"If it is too good to be true, then it probably is"  The article in the most recent O guage "Bluetooth for O Gauge page 50", I find this article  very exciting.  If this is developed for three rail O gauge, the good by 3ed rail, track power, and a number of other things we have grown to accept.  What about the shorts that close down your layout ?  What about the advantages of having no power on track. Good by dirty track problems.  Potentially good By big transformers.  One could have charging sidings for your engines when not in use.  Big question is how long can engine run just on battery power ?  How do the G gauge engine do just on battery power ? Love to hear some feedback on this exciting article. 

Original Post

A G gauge engine will run for 4 to 5 hours on a single full battery charge during shows on the G&O railroad.  These are engines with radio control and a full sound system.  The battery will last longer than the person running the train.  

The key is to fully charge the battery before the show.  The biggest problem we have with battery powered engines is a person bringing an uncharged engine to the show and then expecting to charge it in a few minutes.  It takes several hours to fully charge a battery.  I usually charge my engine overnight on the day before I plan to run it.

I think that battery power with radio control is an exciting idea.  It may become the primary model engine power in the future.

NH Joe

I just met the person who wrote the article at our TCA Western Div meet today. The battery will last about 2 hours, and takes about 3 to charge. You can run more than 2 engines at a time on the same track. He converted a Williams GP and switcher. He gave our club a demo running it from an Ipad and Iphone. The  board was designed for HO, but he is developing a higher amp board for larger O scale engines/equipment.


thank you for your feedback.  This could bring 2 rail O gauge back into popularity with it's added realism.  I did not find the 3rd rail objectionable but a lot of railroader and modelers do.  I do interactive train based displays for public museums and depots and use 2 rail for that purpose.

    There are lots of little annoyances the battery can help overcome, it's a matter of preference really; lots of pros and cons in the big picture though, from convenience, right down to our environment and resources.(I'll skip that, and save the good for last, so here comes the "blast"...

  A cord ensures I run a train, not ever waiting on a charger, I know that's annoying from dealing with RC in the past.... or not, because it wasn't charged. And that's super annoying when you want to have fun NOW.   Tools or toys it doesn't matter, I buy just about everything I can on this basis: cords before battery.

Oh, emergency flashlights! But there are my oil and gas lamps to back those up too

So at each display, it will require attention by an employee about 3-6 times a day when new, increasing over time...?   If you do go that route, try powering enough track to keep the battery at, or very near full charge all day, all night. Some insurance policies may not like overnight changing fyi. (Though every EXIT sign does it, lol)

You will still need to clean wheels and track unless you like derailing. The batteries slow it some, but dust still goes from us to the air to the rails to the wheels to the Q tip.

  I don't get how a phone controller is better than any other controller, it fully escapes me, and though I think on it, it always come up a downgrade. With a separate controller I can use my phone and run trains at the same time, and never need to look down at the screen to ensure my finger is on a control because on a normal remote, I can feel the controls.  (And fyi touch screens don't work well for everyone's skin, I needed an assistant to work on cash registers, and can't dial my own phone sometimes today on a month old device).   And how about the device charging! Break out an extra dedicated charger and two more devices. (In Use , charging, & a backup too).

Interesting, but not a game changer imo. Nor is the idea totally new, you'll find lots of threads here on both BT and batteries. Freerails site is all about battery and RC too fyi.

But if it really appeals to you on a personal level, go for it and have a blast. That's why we do this. Tough job, but win me over too.

Personally, I just don't see the fascination with a device controller at home. (I also only see command control remotes as a way to troubleshoot with throttle in hand trackside...old schools fine and sounds annoy me after a bit anyhow)

 I do see a way to be highly guest interactive by BT, though I'm not appealed by it, or know if it is being done just yet. But if a guest wanted to, a timed BT connection to THEIR phone to control (any) display would grab interest and build rep. I'm sure.

  In fact the concept combined with common ads and data mining (cookies etc.) could be another income base.

