Q: I am not sure where to begin. Dabbled in O & HO over the years and am now starting into S but have no knowledge in DCC.
My layout is drawn, Dog Bone, with an over size of approx 20' by 11'.
As of now there will be 8 turnouts and perhaps a turn table will be added or more turnouts.
My intent is to run maybe 3 or 4 engines max.
My only purchase so far is a Showcase Western Maryland, scale, which includes DCC with sound.
My next comment is HELP! I do have a 2006 Summer catalog and reviewed the Zephyr and Super Empire Builder. Is the latter overkill for my intent? Are there accessories that are needed or you would suggest.
A: There are several things to consider when choosing a starter set:
1. What operating features are important to you?
If you want walk around control with a hand held throttle, Super Empire Builder Xtra will be the best choice.
If you want an all-in-one console control unit, Zephyr Xtra will work.
No matter which starter set you choose, you can always add hardware later to add these features. You can use any Digitrax throttle with your Zephyr Command Station by simply plugging it in to LocoNet.
2. Is it important for you to be able to read back CV values programmed in to decoders or is it OK just to reprogram then without knowing what value was already programmed?
Both Zephyr Xtra and Super Empire Builder Xtra can program decoders. Zephyr Xtra can read back CV Values but Super Empire Builder Xtra can't read back CVs.
3. How many locomotives you want to have available at a time and what features are important to you?
The Zephyr Xtra can address up to 20 locomotives at a time. The Super Empire Builder Xtra can address up to 22. Super Chief Xtra can address up to 120 loco addresses at a time.
4. How much power will you need to run your layout?
If this was an HO railroad, Zephyr Xtra (rated at 3.0 amps) would do just fine, but S-Scale locomotives are going to draw more power, putting them closer to O-Scale rather than HO. Since you're planning to only have three or four locomotives running at one time, it would be pushing the power avaialble with a Zephyr Xtra. You could still go with the Zephyr and add one or more 5 amp boosters to deal with the increased power consumption of the locomotives.
The Super Empire Builder Xtra comes with a 5 amp command station booster that will easily handle 3-4 modern S Scale locomotives.
Regardless of your choice of command station, all Digitrax units have LocoNet connections, which allow you to expand your railroad as your needs grow. This means that you can add more boosters as your locomotive fleet grows and you start running more trains.
LocoNet gives you flexibility. Additional throttles can be added, with Universal Panels such as the UP5 providing connections with the LocoNet around the railroad. Infrared or radio throttles can give you wireless mobility.
For your turnouts, you can use DS64's to control them; these are connected together with the command station and boosters via LocoNet.
You can use AR1 or one section of PM42 for handling track phasing on the turntable.
Beyond this, you may want to consider signaling, which can be easily added later because of LocoNet's plug n' play expandability.