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Offline Wal  
#1 Posted : 02 January 2016 07:49:59(UTC)

Joined: 07/09/2012(UTC)
Posts: 67
Location: Sydney
Hello Folks and Happy New Year to all,

I don’t think I ever properly introduced myself when I joined which is a bit remiss of me so here goes. I had always wanted a model rail layout and even had a pitiful attempt at HO in the late 70’s with some lima trains. But I always wanted a Marklin Mini club layout. I even bought some catalogs and track plan books which have since been useful. But when Marklin dropped digital from their offering I got distracted by work, mortgages etc. Anyhow I retired after a 40 year career in the IT industry, and found myself with time on my hands so I decided to jump back in to trains. My interest with trains is more around the technology and engineering aspects rather that scenic modelling.

Anyhow I’ve had a couple of folks ask me about what I do with Z in respect to digital operation so I thought I’d write a little bit of my journey down this path.

I started in Model railways a little over 3 years ago. I picked Z because of the size as I have limited space and because I wanted a Marlin set. I think if I started over again I would go N because it offers more digital options than Z. But at that stage I really wanted a marklin set (for quality) and I didn't know about minitrix.

So there I was with a starter set, the extension sets, and a second loco. First I tried using catenary to run the two locos on the same track using a second controller. I thought it quite amazing that the catenary, although so small, operated realistically and without hiccups. I built it as a trial setup (1200 x 400) before launching into something bigger.

Next step was to try and get more control over the train operation. So I used the circuit tracks (8589), Isolating Tracks (8588), relays (8945) and signals (89391) to automate operation. The old track plan book (0290) was invaluable in setting this up due to the wiring diagrams combined with the track placement to set up the blocks. This info is also well documented on the web site “Guide to Z scale”.

But I still wasn’t satisfied. I would read on this forum about all the cool stuff you could do with digital. I also felt that the trains had to run so fast to avoid stalling and I was forever cleaning the track. I did all the things about adding feeder tracks to ensure no power loss.

And then I found that there were a number of people using digital operation in Z. I browsed the net I started to come across bits of information about making Z digital. There were some videos on utube which showed digital Z trains. After reading what I could find and talking to suppliers here's what I came up with.

1. Start Small

Because of the expense and relatively high start up cost I decided to continue with just a small test environment. There is no one stop shop for documentation on how to create a Z scale digital layout. It felt like a leap of faith when I first purchased the digital components but the reward of better train operation was worth it.

2. Decoders

I chose Velmo (www.velmo.de). Claudius Veit has been very helpful. His decoders aren't inexpensive but there is no soldering required. You simply replace the Marklin lighting circuit board in the loco with the Velmo digital one...then configure the train in the MS2 and it works. I have more than a dozen locos now and they all work flawlessly.

3. Control

I use the Trix 66950 MS2 (functionally the same as a Marklin MS2). This connects to the Marklin 60113 digital controller. The 60113 provides the power to the track via a brown and red cable. Initially for power I used a marklin 66111 power supply (240v to 12V converter) that comes standard with the marklin power pack. This provides sufficient power to drive 4 locos. Now I use a power supply I bought at my local electronics shop which converts 240V to 12V 2.5A. This is enough to drive the 10 locos I can configure at a time on the MS2.

The setup of the locos is not as seamless as if they were M HO trains with genuine decoders. There I believe the trains are recognised and you get a memory card which you can use with the MS2 to program the loco. For generic DCC decoders like Velmo you need to manually configure the loco. It's a straightforward process with only a couple of parameters to setup (Name of loco, address,).

After I figured I needed an isolated program section of track things have gone well when new locos are added. (If you accidentally have the whole track active and change a locos config then any other loco on the track will get that config. You only make that mistake once!!

4. Track

The operation of the Z trains digitally is so much smoother than analogue. You get complete control over the speed that the loco runs at. I could not believe how much better it was. But you do need to keep the track clean. And somewhere around this time I expanded from test to larger size (2400 x 1200) running 10 trains across 4 lines. The original blocked track still functions in digital operation. I have a gradient to a bridge looping over lower track. I keep this to a maximum of 2%. Otherwise the Z locos won’t make it uphill with a respectable load. Also digital makes it easier to run multi header trains, which means you can pull long loads. I run three Ludmillas pulling the Long Henry ore set without difficulty up the 2% grade.

