DC or DCC? What do you prefer and why

This is one of those topics that everyone has a view on. But what do real-world modellers prefer?

Here’s what other modellers said when asked on my ModelRailwayEngineer Facebook and Instagram pages.

Old School DC is thought because it’s simple

Dave B. captured a common theme, with “DC sooo simple”.

John P. added, “I like the concept of DCC but I have yet to see it at its full potential.”

Adding, “I’ve tried out many controllers on various layouts and frankly all the button-pressing and address-entering that goes with it takes the fun away for me. I’m sticking with DC on my layout — loads of wiring, sure, but as a (retired) telephone engineer I have no fear of it. I think it makes it more fun ”

And it’s cheaper

Phil R. on my Facebook page summed a commonly viewed problem with DCC, saying that he’d “considered going digital, [and] even bought a controller and a loco to try it out” but then thought again.

“With 20+ non-DCC locos, it seems a bit of an expense to upgrade when my old analogue set-up works just how I want it to.”

Arty echoed this view: “DC for me. Too many locos and the cost would be out of my league. Anyway, I’ve seen so many layouts where the operator doesn’t look and bang…. loco goes up the back of another. Just not for me.”

But DCC is preferred for its control…

David A. said “Mine is DCC, although, I do have a small mountain railway on the same layout to run my old 00-9 Lilliput set from when I was a child 35 (or so) years ago. The main DCC layout is all N gauge and I think digital is defo the future — easier to run and control locos”.

As David R. explained, “I have found it [DCC] more controllable for slow running and I like the acceleration and braking control.

And sound

David A. added, “then there’s the sound aspect to bring greater realism. I’ve just ordered my first sound-chipped DMU from Graham Farish for delivery at some point!”.

I have to agree. Sure you can now get sound for DC locos and as seen here:

But they still have some way to go to compete with DCC sound, especially the recent Hornby TTS DCC sound chips which, with prices of around £40 and a range of sound effects including sounds you can almost see, are proving very popular.

There’s also…

Another often overlooked point is that DC trains often run better once converted to DCC.

I discussed this with one of the exhibitors at the Solent Model Railway Group’s exhibition on 24th/25th February. For some reason, the DCC chips seem to make the motors of locomotives run smoother and more reliably. Neither of us could put our finger on why this is but it’s an advantage. (If anyone knows why this is please share your wisdom below in a comment).

Of course, you can run both…

If you have several layouts, get the best of both worlds like Tom M.: “I have two layouts one DC and one DCC and I like both. I am 75 and have no problem with either layout.”

Or mix them on the same layout…

This is a particularly attractive option if you have a lot of older locos but want the benefits of digital control. Split up the wiring, with some circuits analogue and others digital. As long as they’re kept separate there’s no problem in doing this.

David R does just this: “I changed to DCC last summer but l left two isolated loops to run my older DC locos.”

It’s a neat solution to use allowing you to upgrade an old fleet over time and it’s what I’m doing with an N gauge layout.

One half is DC with bulk the bulk of my old Graham Farish locos on it while a hill-top section is DCC for which I’m now using to test the Gauge Master Prodigy Advance 2. (American readers can get identical MRC Prodigy Advance 2 here)

In summary

DCC is seen as the future while DC is still the most popular right now. Especially, for those with lots of existing locomotives or points to upgrade.

The low cost of DC is the biggest advantage but the fine control, especially at slow speed, together with ease of operation when running more than a few trains and of course, the bells and whistles make DCC increasingly popular. Particularly if starting from scratch.

Over to you

Do you enjoy the digital effects and multi-train precision control of DCC or are happy with the cheap and cheerful simplicity of DC model railways?

Have your say in a comment below or join in the conversation on my Facebook page.

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> A final, personal, note: I spend a huge amount of time testing, photographing, writing and researching techniques for these articles and pay for all the running costs of MRE out of my own pocket. If you found this article useful you can support me by making a donation on my fund-raising page. Thanks and happy modelling, Andy.


Founder of ModelRailwayEngineer, Andy Leaning

Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of modelrailwayengineer.com. He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.

