Multiple Unit Consisting
Summary: Consisting, or Multiple Unit Consisting, allows the modeler to faithfully replicate prototype operations by creating a consist or lashup of several locomotives to haul a train. This has the effect of creating one large higher horsepower locomotive controlled by one engineer. With Digital Command Control, a Multiple Unit Consist can be easily created and operated from one throttle.
See the Video.
Note: Before creating a consist, be sure to match up your loco speeds.
- Basic Consisting: All the multifunction decoders in the consist are programmed with the same address, and their NDOT has been set to allow them to all run in the same direction.
- Advanced Consisting: A Consist address has been set in the multifunction decoder (CV19).
- Universal / Command Station Consisting: The consist was created and managed by the command station. It will remain a consist until the set is broken up by the command station. The locomotives will not behave as a consist on another layout.
There are a number of terms used with consisting. There are the "official" terms the NMRA uses, and those employed by the manufacturers. Unfortunately, the two don't mix well.
NMRA DCC Terminology
- A Consist is a group of multifunction decoders linked together, such as several Diesel-Electric locomotives in a Multiple Unit lashup.
- Consist Address: The address to which several linked multifunction decoders will respond. For example, the consist address is 100, and that address controls multifunction decoder addresses 1234, 5678 and 90.
- Consist Addresses range from 1 to 127, usually beginning at 127 ($7F) and decrementing as consists are created. If the address is greater than or equal to 128 ($80), the consist will be running in reverse.
- Consist Control Instruction: A subset of instructions used to send commands to a consist.
- Address Consisting; Decoder Based: All locomotives in the consist have a common address. One packet is sent, which controls all the units in the lashup. This arrangement is portable. CV 1 or CVs 17/18 are set to the common address.
- Basic Consisting; Command Station Based: The command station builds and manages a list of locomotives which are part of a consist. When a command is sent, the command station sends a packet to each unit in the lashup. This consist is not portable, when the locomotives are moved to another layout the consist ceases to exist. Once back on home rails, they are again a consist.
- This method will work with a small number of locomotives. On a large layout with multiple locomotives consisted, network latency becomes an issue, and erratic operations result due to the volume of packets that must be transmitted.
- Another term for this method is Universal Consisting, sometimes called the "old way" or "brute force" consisting.
- Advanced Consisting; Decoder Based: The consist information is stored in the multifunction decoder's (CV19). The command station will set CV19 using Ops Mode for all the locomotives in the lash-up. The address will be a short address. The original addresses are not altered (CV 1, 17/18). The lash-up is portable from layout to layout, since the information needed is stored onboard the locomotives.
- Unified Consisting: The consist method is a mixture of NMRA Basic and Advanced Consisting methods. Only Digitrax and NCE support these under the term Nested Consisting.
Comparison of NMRA Consisting Terminology with Manufacturer Terms
|Alternate Terminology for Basic and Advanced Consisting|
|Manufacturer||Basic Consisting||Advanced Consisting|
|Lenz||Double Traction (DTR)||Multiple Traction (MTR)|
1: NCE may also use the term Forced in their manuals
Consisting with Digital Command Control
There are three ways of creating a consist with Digital Command Control. Each consisting method has its advantages and disadvantages. Not all methods are supported by all systems - check your documentation if you aren't sure what you can do with your equipment!
- Basic: All multifunction decoders in the consist have the same Primary or Extended address.
- Advanced: All multifunction decoders in the consist have the same consist address stored in CV 17, as well as their own Primary or Extended Address.
- Universal / Command Station: The command station manages the individual locomotives in the consist.
Another method which is beginning to appear is Throttle Based Consisting. This relies on the throttle creating and managing the consist, instead of the command station. Usually found on third party wireless throttles.
Basic Consisting: This is the simplest way of creating a consist. Simply program all the locomotives you want to run together with the same address. This can be done with a Primary or Extended address. The locomotives must all be facing the same direction for this to work, as direction of travel is determined by their orientation. If it is planned to operate locomotives as a permanent consist, such as an A-B-A set, the NDOT must be set accordingly.