   One day they'll pry my dead fingers off the handle of one of my Lionel transformers....I hope. (All built before I was too )

Smoke is an Achilles heal.  Run time drops significantly.  It is an alternative, but none of this has to do with how many rails on the track.  You can run 2 rail with AC, DC, Battery to rail.  I do not think you will get a battery in a 44 tonner as an example.  It has its advantage though, but when you look at what Lionel is doing with interactive layout and engine control with automatically triggered features, I am not sure how battery engines fit in, unless you get them down to the size of  9V battery.  No room in the engines with out gutting all that.  Plus you still have a powered layout for switches and accessories.  I do still believe it is a niche system that is perfect for some folks and how they run their trains.

Would you really gut a $1200 to $2000 Lionel or MTH engine to add a battery and control system with simple features.   Now you could add an aux car or tender with a battery in it with a tether to power the Legacy or DCS system in the engine.  That would be easy and has been done for at least a decade for some operators.  G


This is something I would like to try for my conventional engines.  We have an Atlas ALP-44 that would be extremely challenging to upgrade to PS3.  There is just not enough room since there is a large sideways motor.

Since this NJ Transit engine will most likely only pull NJ Transit passenger cars, it would be really easy to put a very large battery in the passenger car with a tether.  If charging is an issue, simply have 2 battery tender cars.  One on the charger and one on the track.

I was thinking, for operators, you might also be able to put a battery in the engine and the exact same battery in a tender car and have them tethered in parallel.  This would enable the engine to run by itself or create a much longer run time if the batteries are wired in parallel.

Many folks wire their layouts to run multiple ways, i.e. Conventional, DCS, Legacy, TMCC.   While some might want to jump into the pool and convert 100%, I just see this as another alternative to running trains on my layout.

If you visited the BlueRail web site you will also note that one does NOT have to use batteries.  You can use track power as well.  So you can add a form of command and control to your conventional engines.  They are supposedly coming out with a more robust board for "O" gauge.

Have Fun.




Glad to note that my article created so much interest. For the record, battery power is an option, not a requirement. In my work with BlueRail Trains, I ran both AC and DC track power as well and it performs just as well. The version of bluetooth that BlueRail is using is the new low energy which means that the board requires very little power. This means that almost all of the battery power is used for motor and lights, which makes battery operation that much more efficient, but not absolutely necessary. For locos with limited space, I located the board and the battery in a trailing car like the dummy A unit of an ALCO AA pair or the tender for steam. BTW, because the BlueRail board uses controlled PWM, low speed performance is quite good.

I want to thank Bob Walker for showing up at the TCA Western Division meet and letting us run his engines. I would like to make one just because. I was impressed by the low speed performance. Ease of use was amazing and I really liked how an engine is locked into one user so no confusion in engines being accidentally commanded from some one else. Here are a couple of pictures from yesterday.IMG_0004IMG_0002


Images (2)

After doing some study I wonder if a bridge rectifier would work to get the AC track power up to the board without overstressing the board and if so which one?

I am thinking I could put a BlueRail board in one of the Dorfan converted engines that Steve and I have done with the Williams motors and a bridge rectifier......

MTH had batteries just to support sound and later DCS and many adopted BCR (no battery) as did MTH in PS3 and now Blue Rail with a battery that powers everything is all the rage. 

I'm in the niche product camp.  I can see the allure of battery operation, but I do so love my smoke, and lots of it.   I don't know if I'd be nearly as happy with my Lionel Vision Line Big Boy if you took the four smoke units out of it!

A low power home brew unit for smoke , though likely anemic in production should be pretty easy. I've seen single AA battery toy trains that puff smoke, and run for hours. The fluid is a water and vegetable oil solution, the element is a single delicate nichrome wire, the puff by bellows on a cam.

Duel batteries, or super cap and battery? Battery in cars for long haul, super cap/small battery in the engine for run arounds, etc. where power use is much lower, might be a feasible combo. Tethering by truck/ wheels/ track and isolated couplers, maybe body mounted KD? This could allow many battery cars to charge, say on a 3rail siding, full charge cars connected by switching in a new car, and dropping the empty prototypically. Still plenty of room in the loco/tender that way for sounds etc. A cap should be able to smooth the iffy connection from the couplers, the loco recharging off the cars as needed during running.

Regulating voltage, the cars might be 24v, the loco 12v making recharge in the loco fast and full.

