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Modelling The German Railway In H0

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C Track Tip: Switch Motor Imitations

The Märklin switch mechanism for the C track has some nice accessories in the bag with it. I use them to indicate digital and remote controlled switches from the manual switches.

A few posts back I wrote about the new Märklin decoder for the C-track switches. The decoder speaks DCC, so you can use it with whatever digital system you have. What I did not talk about was the switch mechanism. The Märklin switch mechanism is not really a motor, it is a magnetic coil that wil instantly throw the switch in either direction depending on where the power is. Basically it performs the standard "click! click!" switching you know from the many layouts that you have undoubtedly seen.

When dealing with the C-track, I think this type of switch mechanism good enough. I do not need slow moving switches on this kind of track.

Anyway, this tip is not about the switch mechanism itself, but about some of the accessories that come in the bag with it: A switch motor imitation.

The idea is really simple, but effective. When you have installed the switch motor in the switch, you can remove the little handle and insert the switch motor imitation to indicate that the switch is no longer manual.

I did this with some of my switches and I think it is a good way to indicate which switches are digital (or just remote controlled) and which are not - and, well, it also look kind of cool! ;-)

If you have fitted your C-track switches with switch mechanisms, you should try and use the motor imitations. I think you will be happy with the result.

Happy modelling!

 

Testing the Märklin mLD decoder

A few months back I bought a class 141 from the Trix range. I needed this locomotive for my pool of regional locomotives, which are currently dominated by class 111.

The Trix locomotives has 21-pin decoder plugs, so I needed a decoder for this purpose. I earlier had problems with installing LokPilot 21-pin decoders in Trix TRAXX locomotives (classes 185.2 and 146.2). The reason being that the headlight controls on the Trix TRAXX is located on AUX 3 and AUX 4. The LokPilot does not support this configuration. If you are not into modifying the locomotive motherboard, at that time, you had no other option than to use the Trix DCC decoder. I had no idea on who made that decoder and found it to be quite limited in what it could do, so I modified the motherboard to work with the LokPilot.

The new Märklin decoder family is a quite different story from ealier Märklin/Trix decoders. It is now fully DCC compatible and have a load full of options, all in all it looks like a quite competent decoder. So I thought I would give the new Märklin decoder family a try with my class 141.

Note: Trix has changed the light configuration on the class 141 to use AUX 1 and AUX 2 and not AUX 3 and AUX 4 as with the TRAXX class. This means that you actually can use a 21-pin LokPilot without modifying the motherboard.

The Packages

The Märklin decoder family has two main decoders

  • mLD - Märklin Locomotive Decoder
  • mSD - Märklin Sound Decoder

The decoder comes in a variety of different kits, as that may seem overwhelming, there is actually just one decoder. The many kits are different retrofit kits, that will help you retrofit almost any Märklin or Trix locomotive - or locomotive of any other brand that is - to use the mLD or mSD.

The sound decoder comes in special configurations for the Hobby locomotives (classes 185.1, 185.2, 146.1, 146.2, ER 20, ÖBB 2016 and 232, 234). You can buy a set with either electro locomotive sound (class 185) or diesel engine sound (class ER 20, Hercules). The sound decoder contains replacement motherboards for the Hobby locomotives. Replacing the motherboard and built-in decoder will greatly improve the performance of the locomotive.

There are also sound decoders to build into other locomotives. Again preconfigured with sound for steam, diesel or electric locomotives.

Last but not least, there is a standard 8-pin plug edition of the mLD as well as a 21-pin version. This article will cover the 21-pin mLD (60942).

The mLD package (60942) contains:

  • The mLD 21-pin decoder
  • A 21-pin adapter board with cables to install in the locomotive (should it not have one)
  • A plastic mount for the adapter
  • A screw

Tip: The Märklin Central Station 2 will allow you to replace the built-in sound schemes with sounds schemes from the Märklin website. Märklin is building a comprehensive library of sound schemes, so you can find a sound scheme that will fit your locomotive class. The Märklin Central Station 2 will also allow you to update the decoder firmware. If you do not have a Märklin Central Station 2, your dealer should be able to help you as well.

The Specifications

The manual specifies the features as follows.

Continuous current load at the motor output  <= 1.1 amps
Current load at the light outputs  <= 250 milliamps
Current load at AUX 1 to AUX 4 each  <= 250 milliamps
Current load at AUX + lights (total)  <= 300 milliamps
Current load for motor and AUX 5 to AUX 6  <= 1.1 amps
Maximum total load  <= 1.6 amps
Maximum voltage  <= 40 volts
Sound performance (at 4 ohms / 8 ohms) 2.3 watts / 1.2 watts

Short circuit and overload protection at the outputs lights front (LV), lights rear (LH), AUX 1 to AUX 4 and at the motor outputs. If you need a function decoder instead of a locomotive decoder, you can configure the decoder to use the motor output as two additional function outputs (AUX 5 and AUX 6).

