RailComm block detectors/readers demonstrated

Re: RailComm block detectors/readers demonstrated

Postby Nigelcliffe » Wed Mar 25, 2009 9:01 am

Two Tone Green wrote:With all the owrk now being done by the European makers, possibly Digitrax sales will drop off. Most people going for DCC now and post on hee seem to go for Bachmann, Hornby, ESU, Lenz as well as NCE, but you dont hear of many Digitrax.

Railcom is coming, like DCC it will take time to build upto mass use and a much lower price.


I think the sales are down to effort by makers. Digitrax' main market is US. The UK is small fry for them.
Of the small number of people I have met who have bought into a new DCC system in the last year or so, the vast majority have been buying either NCE or Bachmann. However, I do know several who have chosen Digitrax.
Digitrax do have a moderate EU presence, not least through the Fremo modular layouts (the Fremo control system uses LocoNet).

I agree that feedback systems like Railcom are coming, though I think the uptake will be slow.
There seems to be a need for a databus for Railcom data (ie. not getting back over XpressNet), therefore its compatible with any maker's controller which has a fairly open (from a programming perspective) computer interface. That includes Digitrax.
If makers of detector systems choose not to code for a particular maker, that is their decision, though I find it a little odd to see TartanTrax state "once we have an indication that we will be permitted to use the Lenz patents" and then later "We have no plans at this time to add Loconet support, as we want our software to be free and open source " which seems to be either a bit schizophrenic over licensing or possibly a problem over a "shared language" dividing the US from the UK. That said, if TartanTrax' software does end up as open-source, and the system turns out to be useful, then I expect someone will code the interface into JMRI and RocRail; both of which have large numbers of Digitrax users.

From a loco decoder perspective, the vast majority of decoders in use in the UK are not Railcom capable, so for Railcom to take off, either decoders have to be replaced, or the current sales have to shift to Railcom capable decoders. A very large number of postings on DCC forums are about the price of decoders, which one is good value, etc.. The answers to those questions usually point people at decoders which are not Railcom capable, so the installed base of non-Railcom equipment is huge.
This is where alternatives such as RFID have their toe-hold; the RFID tag is very cheap compared to a DCC decoder, requires no power, just gluing to the vehicle. RFID does almost everything RailCom can do now (and a few things Railcom cannot, such as a hand scanner which can confirm you have put all your stock in the stock box at the end of an exhibition, and if not, tell you which items are missing), though if there are ever decoders with input sensors then RFID looses on the operating capability comparison.


In a small way, my own locos have a similar transition issues, I'd quite like to use (Lenz) assymetric braking for a small amount of automation; my Zimo fitted locos have it. But the CT ones do not (and the solitary TCS one as well). So, I have to either restrict the braking to certain locos, or come up with a different method. I don't want to replace the CT decoders, not least because there isn't a Lenz or Zimo which will fit the space available.


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Re: RailComm block detectors/readers demonstrated

Postby nogginthenog » Wed Mar 25, 2009 9:25 am

Nigelcliffe wrote:
From a loco decoder perspective, the vast majority of decoders in use in the UK are not Railcom capable, so for Railcom to take off, either decoders have to be replaced, or the current sales have to shift to Railcom capable decoders.


- Nigel


I'd say other than mainland europe, where lenz and zimo decoders hold sway, most modellers using dcc have non railcom decoders.

I have been looking forward to the possibilities of railcom, but the rub here is that as US outline modeller, its still as far off as it ever was for me. I enjoy sound in my locos, I have plenty of different manufacturers decoders, but most prevelant are QSI (Factory fit and aftermarket revolutions) and Soundtraxx Tsunami's. They are not, of course, Railcom enabled. I would also take a guess that, with all the factory fit options included, QSI is probably the current best selling decoders in the US right now, around 70% of factory fitted sound models released in the US use their decoders, including all but one of the major players.

Now, I am aware you can add railcom via additional hardware to any loco, Lenz has something coming I beleive, but I have plenty of locos I know have no space for such a thing, no matter how small it is, so that leaves me waiting for the sound manufacturers to impliment onboard railcom, of which there isnt even the vaguest rumbling yet, and then the expense of swapping out ??70 a shot sound decoders. The only option here is zimo sound decoders, but they need serious work on the sound projects before that becomes an option.

