Author Topic: NCE DCC in a Box  (Read 1127 times)

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PiperguyUMD

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NCE DCC in a Box
« on: July 05, 2021, 02:09:23 PM »
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Hello all! I’m looking to construct a DCC system in a box to power my two home layouts. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on the forum, electronics are not my strength, but as my Freemo-N layout grows, this is a need that must be addressed. I currently have and NCE powerhouse pro system that I would like to use as the foundation of this project, beyond that I *think* I know what I need, and have an idea of the things that I would like to include, but need some guidance on making sure everything works together. My hope is to combine input here and turn this into a build thread. Here’s what I’m thinking so far:

Needs

Quickly and easily connect to two different layouts, a small but permanent switching layout located in my home office, and a growing and potentially large Freemo-N layout that is periodically assembled in the garage

Self contained power supply - Not sure of the best way to go about it, but I’d like to be able to plug in the box, connect to the layout, and then run trains.

Short protection - Minimum 2 Power districts for the Freemo-N layout. I don’t have space for this layout to get larger that 14-16 modules so I *think* two power districts would be enough. I currently have two TTX PSX circuit breakers. I don’t think I’ll have a need for power boosters, but it might be a good idea to build in some expandability in the circuit breaker department to accommodate the Freemo-N layout.

Programing track - self contained in/on the box

Connects to JMRI

Wants

Wireless throttles - in case friends come over! Something that supports phone apps and/or the TCS wireless throttle

ESU Loksound programer - I have a growing number of locos with ESU decoders, so being able to program them is a growing necessity, however this is tricky because the laptop I have been using for JMRI is a Mac. Not sure its possible to make those two platforms play nice together.

Computer interface - to program decoders via JMRI or the Loksound programer.
I have an old MacBook Pro that has been running JMRI. I would like to continue using it in this role, but that will depend on being able to set it up to run the

Loksound programmer. I know there are ways to partition the hard drive so that half the machine runs Windows and the other half Mac OS. I’m not opposed to purchasing a cheap laptop to dedicate to this service, but I’ve been in the Mac camp for so long, I’m not even sure where to begin.

Really grateful for the knowledge here on TRW! Looking forward to getting this project off the ground!

Maletrain

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Re: NCE DCC in a Box
« Reply #1 on: July 05, 2021, 02:58:53 PM »
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First, I would suggest that the interface between the "box" and the layout have the breakers for the 2 different layouts be on the layout side.  That makes it easier to connect and disconnect. 

For a "box that runs JMRI" I suggest you take a look at Steve Todd's setup with a Rasberry Pi.  https://mstevetodd.com/rpi But, to use decoder pro, you still need an interface, so if you use a laptop for interface, then it could be where you install JMRI and you won't need the Pi computer.

If all you want to do with JMRI when running trains is to have a WiFi connection for phone or TCS WiFi throttles, take a look instead at the WiFiTrax WFD30 device that simply plugs into the NCE cab bus at any location. http://wifitrax.com/products/product-WFD-30-detail.html  I have one and it works great with no issues.
« Last Edit: July 13, 2021, 02:12:57 PM by Maletrain »

PiperguyUMD

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Re: NCE DCC in a Box
« Reply #2 on: July 05, 2021, 03:55:12 PM »
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First, I would suggest that the interface between the "box" and the layout have the breakers for the 2 different layouts be on the layout side.  That makes it easier to connect and disconnect. 

Would I need to do this if I'm only using the box to power one layout at a time?

I've not seen he WifiTrax WFD-30, thats pretty cool! I would like to be able to use Decoder pro on my non-Loksound locos, I  assume that means I will need the NCE USB interface?

mu26aeh

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Re: NCE DCC in a Box
« Reply #3 on: July 05, 2021, 04:34:03 PM »
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@Ed Kapuscinski did a Digitrax in a box, have to find his thread on it  Found it....

https://www.therailwire.net/forum/index.php?topic=47128.0
« Last Edit: July 05, 2021, 04:35:41 PM by mu26aeh »

Maletrain

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Re: NCE DCC in a Box
« Reply #4 on: July 05, 2021, 07:26:47 PM »
+1
Would I need to do this if I'm only using the box to power one layout at a time?

I've not seen he WifiTrax WFD-30, thats pretty cool! I would like to be able to use Decoder pro on my non-Loksound locos, I  assume that means I will need the NCE USB interface?

