A Quarter Test is a simple test to determine the wiring is correct, and the current protection systems are working as they should.
The test is simple: A metal object is placed on the track in a manner which shorts the rails together. Typically that object is a coin, such as a quarter.
If the system does not trip and disconnect the power from the track, there is either a problem with the wiring, the circuit protection is not working, or, power is not being applied to the track at the time of the test.
Note: Circuit protection does not work like a fuse. Modern electronics work by detecting the rate of change in current, not a preset limit like a fuse or circuit breaker does. Incorrect or inadequate wiring can create conditions which interfere in their correct operation. A five amp booster will trip out when the load reaches or exceeds five amps, to protect itself from overheating. But, should the current being demanded by the layout suddenly jump from 500mA to 2A, the booster will interpret that as a problem and the circuit protection should activate. This prevents a problem, or damage, from occurring should a short occur that is well below the rating of the booster.
The trip point is defined by the slew rate. If the current increases suddenly, such as during a short circuit event, it will exceed the slew rate and disconnect track power. Sound decoders can cause this when they charge their capacitors after track power is turned on. Boosters and power managers may have a setting to delay disconnection in cases like this.
The reason for using this method is the I2R law: Amps Squared Times Resistance, the result is power dissipation in watts. A 10 ohm resistor shorted across the track will dissipate, for example with a 4A current flow, 4 X 4 X 10, or 160 watts of energy. This can quickly melt a truck side frame, or weld a wheel to the railhead. (Your toaster works the same way, it is almost a short, and the wire element becomes red hot very quickly when the current flows through it.) A five amp fuse will allow this to happen. Poor wiring can interfere in the detection of a short such as this. Good wiring is important to protect your DCC system, along with the motive power and rolling stock on the layout.
- If you are doing this as you wire the track, make a temporary connection between the booster and power bus, which you can disconnect when soldering. This will prevent the possibility of ESD from the soldering iron damaging your booster.