Ready but not able?

It’s a sore spot for many railway modellers. What are your thoughts?

Digital trains are sold in two configurations, labelled DCC Ready and DCC Fitted.

I’ve long thought that this labelling is confusing at best.

While experienced modellers will know that ‘Ready’ actually means it’s not ready at all and you need to upgrade it to make it work, when it then becomes DCC Fitted, many beginners and those moving “up” to DCC for the first time don’t appreciate this and are in for an unpleasant surprise.

It’s only when a DCC chip is subsequently ‘fitted’ that the new train will work on a DCC layout. In fact, if a DCC Ready loco is used on DCC track before fitting it can permanently damage the motor inside.

The problem stems from back when DCC was introduced and manufacturers needed a way to describe which of three types of locomotive was being sold.

  • DC, old-school analogue style locomotives into which a DCC chip might not even fit and which will require soldering and wiring, if there is space.
  • DCC Ready, a DC locomotive that doesn’t have the DCC chip installed but does has sufficient space inside and has a socket in place allowing a DCC chip to be easily fitted.
  • DCC Fitted, where the chip is installed and no modification is required. Often this is done by the manufacturer but it can also be done by a third party selling the locomotive.


So DCC Ready is a term used by manufacturers and suppliers to indicate that the locomotive is ‘easily’ upgradable to DCC. But I think using the term ‘Ready’ when it’s not yet ready to run is confusing at best.

The perfect example of this recently came up in a discussion on the Model Railway Engineer Builder’s community.

Michelle Stirling bought herself an early birthday present in the shape of a Hornby LNER Queen of the Scots. It’s a wonderful loco and I have to say I was a bit jealous.

She wanted it for a lovely DCC layout that she’s building and naturally gave it a trial run.

It was then she ran into problems. Here’s the story she shared:

“I took my new train out of the box just to test it, and it doesn’t work! Am I right in thinking it should default to no. 3 on the controller? And that it should work out of the box without me doing anything? When I put it on the track there’s a noise like it trying to do something but it doesn’t move.”

It didn’t take members long to figure out the problem and point her in the right direction.

The loco was DCC Ready and as fellow member Jules Garner explained, a DCC ‘Ready’ locomotive means that it is ready to have a chip fitted”.

Being DCC Ready, Michelle’s loco didn’t have the necessary chip in it and this (such as the one in the photo above) needed buying and fitting.

Luckily, no damage was done when Michelle tried it out (running DC locos on DCC track can damage the motor inside – there’s a good explanation of this risk here) and once it had been upgraded (at extra cost to Michelle) it ran fine. The loco running perfectly can be seen in the video here (you’ll need to join the community to see it).

What really troubles me about this is that, as in Michelle’s case, this choice of wording will trip up people new to the hobby the most.

How could a beginner be expected to know ‘DCC Ready’ doesn’t actually mean it’s ready to run? It says it’s ready after all!?!

As such it’s tripping up the people least likely to know and most unlikely to be able to troubleshoot the problem.

It must also be scaring people off.

If you’re drawn to the hobby, invest in a train but can’t get it working or ruin an expensive purchase through no fault of your own, are you likely to continue in that hobby?

The model train industry isn’t the only one to use such wording (the IT sector uses similar tactics) but surely a more appropriate wording could be found?

And making this even more pressing is that similar the terminology in other fields won’t result in purchases being broken. When Windows XP Ready computers were sold, turning the PC on without XP wouldn’t fry the CPU or memory. Equally, watching normal TV channels on an HD Ready TV or vice versa won’t damage your nice shiny new widescreen television.

Do you think a different choice of wording should be used or is ‘ready’ right? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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  1. I recently returned to the hobby after a 20+ year layoff and initially this terminology confused the heck out of me. Luckily, my first loco purchase was ‘DCC Ready’ so all I needed was a quick call to Hattons and a chip was with me. What I did find a pain was trying to fit it into an N gauge loco! I’m sure when I modelled in OO my hands were a lot smaller 🙂

  2. Thanks for pointing this out. I’m just starting in the hobby and it would never have occurred to me. I’ll be vigilant in the future.

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