As I understand it, the NCE Powerhouse Pro has an old-style RS232 serial port, rather than a USB port.  Take a look at your manual page 80.  For help, join the NCE users groups.io group.  They are really helpful.  Apparently, there are RS232-to-USB adapters, too. The NCE manual says "most work".  :facepalm:  But, it is not the NCE "USB adaptor" that you want for the Powerhouse Pro.  The NCE "USB Adaptor" is designed for the Power Cab and SB3/5 series, which don't have any sort of computer connector in them.  So the NCE "USB adaptor" is a computer serial interface that plugs into the NCE cab bus.  Although the Powerhouse Pro already has a serial interface in it, its old-style plug is not what most modern computers have - they have USB connectors - hence the need for an RS232-to-USB adaptor, which is different from the NCE USB Adaptor for the Power Cab, etc.  (The naming of these things is not exactly helpful.)

Regarding the placement of breakers.  I am suggesting that the breakers for a specific layout be included on that layout, rather than having a bunch of connections on the "box" so that breakers in the box can each power different power divisions on any layout.  That might cost a bit more for extra breakers, but from what you said, one of our layouts really doesn't need a separate breaker, anyway.  Whatever, for simplicity's sake during connections, it would be easiest if the connections from the "box" to the layout were just (1) the cab bus, and (2) the main track power feed from the command station.  Then the layout specific stuff would be included with each layout, wired properly and not disturbed when moved.  For a "clean" layout and box during transport, I would use female connectors on each, with a male to male connection cord for power.  The NCE track bus cables are already male-to-male, so it is just a matter of selecting the track power connectors that you like.
« Last Edit: July 05, 2021, 07:38:18 PM by Maletrain »

Maletrain

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Re: NCE DCC in a Box
« Reply #5 on: July 05, 2021, 08:16:49 PM »
+1
Another issue was the ESU Lok Programmer.  Do you want to download new sound files for your ESU decoders?  If so, then you will need the Lok Programmer.  But, if not, you can do the other programming with JMRI Decoder Pro and skip the Lok Programmer.  That would also get you away from needing a Windows OS, (I think).

The ESU Lok Programmer http://www.esu.eu/en/products/lokprogrammer/ also has a serial connector that will require an RS-232 to USB adapter, but that is included in the package.

Ed Kapuscinski

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Re: NCE DCC in a Box
« Reply #6 on: July 06, 2021, 03:57:17 PM »
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@Ed Kapuscinski did a Digitrax in a box, have to find his thread on it  Found it....

https://www.therailwire.net/forum/index.php?topic=47128.0

Haha, thanks, that's what I was going to recommend giving a read.
The exact components aren't the same but the other stuff should be similar.

I really like my smooth masonite top AND the exhaust fans for cooling.

Let me know if you want additional pics of anything in it.

railnerd

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Re: NCE DCC in a Box
« Reply #7 on: July 06, 2021, 05:06:54 PM »
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Have a friend who build a powercab & programing track in toolbox.  It is in one of the TSG Multimedia videos— can't seem to dig up the link, but will have a look later today after work.

-Dave

Maletrain

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Re: NCE DCC in a Box
« Reply #8 on: July 06, 2021, 10:57:50 PM »
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Another thought about the programming track: 

PiperguyUMD wants to have a program track on the "box" and be able to program with either Decoder Pro or a Lok Programmer.  (If he is set up to use Decoder Pro on that track, he is also set up to just use his Pro Cab to program CVs directly with the command station.) Plus, he wants to be able to run trains on a layout using the box, too.

That presents a couple of issues.

1.  It will be important to make sure that any programming track instructions are going only to the section of track on the box when he is programming on it, not the whole layout that might be connected to the box.  The easiest way to do that is to use a double-pole-double throw switch on the track power leads coming out of the command station, with one path going to the layout connection and the other going to the programming track section.  Label the switch positions to show where the command station output is going.

2.  It is probably not a good idea to have both the Lok Programmer and the command station connected to the programming track at the same time.  Another double-pole-double-throw switch could be used to select between the track wire pairs coming from the  JMRI/command station programming track dpdt switch and the Lok Programmer, so that only one can feed the programming track at a time.