It has the advantage of only using one slot in the command station. The command station will see all the locomotives with the same address as a single locomotive, and they will all respond to all commands in unison. This requires reprogramming the decoder to change consists. All locomotives in a basic consist will respond to function commands at the consist address. The command station sees the basic consist as a single locomotive.
If the consists were created with a Primary address (1-127), there may be issues operating as a consist on another layout. There will be conflicts if the primary address is also used by another locomotive which is not part of the consist.
- An analog (non-decoder equipped) locomotive cannot be part of a Basic Consist.
- Basic Consisting is easy to use, and easy to understand: All decoders in the consist have the same address.
- The operator cannot control individual locomotive functions such as the horn, bell, and lighting, as all the decoders will act on the command.
Creating a Basic Consist
Once the locomotives for the consist are chosen and tuned to match each other, place all the selected locomotives individually on your programming track and set the address you wish to use for the consist. All locomotives will now have the same address. Doing each locomotive individually avoids overloading the Program Track output, which may cause erratic results.
- Remember, if the consist is separated, all the locomotives will still respond to that address unless reprogrammed to new addresses.
Advanced Consisting: Also known as Decoder Assisted Consisting, uses a temporary secondary address (CV 19) in the locomotive to group locomotives together without changing the Primary Address. The locomotives keep track of the consisting information. If creating a consist manually, avoid using an address which is already in use by another locomotive which is not part of the consist. Removing a locomotive from the consist without clearing the consist information will result in an orphan locomotive which responds to the consist address.
If the locomotives are taken to another layout the consist will still function, as it is stored onboard the locomotives. Correct orientation and sequence is important.
The consist will use a single slot in the command station. It is limited to a Primary Address. There may be address conflicts when operating as a consist on another layout.
Advanced Consisting is done by using ops mode programming to change configuration variable 19 to set the address and normal direction of movement. This also requires reprogramming the decoder to change the consist, but some systems do this transparently to the user. Some decoders will allow you to specify what functions will respond to commands addressed at the consist address. Creating and breaking the consist are handled by the command station using specific commands sent to the decoders.
This method was given the name Advanced Consisting to reflect that its possibilities were much more advanced than that of Basic Consisting, as the Primary or Extended addresses were not altered, and individual control of each locomotive in the consist is possible. This implementation of consisting was considered to be a better choice than relying on the command station to create and manage consists.
The command station sees the consist as a single locomotive:
- The consist address is stored onboard the multifunction decoder
- The consist address is a Primary Address (see below)
- Some command stations may include the ability to easily create an Advanced Consist within their software
- The consist is portable because of this
- The operator can control any locomotive's function operation from its specific address
- CV 21 (F1–F8) and 22 (FL, F9–F12) can set the functions available on any locomotive in the consist
- An analog locomotive cannot be part of an advanced consist
- Advanced Consists operate in 28 speed step mode
- Main article: Mutiple Unit Consisting/Consist Configuration Variables
While part of an Advanced Consist, a locomotive cannot respond to function commands sent to the consist address. There are two optional CVs, 21 and 22, which can enhance consist operations in this mode. Acceleration and deceleration also can be further adjusted using CVs 23 and 24, which are optional.
For control of functions, CV21 and 22 are used. CV 21 is responsible for F1 to F8. CV 22 controls lighting effects (FL) and functions F9-F12. Acceleration (CV 23]]) and Deceleration (CV 24) can be fine-tuned by adding their value to those in CVs 3 and 4. CV23 and 24 can contain positive or negative values. These CVs must be programmed prior to the locomotive being using as part of a consist. Most DCC systems do not do this automatically, the user is required to manually program these CVs.
Since CV 23 and 24 are optional, their method of implementation can vary. The NMRA DCC Standard does not require them to be active during consisting. Some multifunction decoders may activate CV 23 and 24 in an Advanced Consist, others may not. They may need to be activated by setting another CV. In other cases, the decoder may ignore the sign of the values in CV 23 and 24, only adding a positive value to CVs 3 and 4.
