PC&N Mini Layout – Battery Power Experiment

Tam Forney

Tam Valley Battery Powered Forney

One additional experiment I want to conduct on the mini layout os to power some engines using battery power.   Can DCC coexist with battery power.  Yes, if the right add on components are used,  Battery power in the smaller scales is still at what I would refer to as the “bleeding edge stage.”  There are no turnkey solutions at this point.  But a group of loosely organized San Diego battery enthusiasts have formed what they call the Dead Rail Society to promote the concept and encourage research and development of what they consider to be the future of model railroading.  Click the link in the previous section and pay them a visit to lear more.

Modelers wishing to experiment with this approach are left to pull together components from a variety of sources to implement their systems.  A variety of approaches are out there.  Because I already have an investment in NCE DCC, I feel the components and approach delivered by Tam Valley Depot makes the most sense.  Here are the features:

  • The system provides an alternate route for the signals generated by any DCC system to an engine.  Rather than running through the track. the signals are transmitted through the air via radio waves.   In my case that means I can use my NCE Pro Cab to communicate with my engines, either through the track or wirelessly.
  • A receiver in the engine catches the signals and transmits them to the engine’s decoder.  The decoder is not aware that they came via radio signals as opposed to track power.
  • The engine is powered electrically via a battery pack rather than through the track.  Battery pack size was a major problem in years past in the smaller scales but the emergence of Li-Po batteries has changed everything.  Li-Po packs are small enough to be concealed in On30 engines.
  • Because the power is delivered via batteries, there is no need for boosters, circuit breakers and other expensive component add ons to a DCC system.  In fact there is no need to wire the track or turnouts at all — Thus the name Dead Rail.  I have not been looking forward to wiring a layout.  I’ll wire the mini-layout.  But the decision  whether to wire my big layout can be left until after my battery experiments are complete.
  • Cost looks to be a push.  What I save on track wiring will be spent on components to power my engines with battery power.  I could support both on the large layout but make some districts battery only.  Obvious candidates are mining and logging.  Track powered engines couldn’t operate in the battery districts.  But battery powered engines could operate anywhere.
  • There is no need to clean track with a battery powered layout– another task I dread.  There are no problems with track continuity, turnout frogs and reversing loops.  It is more prototypical for an engine to pack its own power.
  • With my experience assembling radio shack electronic kits like amplifiers in my early years, the circuits needed for battery power look simple unless I try to build them from scratch — which I won’t.  Somehow working at my bench to convert a track powered DCC loco to battery power feels as though it will place less stress on my body than wiring a layout from underneath.

In the following posts, I’ll take you through the components and wiring needed to implement my battery powered experiment.  My approach mirrors closely that outlined by Duncan McRee in his 42 page e-book on the subject.  The book is available for around $5.00 through his Tam Valley Depot web site.  The image at the top of the page is from his e-book.

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