I am also using three 60831 decoders to control turnouts digitally. These are powered from the track voltage.

My ultimate goal will be to use a PC to control train operations. This will mean a CS2 or equivalent to control things, some PC software, and a way of knowing where the trains are on the layout. I have read a bit about how it’s done in HO land, but in Z I don’t think we have the track sensing options.

So my next move will be sensing the location of trains and adding signals. Then maybe the CS2, so that I can control more than 10 locos at a time.

I'm looking forward to see what comes of the recent Marklin Z survey and whether they will venture into digital. I live in hope.


thanks 10 users liked this useful post by Wal
Offline H0  
#2 Posted : 02 January 2016 08:44:45(UTC)

Joined: 16/02/2004(UTC)
Posts: 13,752
Location: DE-NW
Hi, Wal,
Thank you for sharing your story.
Pretty long, did read. Wink Not "TL;DR".
Originally Posted by: Wal Go to Quoted Post
The setup of the locos is not as seamless as if they were M HO trains with genuine decoders. There I believe the trains are recognised and you get a memory card which you can use with the MS2 to program the loco. For generic DCC decoders like Velmo you need to manually configure the loco.
Only few M* locos come with a memory card. mfx locos register automatically, non-mfx locos Märklin locos can normally be found in the database.
For locos from other makers it is the same "hassle" as with your Velmo locos.
"In all of the gauges, we particularly emphasize a high level of quality, the best possible fidelity to the prototype, and absolute precision. You will see that in all of our products." (from Märklin New Items Brochure 2015, page 1) ROFLBTCUTS
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Offline gwolski  
#3 Posted : 04 January 2016 22:05:03(UTC)

United States   
Joined: 17/12/2001(UTC)
Posts: 171
Location: Central Virginia
My journey is similar -

Control - Started with an NCE PowerCab then sold that and my 6021 setup for an ESU eCoS. The eCoS is great with both my HO and Z locos. I was turning the voltage output down on the eCoS for my Z trains but finally bought a Digitrax UP6Z voltage reducer. This lets me run both HO and Z without fiddling with the power output. I use the A/B/C category capability to differentiate my locos on the eCoS - A is HO and C is Z.

Decoders - I highly recommend the Velmo decoders. These decoders work very well. I've also had very good luck with Digitrax decoders for my Swiss 460 locomotives. I'm using SwitchPilot accessory decoders for the Marklin 8939X signals and Rokuhan turnouts - the SwitchPilot is externally powered.

Track - I'm using Rokuhan and MTL right now, and I've just starting making my own curved and straight track with fixtures from FastTracks (turnouts next).

PC Control - I have TrainController Bronze, and plan to use it to control a layout which is in the detailed planning phase.

Gene Wolski
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Offline ianstaley  
#4 Posted : 04 January 2016 23:29:44(UTC)

United Kingdom   
Joined: 19/12/2015(UTC)
Posts: 7
Location: England
Hi Wal, my name is Ian out of the UK, I have just started my journey in Z gauge and like Wal I don't have room in my small disability bungalow so space is at a premium all the time. I also started out perhaps with the wrong idea, I am also an old git kneeling in the final box maybe even sitting, that apart I wanted to make a Polar Express, now sods law says whatever you choose you always choose wrong, the difference in size between N and Z gauge is noticeable but I could have bought a polar express train in N, so instead I have gone down the hardest route and done the Z gauge instead.

There is almost no rephrase that there is NO 2-8-4 loco of the Berkshire Class in Z. it was only after I bought a Z starter set that I discovered N gauge Berkshire. I also bought in the states a 2-8-2 loco that I will collect when I visit my Sisters in the USA in May so I will bring that back with me and some other bits.

So okay why polar express as a starting point; well I have seen an exorbitantly priced Polar Express that runs in the Christmas tree. So I thought maybe the smaller gauge would make a better job of it. So that is where I have started from. Good or bad that is where I am, next clearly the starter set isn't the bee's knees that I thought it would be (no pun intended). So I was envisioning my home made polar express zooming around the tree but also up through the foliage only to return down the same spiral to do it all over again, all the while sounding like a steamer and the bells and whistles.