(Still gripping my plastic throttle )

Speculation, but I think the MTH battery use was chosen for the clean power they provide, I.e. to isolate the sounds circuits better and need for certain steady voltages. They tend to be used for memory retention on some chips too. Didn't some early trains need reprogramming after a battery died or jumping batteries to change one? That would be why.

Adriatic posted:

The fluid is a water and vegetable oil solution, the element is a single delicate nichrome wire, the puff by bellows on a cam.

Uhh... Thanks, but no thanks!   I'm afraid I'm addicted to the smoke production of modern fan driven units, I'm not going back to puffers.

Imagine some more! Imagine ONE STANDARD for the wireless remote control all two rail and three rail O Gauge trains! All manufacturers could use it! Then compete on the quality and features of engines.

Hey, a guy can have dreams, no?

No smoke, throw away  MTH or Lionel electronics, then spend nearly $200 on new electronics.  If you start with conventional locomotives like WBB, I suppose it makes sense. However, as far as I know the blue rail boards are not yet robust enough to power most O gauge trains.

gunrunnerjohn posted:
Adriatic posted:

The fluid is a water and vegetable oil solution, the element is a single delicate nichrome wire, the puff by bellows on a cam.

Uhh... Thanks, but no thanks!   I'm afraid I'm addicted to the smoke production of modern fan driven units, I'm not going back to puffers.

Ok so YOU will run six battery cars

(It was still neat the little battery op thing had smoke )

It might make sense to clear up some issues that have been discussed. Bluetooth loco control and battery power are two entirely different and independent modes of operation, so let's separate the two. The BlueRail Trains board provides flawless control of a loco at distances up to 100 feet. The board uses carefully controlled PWM to which can motors respond very nicely. It can also control four auxilliary functions. When operating, there is two-way communications between the loco and the iPad/iPhone. It can be powered from the track. It was originally designed for HO and has some current limitations, but a higher power version is in the works. It's main feature is that it uses a control system that younger people are growing up with and also steps around that track signal propogation issue.

Battery power for OGauge is a completely different subject. The newer batteries make this mode more realizable than ever before, so why not look into it?  I chose to do both because the BlueRail board is the newer low-energy version which means that almost all of the battery power is available to run the motors and lights. One of the areas that needs work is to simplify the recharging and we are looking into a number of approaches.

Hope this clarifies some points.


Hi Bob,

     For whatever reason, Bluetooth seems to threaten some OGR forum members, and their confusion is deliberate.  Keep up your good work and forward thinking! 

Take care, Joe.


Joe Rampolla posted:

Hi Bob,

     For whatever reason, Bluetooth seems to threaten some OGR forum members, and their confusion is deliberate.  Keep up your good work and forward thinking! 

Take care, Joe.

Well, whenever "forward-thinking individuals" frame such advances with the implication that they could (or should) sweep through the industry and displace support for the way the majority of participants were doing things for many years...


..."I find this article very exciting. If this is developed for three rail O gauge, the(n) good by(e) 3ed rail, track power, and a number of other things we have grown to accept...

... not just existing side-by-side, but completely pushing the existing methodologies out of the market, I can see where that would produce consternation among folks who have a large investment in equipment now being categorized as "obsolete", and would face a great deal of difficulty should "the new way" become "the only way".

I'm sure the 1:1 scale railroads felt the same way about the positive train control mandate when Congress first started making noises about it. (except that one actually was forced upon the industry.)


Joe Rampolla posted:

Hi Bob,

     For whatever reason, Bluetooth seems to threaten some OGR forum members, and their confusion is deliberate.  Keep up your good work and forward thinking! 

Take care, Joe.


I'm not threatened by it.  While I might find it interesting to a point, (same with battery power) I see no compelling reason to jump on the bandwagon.

I felt the same way with DCC.  Many of the same arguments were being presented pro/con back then.  While I eventually added DCC to my (S Scale) railroad and it is sorta neat, I still run my conventional DC stuff more and have done few DCC conversions.


Last edited by Rusty Traque
Joe Rampolla posted:

For whatever reason, Bluetooth seems to threaten some OGR forum members, and their confusion is deliberate.  Keep up your good work and forward thinking!

Threatened?  Hardly.   I just don't see standing myself on my head to adopt a technology that as of now doesn't offer the features and convenience that I'm already enjoying.  I like to keep an eye on it as it evolves, but it's certainly not there now. 

