The Wonders of DCC Friendly Switches:
DCC Friendly Switches – Do We Need Them? Are they simply a myth or is there something to it? The quickest answer is, NO!
What did model railroaders go and dream up…NOW?
It’s my goal to provide you with all the research I’ve been able to find. I’m confident everything you need to know is right here or over there or around the next bend in the track.
Switches: For sake of this discussion and in the tradition of the U.S. of American Rails I will refer to what most model railroaders call a “Turnout,” as a “Switch”. Seldom if ever, did I hear a Rail use the term “Turnout,”
At first glance DCC Friendly Switches appears to be all about eliminating shorts in the frog and points. I mean we’ve always had problems routing power through our switches, what with all those dead spots. No thanks to those confounded plastic frogs. I got tired of dragging my locomotives and diesels across those blankety blank, dreaded train switches. Frustrating to say the least.
Someone must have heard our plea’s as Peco, Shinohara, True Track, Micro-Engineering and Kato (as well as others) was listening to us hobbyist and things were about to change-up. For the better I might add. I will get into this more in a paragraph or two.
Part 1, DCC Friendly Switches
Personally I’d prefer to use or say “DCC Safe” but Alan Gartner, didn’t ask me.
In this posting: You will find three (3) presentations, ways and means to solve the problems with shorts in the switch mechanism’s.
- Peco’s simple resolution. It will solve most problems with your switches/turnouts. Accompanied by a schematic. The simplest and easiest resolution.
- Block Wiring: The Rick approved resolution. Yep, my preferred method to resolve the problem. A relatively simple resolution to the Short Problem.
- Alan Gartner’s DCC Friendly Switches a rather complicated resolution. I will warn you: This isn’t the easiest answer. Upside, it is do able and will solve a lot of problems with many of the older switch mechanism’s.
Allow me to set things up.
Let’s start at the beginning.
The best jumping off spot for this whole presentation. The Howland & Pacific Railroad, a N Scale Train Layout. I operate DCC on my layout and there’s no DCC Friendly switches as illustrated by Alan Gartner.
On my layout. My switches are old. Most having been made prior to the coining of DCC Friendly Switches. You’ll find “Power Routed,” Peco Electrofrog, some Insulfrog, Shinohara and the newer Kato Unitrack #6 Switches. Having purchased all of these switches before DCC, arrived on my layout. My trains that operate on analog DC and those that have DCC decoders, operate through these switches with minimal problems. Minimal dead spots and or shorts as they are relatively trouble free.
Routine maintenance is required. Due to some minor exceptions as there’s just some things you can’t avoid or get away from. Dirty track, a rail joiner that works itself loose, dirty points that don’t make contact. Stuff like that.
Secret? What’s the secret?
No real secret! Isolation Gaps. A simple procedure we all learned years ago. Isolation gaps and cutting them in to prevent shorts. It can’t get any simpler then that.
DCC was designed to be User Friendly as in Plug and Play.
Believe it or not it’s an easy conversion for those Analog DC train layouts already up and running. I couldn’t believe how simple it was!! I was able to plug in DCC to my Cab B side of the layout and had trains up and running in no time at all.
This also proved to be true with several other layouts here in the San Bernardino Mountains of Southern California. You wouldn’t believe how many mountain railroaders there are in these here hills, who are now operating with DCC. Here’s the kicker, using switches they purchased years ago before anyone ever thought of …DCC Friendly Switches.
My questions and perhaps yours:
Do shorts jeopardize the performance of DCC electronics? Evidence on local layouts, suggests it does.
- In the switch mechanism, will a short have a negative affect on the decoder, command station or the hand held throttle?
- Or asked another way: Is there a hidden problem where a short causes or has some negative affect on the decoders? Can a short compromise the performance of the decoder.
- Is there some connection between the shorts and the life of a decoder?
- Does a unfriendly switch cause problems for the DCC components IE., the command center?
- Will an accumulation of shorts weaken, eventually wear out and kill the decoder, command center or the hand held?
The quick answer is, Yes! Heat will destroy any electronic component, courtesy of David E. Resistance (+) plus the power thrown at a short = Heat.
Don’t let the smoke out of the components, as admonished by Greg M..
When troubleshooting electrical problems, “Start with the basics and always try the simple resolutions first”. Credit to Steve H..
