Summary: While a computer is not necessary for implementing or using Digital Command Control, there are a number of software packages available which will increase your enjoyment by automating tasks or simplifying decoder programming. With the increasing complexity of multi-function decoders equipped with sound, a tool such as the computer enhances the process by taking the drudgery out of programming multiple CVs while reducing the possibility of mistakes. Other applications include automation, dispatching, control of turnouts, or enhancing operation sessions by planning and scheduling train movements.
- It should be noted that connecting a computer to a Digital Command Control layout is not required for setup or the running of your layout, but they can be helpful; for the same reasons they can be helpful in other areas of everyday life. Since DCC is digital by nature, it's easy to have computers control, or monitor, your layout.
- If you are just getting started with DCC Software, we suggest that you read Connecting your computer to DCC article to give you some background on the use of computers with Digital Command Control.
- 1 General Information
- 2 Free Software
- 3 Commercial Software
- 4 DCC Manufacturer Specific Software
- 5 External Links
There are freely available applications and tools as well as commercial applications. Regardless, you still need to connect your computer to your DCC layout before you can use any of these tools.
Generally, you connect your computer to the layout via a device called a computer interface using your throttle network that is a part of your DCC system (Digitrax, Lenz). For example, if you were using a Digitrax system, you connect to the LocoNet through a Locobuffer. Some systems allow you to connect the computer directly via a serial port built into the command station (EasyDCC, NCE, Hornby Elite). Other systems dispense with the command station altogether and the computer connects directly to a special booster (SPROG, Hornby eLink).
Types of DCC software
There are various types of DCC software available. Some software programs your decoders, which can be either mobile decoders or stationary decoders. Other software, allows for train control and acts like a cab (throttle).
Please see the Software page for other software relating to trains at a more general level.
Modern multi-function DCC decoders have many options. To get the most of them, you must put specific values into a large number of configuration variables (CVs). This is called programming, and most DCC systems provide a means to do it. Typically, this involves letting you put a number into a CV that is referenced by its location; hardly a user-friendly interface! A computer can simplify this by keeping track of values, while displaying options in human-readable terms instead of bits.
Through the use of a computer interface, you can control your layout using your smart phone, a desktop/laptop computer, or automate your layout so you can relax and entertain guests without trains crashing into each other.
Java Model Railroad Interface (JMRI)
The JMRI software is a suite of programs and is a single download. Don't worry about about trying to get each part separately - they're all bundled together. Also, you do not need to use each part of the suite to get a specific task done - that is you don't need to setup the automation part if all you want is to quickly program your decoders.
JMRI - DecoderPro
If you need a quick, simple to use, cross-platform software for programming decoders (mobile and stationary), then this is the choice for you. Many people that have expensive track control software, still use this software for its ability to quickly, and simply program a wide range of decoders. The JMRI suite of programs runs on Mac Classic and OS X, Linux, and Windows machines, all under Java. All major manufacturers of DCC equipment (Supported Hardware webpage), systems and decoders, are supported. A very active JMRI users group is available for user support on Yahoo Groups.
- Use DecoderPro to configure your locomotive decoders and keep a roster of your DCC equipped locomotive fleet. Makes programming sophisticated sound decoders quick and easy.
- Use PanelPro to run locomotives, throw turnouts, control signals, and even create control panels. But you shouldn't expect it to be as powerful as a commercial layout management program; JMRI isn't meant to compete directly with them.
- Use the LocoTools application with your Digitrax command station to control your layout, monitor communications, configure add-on devices, etc.
- Employ the JMRI interfaces to write programs for your own layout. Making this easy is an important goal. This can be done via the scripting language, or by adding new Java code to the program.
- Write new general-purpose tools. Although this is a little harder than writing automation for your own layout, writing tools that other people use can be very satisfying.
- Implement the JMRI interfaces for a new system. Having JMRI work with other systems is an important goal. Once an implementation for another system works, the general tools (e.g. symbolic programmer, automations tools, signaling, etc) can be immediately used.
