Planning to move up to N, need info on Light Rail/DCC

drken Sep 9, 2019

  1. drken

    drken TrainBoard Member

    Title says it all,

    I currently run Z-scale, but I'm thinking of making my next layout in N due to greater reliability and the availability of light rail. The current plan is to have a twice around loop surrounding an urban scene with a point-to-point light rail. I'd really like to have the whole thing DCC, but it looks like most, if not all of the N scale light rail/trolleys (or at least the Kato ones) are DC and not all that convertible. Does anybody have any experience with light rail and DCC? Since the tracks would be separate, it wouldn't be that hard to just run the light rail on DC, but I'd rather not.

  2. randgust

    randgust TrainBoard Member

    The only thing I can contribute is a LOT of experience with the various Tomytec/Tomix chassis. They are plastic frame, with very good design; various frame lengths, some inside axle pickups and some end-axle but except for the smallest ones - all wheel drive and pickup on most of the longer ones. The designs are wiper-based to the trucks, and then wiper-based to the motors, so it just couldn't be easier to isolate the motors for DC. All motors have at least one flywheel. Basically good, solid, design and quality, not expensive, and available. My supplier is Plaza Japan, others carry them as well.

    I've put Atlas slow-speed motors in a couple. I've made powered boxcars from them, my Whitcomb switchers, lots of stuff.

    The motors generally run way fast, but are good; the chassis are light but weight is easily added. They handle sharp curves very well. The flanges are generally deep but as they are split-axle in design, taking them apart and filing the flanges down for C55 is surprisingly easy. Truck sideframes are a separate part and are easily replaced and modified although Tomytec has a big collection of sideframes that come with various chassis.

    Also, with plastic frames, you can cut them apart and shorten and lengthen them to specific wheelbases; I completely redid a Bachmann doodlebug to a Tomytec chassis and it worked superbly. The driveshafts can be cut and spliced with brass tubing.

    I love Kato, but it's a lot harder to work with a cast metal frame, these are really easy to work with. My 'go to' chassis with Kato has been the 11-105/6/7 which is known as the 'critter' or Shorty B;, if you're doing trolleys that's a really good starter plastic chassis that can also be stretched and chopped (one truck drive), but man, are they light; it's all about getting pickup reliable in DCC. Also really easy to isolate the motor in those.

    I also picked up a couple Bandai, as well as some of the super-tiny ones, and have had fun but wouldn't recommend them. I was surprised how poor the wheel geometry was on some of those.

    I normally throw cold water on DCC guys but in this case I think its entirely practical.
    Onizukachan and drken like this.
  3. Massey

    Massey TrainBoard Member

    I have a couple Kato light rail trams and one loco set. The Portram and Centram trams cannot be upgraded to DCC per se. The type of motor used in them is called a coreless motor and those don’t play well with DCC decoders, plus there is no room inside for even a Z scale decoder. You can put a mobile decoder to the rails and operate the trams with a DCC system, but that will have to be a dedicated section of track and you will simply be powering the track much the same as a DC layout.

    The loco set I have is a Kato HB300 hybrid commuter train. It’s a bit bigger than the Portrams are and has 3 additional cars. There is a light board under the interior that is very similar to many other Kato engines, but the lighting is surface mounted LEDs so the currently available drop in decoders will need to be slightly modified. You could solder in a Z or N scale decoder to the factory light board and tuck the decoder away inside the locomotive, thus keeping the lighting the way it is supposed to be.

    For domestic commuter equipment Kato offers the best selection with some bi-level cars like Chicago Metra uses, and a few different types of locomotive power. Sorry no one currently makes the Bombardier bi-levels, I need some, want some but won’t pay scalper prices on evilbay for them. And lastly Amtrak is easy to get with the exception of the Acela Express. Hope this helps.
    Onizukachan and drken like this.
  4. Onizukachan

    Onizukachan TrainBoard Supporter

    I assume by the use of the term light rail that you mean the modern stuff like portram and centram ?

    If you are taking trolley, I retrofitted a non running Bachmann PCC with the tomytec chassis, had plenty of room to install both a light module and a bridge rectifier in the back, seems like you could fit a z scale or ultra miniature decoder back there instead.

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