Who Coined DCC Friendly Switches?
Who is Alan Gartner? I’ve only mentioned him a few times now. He coined the phrase, “DCC Friendly Switches.” He makes an interesting case for DCC Friendly Switches and his thoughts and take on the subject are worth the read. I linked his blog to this post. You’ll find it further down this page.
DCC Friendly Switches Defined:
- DCC Friendly implies the train equipment or in this case switches/turnouts are “Friendly to DCC,” credit to Larry Puckett aka DCC Guy.
- “DCC Friendly Defined”: Although inconclusive at the time of this writing, is a well founded definition for DCC Friendly switches. What I read, “It isn’t this, it isn’t that” and that does not a definition make. What we have are some excellent illustrations as presented by Alan Gartner. I agree with him as a picture is worth a thousand words. I will give you links so that you can explore the subject on your own.
- DCC Friendly Switches, as I define it: DCC Friendly is Switches that are trouble free, no shorts and/or dead spots through out the switch mechanism. Will not negatively compromise the performance of the decoder or disrupt the digital signal . How does that sound? You can adopt it, if you wish.
**A trouble free switch mechanism that would be welcomed on any toy train or model railroad layout.**
The Age of “User Friendly.”
Have you noticed when an advertisement for a computer comes along they call it “User Friendly” or Plug and Play. Darn near anything out there is User Friendly, Plug and Play.
I think you read my mind. Then why not a switch mechanism that is trouble free, doesn’t short out and is “Easy” as in “User Friendly,” to install? You know, “Plug and Play”?
Would you agree? All in favor signify by raising your right hand. And the audience responded with a resounding shout, stomping feet and tipping over train cars. Loud enough to be heard in Kansas City (your choice of state), that went and set off one of those California shake and rattle incidents. Noting, all hands up…. the YEA’s have it!!!
- Tipping train cars over? ?? COL Let’s hope those guys and gals stay out of the 1:1 foot scale rail yards.
Let’s keep it simple.
How in this day and age of electronics do we keep it simple? Is this a conundrum?
Two simple resolutions:
- The next two items up for discussion are eye openers. They will be simple resolutions to the DCC Friendly dilemma. Worth the read.
1. The First Resolution:
A Simple Resolution? I did say that already, right? It is an easy fix, a easier fix then you might thing to eliminate those shorts in a switch mechanism,
A must read: Peco’s DCC Friendly Advisory.
Peco suggests that you cut in the isolation gaps on the two rails leading away from the frog on the diverging end of the switch aka turnout…and I concur. Allow me to add: Any none power routed or power routed switch is now DCC Friendly aka DCC Safe! A viable short, eliminated. It’s that simple!
Schematic: Next you will find a schematic of a switch mechanism. According to the author the switch is a, “Live frog points standard wiring.” I have no idea what that means. May I suggest an example of a Power Routed switch mechanism.
Isolation gaps: The schematic does illustrate how a short can occur and where to cut in the isolation gaps as prescribed by Peco.
Polarity: High & Low AC: When electricians talk about AC they always refer to a High and Low side. When they talk about DC, as do model railroaders, they refer to it as a + plus or – minus. This allows them to communicate what they are working on and keep from mixing the two up. AC & DC is visible on your hand held meter. I think you’ll figure this out.
The example that follows is a classic Power Routed Switch.
- Red is Positive + or High
- Blue is Negative – or Low
- Where blue meets red you will have a short.
To enlarge the picture and clear up the fuzziness feel free to click on it. Don’t forget how to get back.
Isolation Gaps: Do notice where the markers are indicating the location of the isolation gaps. These are on the rails moving away from the frog. Take them away and you will have a “Short”. Schematic courtesy of Ty’s Blog.
Without A Doubt, It’s That Simple!
Isolation Gaps and/or Plastic Rail Joiners. Yes, you can use plastic rail joiners to make or isolate the rails but I don’t recommend it. They tend to dry out, twist and turn and the nubbins tend to turn toward the inside of the rails causing derailments. I recommend you cut in your isolation gaps with a Dremel Tool and a fine cutting disc. With a drop or two of ZapAGap or Thick Cyanoacrylate to hold your rails in alignment.