Afflliate disclosure:The links on this page may take you to carefully selected businesses, such as Hornby, Amazon, eBay and Scale Model Scenery, where you can purchase the product under affiliate programmes. This means I receive a small commission on any orders placed although the price you pay does not change. You can read my full affiliate policy here. I also sell my my own ready to use, pre-made and painted buildings and terrain features. browse the range.
  1. In regards to your question about why DC locos tend to run smoother on DCC, I suspect DCC uses a form of pulse-width modulation (PWM). Instead of varying the voltage to get different speeds, PWM gives a burst of full voltage. For a slow speed, you get a tiny burst; for full speed, you get a wide burst, almost continuous.

    I have used Ken Stapleton’s PWM controller on my N-scale layout with great success: http://www3.sympatico.ca/kstapleton3/851.HTM

    Note: I am not affiliated in any way with Ken, but I am a satisfied customer.

  2. I am 68. Ok, I was a Hi-Tech journalist 40 years long, but I started collecting and running model trains 20 years ago. Now, I have 450 locos and they are 100 digital. I “converted” at least 40 Engines from analog to digital, and sometimes it was a challenging job (the most difficult part in some engines is to find or create room enough for the decoder). I don’t have overhead contact line, so, I could not survive without DCC in order to run multiple trains. Don’t forget that with a decoder you can also customize the behavior of each locomotive / train. Now, I’m trying to enter the most difficult task: to digitally operate all the line stuff (Signals, exchanges, stops etc). I adopted also some analog – digital converters (Roco, Lenz, Viessman) in order to use previous relais-based stuff.

  3. Re: Your question as to my preference, DC or DCC. I have too many engines that are DC only. Not going to convert them now. As I said, my enjoyment is building/creating scenery. The DCC is to capture the attention and give enjoyment to the young’uns with the sounds. Hopefully, they will start to enjoy model railroading and create a layout of their own someday.. Get them off the video games into mental Imagineering.

  4. I’m 74. A lot of DC stuff over the years, plus picking up real cheap engines on EBAY, etc. Such as shays, heislers, climaxes. Will have an outer “loop” or 2 for DCC sound to please the Grandkids (and great grandkids.) Otherwise I enjoy the building of freight cars (wood), buildings (all wood), a couple of FSM and Sierra West structures. Running/operating is secondary to me. Creating scenes is most fun for me. Whatever floats your boat.

  5. Hi
    I am late into model railways ..and I decided on dc first because that’s what it was in the 70’s …my little layout didn’t go over the points and didn’t have point motors.my father used to love to watch a great western loco go slowly over points on a exihibition layout without stalling …so I wanted to learn …which I am pleased to say I have…with help from guys like you showing me how to wire up motors and switching frogs …… not tempted to change to dcc yet …


  6. Not any more all blew up back in 70s but tried it with my son as excuse on his / my two rail at the time
    Have all 3 rail these days. 90 % hornby 00. Have considered DCC for them over the years but never actually tried it.

  7. Thanks Andy
    I had an idea track quality was the problem may be not.
    20 volts constant I suppose could be better.
    Thinking of the old Zero 1 system.

  8. Hi Andy the more read the more confused I get lol. Just starting out ,board should be finished at the week end .

        • I’ve heard of many people starting this but I don’t know of anyone running it but don’t see why not. I would have thought it’s just a case of connecting middle rail for control and outside rails as common/ground? In trains, connect decoder to middle pickup. Andy

  9. I’m 67 this year and have been building “00” gauge layouts of increasing complexity for 40 years. I have all the bits needed to create a DC system and the current (maybe the last….?!) layout has several hundred metres of wire feeding the track sections and the motors of c.60 points/slips. I’ve enjoyed the hours spent with soldering iron and the satisfaction of seeing trains run to my design. I’ve no intention of going DCC any time soon although I can see its attractions; call me a dinosaur, by all means. I also find that i can achieve satisfying slow running with my ECM and Gaugemaster controllers.
    Some of my efforts can be seen on You-tube (search Blackford and Hinton) for the now demolished previous effort) whilst my current layout in progress following house-move is partially documented as a blog on RMWeb under my pseudonym of “Steamfinale”.

    • Hi, I’ve use both and they each have their advantages. The idea here was to show the benefits of both and what various modellers like for each.

      60 points??? That’s some wiring, especially in DC. Do you have the wiring diagram for it?

      (to help others, I’ve added a hotlink to your youtube channel so it can just be clicked on).

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