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Battery technology is rapidly advancing, there are a bunch of improvements to battery technology that are well beyond the LiPo technology that are being developed that will increase the power /weight of batteries and also decrease the charging times. Take a look at cordless tools and the difference these days is staggering, they have replaced a lot of corded tools even among pros, because they can do the job. Run out of juice? Swap out the battery pack while the current one charges. With cars, the distance they can go is longer and longer and charging times have dropped, there are cars coming on the market that aren't exotics that may have a range of 300 miles and be able to get an 80% charge in 15 minutes (there also are claims of batteries that can go 300 miles and be swapped out in 90 seconds, would be kind  of like swapping a blue Rhino propane tank, though I put that with a 200 mph carb back in the 1970s, until it actually hits the market). 

I haven't looked at the RC world, I don't know if the batteries they have there now are better than they were 10 years ago, but the answer to that may be that they don't have much of a need for higher density batteries, or the people who provide them don't have any reason to change, not the first time if that is true. Before Tesla came out with his car, the US auto industry was claiming electric cars were not practical, that they would be nothing more than a golf cart, until suddenly someone showed they were either deluded or outright lying *shrug*). FYI Tesla is no longer an expensive play toy, they are selling 500,000 cars a year in the US, that is not a small amount. 

And if the battery is easily swapped out, might make running trains more realistic, if you had a battery the size of an SD memory card you plug into a slot on the engine or tender, if an engine's battery is running down, means you would have to pull the train over, swap the battery with a charged one, and go one, simulating a water stop on a steam engine or perhaps a planned stop.

The real question is will the makers of trains switch over to battery technology? That is a million dollar question, there is no reason you can't  integrate battery technology with control technology like DCS, DCC or Legacy or Lionchief, but it depends on whether they see a market for it and it is worth switching, will they sell enough to justify the cost of switching power, and I don't have an answer for it.  It doesn't mean powered rails will go away, some will be happy the same way they are with conventional control today, but it could eventually be where engines will be dual power the way they are conventional/cc today. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Those very early trains built by JLC used battery power, but the batteries were external from the train and still connected to the track. In the days before rural electrification, many household things were powered by a setup of batteries and a small generator kept in the basement or a shed outside the house -- battery power is far from new, but the high power density of modern batteries is largely a 21st century development.

@Will posted:

I think the big positives that Jeff pointed out are eliminating all that wiring under the layout and the ability to change track layout easily. That alone is a game changer. Not to mention transformers. That's a lot of money saved. Think of Christmas and floor loops with no wire.

Just to point out that I don't do "all that wiring" right now.   Legacy-Lite and DCS on the rails, and LionChief+ or DCS in the locos, with two wires to the tracks (two power drops due to resistance).  I am powering my FasTrack turnouts in command control - no control wires, and they take power from the constant voltage on the rails.

This part of the future is already here!

One still needs enough transformer power to run everything, and power blocks are advised for large layouts.  I have two CW80s ganged together for my small layout, and the power roll-back when a short happens works very well.

But its not yet cheap, the command control turnouts are expensive, and then there is the cost of the command control systems - a one-time purchase so far.

I appreciate the earlier comment that we already have an open standard when Lionel released the TMCC codes.

There is an example from computer processors:  the original PCs had 8-bit processors, and now we are at 64-bit processors with hyperthreading and all sorts of cool internal stuff.   You would be amazed at the gymnastics Intel designers have gone through to allow a 64 bit processor to understand and run 8-bit instructions internally.   So the point is, an open standard, even if designed years ago (Intel from the 1970s) , can be maintained through many evolutions into the future.  But, this is expensive: Intel has deep pockets and can support dozens of engineers working for years to develop multiple generations of technology- beyond Lionel's reach to do quickly (a long delay between TMCC and Legacy).  

I am not saying TMCC is the "gold" standard.  Just pointing out that we already have some of the pieces of these desired future systems right now.

The battery issue is interesting:  One idea I find intriguing is to have battery powered locos that have 3-rail pickups and can recharge when running thru or standing on 3-rail track, otherwise 2-rail battery power for the rest of the layout.

