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Mobile Decoder

Posted by on Dec 18, 2014 in Miscellaneous, Tony's Tips |

These are the “chips” that go in the locomotives 🙂

Sometimes they are called receivers but they are really more that just receivers. Decoders decode the DCC signal and control the engine’s speed and direction.

There are many different decoder choices available.

  • Decoders let you program locomotive characteristics like acceleration, deceleration and, starting and mid-point voltages.
  • Some may have built in light and function controls as well.
  • Some can simulate lighting effects like Mars lights, ditch lights, Gyra lites, rotating beacons & other special effects.
  • There are other decoders that include sound and motion control in a single unit.
  • Mobile decoders cost between $20 and $200 depending on the manufacturer and the features you choose.
  • You can even build decoders yourself from a kit.
  • Standard DCC decoders typically have an address range from 1 to 127 and Extended Packet Format (EPF) decoders have addresses from 1 to 9,999.
  • Some DCC decoders can be used to run Hi-rail locomotives like Lionel and American Flyer and three rail AC Marklin Locomotives. Check with the manufacturers on this one!

With most DCC systems you can run one analog locomotive (without a decoder) along with the digital ones. This lets you convert your fleet gradually. You may also have some locomotives are too small or too valuable as collector’s items to be converted but you still want to run them on your DCC layout.

If one of your friends brings his unconverted locomotives over to run on your layout, your DCC system can probably handle it. And it goes the other way too, if you want to run your DCC equipped locomotive on a regular DC layout, many DCC decoders automatically convert to DC operation if there is no DCC signal present. Check with your manufacturer about the availability of this feature.

Analog locomotives tend to “sing” when sitting still on DCC layouts. This noise decreases as the analog locomotive accelerates and runs. The noise is caused by the DCC track signal. This noise can be significantly reduced by using conductive brush lubricants such as Aero-Car Technology’s “Conducta” and by assuring that there is no vibration inside the locomotive that will add to the noise generated.

It is best to park your analog locomotive on an un-powered section of track when it is not running to cut down on heat build up inside the engine.


Adapted from “Digital Command Control: The Wave of the Future”, by Zana and A.J. Ireland.