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calaski8123 08-08-2013 08:05 AM

Battery/DCC Cost Question
I realize this is a hot debate, not trying to start it all over again. I'm looking for a specific analysis. I plan to run a couple of trains, maybe 3 or 4 not ten. So I am assuming I will need some type of individual control system. I read that battery power offers an advantage in this respect and I think the cost is mitigated since either way I would have to install some type of control system in my engines. Battery also seems to offer me the advantage of going with different track materials and not having to worry so much about electrical connections (another maintenance issue).

I have LGB engines with no control systems installed. I would need to convert them to battery or install the control system if I leave it electric. Can someone give me an estimate of the costs involved to convert one engine to either? Right now I only have the original LGB transformer, so I would need a new DCC controller or remote controller with a battery system.

Basically I'm looking to see which would be more cost effective considering I'm starting from scratch, need to install some type of control system in either case and also in terms of maintenance. If I'm missing any advantages or disadvantages associated with either please let me know.


Greg Elmassian 08-08-2013 07:15 PM

RE: Battery/DCC Cost Question
4 locos is right about where the balance tips.

cost per loco needs some information, sound or not? and if so, how good do you want the sound to be?


calaski8123 08-08-2013 07:45 PM

RE: Battery/DCC Cost Question
Sound is not that important... so I can do with basic or no sound. I'm more interested in visual and operation. To be honest, I just like "playing" with the trains with my daughter and watching them run around.


Greg Elmassian 08-08-2013 09:37 PM

RE: Battery/DCC Cost Question
Look at Del Tappero's system for basic, simple to use remote control.

Regards, Greg

East Broad Top 08-08-2013 10:53 PM

RE: Battery/DCC Cost Question
For uber-basic control, Del's (G Scale Graphics) Pocket RailBoss pushbutton system works pretty well. We use his three-button system out at the Colorado RR museum line, but he's got a new 6-button system out now. The biggest drawback of this system is that there's no visual feedback on the transmitter letting you know what direction you're going, or how much throttle you're giving the locomotive. The lack of visual feedback is the biggest gripe I hear from operators out at the museum, especially new ones trying to figure out how to run their trains on the layout. Once you get the hang of it, it's fine, and I ran my trains using a similar pushbutton controller for more than 10 years just fine. Cordless Renovations has their "RailLinx" system which also uses pushbuttons. I'm not familiar enough with that to recommend it or not.

A step up from that would be the digital proportional systems from Del or Tony Walsham (RCS of Australia). These systems use common 2-stick 2.4gHz R/C transmitters and receivers. Still pretty basic, and relatively inexpensive. The 2-stick controllers can get a bit bulky to carry around, but that's what I started using when I first went battery power, and what I use now to run my live steamers. I prefer smaller controllers you can hold in one hand, but at the same time, I carry mine around for an hour or so at a time when running my steamers, so what's the gripe?

Next up the function food chain would be Aristo's Revolution control system. The transmitter (in my opinion) is superior to basic pushbutton controllers in that there's an LCD screen that tells you direction and throttle settings. Motor control is very good, and the receivers come with sound built in, so whether you use it or not, you've got some semblance of basic sound.

The cost per loco on all of these systems will be about the same (average $90-ish per loco) depending on which system you choose and who you buy it from. The transmitters vary in cost. The key fob transmitters Del uses run from $50 to $90; the 2.4 gHz controllers can be had from as low as $25 to $150. The Aristo controller comes in a transmitter/receiver set that will set you back around $270 - $300 or so (around $190 for the transmitter). The transmitter is a one-time cost if you're only going to have one person running. If multiple operators are desired, multiple transmitters are needed.

The top of the food chain goes to Airwire and QSI in terms of the level of control for motor and sound (and--not surprisingly--also cost.) The Airwire receivers will set you back around $140 give or take (motor and light control only), and while the G-wire receiver that works with the QSI decoder is only $100, the QSI decoder is an additional $200. (But you get motor, light and very good sound control.) The Airwire boards will give you very nice motor and sound control, but you've then got to add sound (Phoenix is most common, for an additional $160 or so.) So, both of these systems will set you back about triple the price per loco for wireless receiver, motor and sound control. It's far from "basic," though, so it's worth it if you want that level of control, it's not worth it if you don't care about it.

Batteries will run you around $40 per locomotive for a 14.8volt, 2.6 amp/hour Lithium Ion battery pack. That should be sufficient to run your locos for around 3 - 4 hours on a charge. If the locos are small, you may have to get a bit "creative' in terms of where to put the batteries, or go with a dedicated trail car if there's absolutely no room. (They'll fit in most cabs, but you'll be able to see them.) That's a per-loco charge if you cannot make the batteries removable, or maybe buy two or three packs for your whole fleet if you can remove them and never run more than one or two locos at once. The charger is a one-time expense, but $25 will get you an appropriate charger than can charge these packs in about 90 minutes. You can buy two and not break the bank.

You're going to need probably about $10 worth of electronic components--charge jack, power switch, fuse, battery connectors) for each loco you do.

