DCC from Scratch (Model Train Layout)

I enjoy trains. I enjoy software programming. I have experience with model trains, but did not have any model trains of my own. I want to build a small N-scale layout with DCC so I can combine trains and software programming. I am just getting started, but hope to be able to build a larger layout where I can automate running of a handful of trains running on a layout that would not normally be large enough to accommodate them through the use of various sensors and timing.

I started my DCC (Digital Command Control) journey from scratch with the following 5 items for about $500 a few years ago. This allowed me to better understand how DCC could control multiple locomotives separately and how I could setup a consist (two locos in tandem) before I started thinking about a more complex layout with switches and sensors.

If you’re new to model trains and are wanting to make your first DCC purchases, I hope my initial shopping list will provide you with some guidance or inspiration…

  1. Kato DCC Loco Santa Fe SDP40F 5250 1769211DCC — DCC loco w/o sound
  2. Kato DCC Loco Santa Fe SDP40F 5253 1769212DCC — DCC loco w/o sound
  3. Kato UniTrack Starter Set M1 — Small loop of track
  4. Kato UniTrack 24-825 (or 24-826 ??) — Wire from UniTrack to DCC controller
  5. Digikeijs DR5000 DCC Controller

Locomotives

New DCC locomotives are expensive compared to regular powered locos! I was looking for specific locos and was able to find some nice deals on eBay. The locos above do NOT have sound. If you want sound, be sure to find that option or plan to add sound after purchase.

Track

I rate UniTrack a 1/10 for realism, but I also rate UniTrack 10/10 for being able to quickly and easily setup, run trains, and tear down again. I’ve done this many times without any track connection problems. UniTrack is great if you don’t have dedicated space for a layout and want to be able to quickly/easily setup and run trains on the weekends! 🙂

DCC Controller

I chose the DR5000 after reading positive feedback from several members of our local MRR club. The $200 controller is definitely more than I need for my initial loop layout, but was purchased with the intention of growing my layout. I like that the controller supports so many different protocols.

I can start/stop DCC engines from a Mobile app (on my tablet or phone) or from a Windows app (on my laptop). I can connect to the controller via USB, LAN, or WIFI. I like that their Windows app runs fine on my MacBook M1 (ARM CPU) in a Windows 11 ARM virtual machine using the “Parallels” VM software. I assume you could use VirtualBox instead of Parallels without any problem.

Train Store Recommendation

Our local train store below (Iron Planet) had great pricing on the track and DCC controller when I purchased them a few years ago. Please consider buying from them online if you don’t already have a preferred train store…

Iron Planet Hobbies in Springfield Missouri
https://www.ironplanethobbies.com/

I don’t have any affiliation with this train store. I am only recommending them because I like to support local stores, I was impressed that they had competitive pricing, and their staff was very friendly when I had questions.

Feedback

Was this helpful? Do you have questions? Please reply below to let me know! 🙂 Also, please share any DCC tips you have for me or anyone else new to DCC.