You mistake reluctance to take a step backwards for confusion, but I suppose that's deliberate also.

You guys are taking this way too personal.  I don't recall anyone saying this system was going to replace DCS, Legacy, TMCC, conventional or any other system you like and enjoy.

It's just another alternative for those that might want to try it.

Have Fun.


Actually Ron, I think Joe was taking it too personally.   Truthfully, when the O-gauge size BT board is available, I'll probably get one and give it a go.  I'll use track power to run it, but it'll be kinda' like a Lionel LC+ locomotive.  However, I don't feel the burning desire to jump in with the pioneers at this point.  I like to keep up with the technology, but I don't need to be ahead of it.  Right now, the battery technology in particular, doesn't offer what I want.  In the future it might.

Remember: You can pick out the pioneers, they're the folks with the burning wagons.

BOB WALKER posted:


Battery power for OGauge is a completely different subject. The newer batteries make this mode more realizable than ever before, so why not look into it?


Sure look into it but this subject keeps coming up on this forum yet I only know of one person who posts here that has actually ripped out the electronics in his locomotives and is using battery power. One person! That's it!

In my opinion, the biggest pro to Bluetooth/battery power is you don't have to clean the track or get any short circuits but it ends there. Transformers? I already have more than I need. They are a one time expense and they are paid for. A Command Control System? Bought and paid for already. No pro there for me. Rip out the center rail? Nope. Already did that. No pro there for me.

I am not threatened by it either but I feel that the cons out weigh the pros by a lot especially in 3 rail because one of the biggest pros is that you can remove the center rail. Well, most 3 railers are collectors/operators meaning that they have more locomotives than they can run on their layout at any given time. If they rip out the center rail then they can't run any of their locomotives!!! They would have to rip out the electronics of their entire collection which would be costly and a lot of labor. Also since battery power is not desirable by the majority of O Gaugers (at least at this time) their collection would decrease in value. (yeah I know trains aren't worth much anymore but they would be worth even less) Perfect example: I read Bob's article and I thought it was well done but did you guys also read Ed Boyle's article on Digital Electronic Grading? In it he talks to Wally Myers and Wally mentions all the pros to Bluetooth/battery power but after that he says, "I don't intend to change." Why? Because he likes the third rail. Sure some guys would want to get rid of the third rail but then you have the problems I pointed out earlier. I believe Wally is not alone in his feelings and is representative of the majority of 3 railers.

Wally mentions young people coming into the hobby possibly getting into the Bluetooth and battery power. Let's take those young people: They are just getting into the hobby and most likely don't have a big budget for it. So they go somewhere, a LHS or a train show and buy a locomotive. Then instead of getting it home and running it they have to rip out the electronics and buy the new boards from Bluetooth which aren't available at the LHS. So they have to order the boards, wait for them to come in, and then install them before running their new locomotive. I just can't see a lot of people doing this. Especially the young people in our instant gratification society we have today.

Yes, I know I that Bluetooth can be run from track power but then all you are doing is changing from one command control system to another and while the Bluetooth system may be more reliable than Legacy/DCS when it comes to signal propagation (I don't know that it is--it may or may not be) the user will be losing many features and devaluing their collection. Again you have the expense and labor of changing Command Control Systems.

Many O Gaugers like the sounds we get in our locomotives. Some of them sound quite realistic. So it is good-bye sounds that Lionel or MTH put a lot of time into making sound good for generic sounds where every engine will sound the same. Maybe things are different now but I looked into a very similar system to this over 10 years ago and that's how it was then. So yes the technology is here but it does not seem to be growing in popularity in our hobby by leaps and bounds.

Think there are no electronic Standards in 3 rail? Guess what there are absolutely NO STANDARDS in Bluetooth/Battery Power in any scale! So once you choose a company you are stuck with that company. Imagine if that company should go out of business? (I know, not likely but could happen) Now you have to get boards from a different company. Well, your current controller will not talk to those boards so now you must buy the second company's controller. And don't forget, it may not be often but every once in a while a battery will go bad and will have to be replaced.

