Good Morning,

I am working on my first permanent layout and I want to run DCS, but I have never used it before, although I am aware generally how it works.  I have gotten both Barry's book and the OGR DVD and they have both been very helpful.

I am trying to figure out what and how many DCS components I will need.  I want to run both MTH engines (command) and postwar engines (conventional) but probably not at the same time.  I was thinking I would need (1) Z4000, at least (1) TIU, (1) WIFI Unit, and possibly 3 AIU's for the number of switches I have.  Would I need a separate power supply for switches and another separate power supply for accessories?  If so, what power supplies are good for this?  I have an old PW ZW and an MRC Dual Power 027.  I didn't want to use them for track power, but would they work for accessories or should I use new bricks?  I know there are multi ways to do the setup/wiring and I'm just trying to figure out the best way for this layout.  I am using gargraves track and ross switches.  I have attached my layout design for reference.  The black is the bottom level, blue is the 2nd level and red is a grade going up and down from top to bottom.

I appreciate any assistance.  Thank you.



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Original Post

It sounds like you've been reading Barry's book! Good for you! Everything you need is in there. It looks like you just need one TIU plus a spare. DCS locos want fixed outputs (from the TIU) and conventional wants variable. You have two of each on your lone TIU. I am nobody's version of an expert on the right way to block a layout. But don't be shocked if, when you start to block it out, you start to think about a second TIU. It is not necessary.....and yet....I'd be tempted.

AIU's....hmmmmm...this is a small layout within easy reach for most stuff. I'd consider using some ground throws for those yard switches instead of AIU ports. But that's just a preference. Wifi is good. I prefer the remote control but since they are no longer made, that is problematic. 

I like the Z-4000 and I don't think you can go wrong there. I started with Z-4000s and switched to Lionel 180W bricks because I made a commitment to run only DCS or TMCC locos---I gave up conventional and I have never missed it. Your ZW is about the equivalent of one 180W brick. I LOVE those handles! But my lone ZW just runs accessories and switches for old time's sake. I don't run trains with it. I like separate power supplies for everything--switches, scenic lights, signals--all separate. But economically speaking, some of these could surely be combiined.

I love DCS. I bet you will too.

Best of luck and PS--I really like your track plan too. 


Don M.

Michael, I run two conventional lines (ZW), two DCS lines (another ZW), two trolley lines (one CW 80 and one from the ZW auxillary, and two upper level LCP lines (Z4000), on my table layout.   I try to dedicate each line to one power output, meaning I no longer run conventional on the DCS or the upper levels.

These pics show the mess it is running a large layout through 3 rooms!  I use the handles on the two ZW's and the Z4000 for the 6 main lines, and other than that one auxillary from one ZW, those inside rollers handle all my accessory power (lights, switches, operating structures).   I would advise you to keep all that stuff off of your power going to your main lines.  You can see those wood and copper power distribution boards that handle most of the accessories.



Since this is the 5th family layout, most of my lower tracks use 50 to 60 year old tubular track and 022 switches. 



All my new lines are Gargraves with Ross switches.



I've found the PW ZW's can handle just about anything.  I have two that have been running PW and brand new trains for well over 50 years without issue.  The Z4000 is excellent.  Both should handle your switches and auxillary power needs, but you always have to test first, build last.

As you can see by the pics, I always start with a track plan, but it is constantly modified due to space constraints.  Mostly, If I wanted more of these great new trains, I had to add on and build up.  I even made a double-tracked, 100 foot ceiling layout in the rec room.

Your track plan looks very cool.  My best advice is to think like its a fun-filled war, meaning plans never work, but planning is absolutely necessary.

Hope this helps, keep us posted.



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If you use a Z4000, you can control conventional trains through the Fixed TIU channels by just operating the Z4000 handles. You can also control conventional trains with the TIU Variable channels. Probably could be done, but it would be quite difficult to run both command and conventional on the same track at the same time. I would rule that out as a possibility and wire your layout accordingly. Following Barry's book for your DCS wiring is a great idea. Best thing I ever did for my layout. That completely eliminated DCS errors on my layout (except for the operator errors, that is).

FWIW, I am using Lionel Powerhouse 180 watt (PH-180s) bricks to power my TIU channels. I run command only (both DCS and Legacy) on my layout, but I could run conventional using my Variable TIU channels. When I got back in the hobby a few years ago, the PH-180s were much more economical than buying a Z4000 as you could get 4 of them for less than a Z4000. That may no longer be true as the PH-180 catalog prices have gone up quite a bit. I am not current on street prices of either one these days without looking around some. 

I don't know much about the Z4000, never had one? But the PH-180s arguably have some of the best and fastest breakers available in power supplies for O gauge trains. The PH-180 breakers are extremely fast and that is very good for protecting the electronics in your command control devices.

Voltage spike protection is another good thing to consider here and there around your layout using TVS diodes. The TIU has them built in, 1 per channel, but an extra one here and there gives a little added protection. There are many discussions about this here on the forum that explain it much better than I can. Just search for TVS and you should get more info than you can read!  Also, see the link in my signature line below about "PTC and TVS -..." good starting point before searching.  

