- 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 get you started.
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 DCC decoders have lots of options. To get the most of them, you have to put specific values into a large number of configuration variables (CVs). This is called programming, and most DCC systems provide a way to do it. Typically, this involves letting you put a number into a CV that's referenced by it's address number; hardly a user-friendly interface! A computer can simplify this by keeping track of values, 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 laptop, or even 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.
- You can 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.
- You can use the JMRI interfaces to write programs for your own layouts. Making this easy is an important goal. This can be done via the scripting language, or by adding new Java code to the program.
- You can 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.
- You can 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 - PanelProPanelPro 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.
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 no obligation 30 day trial is available.
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 produces software called "WinLok" for running and configuring DCC systems. The last version is v2.1 with no future versions planned. Since this is legacy 16bit software, it will not run on any modern Windows OS (i.e. Vista, 7, etc.).
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.