In terms of ongoing maintenance of battery power, the only thing is that you will likely have to replace your battery packs once in a while. "They" say you can expect Li-Ion packs to last about 5 years. I've got three packs that are getting close to that point, but still give me stellar performance. Ask me this time next year how they're doing. But--again--if you've only got a few locos or a few battery packs, that's a manageable cost. Quite honestly, I was changing battery chemistries once every 6 or 7 years anyway (and replacing batteries once every 2 - 3 years as well), so it's actually less of a cost concern now than it was before.

Hopefully that gives you some direction to at least start looking. Feel free to come back with any questions. It's mind-boggling at first, but once you're able to get a better handle on how you want to run your trains, and what--specifically--you want to control, it gets easier to pare down the list of options. The amount of physical work to install the most basic vs. the most complex system doesn't change all that much, except perhaps for wiring the bells, whistles, and lights.



Dan Pierce 08-09-2013 04:44 AM

RE: Battery/DCC Cost Question
My biggest concern with controlling trains now is how long will the system be available so that in 10 years I can add control to another new engine purchase.
I had the Aristocraft 27 mhz system and now it is out of production as is the 75 mhz system.
So, I no longer trust a single source of electronics, thus I went with DCC for future expansions.
I have an older LGB MTS system, low end of the DCC capabilities, but it works.
Also I have the Zimo system which is awesome.
There are many manufacturers of decoders and also command stations so if one or two disappear, no harm done.

TonyWalsham 08-09-2013 05:13 AM

RE: Battery/DCC Cost Question
Dan has a valid point regarding product obsolescence, but I should point out that there is no availability and continuity of supply like there is for multi channel 2.4 GHz R/C. There are dozens of brands and for our purposes they all work exactly the same way and they are generally low cost.
To compliment this steady supply of R/C equipment for battery R/C there are dozens of makers of suitable ESC's. Some are pretty basic but a little bit of web searching will uncover ESC's that can do many of the things DCC systems can do such as proper proportional speed control, directional lights, speed matching, MU'ing, controllable inertia and at least 4 sound triggers.
There are often plenty of spare channels that can use the servo driven Kadee uncouplers.

The only real down point is the size of the TX. I must admit it is a bit bulky, but I can assure you, that like Kevin, you soon get used to them. Anyway, that is going to change soon with the imminent availability of a cigarette pack size DSM2 compatible TX Handpiece with a knob for speed control and switch for direction change.

Greg Elmassian 08-09-2013 07:37 AM

RE: Battery/DCC Cost Question
Umm... DCC is much more compatible and long lived than proprietary control systems and even the old model airplane stuff. You can buy a system today that runs both the earliest and newest DCC locos.

Personally, I run DCC for all the options of who I can buy from and the cost per loco... if you go above 4 locos, it's been proven over and over you will come out ahead with a track power system.


calaski8123 08-09-2013 11:39 AM

RE: Battery/DCC Cost Question
Wow great stuff guys thanks. It's overwhelming. The last thing I want to do is settle on a system and find out its not what I want later one and have to start over. Sound is really not an issue but I could possibly see going over four locos at some point in the future if I really get hooked.

If I solder the track connections and use concrete roadbeds, can I effectively limit the amount of maintenance? Other than some cosmetic ballast and maybe some repairs from my dogs, I'm thinking there shouldn't be anything else if I go electric track power?

I bought used LGB stuff from my friend. I have four locos right now and have another in mind. Not planning to run all at once but be nice to have that ability if I wanted.

The costs seem reasonable with battery, I guess a little less with track power but more initial work in soldering everything?

I really need to decide on the roadbed and track type before winter. I would like to lay a test circle and see how it holds up over winter.

I will have some very specific questions once I get started but for now I'm just researching and trying to learn.

Does anyone live in the northern NJ or southern NY area that would be willing to show me their layout? Even eastern PA would do i'll drive up to an hour or so.


chuck n 08-09-2013 02:41 PM

RE: Battery/DCC Cost Question
Another option, just to muddy the water a little bit, is a remote control unit between your power supply and the track. You can double or more head with similar locomotives. I can run LGB ABA units, or a USAt ABA lash ups. What I cannot do is run two separate trains. I do have three battery, RC, engines that I use mostly as guest engines on other layouts. At home I use a Bridgewerks remote. It has a 4 button key fob for control, on/off, increase speed, decrease speed, and reverse. It meets all of my requirements. Aristo used to have a similar type of unit. I'm not sure what they now have. I can control the train from inside the house with the Bridgewerks unit. I'm away from home now, but it is either a Ul or UR-15, if my memory is any good, which it probably isn't. It is not inexpensive, about $250, but it is an excellent unit and made in America. Chuck. PS. Some of us recommend running on analog DC for a while before you jump in to other options. A little running experience will help direct you to which option may be best for you. By all means try to find a local club or group in your area. It is far better to visit and ask questions directly. There is no single system that is ideal for everyone, they all have advantages and disadvantages. It all depends upon your specific railroad and what you expect to do with it.

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