The Verdict

With the mLD and mSD family Märklin has finally come clean an provided a good allround decoder that will work with almost any locomotive. Since Märklin now talks DCC, there is no problem for you to use the mLD or mSD on your 2-rail layout. I will be using mLD in all my 21-pin locomotives, which is not that many, but I will no longer worry about what decoder to put in them.

I have not tried the 8-pin version, but I will at some point.

The mLD are a bit more expensive than their ESU counterparts, but if you look for offers, I have seen them at around 22€ which is a very fair price.

If you have an 21-pin locomotive lying around needing a decoder, you should try out the mLD, I think you will be happy with the result.

Happy modelling!

Review: Class 232 from Trix

The Prototype

In the 1960'es the German State Railway (DR, Deutsche Reichbahn) in the GDR (DDR) needed to replace several of the aging pre-ww2 locomotives. Because of the easy access to oil and diesel from the Sovjet Union, the DR decided to go for diesel locotives instead of expanding the electric railway. Which at the time proved to be problematic due to several different causes.

In the early 70'es DR ordered heavy weight diesel locomotives for use in both passenger and freight services throughout the country. The result was the class 130 and the delivery of 853 locomotives from 1970 to 1982. There are several different classes within the class 130 family and this article is about class 130.1, 132 currently known as class 232.

In 1973 Voroshilovgrad Locomotive works delivered the first locomotives with electric heating. The class was named 130.1 and the first two locomotives was named 130 101 and 130 102. They were the only locomotives in the class cabable of running at 140km/h all subsequent locomotives had a maximum speed of 120km/h. The decision about reduced speed was made because the max speed at many lines was 120km/h due to the poor conditions of the railway network. The 130 101 and 130 102 was later renamed to class 754 of the Deutsche Bahn (DB AG).

All subsequent deliveries was named class 132 and a total of 709 locomotives was built.

The class 132 was a universal locomotive for use in both freight and passenger service. They ran almost everywhere except for the small branch lines.

If you are wondering about visible differences on class 130 and 132, the 132 have five engine room windows, where the 130 only has four. The 130 is also shorter than the 132.

The Model

Märklin and Trix introduced the class 232 as a model in the Hobby-range. This means a cheap and simple model, but the models have later found their way into the professional lines, even though they are not technological wonders or especially detailed for that matter.

Let me be clear, the model is a hobby version, but it is in no way cheap. It cost about the same as models from other manufacturers. A shame really, because the Hobby models lack features that models from other manufacuters have by default (e.g. taillights and additional detailing). It is still a nice model though, with fine running charateristics and prepared for sound.

This article is a review of the models 21347 (road number 232 420) and 22070 (road number 232 391) from Trix. The 232 420 is from the "Stahlzug" (Steel train) package which, apart from the locomotive, contains five heavy weight freight cars with steel coil imitations. The 232 420 is equipped with a sound decoder.

The Exterior

The model is made entirely from die cast metal, which makes it a very heavy model. It weighs in at 631 g. The detailing is sparse, but then again, so is the prototype. The roof is made from plastic and comes with seperately applied detaling.

The printing is very crisp and clear. The 232 391 has more detailed printing than the 232 420 (e.g. UIC plugs are painted white on the 232 391).

The 232 391 is also delivered with additional roof details, whereas the 232 420 lacks those details. At first I thought it was a mistake, but the photo on the 232 420 box, does not show these details as well. I researched the matter and found images of the 232 420 prototype without these details as well. So there you go. Märklin did not, however, bother to fill the holes where the details are attached to the roof, leaving the impression that something is missing.

Note: The Roco version of the class 232 has more detailing than the Trix version, but the difference is not as obvious as you might think. The Roco model has coupler and brake hose imitations where the Trix version does not. When playing with my trains (yes - I play with my trains - get over it) I normally do not think much about coupler imitations.

If you are in the market for a showpiece, you might want to consider more detailed versions. When watching the model from normal "model railroading distance", which I say is around 60 cm, you will have a hard time telling the difference on the Roco or Trix version (at least if you do not know exactly what to look for).