So in essence, what I would have to do is give up one form of added realism (sound) to gain another (whatever possibilities railcom brings) for the foreseeable future.

As much as I want railcom to take off, I think the DCC market has a long way to go before it does.
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Re: RailComm block detectors/readers demonstrated

Postby Ian J. » Wed Mar 25, 2009 9:48 am

Two Tone Green wrote:With all the owrk now being done by the European makers, possibly Digitrax sales will drop off. Most people going for DCC now and post on hee seem to go for Bachmann, Hornby, ESU, Lenz as well as NCE, but you dont hear of many Digitrax.


Digitrax is very predominant in the US and as that is a sizeable model railroad market, it can't really be ignored. However, Digitrax will probably have to implement
RailCom now so they can at least be seen to be in-line with the NMRA specs and other manufacturers. I don't think that will see the end of their transponding system for a while as many US layouts will already be using it and their owners/operators are unlikely to want to make a huge investment to change over.
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Re: RailComm block detectors/readers demonstrated

Postby Ian J. » Wed Mar 25, 2009 9:53 am

nogginthenog wrote:I enjoy sound in my locos, I have plenty of different manufacturers decoders, but most prevelant are QSI (Factory fit and aftermarket revolutions) and Soundtraxx Tsunami's. They are not, of course, Railcom enabled.


Not much help to you I think, but the later ESU LokSound decoders have RailCom I believe.
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Re: RailComm block detectors/readers demonstrated

Postby Edwin_m » Wed Mar 25, 2009 11:04 am

I presume the difference between Lenz and Digitrax patents is that Lenz have made the Xpressnet details publicly available, and indeed agreed to put what became NMRA DCC into the public domain too. They haven't done this with the RS feedback bus for some reason, but that's not relevant to this discussion. On the other hand I understand Digitrax Loconet and Transponding are available to competitors only on payment of a license fee.

Another factor is the use of Railcom for feedback from accessory decoders. There are a few feedback decoders that use it today and there may be more in the future. For the modeller there is less wiring and you are no longer tied to one suppliers's feedback bus. For the decoder manufacturer there is simpler design and avoiding the need for different versions of the decoder for the different feedback buses. However that isn't much help in practice until a good proportion of the avaiable command stations support it. Using this form of feedback could in time allow command station manufacturers to reduce their costs by eliminating the separate feedback bus, though they'd have to add a Railcom cutoff and a global reader, so it's a possible route to enourage the wider adoption of Railcom. Accessory feedback via Railcom should still work with diode block detectors and non-Railcom loco decoders.

I do agree however that the lack of Railcom on many existing and new decoders, especially at the budget end of the market, is the most serious barrier to adoption. Digitrax have put transponding on their entire range of decoders and it really needs other suppliers to do the same rather than seeing Railcom as something they can charge extra for. I think Lenz are now moving in this direction, though (at least in the UK) most of their decoders are now uncompetitive in value for money terms.
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Re: RailComm block detectors/readers demonstrated

Postby TartanTrax » Wed Mar 25, 2009 2:41 pm

Hello again good people??¦.

I thought long and hard before entering the RailCom debate on these pages. Some will say not long or hard enough, nevertheless one of my concerns was that the debate (for want of a better word) would tend to veer somewhat off topic at times. Now, I truly sympathise with people??™s need to justify their earlier purchasing decisions. Nobody likes to admit they got it wrong and would have been better off had they chosen differently. But please people ??“ it really doesn??™t matter who the market leader is or whether your current choice of train identification is better or worse than RailCom. The point we wanted to make is that there is another choice and it??™s really simple and it works really well. We too have made purchases in the past we now regret. I have a complete set of LISSY kit, a very expensive Roco braking generator as well as numerous bits of Viessmann S88 bus feedback modules and the like, much of which will probably end up on Ebay at some point because I will now be using RailCom instead. That said, had I wanted to, I could have run any of these in parallel to the RailCom detection system. ??“ We always assumed people would introduce RailCom gradually to their layouts rather than ripping everything up and starting again. This was never a plan for world domination! We too have many locomotives with non-RailCom decoders which we have no intention of re-chipping ??“ especially not our Fleischmann sound locomotives! There are already other options out there such as the Tams RailCom function-only decoders with 4 functions on board (quite cheap too) and I am sure, once RailCom is commercially available more will follow. Supply will always follow demand.