It might be helpful to put an LED across the programming track rails to show when they are powered by something, so you know not to issue programming commands unless you see that LED is lit.  But, I am not familiar enough with the Lok Programmer to know if that might screw-up its ability to program ESU decoders.


PiperguyUMD

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Re: NCE DCC in a Box
« Reply #9 on: July 09, 2021, 09:15:11 PM »
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Thanks everyone for the feedback! @Ed Kapuscinski I followed your thread, and its part of what got the gears turning on this project, but since I use NCE, its tough for me to follow products/lingo - plus I'm like a 5 year old when it comes to this stuff.

@Maletrain - great points. Yes, I would like to be able to use JMRI to program my non-sound locos. I a have several WM steam locomotives in the planning stages, and after installing a Loksound decoder in my WM Potomac, I intend to use these exclusively in these projects. I would like to be able to download and install the custom sounds from ESU. It may be wishful thinking, but a friend of mine has a turntable that converts vinyl to MP3, and since I have the WM Fast Freight Rolling recordings, some day I would like to program my locos with the sounds of their prototype.

So starting with the power supply that came with my NCE system, would that be enough to power this box?

Maletrain

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Re: NCE DCC in a Box
« Reply #10 on: July 09, 2021, 10:40:12 PM »
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...
Yes, I would like to be able to use JMRI to program my non-sound locos. ... I would like to be able to download and install the custom sounds from ESU. ...

So starting with the power supply that came with my NCE system, would that be enough to power this box?

I think the power supply that came with your NCE system is a P515 that puts out 5 amps AC at 15 volts.  Some of the other things you are talking about might not like that power supply.  If not, then you could just put a power strip (or the equivalent outlets and switch) in the box so that the necessary power supplies could all plug into the house current supplied by one cord that goes from the box to the wall.

But, I am not clear on what goes into your "box".  You want to run JMRI, and that takes a computer of some sort.  And the ESU programmer needs a computer too, with a Windows OS (or an emulator for Windows on a computer running some other OS).  Have you decided it will be a laptop? Or are you considering a Raspberry Pi in the box?

Most of the things you are talking about using are powered by the track power output from your Power House Pro or from the computer.  You will not be able to power the computer from the NCE power supply.  If it is a laptop or a RPi, it will have at least one more power supply for the computer.  The Dell laptop I am typing on right now takes 19.5 volts and 2.31 amps.  A RPi power supply is 3 amps at 5.1 volts.

But the ESU Lok Programmer also has a power supply because it connects to the programming track directly, rather than going through the NCE command station.  That is another wall wart that puts out 0.5 amp, but I did not see what voltage.  The literature says it can use a regular model railroad power pack for larger scales, so I am guessing it needs something like 12-15 volts, but the case says "20 volts max" - and it is not clear if it can use AC. So, maybe you could tap into the NCE power supply for this, but it would require some more checking on compatibility.

If you decide to go with a WiFiTrax WFD-30 to use WiFi throttles, that is independent of the computer, and gets its power only from the NCE command station through the NCE cab bus, so no additional wall wart if you decide to use that.  It is sort of redundant to the JMRI WiFi throttle capability.  But, if you don't want to have your computer connected to the box at all times, then it is something to consider.

That's all for tonignt - bed time.

Ed Kapuscinski

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Re: NCE DCC in a Box
« Reply #11 on: July 13, 2021, 02:01:42 PM »
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I think the way to think about it is to think about all the hardware you want to include, then figure out how to package that up.

Get a list going.

I wish I knew NCE to help out better, but I'll do what I can.

Maletrain

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Re: NCE DCC in a Box
« Reply #12 on: July 13, 2021, 02:19:34 PM »
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I think it would be helpful for us to better understand why PiperguyUMD wants to put things "in a box". 

Is the idea to be able to have the Freemo-N layout running somewhere while he also programs decoders with the Lok Programmer and/or JMRI Decoder Pro?

Or would those two types of functions not ever be happening at the same time?

PiperguyUMD

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Re: NCE DCC in a Box
« Reply #13 on: July 17, 2021, 05:13:16 PM »
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@Maletrain, The goal is to be able to use one control system to power two layouts in different parts of the house. Also, neither one is permanent so portability and easy storage is important.

Sorry to post and dash - its been a surprisingly busy month. I've been trying to think through this project as I drive around though. When I get a chance, to type it up, I have formulated a few more questions.