Address Space Conflicts
Advanced Consisting uses an address in the Primary Address space. If Primary Addresses are in use for Multifunction Decoders, it is possible to have a consist address sharing the same address as a vehicle on the layout. In this situation the locomotive with that address and the consist will move in concert. It will be necessary to re-assign the consist to an address which does not create a conflict. See the manuals for the DCC system for details.
Extended Packet Format is another term for Advanced Consisting, where consist information is stored in each decoder. Locomotives can be added or removed in any orientation. All locomotives in the consist must be equipped with decoders supporting this feature, which allows a consist that is "transportable" from one DCC layout to another, but ensure the locos are on the track in the same order and orientation when they were programmed to avoid unexpected results. Most decoders today should be compatible with the Extended Packet Format
Notes about CV19
CV 19 is used to consist the locomotives by writing a common address for the consist.
CV 19 can be altered in one of three ways:
- Using Service Mode (programming track), either manually or by the use of a computer
- Manually using Operations Mode
- By the Command Station during setup of a consist
If a locomotive was part of an advanced consist, clearing CV19 (by writing a value of zero to it) will remove the consist address.
Decoder Assisted Consisting
See Advanced Consisting above.
Command Station Consisting
All the bookkeeping chores for the consist are performed by the command station. With this method of consisting, no changes to the programming of the decoder are made. Each locomotive in the consist is a separate entity in the command station, so the size of the consist is limited to the capacity of the command station. Analog locomotives may be a part of one consist - all analog locomotives on the track will respond to the same commands, so you can't run them in different consists.
Digitrax calls theirs UniVersal Consisting (Yes, with a capital "V" in the middle).
Consists may be stacked, making up consists within consists. Locomotive functions can still be individually controlled without affecting other locomotives in the consist. The command station sees the consist as individual locomotives, sending each locomotive its own speed and direction commands.
- The lead locomotive's address is also known as the Top Address.
- The functions are only acted on by the top address, or lead locomotive.
- Functions on the other locomotives can be controlled directly from their address
- Since the command station does the housekeeping for the consist, there will be memory or software-imposed limits on the number of consists.
Digitrax UniVersal Consisting
- See Command Station Consisting above.
- This is a proprietary method of consisting.
With UniVersal Consisting, the consist responds to commands sent to the Top Locomotive (Address). The top locomotive does not have to be the lead engine, nor does it even have to exist. The consist is managed by the command station. An analog locomotive can also be included in the consist. UniVersal Consisting Allows:
Other Implementations of Command Station Consisting
- The following systems allow any address can be used, with the exception of Address 00.
- Double Header (DTR)
- Two locomotive limit
- Double Header (DTR)
- Old Style
- Eight locomotive maximum
- Old Style
- Standard Consist
- Eight locomotive maximum
- Standard Consist
|Consist Type||Decoder Based||Notes|
|Basic||Yes||All decoders have the same address|
|Advanced||Consist information stored in CV19|
|Command Station||No||Managed by Command station|
|UniVersal||Managed by Command station, Digitrax Only.|
There are several videos available through the Videos page:
Consisting with SoundTraxx Decoders: More on consisting methods.
The DCC Guy
A Quick Video about Consisting
Soundtraxx prepared a short and simple video demonstrating various types of consists:
Best Use of Each Consisting Method
- Basic Consisting is best used when command station slots or limited memory capabilities are at a premium (because of either command station limitations or large numbers of trains to be run) or locomotives are always run together (such as A-B-B-A sets for long passenger trains). Since you are programming the primary address for these locomotives, it is best done on a separate programming track rather than on the layout where you might accidentally reprogram ALL the locomotives on the layout.
- Advanced Consisting can be used in the same circumstances as Basic Consisting, but can be done on the main layout using operations mode programming since you can select the individual locomotive you want to affect before programming it. The consist address is limited to short addresses, so this might be an undesirable restriction if you want to use the train number as the address. Some DCC systems have ways of controlling the Advanced Consist using a long address.