JMRI - Layout Automation
JMRI Layout Automation applications provide a large number of ways of automating your layout, ranging from simple fill-in forms to full-fledged scripting and programming capabilities. These include:
- A simple form of automation is to define Routes, which allow you to simplify the control of your turnouts.
- Signal logic
- JMRI provides built-in signaling logic which can be used to drive your signal heads in many applications.
- JMRI provides a very powerful scripting tool. Based on a real programming language, it gives you access to all the JMRI capabilities.
- Writing your own code in Java
- The JMRI libraries greatly simplify writing a program to make your layout do exactly what you want.
JMRI - PanelPro
PanelPro is an application for operating screen-based CTC control panels that reflects the real-time state of your railroad and let you control it - almost like a Prototype dispatcher.
PanelPro contains a host of tools for managing and running your railroad. Fast clocks, throttles, Loconet managment, turnout control, consisting, and even the ability to control layout power is available.
You can create simple or complex panels that graphically illustrate your layout, which look just like a CTC system panel.
The JMRI suite now includes an Operations function. This requires the input of your motive power, rolling stock, and your "locations". Once all that is done, you can create trains starting and finishing at various locations on your layout, and JMRI will then create the manifest and switch lists. The software can also assign motive power, or the dispatcher can decide what power goes on what trains.
JMRI's operations software is not meant to replace commercial packages. But for simple operations, it can be useful.
The operations segment includes a tutorial to make it easier to learn how to implement operations on your layout. For more information see the JMRI Operations webpage
WiThrottle is an application available for the Apple iPhone and iPod. It creates a simple touch screen based wireless throttle. JMRI supports the WiThrottle. You require a wireless network to use this app. There are also similar apps for other systems.
See also suggestions for Tsunami setup for WiThrottle
Railroad Automation is a Windows command and control application strictly for the Loconet network. It has many advanced features such as: slot inspector, packet traffic inspector, LocoIO programmer, DCC decoder programmer, multiple throttle control, editable vector based switchboard display, supports tracks, turnouts, blocks, routes, sensors, signals, accessories, event binding and scripting, sequence recording, speech recognition control, remote control over TCP, and more. The application is also compartmentalised into several API layers which makes it easy for third party developers to build derivate works on its foundation.
C/C++ Control Viewing Program for a Digital Model Railroad in Manual and Automatic Mode. Supported Multiple Controllers Marklin 6050 IntelliBox P50x SRCP DDL DDW erddcd HSI88 Dinamo OM32 Lenz Selectrix EDiTS Pro RCI Zimo LocoNet srcpd. Linux and Windows.
A-Track is a free Windows software package to complement the NCE Power Cab or Power Pro. A-Track provides full facilities for the programming of all types of locomotive and stationary (turnout) DCC decoders, and to store complete details of all these decoders, with all of their configuration parameters, on a personal computer.
A-Track complements and expand the capabilities of your NCE DCC system, and assists you in running your roster of locomotives on your model railroad. A-Track does not alter the way in which the Command Station and Handheld Cabs operate,so that you can continue to use them exactly as before – but with A-Track available to lend a powerful, simple-to-use helping hand in the background.
A-Track’s back-up copy of all of the data (CVs) held within each decoder fitted in the locomotives which make up your roster, or which operate the turnouts on your layout, safeguards all the hours of effort put in by you (or your Club’s DCC expert) in programming and configuration. As well as holding all this data, A-Track also allows you to compare settings between your locomotives, to assist with tuning performance, and to copy configurations from one decoder to another, which can save a lot of time in setting up a new locomotive, for example, or restoring a corrupted decoder configuration.
A wide range of Decoder Manufacturers is supported, including Digitrax, NCE, Lenz, SoundTraxx, QSI (Quantum), ESU (LokSound), Train Control Systems (TCS), Broadway Limited (Paragon 2), MTH (Proto-Sound 3), Model Rectifier (MRC), Bachmann, Hornby, and ZTC.
