Saturday, July 16, 2011

Radio Control For HO Scale Model Trains: A Pipe Dream or Coming Reality?

Regular readers know that the CP Rail M & M Sub. is so 20th century. By that I mean that it uses DC (Dinosaur Control) to operate the trains.

It's not that I have anything against DCC; I enjoy operating layouts that use it. It's just that it makes no sense for the M & M Sub., which is mostly operated by one person (me).

But as much as I admire DCC, and how progressive it is, it's still kind of 20th century itself. You can run multiple units, ring the bell, make engine sounds and all other sorts of fancy things, but you still are running trains exactly the same way I am or, for that matter, the same way the first model railroader did when he hooked up a battery and a couple of wires: Through the track.

And when you run through the track, you have to deal with dirty track, just like those model railroaders of yore.

For this reason, I've developed an interest in radio control--powering trains through batteries in the locomotive (or tender), just like model airplane enthusiasts control their models.

For a long time, the main barrier to effective radio control was battery size--there just wasn't one that was small enough and powerful enough to power an HO scale locomotive. (Unlike the G scale modellers, who have been using this technology--and bigger batteries--for a long time.)

But now some modellers are experimenting with RC control for HO scale.  An active and interesting discussion is occurring on Free Rails, titled RC Control . . . the future . . . now . . .if you desire (A new idea for Radio Control from Australia, Maybe).

The equivacation revolves around the practicability of the concept, but these guys, like experimenters of old, are giving it their best try.

Meanwhile, a blogger who goes by the name Gardenville has started a blog called Radio Control for Small Trains. It hasn't been updated since 2010, but he's also trying to move this idea forward.

Meanwhile, Northwest Shortline showed what might be the first really practical HO-scale battery-powered wireless DCC system at the National Train Show in Sacramento, CA last week. Below find a photo of the system.

According to Joe Fugate in Model Railroad Hobbyist, the system uses a 3V lithium battery which is then stepped up the voltage to 12V. One of the keys to the system is the Stanton Power Trucks (previously known as the PDT power truck). The Stanton Power Trucks are DCC ready, coming with black, red, gray, and orange leads all set to wire to a decoder.

Says Joe: "NWSL is coming out with a 6 wheel truck version of the Stanton drive this fall, which when combined with the Battery Powered Wireless DCC throttle system, makes for one of the first really practical commercial battery powered DCC systems.

"The system shown above is for an Interurban car, and is built to leave the windows area with a clear view so the car has no obvious mechanism obscuring the view. This system will also fit inside an HO diesel loco hood (with room to spare) if you use the Stanton trucks to power the loco. There should also be plenty of room for sound speakers if you want to add sound to your loco.

"NWSL said you can just power yard tracks and passing sidings, and otherwise leave all the complex trackwork dead. The NWSL battery system automatically recharges the battery from the track power, so they recommend you simply power the simple trackwork where equipment typically just sits when not running."

All-in-all, he says, it's "a pretty cool system. MRH will be following the developments of this system as it comes to market and will be keeping you informed on how it works."

Twenty years ago, commercially-available and easy-to-use DCC was a dream. Today, radio control of HO scale model trains seems the same way. But who knows? Maybe one day DCC will be viewed the same way DC is today--as Dinosaur Command Control.


  1. Hi,
    I've always been interested in this idea of battery-powered HO. When I look at the NWSL prototype, I wonder why all that empty space above the frame can't be full of batteries.

  2. For several years I've been interested in the idea of battery-powered HO. When I look at the NWSL prototype on your blog, I wonder why all that empty space above the frame can't be full of batteries. Seems odd to use a single 3.7 volt when you could add 2 more and have almost a full 12 volts.

    1. They left that space there so the interior could still be decorated. This is designed for a passenger car, I believe.

    2. I am a new HO Scale modeler and more interested in WIFI control. I have my layout planed but want to move to total WIFI control. I totally support this technology and would like input on how or where I can get more INFO/SITES or directions on how to successfully build my own WIFI rail system