This post from Wal has moved my realisation just that little bit nearer the finished product. After Christmas the track would be saved for the next year and the base I would make to take the tree and go around the Christmas Dickensian village that I will make to go under the tree. I already have about 15 to twenty paper buildings in Z scale, I have poly card to stick the paper Houses, Church, School, Shops Christmas Market to and glue them to make sturdier buildings.

I have acquired about 30 Z scale street lamps and I will be making my own from scratch a Big wheel and other Christmas fair items to go with it. So in the end I can get more visual for my "buck" than any other gauge. So that is the plan Wal has provided the extra impetus as have the other members that replied to him.

*** Poly card and paper buildings. Some of the buildings have the right colouring to the walls (exterior)and roof, but I have also got quite a few sheets of printed brick and stone patterns. So that the scratch items can be in tune with the rest. I have a fir tree that is about 10cm tall and lit Christmas fir for the centre of the Village, that would make the fir 22 meters tall or 71 feet. if I am right in my calculations.

Thanks for reading my ramblings. Ian BigGrin
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Offline gearda  
#5 Posted : 24 January 2016 02:18:32(UTC)

New Zealand   
Joined: 02/04/2012(UTC)
Posts: 1
Location: Auckland
Hi Wal, thanks again for sharing your story. I’m sure that your Long Henry train is an impressive sight.

I’ve been dabbling in digital control in Z gauge for a while. Like you I’ve gone for the Velmo decoders. As the Velmo decoders are based on those produced by Doehler & Haass, I decided to use the D&H digital system to control my trains.

Initially I used just the original Trix 66920 Mobile Station (MS1) for digital operation. Not long afterwards I got the D&H Future-Central-Control (FCC). The FCC is a basic looking box with connections for power, track, USB, and Selectrix Bus for expansion.

While the FCC has no user interface, it does allow the MS1 to be plugged in and used as the controller, hence its initial purchase. My preference however is to use the USB connection and control everything from the PC. The track format I use is DCC long addressing with 126 speed steps. A maximum of 32 locomotives can be registered with the FCC at any one time.

I’ve got both the D&H 8-track Occupancy Detector and Function Decoder. Currently I’ve got the Function Decoder connected to some cheap 12V relay boards bought off eBay so the power to the track points is supplied from a standard Z Marklin power supply, and a separate 16V AC power supply can be used for track signals.

I use a DCC Specialties PowerShield X Circuit Breaker to protect against short circuits. This needs to be disconnected to allow programming to take place. Recently I set up a test track for a return-loop using an auto-reverser. It’s great to have the track power and points automatically switch over to allow a train to come back on the same track that it left on.

I’ve converted the class 50 steam locomotive that comes with the 81864 starter set to digital by putting a DH05C decoder into the tender. Unlike the installation of the Velmo decoders, this requires making permanent changes like cutting a hole in the tender for the wires. I plan on converting a few more of my locomotives, some with sound. It doesn’t appear practical to convert all of my locomotives due to space issues.

I really must overcome my design paralysis to get beyond my test track setup and create a proper layout for digital operation.

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Offline JD3  
#6 Posted : 01 June 2018 15:30:15(UTC)

United States   
Joined: 01/06/2018(UTC)
Posts: 5
Location: Texas, McKinney
Question for "GEARDA".

in the earlier post (in Jan 2016) you stated:

I’ve converted the class 50 steam locomotive that comes with the 81864 starter set to digital by putting a DH05C decoder into the tender. Unlike the installation of the Velmo decoders, this requires making permanent changes like cutting a hole in the tender for the wires.

Can you please post any further information or photo's about how you performed this digital conversion for your class 50 steam locomotive?

I have the exact same locomotive (from the US version of that starter set - 81865) and would like to utilize the DH05C decoder as you did. I will order the decoder if I could see a rough guide on how to install it.

My other locomotives are all Marklin electric class and I am planning to use the Velmo "drop-in" decoders for those (on order right now) - but the Class 50 is such a nice locomotive I would love to have it converted as well.

I plan to use all these with a Marklin Mobile Station 2 that I already have.

I hope after 2.5 years you will read this!

Regards... John
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