Last edited by Ken-Oscale

I am surprised and delighted with the current level of interest in new R/C systems and battery power. For the past few years I have been working with companies who have introduced new R/C products and have found them to be fine additions. One of these is the new BlueRailDCC product which is quite unique and performs well. On the subject of battery power, I have been very active and if recalled, I built the first battery powered LionChief. My articles on battery power in the December 2016 OGRR and the April 2020 LCCA magazine have drawn a lot of attention. Finally, for Android users, there is a system out there that I have used.

 

DCC, TMCC, and DCS are all a step up from the legacy control systems.

The next step after DCC, TMCC, and DCS requires a more sophisticated control system with a 2-way radio link, specifically a mesh system so multi-point control is possible.

I have been working on this concept for a couple of years and am almost ready to release the products. I know many will not be interested, but in order to go to the next level, new hardware is required. The goal is as prototypical as possible, including realistic control interface with a simulated locomotive cab; prototypical, real-world motion physics; and interface to a central control system.

The design goals include operation from track power including AC, DC, and DCC, or power from an on-board battery. Automatic battery recharge will be added in the future. Mixing of trains using legacy power and control with my system is allowed so investment in existing hardware is not lost.

Some additional details are available on my website, www.scaledautomation.com.

My business is a startup with limited resources so all feedback is welcome.

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  • EngineControlPanel3: Example Control Interface

Based on my experience with other rechargeable battery devices, I'm not ready to go that route with my trains.  What I would like to see is "keep alive" circuitry (like non-flickering car lighting circuits but more powerful for motive power) assuming that reliable capacitors (or other components/circuits that could do the same job) can be found that will have a long service life. 

I like the direct communication of Lion Chief from the remote to the locomotive without an intermediate device putting a signal into the track.  I feel a robust, full-featured (including electro-coupler control) direct communication system would make an attractive alternative to all the current indirect systems that talk to the locomotives through the track.  By full featured, I do not mean a remote that also operates switches and accessories and other miscellaneous functions outside of locomotive/train operation functions.  I don't feel the need for that.  

@Landsteiner posted:

For what it's worth, all LiPo batteries sold for R/C car, boat and airplane usage state "do not charge unattended." Small but not zero chance of a fire. 

I also fly small unmanned aircraft systems (drones), both quadcopters and fixed wing, and we have had three LiPo fires among our small group since I joined about two years ago, two while charging and one in the air.  The one that failed in the air caused a small brush fire where it crashed, but we had plenty of fire extinguishers (keep several handy if you use these batteries).  I keep my LiPo batteries in a fire safe bag when not using (Amazon has several types-don't go cheap).

I own three different battery operated aircraft and each one has its own proprietary (and expensive) battery*.  If you are looking for standardization, include batteries.

*Mostly due to the need for proper weight and balance, not really an issue with a model train.

Last edited by CAPPilot

I’ve enjoyed and appreciated the many perspectives offered in this thread.  What is clear to me is that many aspects of a new way to control and power our trains are already here, to include battery power.  I still can’t help but to wonder how the market, and the technologies, will evolve with many thousands of MTH engines out there now stranded with current DCS technology.  If DCS lives on in some form it will necessarily be an aftermarket retrofit, but that market is ripe to be addressed by other innovators as well.    

I think an aspect that hasn’t been emphasized is the fact that many different control and power options can happily co-exist on a layout.  Battery power and conventional or DCS/Legacy can all be operated at the same time on the same rails.  Introduction of new technologies does not mean a necessary immediate retrofit of an entire fleet.  I also do think that the expense will scare hobbyists away from new technologies.  The same was said about DCC in the HO communities 20 years ago, yet DCC thrived. 

Regardless of the exact approach, some key features will be important to me:

  1. A User interface that is intuitive, adaptable, and upgradable. Controlling trains via an app on a device fits that bill for me.  Its been 15 years since I tried DCC.  While I understand its benefits when it comes to features and commonality, I hated the user interface.  I have no interest in programming CVs or using function buttons to operate features.  IMO, the DCS wifi app is so much more intuitive and fun to operate.
  2. Some form of RF direct interface to control the engine, rather than sending signals through the rails.
  3. Option to transition to battery power rather power my engines through the rails.