Parts of this thread reminded me of the old DCC vs. DC argument. You have all, no doubt, debated with those die-hards who insist that digital (and DCC in particular) will never really catch on and quote you statistics on what proportion of enthusiasts still use plain old DC (or AC in the case on M?¤rklin) to run their trains. You know deep down you are right and that it is the unfamiliar technology and the cost and labour of chipping all their locos that is putting them off, not to mention the prospect of dismantling that lovingly assembled telephone-exchange-like nest of wires under the table. "And all so that the lights don??™t dim when you slow down!" Sound familiar? As long as they are happy, that??™s fine but how many of you long to go back to those simple, carefree times of running your trains again using just plain old DC? (I??™m sure there must be one or two but please don??™t feel you need to tell us who you are.)

A few replies:

JohnRussell ??“ We have absolutely nothing against Zimo or, for that matter, any other manufacturer out there. We used Lenz for two reasons: Firstly ??“ that was what we already owned for the most part & secondly ??“ as they devised the specifications adopted by the NMRA, we assumed they would probably adhere pretty well to them. Subsequently we have seen oscilloscope traces of the DCC signals of command stations from various manufacturers as produced by the NMRA for conformance testing, and we feel our choice was a good one. (There were two big surprises ??“ the Hornby Elite trace was truly excellent and a company famed for it??™s global market-share was so badly off-spec it failed to get an NMRA warrant.) We like some of the Zimo stuff very much and recently bought several of their sound decoders. As to whether Zimo or Lenz is ahead in the development of RailCom ??“ I think we are ahead of them both, but then I am biased.

samkiller42, craigwelsh, p_harman & Two Tone Green ??“You guys have it spot-on. Knowing the identity, direction of travel and orientation of a locomotive at any one point opens up endless possibilities for signals, automation of turntables etc. I am sure people will come up with applications we never even dreamt of once they become familiar with the technology. Supply and demand is bound to generate improvements in decoder capabilities. Lenz claims that adding RailCom to a decoder adds about 13p to its cost. If RailCom takes off it will probably not take the market long to catch up. Who knows, we may even have a go ourselves.

As regards Digitrax: (And the Digitrax Users Forum is quite an eye-opener.) We fully understand that RailCom is in direct competition with their "transponding" train identification system and that people will be protective regarding their purchasing decisions, however all a Digitrax user needs is a cutout and he/she could use RailCom. Need I say more?

Crosland ??“ I have a stationary locomotive in a RailCom detected section of my layout. My software knows its identity, speed step setting, actual speed, direction and orientation on the tracks. If the Big Hand In The Sky were to pick it up, turn it around and put it back on the tracks the software instantly adapts. This is not equivalent to anything else out there. E.g. I do not have to drive past two detectors in order to know in what direction the train is moving. If you are happy using LISSY or RFID or "transponding" or whatever, then I am happy for you. I am not trying to convert anybody here.

Edwin_m, Two Tone Green & Nigelcliffe ??“ I agree with most of what you chaps have said. Nigel: As regards the idea of a bus, why re-invent the wheel? USB is perfect ??“ very fast and ubiquitous. If you want a RailCom system without a PC you need to think very carefully about what you expect it to do for you. As our system stands at this moment, it is already open to all users, as long as your command station generates a cutout & can be connected to a PC in order to complete the bi-directional loop. Our decision regarding the Loconet licence was because the licence comes with "strings" attached and we are not prepared to have another manufacturer put any limitations on what we may or may not do with our product. This decision in no way affects our RailCom device ??“ it is purely with regard to our open-source train-controlling software project, which is still in development. If you use RR&Co, JMRI or RocRail or anything else for that matter you will not be affected. In fact we will happily supply anyone right now with the information they need to make any other software of this type compatible with our RailCom device. (Give us an email address and we can send it to you now.) Our product is not vapour-ware! Once we have our website up and running (and that??™s another story best not gone into right now) we will post the information online for anyone to download free of charge and free of any usage restrictions. Our only barrier is the hardware for which we need the Lenz patent permissions in order to go into production and we hope that that too will be resolved soon.