I would not use track power for accessories, lighting, etc. Use separate power like your ZW and/or MRC for that and power your track with the Z4000 or Powerhouse 180 bricks. The Z4000 has a couple of aux voltage outputs, but I am not familiar with their operation. Make sure you add protection for your accessories, lighting, etc. with fuses sized properly for your loads and their wiring.

If you want to run conventional and DCS locomotives on the same track just wire through either variable 1 or variable 2. Then you can run everything from the DCS remote. Just use the TR button (track) and thumb wheel to vary the voltage up and down to run conventional locomotives. 

You can use a ZW to power your layout no problem. I use a ZW with fast blow fuses between it and the TIU on my layout. No issues.

Santa Fe, All the Way

I agree with the advice above, especially from RTR12. I will add, that if you decide to use multiple power sources, be sure to put them in phase. Since your plan appears to have significant power requirements, I would stay with bigger transformers, such as the Z4000, ZW (all versions), and KW. Be aware that older transformers should be run at no more than 80% of their labeled rating, and that the circuit breakers in them are designed to protect the transformer, not the delicate electronics in your engines.  For adequate protection with older transformers, look at the AC version of the PSX unit. Not cheap, but a heck of a lot cheaper than an engine repair!

My 2 cents.



Lehghline, I am also a big fan of the PSX-ACs. I have one on each channel, between my PH-180s and the TIU. Possibly overkill in my case with the PH-180s, as those have also excellent electronic breakers! But, as you point out the PSXs are much cheaper than replacing the electronics in an engine! You can get 4 of them for less than having the electronics replaced in just a single engine.

Personally, I would definitely be using PSX-ACs if I was going to power my layout with old post war transformers. Phasing all transformers is also a very good point and important to do as well. 

I also looked at street prices for a Z4000 and the PH-180s at Charles Ro. Z4000 = $459.95 ea. and PH-180 = $109.95 ea. (4 @ $439.80) so it's now pretty close to the same price between the two. The PH-180s still being a little less and offering more power. In case no one noticed, I am also a big fan of the PH-180s. 

Of course, the PH-180s are fixed output bricks and don't have handles, possibly a drawback to the plan here? So using the handles with the Fixed TIU Channels for conventional control would only apply to the Z4000 or other variable output transformers. 

Good Evening,

I am continuing to read, learn and understand the DCS system as I plan the electrical side of my layout.  All of the above suggestions have been great, thank you!  

I am trying to figure out the best way of powering/wiring/blocking for both complete DCS operation and complete conventional operation, but not at the same time.  I currently have a collection of postwar conventional locos that I would like to be able to run on the layout while also hoping to start collecting new DCS and possibly Legacy locos as well.

So, referencing my layout design posted below where black is the lower level, blue is the upper level and red are the grades going from lower to upper, I was thinking I could use each handle of my Z4000 to power the 2 lower loop mainlines on the 2 TIU fixed channels.  And then add two more power supplies, 1 for the yard, and 1 for the upper level on the 2 TIU variable channels.  For the other 2 power supplies I was thinking I could either use the 2 handles on my postwar ZW with appropriate circuit protection or buy (2) power house 180 bricks or (2) Z1000's.  In my thinking, I would have conventional control on all loops/sections either from the transformer handles on the fixed channels or the DCS app on the variable channels.  And then when I wanted to run only DCS I would be able to do that as well on the entire layout.  

I would use separate power supplies for my switch power and accessories.

Since I am new to DCS I want to make sure my logic is correct.  I don't want to buy what is unnecessary, but I also want to have enough power and control to run either completely conventional or completely DCS.  This is one of the last pieces of the puzzle to figure out in the planning phase before I can start construction.  

I appreciate any input.  Thank you!




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Michael, your plan seems completely workable.

As I understand your layout diagram, you want to run as many as 4 trains independently.  Your power plan should do that, easily.  As the guys have advised, be sure to make sure your transformers are phased correctly.  If not, you'll notice a stall when your trains cross into a different power block.  Just take the transformer plug out of the socket and reverse it.

Also, as RTR12 mentioned, the 180 bricks don't have handles that will allow you to adjust speed/power.  This will definitely affect your running conventional engines.  You seem to be aware of the circuit protection that should be utilized to protect the electronics.

Keep us posted.


Your description of the power plan is fine. I would only add, that since you have postwar trains that use the pullmor motors, you should stick with the 180W bricks or use two Z4000s.  I have some postwar engines that with passenger cars in tow will pull over 7 amps.  The Z1000 should stay at less than 5 amps.

Lots of good advise here.  I'm not sure I read anyone recommending a DC supply.  Think LEDs they run on DC.  You have a whole new world of options if you have DC.  I run just about all of my buildings and light on DC.  No bulbs to replace.  It's serious current when you add it all up.


Didn't see that anyone mentioned it, but keep in mind that MTH and Barry both recommend "star" wiring for DCS use rather than conventional buss wiring. All of the outputs of your power sources (whether single or multiple, like the Z-4K) can be connected to  distribution panels like the 12 port MTH shown below (they also make a 24 port model) and from there, power drops can be run to your tracks - about one drop per every 8 sections of track.

Also, bear in mind that they also recommend dividing your tracks into blocks for running DCS.


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