 

Interesting that 2. And 3. would allow elimination of the center rail. I grew up with AF trains and loathed Lionel for what I considered the “toylike” 3-rail track.  Ironically, now in my late 50’s, I’m all in with the endearing nostalgia of O-scale 3-rail trains.  Even with battery power I’d want to keep the third rail!

As for battery powered trains, I have newer LEGO trains and they are all battery only.  I hate it, so they almost never get run.  Taking batteries in and out, keeping them charged, and limited run time have all been enough for me to never accept that on my O gauge trains.  The day they stop selling track powered locomotives is the day I stop buying trains in this gauge.

Just more toxic materials which ultimately end up in a landfill.  Which necessitates another recycle program and a core charge.     My nephew now in engineering school is preaching that all batteries must have a return value to keep them out of landfills.  Not sure that I disagree.                   j

There are LRT trainsets which are hybirds.  Most of the time they run off the overhead.  But sometimes they run on trackage without an overhrad wire.  So they have rechargeable batteries to get over the gap, charged while under the wirr...

Our overhead is the third rail.  How about a small battery to get the train over rough spots using stored in the locomotives.

 

There are LRT trainsets which are hybirds.  Most of the time they run off the overhead.  But sometimes they run on trackage without an overhrad wire.  So they have rechargeable batteries to get over the gap, charged while under the wirr...

Our overhead is the third rail.  How about a small battery to get the train over rough spots using stored in the locomotives.

 

That already exists in the form of super capacitors used as "keep alives" for both sound and motor power.  Batteries have also been used to keep sounds from cutting out over dirty track or switches.

Brendan

Three-railers aren't the only O scalers experimenting with battery power; two-railers are doing it, too. The three-rail guys share much the same concerns. Also, unlike three-railers, they can't run analog and many DCC locomotives on the same track at the same time.

Plus, there's another factor: many of them would like to set up outdoor trackage, particularly those lacking the wide open spaces needed for articulated steam locomotives and full-length heavyweight and streamlined equipment.

I do not consider battery power or radio controlled trains new technology.  I had tube radio controlled and battery powered boat in the 1950s.  Of course there were radio controlled planes too.  There was no need to have radio controlled or battery operated trains then as they were operated in the basement.  The radios are smaller and the batteries have more capacity now but not new control technology.

Lets get more creative.

Charlie

Last edited by Choo Choo Charlie

Big no-go for me on the batteries as a required power source, for many of the reasons already covered.

I'm mostly a command runner, though I do have conventional trains I run as well.

For Lionel TMCC/Legacy, I've always been fine with the optional battery, as for command operation, it doesn't affect much.  It doesn't hinder operation in any meaningful way (to me) if the battery is not there.  The only modern Lionel engine I own that has ever had a 9v battery installed was the Century Club GG1, and only because Lionel decided to install one at the factory for some reason.  As soon as I learned that, it was removed.

For MTH, I don't recall them highly advertising the fact that there was a battery inside required for successful operation in the early days of PS1.  I'm sure it was always covered in the manuals, but it was probably a while before those first batteries came to start to no longer be chargeable and needed replacement.  Limited catalogs back then certainly did not have a rechargeable 9v battery shown in the accessories section of the catalog.  And it was later in PS2 when such a concept as the external charging jack came about so you could charge without being on the rails or opening up the engine to remove the battery and charge it with a separate charger.

I accepted the battery as a necessary evil once I knew about it for the MTH trains, as I felt the value of play  with DCS (or even PS1 - I still love some of the specific sound effect sequences built into things like the Shay) was enough of a benefit that tolerating the battery (knowing it would eventually need replacement or a BCR) was worth it.  I don't feel it's a coincidence that MTH (finally!) migrated away from the battery with PS3.  (nor is it a coincidence that the BCR units that preceded PS3 became so popular as a replacement for the rechargeable batteries for MTH trains).  A large percentage of the public who bought these trains saw the battery as a big negative.