I am sure that there is a small percentage of O Gaugers that would be interested in this system. They probably have a very small collection of locomotives and so it wouldn't be costly to change over. Maybe they are On30 or On3 guys or maybe they have a small 3 rail layout and only a few conventional engines. For them it is a viable choice. For the typical O Gauge guy with an overflowing collection of locomotives it just doesn't make sense.

I have said it before and I will say it again. When MTH or Lionel starts to offer their locomotives with Bluetooth/battery power installed from the factory (or with a least a connector that one could add a battery or bluetooth board) along with their sounds then that's when this system may increase in popularity. Until then it will stay a niche system that only a very small percentage of O Gaugers use.

Last but not least, I am NOT knocking anyone who wants to go with Bluetooth/Battery Power. Hey if that's what makes you happy and you can afford the expense and labor. I say go for it. I, like Wally Myers, will not be changing over to another command control system.


Last edited by Hudson J1e
Hudson J1e posted:
Yes, I know I that Bluetooth can be run from track power but then all you are doing is changing from one command control system to another and while the Bluetooth system may be more reliable than Legacy/DCS when it comes to signal propagation (I don't know that it is--it may or may not be) the user will be losing many features and devaluing their collection. Again you have the expense and labor of changing Command Control Systems.

I've run LC+ on the NJ-HR layout, which should have a similar range as BlueTooth signals. I got stuck in a few places where I had to quickly run to the location closest to the locomotive to get the RF signal back and get underway again. I've also run BlueTooth equipped sound on a much smaller layout and have sound dropouts of the signal as the sound system got farther away from the BlueTooth signal source. OTOH, I can run a TMCC or Legacy locomotive flawlessly around the entire NJ-HR massive layout without a single signal issue, so clearly you may be assuming facts not in evidence in suggesting that BlueTooth might be more reliable than TMCC/Legacy. 

I won't comment on DCS as I'm still struggling with signal on our club layout.

John, I am assuming nothing. I said, "It may or may not be.[more reliable]" I don't know.

Clearly your experience provides one less pro in favor of Bluetooth/Battery Power.

No worries John. Thank you very much for your real world input.

I find it very interesting that you had some drop outs on a smaller layout. One might expect problems on a gigantic layout like the NJ Hi-Railers but I would have thought the system would be bulletproof on smaller layouts. Correct me if I am wrong but you were using the Lionel system right? and not the Bluetooth system mentioned in the article? Or do they use the same technology?

The BlueTooth transmission is the same for any BlueTooth device, however there are different classes of BlueTooth.  I don't believe most phones are using Class 1 capability, so the range will be limited.

Device ClassTransmit PowerIntended Range
Class 31 mWless than 10 meters
Class 22.5 mW10 meters, 33 feet
Class 1100 mW100 meters, 328 feet

My Samsung Note 4 has BlueTooth 4.1, which has a range of 30 meters, and that's under ideal conditions. Not exactly a long range signal.

A lot more information on the Wikipedia BlueTooth Page.

   Threatened, maybe ? I guess "Good bye 3rd rail and accepted standards type intros" shouldnt be easily taken as menacing?

March on and leave the wounded behind ? Lol

   The only threat feared here is more or less over. Buying new items today, and basically is paying for options I don't really care for.   The companies eyeballing this tech are the last low cost makers using the KISS philosophy, and so imo, look likely to be also eventually upping the mininum tech and therefore prices as others have to make the eventual profit more off the tech vs the model. That might kill off the few remaining alternatives that might fit my needs from being at what I would feel is an appropriate price otherwise.  I hope I'm wrong.

   And i still don't "get it", but you do. So if I spout, note I also throw my crappy ideas out there and hope somethings helps the op. too. Batteries would fall into that category.  What I'd like to see for controls too.

    Unintentionally applied exclusion thru drastic change often seems implied during an enthusiastic post. This DID start as being exclusionary though was likely just being over enthusiastic. Fun can do that

I will chime in here.  I have a friend who I have been helping build his 2-rail O scale layout for a while and have looked at purchasing a 2-rail O scale locomotive that I could run on his layout.  Of course I can run his equipment and don't really need to purchase a 2-rail locomotive, but then after reading about BPRC I decided to research the possibility of having a locomotive that would run on his layout and my 3-rail layout.

The victim: my K-Line Plymouth locomotive.