- Command Station Consisting is the most convenient method to use but uses the most system resources. This can be an issue if your command station has limited memory available.
- Digitrax Example: An entry level Digitrax Zephyr command station is limited to 10 slots and for operators wishing to run four trains with three locomotives each, that's a total of 12 slots using this method - it's not going to work. You'll have to use one of the other consisting methods for at least one of the trains. Also see Dispatch.
- NCE Example: NCE command stations do not have slots and as such does not require the user to be aware of them. There is no requirement to dispatch a locomotive. NCE's Entry Level system is limited to two engines per consist with a maximum system limit of 12 unique engine addresses in use simultaneously. Therefore the NCE entry level system can run up to a maximum of six trains of two locomotives each. The only way it could run four trains with three locomotive each would be by using Advanced Consisting.
- You can mix and match consisting methods:
- Digitrax Entry Level Example: If you have three locomotives running together as a basic consist (one slot), three running together as an advanced consist (one slot), and four running together in a command station consist (four slots), you can create another advanced consist bringing all 10 locomotives together, and it will use no more than six slots.
- NCE Entry Level Example: It could run the same setup as Digitrax, the only exception being that a given engine cannot be used in more than one consist at the same time. So you cannot do the last step of create another advanced consist using the previous locomotives. However, you could run 10 more locomotives in an advanced consist if the 10 locomotives were not part of any consist.
- An analog locomotive can be part of command station consist if it is supported by the DCC system, but it cannot be part of a basic or advanced consist which rely on the installed decoder to determine the consist.
Digitrax Command Station Consisting
The greatest advantage of the command station consist as implemented by Digitrax is its flexibility. It is very easy to add and delete locomotives or groups of locomotives to a consist, making it easy to assemble long trains with multiple mid-train helpers (common on N-Trak layouts) or add a helper to get a long train up a steep grade. It is important to remember though that while it is still using one slot per locomotive with this method - and the most capable system from Digitrax has 1201 slots available, command station consisting is not suitable to use on large layouts where you are expecting more than 20 or more operators at a time.
The TOP locomotive is the address controlled by the right throttle on an Advanced Throttle (DT200/300/400/500/602). When this address is Dispatched, the entire consist is Dispatched.
- The DCS240 offers an additional 280 expanded slots only accessible by the DT402 R2, DT500, and DT602 Throttle
The advantage of Advanced Consisting as implemented by NCE is its flexibility. NCE uses a hybrid of Advanced and Command Station consisting, where the consist address is in the multifunction decoder's CV19, and the command station maintains a table of aliases for controlling the consists. It is very simple to add and delete locomotives or groups of locomotives to a consist (nesting), making it easy to assemble long trains with multiple mid-train helpers or adding helpers to get a long train up a steep grade.
Depending on the NCE system chosen, you can run between 16 to 127 unique advanced consists. There is no limit on the number of engines within a given advanced consist. The NCE command station has the ability to control a given consist using the lead locomotive's address regardless if it is a long or short address.
Specifically, if the locomotive has a long address, that long address is used to control the consist (an Alias). In other words, use the engine number like you would normally do if the engine was not part of a consist. Unique to NCE is the ability to dynamically redefine the front of the locomotive consist without turning the engines around. Select the last engine of the existing consist and it instantly becomes the lead engine of the same consist. Included in this change is both train direction and function control (headlight and sounds). The advantage becomes obvious when running a train down a stub branch which has no turning facilities. It goes forward down the stub branch line to the end and leaves going forward in the opposite direction. This action follows the prototype, where the crew would relocate to the front engine.
A nested consist is made by using Command Station consisting to control multiple Advanced Consist and/or a mix of individual locomotives and an advanced consist. Up to a maximum of 4 pre-defined advanced consists can be combined into a temporary single consist. Hence you can temporarily add a helper consist to a train with a lead consist, climb the grade using 1 throttle, then break them apart into their original individual consists. The helper consist returns down the hill for the next train.