The Technology

If you own any Märklin or Trix locomotive from the Hobby range, you will have an idea on how the model of the class 232 is built. The motor is the same 3-pole motor found in other Hobby locomotives. It is not going to win the "best model railway motor"-award anytime soon, but it works fairly well and with a decent decoder the motor runs fine. Even at very low speed. There is absolutely no reason to go all crazy and replace the motor, just make sure you have a great decoder and you will be just fine.

With the Hobby locomotives from Märklin and Trix, a decent decoder means a world of difference. The built-in decoder in the models without sound is very cheap and has an insanely bad motor control.

The built-in decoder unfortunately cannot be removed as it is soldered to the circuit board. I have replaced the circuit board on the 232 391 with a Märklin sparepart that has an 8-pin decoder plug and fitted it with a LokPilot 3.0. With the LokPilot decoder the engine is silent and works like a charm. With the built-in decoder the engine makes a strange squeeky noise when running.

The 232 420 has a newer Märklin sound decoder and a good motor control by default. No need to be creative there.

The locomotive is fitted with LED lighting, which unfortunately is yellow. The lighting can be digitally switched off. Many customers replace the yellow LEDs with warm-white ones. I'm not a fan of yellow LEDs, but they do not bother me as much as the white-blue LEDs found on other locomotives. I guess it is a matter of taste. I might replace mine with warm white ones.

The locomotive does not have short couple kinematics, but still couples fairly close. You can compare it to some of the Roco models without short couple kinematics. The coupler is mounted in a NEM plug for easy exchange with a coupler of your choice.

The model comes prepared for sound. There is a built-in resonance chamber for the loudspeaker. All you need to do is to buy a sound decoder with a speaker and mount them. If you own the a version with the built-in decoder, you will need to replace the main circuit board as well. Märklin makes decoder packages including replacement circuit boards, so replacing the main circuit board is no problem at all. The installation is very easy - only a little soldering is needed.

The sound in the set 232 420 is good and you really get the impression of a diesel engine running. I am not sure whether or not the sound is actually a class 232, but it does sound like one. You should turn the volume down, because it is really loud by default. As with other models, when the volume is at a tolerable level, it is barely noticeable due to the running noise of the locomotive and the train itself. The sound illusion works best when the locomotive is idle or at low speed.

The boggies have two axles powered each, the third axle is purely cosmetic. The power pickup is a clip-on power pickup which on the Trix version picks up power from the wheels, on the Märklin version it picks up power from the third rail. The system is very nice, many newer Märklin models uses the clip-on system, which means that converting Märklin models from 3-rail to 2-rail is actually quite easy. Märklin should be more informative about this fact - perhaps just throw the 2-rail power-clip along in the box. Easy, no more "2-rail or 3-rail"-versions.

The model have metal cog wheels which does create a weak grinding noise when the model is running.

Motor Tuning On Märklin And Trix Hobby Locomotives

If you have a LokPilot installed, you can tune the motor on a Märklin or Trix hobby locomotive by changing CV values. This will greatly enhance the running characteristics of the model and reduce the noise from the engine.

The CVs are:

CV 2 = 2
CV 53 = 40
CV 54 = 12
CV 55 = 30

CV 2 is the minimum speed of the motor, you can change this to whatever you think is right for you.

The Verdict

The model is a very good model indeed. I like the fact that every model comes prepared for sound, so all you need to do is buy a sound decoder and a speaker and mount them. You do not need to do any milling or other crazy stuff to make the sound equipment fit.

The lighting is yellow LEDs, but if you have the skills, you can replace it with warm white LEDs. I hope that Märklin and Trix will one day stop putting yellow LEDs in their locomotives.

Before you buy a model of this particular class, you need to know, that there are more detailed versions on the market, and at the almost same price as the Märklin and Trix versions. I would recommend that you try out some of the different models before settling. The model from Roco is an older model, with no LEDs (but still great lighting) and you will have to be creative with the sound equipment if you want sound. So I guess it is a matter of how you look at things.

I have both the Trix version and the Roco version and I like them both.

If you absolutely cannot live without every single little detail, Roco and Brawa makes slightly more detailed versions.

If you are in the market for a good, heavy diesel locomotive, straight from the box without having to fit additional detailing and easy upgrade with sound. The Trix or Märklin version is for you.

Happy modelling!

Changing wheel sets for a better look

With the introduction of the NEM wheel standard the standard wheels now look a bit better, but you can do even better by changing the wheel sets on your rolling stock with the more prototype-like RP25 wheel sets. This is done without messing with the running characteristics of your rolling stock.

Some people will argue that the model even runs better with the RP25 wheel sets, but that is not my experience, so you should only do this if you want to add an extra layer of detail to your rolling stock. You will have the same running characteristics as you always have.

