29 August 2023
Howard Smith speaks with Lincoln's premiere model shop and digital control systems specialist.
Howard: Though Digitrains is a DCC specialist retailer, you offer customers access to many more non-DCC products, too – how expansive is your stock list?
Nicole: As the first DCC specialists to set up in the UK, it has always been our aim to be the 'go-to' experts in Digital Command Control (DCC) but we have never wanted to make customers feel excluded just because they are not 'digital', so we try to provide a comprehensive selection of stock for all railway modellers, whether they model in DCC or analogue (DC).
Our range is always changing as we try to keep up with the latest demands from customers, and although we might not stock everything, we do try to stock all the essentials for getting a layout up and running from scratch – track, wiring, scenic items, rolling stock and more.
Beyond the shop. Digitrains regularly attends model railway exhibitions, carrying a range of essential DCC supplies and model stock.
H: What’s the most commonly-asked question by the newcomer to DCC, and what important piece of advice do you give them?
N: It depends on each customer and their individual plans for their layout. We are often asked about how to wire up a layout for DCC and in those cases we would look at the layout diagram with the customer and give our recommendations on an individual basis. As a very basic rule, you should have a good track bus running around your layout with several feeds to the track at regular intervals to ensure a good power supply throughout.
The question of “Can I run my analogue locomotive on my digital layout?” is very common. The most basic and simplified answer is, an analogue locomotive should never be run on a digital layout as this can result in a burnt out locomotive motor. Another common question is “can I mix and match controllers?” This is often asked when people like the power specifications of one system but prefer the look of the handset from another system. The simple answer to this is, no. Each DCC system uses a particular protocol – NCE uses Cab Bus, Digitrax uses Loconet, Lenz uses RailCom, so once a choice has been made about control system, a customer will need to stick with add-on handsets that use the same protocol. However, decoders for inside locomotives and for controlling point work or other accessories can be mixed and matched as they are compatible across multiple systems.
A day trip to Lincoln beckons! A well-stocked unit covers most modelling essentials. Custom locomotive sound purchases can be tested on its permanent test track, too.
H: How can I know which DCC system is right for me? What factors should I look for in a DCC system?
N: This is probably one of the most common questions asked by a newcomer and is a question we usually answer with a few questions of our own. First of all, it will be your layout and your control system, so it should be something you like the look and feel of. We can help point you towards a few suitable systems, but will always leave the final decision in your hands (sometimes quite literally!)
We take into account which gauge you will be modelling, how many locomotives you plan to run, whether you plan on linking everything to a computer, whether you want automation and so on. As we talk with you, we will narrow down the systems for you based on your needs and preferences while trying to ensure your choice is a good fit and 'future proofed' for you.
H: Is the semi-conductor shortage (at least where decoders and systems are concerned) now resolved? Are all systems available off the shelf, or are some on back-order?
N: This has been a real headache for everyone in the hobby and has caused major stock issues, but we are finally seeing some light at the end of the tunnel. Most systems are once again available off the shelf. Decoders remain a little bit slower in their recovery, particularly large scale decoders for O gauge modellers, but we are starting to see them trickling through.
Digitrains' staff are model railway enthusiasts, too – and some even build their layouts in the premises!
H: What services do you offer customers beyond direct sales?
N: Digitrains offers an excellent decoder fitting service and our workshop is always busy with customer locomotives. A customer can bring their locomotive to us in person or they can send it through the post. Bringing the locomotive in allows us to have a chat with the customer to discuss their exact requirements. Sending it by post relies on them putting a letter in the parcel with all the information we need, including contact details should we have questions. You would be amazed at how many 'orphan' locomotives I have on my desk waiting for someone to call and claim them!
Locomotive repairs, DCC installation/upgrades, and DCC sound fitting is a speciality for Digitrains.
N: Here in our shop, we also have a fully functional layout with most of the more popular brands of controller attached. People are welcome, even encouraged, to come over and have a drive so that they can see DCC in action. We aim to make 'going DCC' as easy as possible for our customers and we have a very knowledgeable team of staff who are here to answer all the questions a newcomer has.
Another important part of our business is Digital Sound. We have a very large library of sound files, that have been recorded and created by a team of highly skilled people, which we are proud to supply to customers for their Zimo or ESU Loksound decoders.
N: We believe there is no such thing as a stupid question and will take time making sure a customer has all the information they need to make an informed decision when buying from us. The phone line is always busy with people looking for technical support and advice, likewise our email [email protected] has huge numbers of enquiries looking for advice and support on a wide range of subjects.