he will be able to learn advanced soldering skills.
In summary – Jump into Digital Command Control and get much more out of the hobby than you and your son originally expected.
There is a model train system called DCC where electronics in the train engine are controlled by a wireless remote control. Multiple trains can be controlled for speed, lights, horns, smoke etc. Visit a good hobby shop that has a train section or search online.
What you're probably looking for is DCC (Digital Command Control) technology. I use the Digitrax system for my layout. There are also a few DIY projects out there: https://dccwiki.com/DCC_Projects.
The simplest explanation for this is each loco has a unique decoder embedded inside. The tracks are always energized and commands are sent along the tracks from the controller, causing the recipient loco to execute that command. Good luck!