There is also full support for the programming and control of accessory (stationary) decoders from all manufacturers, with additional features to support the NCE range of accessory decoders in particular.
A-Track incorporates a complete Macro facility with which you can create, edit, review, and run macros. With your Power Cab system, A-Track gives you the capability to expand the Power Cab's rather limited Macro facilities to equal those of Power Pro systems, allowing up to 256 macros.
If you use an NCE Power Pro system, you can backup and restore all of the setup and operational parameters held in the command station. A-Track gives you full access to the Command Station, and hence the ability to display all of the key parameters stored in its internal memory. This allows Command Station and Handheld Cab setup directly from the computer, changing parameters to suit your immediate requirements, and to define and manipulate consists. All parameters stored in the Command Station memory (System, Macros, Consists, and Cab Status) can be selectively saved to the computer's hard disk, on a CD-R or USB flash drive (memory stick), for recall in the future to restore the Command Station and its attached Cabs to a state corresponding to a previously-recorded operating session.
PR1DOS is a DOS-based program that will allow you to program a Digitrax® Decoder using a Digitrax® PR-1.
(This software seems to have disappeared. It seems to have reached version 2.2 back in 1999.)
This software appears to be dead now. Digitrax PR1 Help Page
- PR-1 for Windows allows for the PC based configuration of DCC compatible mobile and stationary decoders. The PR-1 software is free of charge but requires the Digitrax PR-1 programmer.
- The PR-1 is no longer being manufactured by Digitrax and will be replaced by a new product. Until this product will be available, all development works for a 32bit version of PR-1 is suspended.
Big Bear Rail Controller
The Big Bear Rail Controller is an easy to use PC based controller application aimed at the British modeller supporting multiple throttles and track diagram. Cost is based on the number of controlled locos or trains and prices start at £19.95 for a 7 loco system with incremental upgrade options for those that wish to start small and grow later. A free version is available for those that wish to use Big Bear with no more than two locomotives or wish only to use the track diagram.
RailMaster, from Hornby. It has a database of more 1,500 locos going back to the 1970s, allows full control of locos, signals, points, turntables and operating accessories from a computer.
Optimized for touch screen operation using MS Windows. There is a simple programming language built in that allows the building of automated layouts. Build programlets and merge them into large programs for more sophistication.
Read and write CVs in plain English. Plans include a loco detection system, with the ability to recognize which train has passed a point, direction, scale speed and even whether it was accelerating or decelerating. Other planned add-ons include hand-held controllers for more platforms, including Palm, CE, Windows Mobile, Android and Apple's iPod, iPhone and iPad.
CTI Electronics TBrain
CTI Electronics This software will control DCC trains and accessories such as turnouts, from a screen-based CTC panel and on-screen throttles. Although DCC trains can be controlled "out of the box", most other functions require some programming via the bult-in TCL programming language (TCL = Train Control Language). TCL is similar to BASIC and easy to learn, aided by step-by-step lessons in the supplied manual and on-line "help". CTI does not currently support monitoring of DCC-based input devices such as occupancy detectors, but separate hardware modules are available for sensor inputs, and also for controlling turnouts or signals. Thus it is possible to create a hybrid system with DCC control of trains and CTI hardware for track occupancy and turnout position sensors, with either DCC or CTI hardware for turnout and signal controls. Here is an example of a layout with CTI-controlled signals and turnouts.
They refer to some of their products as Train Brains, used to create a Central Traffic Control system (CTC) similar to the prototype CTC, without the complexity seen of layouts implementing CTC in the past.
CTI also makes a device called ACELA, for those wishing to write their own model railroad control software. The Acela Network Bridge hardware module is about the size of a credit card. The Acela manages a real-time control and sensing network. You create things like control panel GUI's and signaling logic using software such as JMRI. The Acela module handles the rest.