And finally Nigel, you really brightened up my day. The mental picture of you scanning your boxes with a handscanner using RFID to make sure everything is packed really cracked me up. Where??™s the fun in using your eyes and a list when you can justify using a new gadget instead? My wife has a whole long ???boys and their toys??? speech you do not want to hear.

Kind regards,

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Re: RailComm block detectors/readers demonstrated

Postby Nigelcliffe » Wed Mar 25, 2009 6:51 pm

TartanTrax - one observation on USB; there is quite a short limit on cable length, 5m if I recall correctly. Which isn't very far in the context of a decent sized layout, straight cable runs are rarely practical. One can daisy-chain USB hubs to 25m, but that's a pile of hubs, power supplies, arranging them at 5m intervals, etc.. I'm also not sure how one would deal with USB breaks at baseboard joins for any layout which is dismantled for exhibitions.

The RFID scanner idea comes from a demonstration I produced for a big shipping conference many years ago (possibly 2001?). In the demo, the contents of a packing case would be scanned from outside to show it was complete. The demo was 100% vapour-ware simulation, based on what some kit was supposed to be able to do.


Other than that, I'd just like to add my thanks to you for sharing your plans, and presenting sensible well structured information. This thread is proving very interesting.


regards,

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Re: RailComm block detectors/readers demonstrated

Postby Edwin_m » Wed Mar 25, 2009 7:36 pm

As an alternative to long USB cables, could the RailCom readers go nearer the USB hub but further from the tracks they apply to, with long track feeds instead?
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Re: RailComm block detectors/readers demonstrated

Postby A Do Ron Ron » Thu Mar 26, 2009 12:20 pm

I'm enjoying this very interesting discussion and finding it very informative. Thanks to everyone who's contributed, especially Tartan Trax. :thup

I agree with some of the earlier comments regarding the anticipated rate of take-up in adopting RailCom. I'm sure it will be relatively slow to start with (what isn't?), but I think an interesting thing to watch will be the potential split between the two largest modelling markets, N. America and Europe.
I think it's fair to say that North America is a more mature DCC market and appears to be very slow to change in some respects. On the other hand, Europe seems to welcome new developments and the manufacturers are fairly quick to get involved.
We can already see evidence of that in the way that the European DCC manufacturers are bringing advanced control systems to market, whereas the American companies are not making any progress or changes to their established products.

Relying on their domestic dominance, I have a feeling that Digitrax will probably resist Railcom for quite some time. The other American companies, MRC, CVP (EasyDCC) and North Coast (NCE) will probably shelter behind that stance.
On the other hand, none of these companies hold much sway over here in Europe. Apart from the UK (Digitrax, NCE and MRC through Gaugemaster), only Digitrax has some small presence. The others are virtually unheard of.

To date, quite a few European manufacturers already have RailCom product out there, or have announced new products.
Lenz have announced that all their decoders will be equipped from this year and most of the other companies are providing new RailCom equipped decoders or upgrading their existing ranges. Similarly with DCC systems.
ESU, Veissmann, Lenz, Zimo, Kuehn, Tams, CT electronik and others are all going down this road.

For converting almost any non-RailCom decoder fitted loco to work with RailCom, Lenz's have announced their tiny LRC100 module, available in packs of 5. This should provide a relatively cheap upgrade path, rather than the more costly route of changing decoders. There may be other similar products on the way.
Budget decoders could also be upgraded this way, for what one would hope is relatively little cost

The stumbling block is of course the use of a suitably RailCom equipped command station. Replacement of existing kit will be a much more expensive proposition for many and I can see many a future argument reflecting what Tartan Trax said earlier....
I truly sympathise with people??™s need to justify their earlier purchasing decisions. Nobody likes to admit they got it wrong and would have been better off had they chosen differently....

That's one of the reasons I've kept clear of NCE's otherwise excellent system. Unfortunately, like Digitrax, it could be accused of being yesterday's DCC. (I'm sure to get flamed for that.... :lol: )


p.s. On the subject of RFID. Whilst I think it's great that people can find their own solutions to problems and can engineer or adopt something that works for them; I don't see the point in proposing it as an alternative to RailCom. It isn't going to happen.
RailCom is the NMRA Bi-Directional standard and manufacturers are already spending considerable amounts of money in bringing about its implementation.

