With DCC Installing the point motors and decoder isn't necessarily the end of the story. Yes, it gets the points working , but more than just that is possible, and yesterday I took the final steps in commissioning the installation
Working the points one by one through the handset is a little slow and clunky . Probably no slower than flicking a set of switches on a DC panel, but just as liable to operator error. I suspect that one of the major causes of derailment and intermittant running on the average layout is the operator having failed to set some point in the route somewhere, and I'm no better at it than anyone else
Much more sophisticated automated approaches are possible with DCC, and most of them cost a lot of money. In fact I believe several small building societies are now offering mortgages of up to 80% LTV for first time buyers of Railroad & Co software... Having been born in Yorkshire I'm not going down any route that involves several hundred euros and the installation of lots of special electronic devices sourced from someone unpronounciable in the Black Forest.
Fortunately that's not necessary. The NCE Powercab - which is what I have - offers a feature called "macros" . These allow you to store instructions to up to 8 accessory decoder addresses , and send them as a single operation. There's even a nice prominent button labelled "macros" between "select loco" and select accessory". Just press it. type in the number of the macro and press return - and instructions to up to 8 accessory addresses can be sent at once (I'm being very careful in my wording here - both the MERG point decoder and the DS64 accessory decoder have 4 outputs and therefore 4 addresses . The Lenz LS150 has 6. And one output/address can work two points , typically as a cross-over. )
The PowerCab supports 16 of these macros , numbered 0-15 (I presume the Procab does the same)
Blacklade has 9 points (2 of which form a single slip), two point decoders, and 7 addresses in use - there are 2 crossovers, wired as pairs. There are 3 platforms in the station , one of which (Pl 2) can be reached by either front or back routes , 3 roads in the fiddle yard and the fuelling point. That gives 4 x 4 = 16 possible route options , though in reality it's only 14 , as you can't reach the fuelling point from platform 3 (the back platform) or from the back exit from Platform 2
So each possible route on the layout can be given it's own macro which will fire all the points necessary to set it up with a single instruction. Full entrance/exit route setting - for nowt. 'Cos it comes as a standard feature on the Powercab....
The first step was to check each point address and work out which way was Normal and which Reverse (these are the 2 options in NCE - Digitrax prefer Closed and Thrown). I drew a very crude panel diagram in pencil to record this - the standard convention being that Normal is a thick continuous line, and Reverse is a break in the line . Then I started programming the macros starting with macro 1 (Platform 1 to fuelling point) , programming the correct setting for each point in the route with reference to the pencil diagram. When route started to involve the slip it seemed like a good idea to run something through to test it and make sure I had the polarity right through the slip, so out came a153. Program macro , press button, enter macro number, hear points throw, run train. And so on steadily down the list of possible permutations
After about an hour and a half I had a layout where I could set up any possible route in one go , just by pressing a button and entering a number . And the appropriate signals came off as well.. The 153 ran slowly and reliably back and forth across the layout.
For ease of operation, I've written out all the macro numbers as a table on the back of an old business card and stuck it on the backscene at the station end. I've also drawn out the panel diagram neatly on two business cards , with point numbers, so that if I have to change points "manually" I do at least know which way to select on the menu . It doesn't really matter which way is Normal for a point so long as you know which option to select to set the point in the direction you want. The amount of time wasted trying each option in turn until the point moved was embarrassing, and trying to work out the number of a given point without aclear memory aid is very difficult - which is why the real railways put a block diagram with all the lever numbers marked in every signal box. I'd strongly recommend drawing out a panel diagram whatever your system, for these reasons alone.
I don't usually do DCC techno- posts and this posting may leave folk with a different DCC system cold. However the PowerCab is quite a popular DCC system and I don't think I've seen any comment on using this particular feature before. Obviously 16 route macros will only go so far on a large layout, where there are more than 16 possible routes and some involve a lot more than 8 points; though I gather from another thread that great northern has been experimenting with macros on Peterborough North. However you wouldn't use a PowerCab to run a large layout anyway, and for the average small terminus 16 macros should be more than enough, especially if the fiddle yard is a sector plate or traverser. It really is a powerful feature to be able to set up any route completely and reliabilily just with a single entry , and the improvement in speed and ease of operation is dramatic
Something similar should be possible on an number of other systems. The Digitrax DS64 accessory decoder supports "routes" at the level of the decoder itself. Unfortunately you can only set up routes involving points controlled by two different DS64s if they are linked by Loconet, the Digitrax cab bus, which means that you can only get comprehensive route setting thisway if you have a Digitrax system. I think Lenz support route setting , though I don't know any details and I have a suspicion it may even be available with the Multimaus