Railroad & Co
Sometimes refered to as RR&Co. This is a very advanced system that can track positions of trains using virtual detection blocks. Of course, you'll need a few real detection blocks to make this work, but it's very effective.
Train Tools Software
Train Tools Software has been producing professional model railroad software since 1991. DCC software for the model railroad industry. All software is scale independent, internet enabled and supports all popular command stations.
Digitoys Systems produced software called "WinLok" for running and configuring DCC systems. The last version is v2.1 with no future versions planned. Since this is legacy 16 bit software, it will not run on any modern Windows OS (i.e. Vista, 7, etc.). Digitoys Systems has since ceased doing business. It is equivalent to JMRI's PanelPro
While a version was released for free, that was ten years ago and WinLok is no longer available on the internet. There was a review published in the December 1995 issue of Model Railroader. WinLok version 1.5 had a suggested list price of US$189.95.
Model Rectifier Corp.
MRC offers a proprietary computer interface for their Prodigy DCC products, along with software. The software is for Microsoft Windows only, and is the only software which works with their Prodigy Computer Interface. At this time there is no other software package that can interface with the MRC Prodigy DCC system.
- ZugDCC is Shareware. You can download a limited version of the software to try it, and upon registering it, other features will be unlocked and available.
Some of the features:
- XpressNet only.
- Supports the fast 19200 baud connection of the Lenz LI100F and LI101F.
- Support for LR101 feedback modules with map display and text read-outs for block detection.
- Supports the LI-USB.
- Easy Add-to and Remove-from MU consists.
- Support for CV1 through CV256.
- All programming modes are supported, including Program on Main (PoM)
- Easy 2 and 4 digit address programming.
- Accessory control.
- Clickable Turnout Map.
- Turnout / accessory decoder routing.
- Scale & Metric calculator.
See the Kent Software website for more information and registration fee.
Developed by Berros.
ITrain supports multiple Operating Systems.
From their website:
- iTrain offers an easy to use solution to control your model railroad with your computer(s), especially if you want to automate only parts of your layout and keep control of the rest yourself. For example, automatic block control avoids collisions and you control which train is driving manually or fully automatically according to a selected route.
Supported DCC command stations include. Refer to their website for exact details.
- ECoS ESU
- MRdirect 8
- Raptor via P50Xr interface
- Digikeijs DR5000
- Lenz XpressNet
- Rautenhaus SLX & RMX
- Müt MC-2004
- FCC (Doehler & Haass / MTTT)
- Stärz ZS1 & ZS2
- Zimo MX1 & MX10
- Massoth DiMAX
- OpenDCC Z1
- BiDiB (among others Fichtelbahn)
- DiCoStation Digital-S-Inside 2 (DSI-Service only on Windows)
- SPROG (not for programming)
iTrain also supports a number of devices:
- LoDi-System: S88-Commander, Rektor, Booster and Shift-Commander
- µCON-System: s88-Master, Manager, Booster and RailSpeed
- GCA-101 (LocoNet®*) via TCP and UDP Multicast
- HSI-88 (HSI-88 USB only on Windows)
- TAMS RailCom link
- Blücher GBMX16XN via USB.
- OM32 & OC32
- DinaSys Turntable Control (DTC)
- Games on Track® GT-position (as a feedback interface with loc addresses)
DCC Manufacturer Specific Software
Digitrax software is only compatible with computers running MS Windows.
DigiIPL / DigiIPLII
Digitrax offered their DigiIPL (Initial Program Loader) which allowed the update of the firmware in certain Digitrax products. It is not integrated into the SoundLoader package.
SoundLoader allows substitution of sound files, editing existing ones, or creating custom sound files with Digitrax SoundFX decoders.
Model Railway Software - Links to various software sources, from operations and switch list generators to DCC related software, as well as converters and calculators.