NCE also has a consist browser which allows you to manage all of the advanced consists by
- Being able to see all the locomotives that make up a given advanced consist and
- Edit the consist.
This term describes two consists which have been merged into one, such as helper/pusher locomotives, allowing control from a single throttle. When they are no longer needed, the consist can be split into its component parts, such as the helpers disconnecting from the train and returning to the bottom of the grade to await the next train.
Your manuals should explain how this is done.
NCE Advanced Consisting
NCE uses a hybrid version of Advanced Consisting, which they call Intelligent Consisting. Motor commands are sent to the consist address, while function commands are addressed to the lead locomotive. The Consist Address is stored in CV19. The consist addresses range from 1 to 127 using a short address (2 digits in hexadecimal). The command station assigns the consist addresses beginning at 127.
The command station creates a table that references your locomotive address to the assigned advanced consist address. This table creates an alias of the locomotive address for controlling the assigned consist address.
Do not attempt to manually program CV19 using the throttle or software such as DecoderPro. Allow the command station's software to set up the consist by using the Consist Setup button on the throttle. The command station can use specialised DCC commands to set up the consist and resolve any decoder issues.
NCE Hybrid Consisting and other DCC Systems
For a Hybrid Consist to work any another DCC system, the consist must be created with a 2 digit decimal number, not a hexadecimal number. Addresses up to decimal 99 ($63 hex) will work. Addressing requiring a 4-digit number (100 to 127) will not work.
Troubleshooting NCE Consist Issues
- Delete all NCE-style advanced consists that were created and consist your locomotives manually with Advanced Consisting: Set CV 19 (Consist Address) in each locomotive to the same value from 1 to 127 (+128 when the locomotive is facing backward). Consist Function Groups (CVs 21 and 22) should also be programmed manually in each decoder.
- With the consist address selected on your cab; you can use Intelligent Consisting to add the SoundCar decoders to that address.
File:Soundtraxx Tech Note 15.pdf SoundCar Intelligent Consisting (NCE-style Advanced Consist)
Clearing an NCE Advanced Consist
Throttle Based Consisting
In this instance, Command Station Consisting such as Digitrax's UniVersal Consists are handled within the throttle. This method was chosen due to the proprietary nature of LocoNet. Design of the throttle's software allows the throttle to be used on multiple throttle networks without the requirement of having to make configuration changes to the throttle any time it is connected to a new network. It also allows the throttle's software designers to avoid having to deal with multiple protocols and network languages to make this feature work, as well as licencing issues surrounding proprietary technologies.
- Main article: Speed Matching Locomotives
An important task before creating a consist is to ensure that all locomotives within a consist run the same speed. If you don't do this, some locos will run significantly faster than others. This will result in tug-of-war between locos, or a push/pull between the locos. This is hard on the couplers, as well as the locomotives themselves. This can also lead to derailments.
The goal: With the same throttle setting, each locomotive travels at the same speed (or the same distance at the same time). Think of method as distance/time matching rather than speed matching.
- Also read the article on Back-EMF for more details.
Read your documentation for the decoder as well, as it may have advice on speed matching, plus CVs needed. CV29 enables the speed table, if available.
- CV Worksheet
- ABCs of Consisting, an NMRAx clinic by Bruce Petrarca
- Consisting with SoundTraxx Decoders: More on consisting methods.
- LokSound5 Advanced Consisting with the LokProgrammer
- Decoder-Assisted Consisting - Use the decoder to perform the consist versus the command station.
- Consisting Tsunami decoders with Lenz DCC system - Specific information for controlling functions on Soundtraxx Tsumani sound decoders from Lenz DCC systems.
- Dispatching: A method to clear slots, as well as work around short and long address issues.
- Issues with NCE and Consisting
- Soundtraxx has a Youtube presence with videos explaining how to use various features.
- Gotchas! at the JMRI website regarding speed matching.
- The Complete Guide to Consisting
- NCE Consisting