Without digging too deep into the technical differences in amp-hours, charge times, etc, it seems to be pretty clear that batteries can be readily implemented for anything that is just electronics with a bunch of relatively low power draw processors and such processing all the 0s and 1s.  (cell phones, tablets, etc - though obviously there are also analog RF and display circuits involved, but not any/many motors).  Anything producing enough power to provide mechanical motion (at least where there is significant weight and therefore some torque required) seems to be either limited in run time per charging session  (RC car examples provided) or extremely expensive to produce the technology (Tesla example).  I don't want my trains to increase in cost proportionally the way the cost of a Tesla compares vs. a Chevy or a Ford

Seeing the reference to a battery the size of an SD memory card seems extremely ambitious to have enough power to move a train.   I'm just thinking out loud here about the number mentioned for the Tesla battery.  It looks like a Tesla weighs between 4000 and 6000 pounds (depending on model) with the ~1000 pound battery.  Scale that percentage to an O Gauge engine weight.  Not likely to ever fit in the size of an SD card.

I know technology evolves, but I've seen too many "gotchas" with various battery tech over the years to get excited for batteries anywhere they are not necessitated (necessary for things like cell phones, cameras or portable radios, of course).  Years ago it was the Ni-Cad "memory" effect (probably made worse with "quick chargers" (quick back then was 5 hours instead of 15).  Then more recently (maybe even current) for NiMH batteries, there comes a time when they just no longer like to be charged.  I use some digital cameras that (thankfully) use standard AA size batteries, but I've had many AA batteries that just eventually give out and no longer play nice in the battery charger.  Charger decides that there is something it doesn't like about the battery and it won't even start the charge.  Not the end of the world since it's standard AAs that are readily replaceable, but still not optimal.  (and I'm pretty sure there is no way I've exceeded the advertised number of recharging cycles).

So if O Gauge trains ever come about that use a primary power source of a battery instead of the rails, I will not be buying, no matter how cool the train itself may be.

-Dave

Last edited by Dave45681

Electronics in and of itself has provided enormous benefits to model railroading. It has offered countless improvements for engine control, accessory animation and layout track control. The question of battery powered engines is a separate issue. Battery powered engines with current battery technology is a reality, but not something that is universally acceptable. Each modeler should use their own judgement as to what operating and power mode they prefer based on the best available information.

Just saw the comment about airplane batteries on page 2.  Yep, not much has changed in aircraft batteries.  We are still using 1930s technology, because FAA approval is required.

A few pilots are using something called "EarthX" - I have no idea what that is, but it is significantly lighter than the lead-acid approved batteries.

We are still using ignition systems off of Case tractors, even though Case is no longer building tractors.  And don't even ask about fuel injection.  I hate hot starts.

Back to trains - I have been proven wrong already, so I will do it again: I predict that an inexpensive R/C battery powered toy train will be available in quantity by 2025.  It will revolutionize 3-rail.

The following is, of course, an opinion:

While a replacement electronic control system will certainly be eventually required when DCS, or key portions of it, are no longer supported, this option will certainly not be feasible for those people with more limited means, primarily financial.  Hence, I think in the future there will be a lot of non-working locomotives, primarily Railking, that will be available economically, many if not most of which will have defective [ or non-defective but mis-programmed, etc ] electronics.  Running on "conventional " will not be possible for many of these -- but what would be possible would be to strip out all the electronics, leaving just the DC can motors to be wired in series or parallel.

Now, feeding DC onto the track will give the operator direction and throttle control.  Horn and whistle would be a fixed 'sound block' or two.  Yes, one would have to have some electrical block control for multi-train operation, but an alternate-action on-off pushbutton discreetly mounted on each locomotive would enable it to be isolated independently.  The biggest "problem" would be lights, but developing a few standard packages [ diodes, resistors, zeners ] for the different lighting voltages sounds doable without anything expensive or proprietary -- true, it wouldn't be constant lighting, but that's OK under the circumstances. 

A person could build a pretty nice and above all economical model railroad -- as distinct from the current [ hah ! ] standard for a toy train layout -- using the above approach.

It's still a great time to be in 0 gauge !

Best, SZ

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