I have replaced/re-gauged the wheels with Atlas 36" 2 rail freight wheels.  These wheels have slightly deeper flanges then RP-25 O scale wheels and will navigate my Atlas 3-rail layout (including a couple sections of Lionel tubular rail).  This solves the physical issue of running a piece of equipment on both of our layouts.

Since 2-rail and 3-rail track systems are completely different electrically, I need something to power and control the Plymouth independent of power systems.  In this case it's DCC vs. TMCC.  The BlueRail technology seems to be the right fit for me with a battery on board.  The motor in the Plymouth is comparable to an HO locomotive (and the stall current is well below the 2 amp limit on the control board), so really any kind of HO BPRC system would work here, electrically and fit under the hood.

I will be rebuilding the body shell from blueprints to a 1922 Plymouth that my local club has so there will be no issues with reusing the die cast body shell and having interference with the Bluetooth signal.  I will use the frame, and let me tell you,  K-line did a great job painting it!

Switching on both layouts will be accomplished with Kadee 806 couplers.  These couplers will mate to "the claw" on my layout and the Kadee couplers on my friend's layout.

I know this is a very small niche to be in, but I'm glad there is technology that will support my decision.  I'm getting ready to purchase the control system as I have finished testing the drivetrain on both layouts (with a 9 volt battery).  If anyone is interested in this, I will start another thread. 


ps. My apologies to anyone who takes offense with me "destroying" the K-Line Plymouth.  In my defense, I'm glad I opened it up - the smoke unit was suffering from zinc rot.

It seems that there are two major issues at play here:  

The first was addressed above, but I'll repeat it anyway, While bluetooth technology makes battery power a more practical option, battery power and Bluetooth are two seperate, distinct, technologies, and while they can be used together for those that want to, there is no need to do so to gain the benifits of one or the other.  You could run Battery power TMCC if you wanted... Not sure about DCS, as the signal is transmitted through the track power.  

The second issue is the capabilities of BlueTooth it's self.  It seems people think that the limited functions  from a smart phone are all this technology can do, to which they are mistaken.  The only real short coming of bluetooth being used for model trains is that the max range is going to be limited... unless the system was designed for and implemented signal repeaters.  

I think most people associate Bluetooth with running a train from your phone, and while that is an option, you can use bluetooth without a phone at all.  Bluetooth is simply the name of the encoding system used over 2.4GHz wireless radios, and is at least the most common, if not the best such system.  Other similar radio protocols would be Wifi, or on the very simple end, LionChief plus, or using the same radios, Microsoft and logitech wireless keyboards and mice.  

As to having to "rip out" the electronics in engines, I'm unsure why this would be the case , at least in most TMCC locomotives.  One could design a replacement R2(4)LC board that pops into the same socket and uses bluetooth communication instead of the 455K track signal, preserving all of the engines functions.  

I guess it comes down to understanding that there is a difference in the implementation/apparatus, the user interface, as it were, versus the underlying technology.  A TMCC system, if fully exploited is capable of sending 65,536 unique commands.  In practice it can make use of much less.  Legacy improves on this with  about 4 times as many commands available to the system, plus multi-word commands.  A single data packet over bluetooth contains at least 4 billion bits of information, and the standard packet size of 32 bytes is a 1 followed by about 70 zeros of information.  So, while the current implementation of bluetooth for trains has limited features, the technology it's self is practically limitless in the features it could operate.  Add to that that bluetooth is self error correcting, meaning that if the information sent isn't received perfectly it knows there is a problem and can act on that.  Also, each device will have a unique id, meaning there is no chance that multiple clubs will have overlapping signal issues, or such.  

The only downside to this tech that I can see is the "short" range that may be a problem for large club layouts and the like.  This could be solved very easily with range extenders, though this may require a bit of additional programing to implement.  


All told, Bluetooth (or any other digital, error correcting, 2.4GHz radio for that matter) is just flat out superior to an analog track signal.  It is only the apparatus that is lacking in features, not the underlying technology.  


P.S. That Legacy system everyone loves so much: yeah, the thing talks to and provides all those functions with a simple 2.4GHz communication from the remote to the base, you're already using a dumbed down version of bluetooth if you run Legacy.  

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