RP25 is Recommended Practice no. 25 of the NMRA

 

I bought my replacement wheel sets from modellbahn-radsatz.de they have replacement wheel sets for almost any manufacturer, the ordering process is quick and easy and you can pay with your credit card. The price is just right as well and a lot cheaper than other manufacturers (e.g. a genuine Roco RP25 wheelset is 2.9€ at MB-R.de it’s 0.85€! Way cheaper than Roco’s overpriced stuff). When ordering you can choose whether you want isolation on both sides or just the one side. I would recommend one side isolation if you are to pickup power from the tracks on passenger cars.

Take a look at some of my pictures and judge for yourself. I surdenly like it and I think you should give it a try. There is no harm done to the model, you can always change the wheel sets back should you not like it. Replacement wheel sets are usually 2-rail only, if you run 3-rail (aka. Märklin) I would not recommend you try this.

For the record, the couplers are temporary.

Happy modelling!

How to use the 74461 switch decoder from Märklin with DCC

The Märklin decoder (prod.no. 74461) can be usefull if you have either Märklin or Trix C-track.

I have a bunch of Trix C-track that I use on a regular basis. It allows me to build whatever I want and since the program includes long points, it allows me a somewhat decent looking temporary layout. I like the C-track a lot, I think it is much better than the alternatives from Roco and Fleischmann. A temporary layout is quickly built and quickly removed when not needed anymore.

A few months back I bought some switch-motors to use with my C-track and my Lenz digital switch-decoder. I quickly realised though, that having to connect wires on a temporary layout can be a mess, and it really isn't much fun. I wanted something else. Since my model railway is DCC controlled, I was unable to use the old C-track switch decoder from Märklin as it only speaks the Motorola format, but in the recent years Märklin have taken a new approach and released much of their digital stuff for DCC as well. This includes the new switch decoder (74461). I bought a couple to check the concept out.

Getting Started

The switch decoder is meant for the C-track, meaning that it will not make much sense to you, if you do not use the C-track. There are more and cheaper alternatives out there if you use other track systems. The whole idea of this decoder is to have it underneath the roadbed of the C-track. The decoder can pick up current from the track itself, thus making additional wiring unnecessary. Just what I was looking for. 

The decoder comes in a package with a few additional cables for installation. There is a cable for the Märklin C-track and one for the Trix C-track. There is also a little instruction book.

Mounting the decoder is easy and you can do most of it simply by looking at the picture in the instruction book. You cannot mess things up, as the connectors will only fit one way. When the decoder is mounted it is time for programming it on your digital system.

Programming

You can set the address of the decoder using the DIP-switch on the decoder, but you can also have more fun and program the decoder using your programming track. The easiest way to program the decoder is simply to connect it to your programming track. Call up the address (default is 1) and get going.

The instruction booklet contains a description of the very simple CV register. You do not have much options, as the decoder is really simple. Your options is to change the address and to turn off the switch lantern should you have one on your switch. The decoder has two soldering points that will power a switch lantern.

One thing worth noticing is, that if you simply take the decoder out of the box and connect it to your layout, call it up and try to operate it: It will not work! This is because the default language is the Märklin Motorola format ("fx MM"). Unfortunately this is not mentioned in the instruction book, what might be even worse, it is not clearly mentioned what you need do to change the format.

After a few trial and errors and some internet searching, I found out that you should flip the DIP-switch number 10 to the ON-position and all leave all other switches in the OFF-position. You are now able to program and operate your decoder using DCC. A word of advise: Do not change the DIP-switch when the decoder is under power.

Using the Decoder

Here is the simple part. You are done! :-) Put the switch back in your layout and call it up and switch. No wiring is needed. It is very simple!

Verdict

I like the decoder, it is simple, fairly (apart from the DCC-programming issue) easy to use. I would recommend it if you use C-track and want some DCC-fun.

NOTE: I will only recommend this decoder if you have a temporary layout, I will not recommend the decoder for a permanent layout as it can be a pain to access the decoder should something fail. If you are looking for a decoder for your permanent C-track layout, I would recommend you look at decoders that you can mount underneath your layout base plate.

A note to Märklin: I hope you will edit the instruction book to better explain how to switch the decoder into DCC-mode. Also I would recommend swapping the chapter containing the drawing of the alternate wiring with the chapter containing the drawing of the recommended wiring. The alternate chapter comes first in the current instruction book and could give the user the impression that cutting wires is needed to make the decoder work.

Happy modelling!