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Re: RailComm block detectors/readers demonstrated

Postby Crosland » Thu Mar 26, 2009 1:42 pm

A Do Ron Ron wrote:RailCom is the NMRA Bi-Directional standard and manufacturers are already spending considerable amounts of money in bringing about its implementation.

But it's not, as has already been stated. The NMRA have decided that they do not have the resources nor equipment to test for compliance to RPs 9.3.1 and 9.3.2.

Thus, Railcom becomes a proprietary standard, just like Digitrax transponding. Both can be licensed, but niether is or will be an NMRA Recommended Practice.

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Re: RailComm block detectors/readers demonstrated

Postby p_harman » Thu Mar 26, 2009 3:23 pm

Edwin_m wrote:As an alternative to long USB cables, could the RailCom readers go nearer the USB hub but further from the tracks they apply to, with long track feeds instead?


There are two problems with doing this, the first is that the very high data rate used by Railcom (250Kb/s) is not going to be very conducive to long unstructured cable runs, and the resistance of the cable will become significant in the current loop increasing the amount of Railcom current shunted through other devices on the layout.
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Re: RailComm block detectors/readers demonstrated

Postby A Do Ron Ron » Thu Mar 26, 2009 3:46 pm

Crosland wrote: But it's not, as has already been stated. The NMRA have decided that they do not have the resources nor equipment to test for compliance to RPs 9.3.1 and 9.3.2.

Andrew, I see that RP 9.3.1 is approved, but the stumbling block for RP 9.3.2. is simply the testing issue. Is this correct?
I was under the impression that now the NMRA themselves do not need to do the testing, but issue the standards for the tests to be carried out? I've no idea how that affects the final seal of approval in this case.

Crosland wrote:Thus, Railcom becomes a proprietary standard, just like Digitrax transponding. Both can be licensed, but niether is or will be an NMRA Recommended Practice.

Isn't the difference the fact that the NMRA are issuing the licence for RailCom?
I would have thought that the "neither is or will be" certainly applies to Digitrax Transponding, but surely RailCom is almost there assuming the final stages are completed?

Whatever the issues, a large number of manufacturers are preparing for RailCom and bringing products to market. Once developers like Tartan Trax and Freiwald have devised uses for the technology, then it should be up and running.

To a lay outsider like me, it seems to be a very cumbersome way to go about things, but then we shouldn't be surprised as non of the main DCC manufacturers are big companies with unlimited resources to push this through (If I understand it correctly, even Digitrax is a small local firm) and at the end of the day, the NMRA is only a voluntary organisation with it's own limited resources.

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Re: RailComm block detectors/readers demonstrated

Postby GoingUnderground » Thu Mar 26, 2009 4:14 pm

Ian J. wrote:Not much help to you I think, but the later ESU LokSound decoders have RailCom I believe.

I'm sorry if I've missed it in an earlier reply, but I believe that none of the 3 flavours of the Loksound 3.5 (ordinary, XL and Micro) have Railcom.

There is always the Lenz railcom Transmitter unit, the LRC100, that goes inside the loco alongside the existing non-Railcom decoder, but it would appear it can only send out the loco address at present. That seems to me to make it equivalent to RFID but more expensive, the cheapest I've found is about EUR61 for a 5 pack.
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Re: RailComm block detectors/readers demonstrated

Postby Ian J. » Thu Mar 26, 2009 5:25 pm

GoingUnderground wrote:
Ian J. wrote:Not much help to you I think, but the later ESU LokSound decoders have RailCom I believe.

I'm sorry if I've missed it in an earlier reply, but I believe that none of the 3 flavours of the Loksound 3.5 (ordinary, XL and Micro) have Railcom.


Hmm, well, I checked with South West Digital, and they said that the normal 3.5 has RailCom... :? I will need to check a decoder directly to see for myself, but don't have one immediately to hand.

