DCC from a UK perspective

DCC or Digital Command Control to give it its full name has been the norm in the USA for many years. But it is only in the last decade that these systems have taken off in the UK.

What are the positives and negatives of moving to DCC?


  • Freedom to operate multiple locos on a layout, even simultaneously without the need for section switches
  • Continual lighting for locos and passenger stock
  • Wiring for new layouts is considerably easier
  • Permits the effective use of ‘on-board sound’ in locomotives


  • More expensive to buy the control hardware, although costs are reducing
  • The technology is more susceptible to bad connections and inadequate wiring
  • Whilst one un-chipped loco can be run on a DCC layout ‘chipping’ all locos is a must to get full value from the system

What to consider when adopting a system?

It is best to be realistic over cost at the outset; if you are a serious modeller you will want to add functionality to the system and should set out with this in mind. Take advice and buy a system that can be expanded if required.

Whilst, as with all elements of the hobby, you can purchase equipment online you should consider going to a specialist hobby shop where you can seek advice, both before and after the purchase, especially if digital technology is not your bag.

Are all systems compatible and interchangeable?

DCC Systems are generally described as NMRA compliant (which means they have been tested and approved) or NMRA compatible (which means they have been designed in accordance with the standards, but not tested by the NMRA). However most systems are not interchangeable at the controller/base station level, the usual philosophy is to choose a system and stick with it. Locomotive and accessory decoders are universal and any manufacturers chips will run with any base station system.

Who are the major players in the DCC arena?

The following are listed in no other order than alphabetical:


A new comer to DCC offering an entry level product suitable for ‘train set’ operation.


Probably the greatest number of systems sold, certainly in the US.


Products from MRC in the US marketed by Gaugemaster in the UK; one of the easiest higher end systems to use, the Prodigy system is shown on the right.


A late entrant into the market after the very early Zero1 problems.


Europe’s largest manufacturer and credited with ‘inventing’ the concept. They offer both entry level and advanced systems.


The second largest in the US with probably the biggest range of controllers and accessories, they have a somewhat smaller following in Europe.


The Roco MultiMaus system is entry level with a good spec for a competitive price, it has the advantage that it is fully compatible with the higher spec Lenz systems.


A UK product which employs an interesting master controller design.

If you are considering DCC then do not be afraid to seek advice, DCC systems can be a significant investment as can the time needed to convert a DC layout. Visit your local model railway club or hobby shop and ask questions.

Anyone using or thinking of moving to DCC should consider purchasing a copy of the very useful book ‘Digital Command Control for Railway Modellers ‘ by Nigel Burkin and published by Crowood Press.