What’s the difference between DCC and DC trains – which is best?

model train smokeWhen first starting out you’ll undoubtedly come across two terms — DC and DCC. What does DCC mean, what are the differences? Which should you get?

Firstly, the two terms describe how electricity is supplied to the trains on a model railway and how the trains are controlled.

DC Trains

On DC railways — meaning Direct Current — you are sending power to the track and all trains on the track get the same power. It has the advantage that it is easier and cheaper than DCC which I’ll get to in a minute.

The disadvantage is that as said, the electrical supply goes to the track and all engines work in the same way: all trains on the same track go in the same direction and start and stop at the same time.

Equally, if you change the power level all the trains slow down and speed up. There’s no independence between trains unless you have different sections of track with their own DC supply.

DCC Model Trains

DCC — meaning Digital Command and Control — is more sophisticated with everything that entails.

On DCC, each train is controlled independently. You can have one train reversing, another going forward at full speed and another slowing down.

Additionally, DCC trains can have extra electronics in them enabling special effects such as lighting, sound and even fake steam and smoke – and all controlled independently.

The disadvantage is that DCC is arguably harder to operate and the trains and accessories cost a lot more than DC as they have digital electronics inside them.

Watch this video for more details.

Which Is Best — DC or DCC?

There’s no right or wrong answer to this question.

If you want simplicity or cost is a factor, DC trains are arguably the better option. If however you can afford more and want all the bells and whistles on your trains – literally – DCC is probably a better choice.

Personally, although I like the idea of having miniature steam trains billowing smoke for which DCC would be a better option I prefer to spend my time on the model-building aspects of the hobby and don’t want to spend time or cost on the electrics so opt for DC — or analogue as it is also called — most of the time.

If you’re buying a train or a train set and already have DC or DCC check the trains will work with your existing equipment as there can be problems between some controllers.

Lastly, on the subject of smoke, I’ll leave you with this video showing DCC-driven steam engines with smoke and sound. Just beautiful.

Along with digital or analogue control, the other most common question I get asked is which gauge to go for. Read my guide on the gauge question if you’ve yet to make your mind up, or if you’ve already decided and just want to order your train set see the companion article to this post where followers of ModelRailwayEngineer give their picks on the top four DC and DCC best train sets.

In Summary

So in closing, the meaning and differences between DC and DCC are:

  • DCC stands for Digital Command and Control.
  • DC (also known as analogue operation) stands for Direct Current, the original and most common form of control for model railways.
  • In DC control systems you control the track, not the trains, all trains on the track will respond the same. Two trains on the same track will move in the same direction, stop, start, speed up and slow down at the same time.
  • In DCC by contrast, every locomotive can be controlled independently. Different trains can run at different speeds, and directions and with onboard features (lights and sound) turned on and off as wanted.

For deals on DCC controllers, take a look here.

> 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.

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