2. The Second Resolution:
The first time I cut in isolation gaps for block wiring I was surprised at how many problems that solved. I simply cut in two isolation gaps per each rail in the track leaving the diverging end of the switch mechanism. This is known as “Block Wiring,” just like Joe Fugate does. The first time I did this I was surprised at how many problems disappeared…gone! Problems solved.
Add two pieces of track to the diverging end of any switch. One on the straight end of the switch and the other on the curved section. It’s the rails in these two pieces of tracks that you are going to cut. Any questions? No… then let’s continue.
Drop wires: Yes, those infamous drop wires that are essential for Block Wiring, also applies to DCC Wiring. They work great for Analog DC, Cab A and Cab B. train operations. However, the toggled blocks won’t be needed for DCC. The exception being, unless you want to shut off the power, to any engine storage tracks, hidden staging tracks, perhaps a block or two as in a siding and/or stub end track. I do recommend you install DPDT electrical toggle switches to your storage tracks, where you can shut the power off to both rails.
You can find a How To presentation about Block Wiring by going to: Block Wiring.
3. The Third Resolution:
DCC FRIENDLY SWITCHES / TURNOUTS:
- Alan Gartners Blog – DCC Friendly: The phrasing “DCC Friendly” was not coined by Linn Westcott, John Armstrong and/or John Allen. Alan Gartner, is the one who coined “DCC Friendly.” He doesn’t give a specific definition, “It isn’t” this, “It isn’t” that, dependent on some fine illustrations and graphics. The following link takes you to his website where he claims to have coined said terminology. Alan Gartner: http://www.wiringfordcc.com/switches.html
Here are others who have sounded off on the same subject:
- Larry Pucket, provides us with a definition that is pretty much to the point and can be found in the introduction. Check out signal distortand look for the “Spikes” that can be decoder killers. You can find more on: Larry Pucket’s Website.
- NMRA: Suggesting we go to the NMRA, How To pages and see what Gerry Hopkins has to say. Note comments about misunderstandings which can be translated confusion. There is a lot of confusion out there, as is apparent on various toy train and model railroad websites. See: http://www.nmra.org.au/Hints/Turnout_Tips/Turnout_Tips.html
A Historical Perspective:
- Old Model Railroad Wig Wag: There is an article in HO Model Trains, dated June of 1952 presenting how to hard wire in a switch, including a DPDT electrical toggle switch wired to reverse the polarity of the “Hot” frog. Not so distant from or dissimilar to what Alan Gartner, has proposed. I think it’s safe to say nothing new going on here.
- News Update: What’s coming next is already here. You can see it in the April 2015 issue of Model Railroader discussing “DCC Friendly” switches/turnouts. You will find an introduction to an automated reversing unit for the frog. The “Frog Juicer.” Good idea! If money is no object.
- News update 5-7-2106. You won’t believe what you can do with the New Peco HO and N scale track switches. More on this as we generate new on Russ G’s, HO Scale, The Edgemoor and Cliff Hangar Railroad. The good news is, just install the switch and you are good to go.
Remember where I said any switch can be made to be friendly to DCC?! DCC Safe! Good!!
Intermission – Break Time:
You in the back, the one waving your hand frantically. What was that you were asking? Are we done yet? Are we there yet? Did you say you have to go to the bathroom. Sound familiar? No we aren’t there yet and we aren’t done yet! if you need to take a break… take your time going but hurry back.
Intermission: Alright! I hope they have the chocolate raisins for sale in the lobby. Did they get Diet Dr. Pepper installed? No just Diet Coke….Yuck!
Is everybody back and are we ready for the next round of DCC myth management? What? What? What did he say?
There’s More: No way. There can’t be more! Aiiyiiyii!!!
You now have the three resolutions as presented here on BarstowRick.com. Which will most likely lead to more questions then I’ve been able to answer. Yes, there’s more to look at.
Switches/Turnouts what should I buy at the LHS?
Choices of Switches/Turnouts: The problem here is… there isn’t a problem. But some would like to make it complicated by creating a problem. Sigh!
There are so many options when it comes to purchasing various switches today that knowing which type of switch and power routing options to buy can be confusing. If you follow the procedures indicated in the Simple Resolutions #1 and #2. You will discover that it doesn’t matter which switch you buy. You will learn that you can make any switch work and it will do the job nicely.
