I 'm new to the Model Train community, however my father passed down two O gauge trains, and working toward starting my first O gauge layout. The 2 loco's are Lionel, and my question is what is the BEST power system so I can run Lionel,and other manufacturer's loco's?
Hi Calvin, welcome to the world of model railroading. Do your two Lionel engines have TMCC or Legacy command control? Are you planning on buying anymore engines and if so would they have command control? Lionel has a TMCC/Legacy command control system that Atlas, and Weaver engines are compatible with. MTH has the DCS system that will run Atlas, Weaver and Lionel. Both of these systems are easy to hook up and easy to use. I would definitely go to a hobby shop that has these systems hooked up on a layout so that you could get a hands on idea of which one you prefer. A lot of members have both systems on their layouts which I do also that way I can run any engine with command control. If you are planning on enjoying this hobby for a long time, plan on getting both systems. If you are just going to run the engines in conventional mode, just get a goo transformer and start enjoying. If you woul like to, let me know what the engines are that you have and I can let you know what you may need to run them.
Calvin is being introduced to the wonderful world of competing command systems. There are many threads that come and go here about the pros and cons of the two.
As far as operation, either DCS or Legacy will give you a complete operating environment with control for locomotives, accessories, switches, etc. It really comes down to which manufacturer makes products that you'd most like to own. In my case, I had TMCC, then Legacy, but MTH kept making some neat stuff as well, so I got the DCS system. This allows me to buy any O-gauge command locomotive and have full functionality with them.
I'd recommend you look around for a train club near you, many of the members will welcome you to their layouts, not to mention if they have a club layout. You can get your feet wet with both systems and also discuss what products are available from each manufacturer.
Since this is all new to you, we have a couple of videos that may help to get you started climbing the learning curve for O gauge command control.
Both videos are available on DVD.
There is a lot to learn when you are just starting out, but the learning process itself can be a lot of fun.
MTH has the DCS system that will run Atlas, Weaver and Lionel.
MTH's system will only run those others in conventional mode (by raising or lowering the track voltage) or can run a older set of TMCC commands once you add a Lionel system to the MTH DCS system
If you only have Lionel now and have engines that are set up to run with command then you are better off starting with the Lionel system and then adding DCS. Judging by the picture of the transformer you have the engines may not be set up as coammnd engines. Taking some pictures of the engines and any product numbers (ex 6-XXXXX) or even engine cab numbers might help us find what you have
(edit: I started my post right after gunrunnerjohn's reply--three others posted while I was writing this)
What you've pictured is a starter-set transformer, and not a particularly powerful one at that. It'll most likely run either of your two locos, but you'll find it running out of horsepower pretty early in the game as you expand. The Z-1000 transformer by MTH is a good step-up in power. If you're looking at top-of-the-line power, there's the MTH Z-4000, which has been around for many years and is highly regarded around here, or the Lionel ZW-L, which is relatively newer, but in the same "high power" class that generally means you won't need to upgrade further, regardless of how heavy your trains become.
Conventional versus Command:
--Conventional means traditional transformer control. You put a low voltage to the track, the train moves. More volts=more speed.
--Command means each locomotive is equipped with what amounts to a "digital engineer" that only responds to signals meant specifically for it. The track is electrified at a constant voltage (usually 18 volts) and the individual command-equipped locomotives only take what their electronics (under your control) tell them to take, by way of a remote control wirelessly linked to a control box connected to the track. The upshot of this is you can have multiple locomotives independently doing their thing all on the same track.
There are two dominant types of command-control in the 3-rail O Gauge train hobby:
--Lionel's TrainMaster Command Control (TMCC) and it's upscale replacement, Legacy
--Digital Command System (DCS) by Lionel's biggest competition, MTH.
Neither system directly operates the other, but because Lionel made its TMCC control codes public (at the time it was the only system around), that system's control box can be operated by another computer connected to a serial port on its side. MTH took advantage of this while designing its own DCS system, and included the ability to connect to and operate a TMCC control box from its own system, as shown by the photo below:
MTH kept its own codes a company secret, thus the DCS control box cannot be operated by anything other than MTH hardware.
Lionel, during the time TMCC was its sole command system, licensed the receiver electronics to a limited number of other manufacturers (notably Weaver, Atlas O and K-Line) to include in their own locomotives. This practice ended with the introduction of Legacy (and a change of upper management). These companies can still include TMCC electronics in their locomotives--they just can't perform the same tricks Legacy units can.
In practice, both systems can operate on the same track at the same time, and those desiring the most flexibility have equipped their layouts with both systems.
As for control of engines not equipped with command electronics, both systems can operate conventional locomotives on seperate tracks. DCS has this ability built in. Both of Lionel's systems require an additional box called a "Track Power Controller" that is basically a remote-controlled transformer handle that is hooked up between the track power supply and the track itself.
And last but not least, locomotives not equipped with command electronics can be equipped with either TMCC receivers from The Electric RR Co. or (assuming the loco has flywheel-equipped can motors) DCS upgrade kits. Legacy electronics are not available as a retrofit.