Edit: I just checked the LokSound 3.5 manual that's online as a pdf, and it doesn't mention RailCom as far as I can see. :( I've emailed ESU support to see what they say, but that could take a week or two to get a reply.
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Re: RailComm block detectors/readers demonstrated

Postby nogginthenog » Thu Mar 26, 2009 6:01 pm

Ian J. wrote:
GoingUnderground wrote:
Ian J. wrote:Not much help to you I think, but the later ESU LokSound decoders have RailCom I believe.

I'm sorry if I've missed it in an earlier reply, but I believe that none of the 3 flavours of the Loksound 3.5 (ordinary, XL and Micro) have Railcom.


Hmm, well, I checked with South West Digital, and they said that the normal 3.5 has RailCom... :? I will need to check a decoder directly to see for myself, but don't have one immediately to hand.

Edit: I just checked the LokSound 3.5 manual that's online as a pdf, and it doesn't mention RailCom as far as I can see. :( I've emailed ESU support to see what they say, but that could take a week or two to get a reply.


As far as I am aware, the Zimo 640 is the only railcom enabled sound decoder available anywhere, but they are really lacking in the sound project department so far.

I would guess that for the medium term future , the only way to have sound and railcom is to have a sound decoder and an additional railcom transponder. Unfortunately for me, narrow hood US engines are very space restricted, so I'm not holding my breath for that to be feasible just yet.
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Re: RailComm block detectors/readers demonstrated

Postby GoingUnderground » Thu Mar 26, 2009 6:30 pm

Ian J. wrote:
GoingUnderground wrote:
Ian J. wrote:Not much help to you I think, but the later ESU LokSound decoders have RailCom I believe.

I'm sorry if I've missed it in an earlier reply, but I believe that none of the 3 flavours of the Loksound 3.5 (ordinary, XL and Micro) have Railcom.


Hmm, well, I checked with South West Digital, and they said that the normal 3.5 has RailCom... :? I will need to check a decoder directly to see for myself, but don't have one immediately to hand.

Edit: I just checked the LokSound 3.5 manual that's online as a pdf, and it doesn't mention RailCom as far as I can see. :( I've emailed ESU support to see what they say, but that could take a week or two to get a reply.

Ian,

I bought a micro from SWD at Warley last year and specifically asked before buying if Loksounds had Railcom. At first they were unsure, but then decided that the later ones did. However the manual that they gave me said nothing about which CV to change to turn it on, and there wasn't a newer edition of the manual on the ESU web site in english or german. ESU do seem to keep their german web site up to date with technical stuff, and as the manual didn't mention Railcom, I asked the question on the ESU Users forum in early January. One of the forum users who seems paricularly well connected with ESU gave me this reply:
Hi Keith,

according die ESU only the LokPilot V3.0 decoders and the SwitchPilot family are capable of RailCom. LokSound decoders don't have the necessary hardware to support RailCom.

[This article was edited 1 times, at last 07.01.2009 at 20:54.]

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Whilst the reply didn't come direct from ESU I've no reason to believe it's not true, especially as ESU do reply to questions aimed at them on the Forum and I'm sure if the reply was wrong they'd have corrected it, even on the english-speaking forum. No maufacturer likes misinformation circulating about their products - that only leads to disgruntled customers and lost sales.

So unless they've changed the Loksound 3.5 spec since then, which seems unlikely as that would be a major change which I'd expect them to publicise and increase the version number to V4, they don't have Railcom. Please let us know if you get a reply to the contrary from ESU.

i think the fact that SWD as the UK Distributors don't apparently know the right answer speaks volumes of the interest so far in Railcom, at least in the market for sound decoders.
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Re: RailComm block detectors/readers demonstrated

Postby Crosland » Thu Mar 26, 2009 8:35 pm

A Do Ron Ron wrote:
Crosland wrote: But it's not, as has already been stated. The NMRA have decided that they do not have the resources nor equipment to test for compliance to RPs 9.3.1 and 9.3.2.

Andrew, I see that RP 9.3.1 is approved, but the stumbling block for RP 9.3.2. is simply the testing issue. Is this correct?

I was being very careful to say no more than what had already been said by TartanTrax. I'm afraid you will have to await developments, as they say. I'm not even sure that what has already been said is supposed to ne in the public domain, so I can't say any more.

Andrew
Crosland
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