I heard my favorite heckler asking. Is there such a thing as a user friendly switch/turnout? Good news! Yes, there is!
The Kato Unitrack, switches are Trouble Free, DCC Safe, Plug and Play as in User Friendly. With a built in reversing slider switch for the hot frog. Similar to what you read as recommended and illustrated by Alan Gartner.
Peco Switches, You might want to check out the latest run . They are good to go right out of the box. I think you will like what they’ve done and what it will mean for DCC operators.
DCC Friendly Switches:
What are they? Something easy to do as in plug and play? No! Not hardly but you will have to click and scroll to see Alan Gartner’s presentations. Let’s see if we can cut through the haze/fog via the process of elimination and answer some immediate questions.
- Does “DCC Friendly” equate with “User Friendly?“ The quick answer is NO! Not at all. They are not synonymous and shouldn’t be interpreted as such. You’ll see why when you link up to Alan Gartners, blog.
- DCC Friendly versus Analog DC switches: In the first place this is a misnomer on both accounts. Track switches are just track switches. They don’t care how they are powered up and they can be used in any A.C. or D.C. application.
- Is there a difference in how the switches are constructed? The quick answer is: NO! Not yet. Take into consideration how many prefabricated switches are available on the market. None are DCC Friendly, again as Alan Gartner illustrates.
- Do we need to purchase DCC Friendly Switches? The quick answer is NO! Not at all!
- Is there an Official DCC Friendly Switch? Again the answer is NO! At least, not yet! Personally, I see no reason for one.
- There is rumor of news on the horizon that may please some of you modelers. Watch for both Kato and Peco switches to make an announcement. I might add here, perhaps needless to say they work very well with DCC, as is.
If you managed to read through all this and your still hanging in here. Allow me to say congratulations and redirect you to the other postings this discussion has spawned.
Any switch can be made… to be Friendly to DCC and in most cases they already are. Easier and simpler then you might think! You can quote me and hang your train hat on it.
Most problems with DCC, I write off as operator error. This isn’t an easy learning curve and troubleshooting DCC is complicated.
In time this will all be redundant as the product engineers, manufacturers and hobby advocates go to work to resolve today’s problems.
This is not a wrap but rather a lengthy start to an otherwise seemingly endless discussion. Thanks for the visit and giving the input here a read. Feel free to come back and browse at your will or if you dare. Grin!
A shout out of thanks to some well deserving presenters and assistants.
Credits: I must acknowledge and give credit to those who have provided their advice, feed back, graphics, schematics and How To’s with links to their websites. Bob E., David E., Greg M., David B., Ted F., Steve H., Ryan K., Mark G., NMRA, Wiki, Peco, Joe Fugate, Alan Gartner, Model Railroader and Ty’s Blog. Job well done. A shout-out of Thanks!
Recognition: One of the finest professionals in the hobby today is David E. aka Sharkman, who participates on Train Board.com.. You’ll find several posts here with technical information in the form of PDF’s, as provided by David E..
I’ve given you resources form the alleged experts on the subject. So my research is now your research. I wish you well with your adventure into DCC..
I depend on the Professionals, for the best advice. Suggesting you do the same.
To my friends, BVMR’s: A bunch of ordinary or was that ornery guys and gals. Who tolerated my annoying comments and questions. Allow me to share my appreciation for their take on the subject. Talk about a bunch of hee hawer’s and nay-sayers. Hey, it’s all new to us and we are learning together. Well, most of us!
From the Side Door Pullman or was that the Out-House?
Disclaimer and Disclosure: At a recent train show I overheard someone taunting that BarstowRick, doesn’t have practical experience with DCC. That’s not true. I have practical experience but I don’t have the technical know how or skills, as in ability to look at a decoder and trouble shoot it. Do you?
A critique of my work here suggested, “Rick, you need to make it more colorful“. So I did! What? What? What did you say? No that wasn’t what you meant. Did you mean something else….hummm!?
Then my readability meter stepped in and said this needs a whole lot of improvement. Hey, it is what it is. I didn’t claim to be an English Major. Besides, I admit… this isn’t an easy subject to corral and pen down.
I hope this helps.
- Original post: 1-10-2015,
- Updates and Revisions: 4-5-2015, 3-10-2016, 8-12-2016, 5-1-2017, 5-14-2017 rh A work in progress so do come back.