A Controversial Prediction
Okay, already. Here's the juicy part. I honestly predict that one more control mode will be added to the mix as a layout control system for serious hobbyists: Multi-Throttle Control, my name for an updated version of—you guessed it—our old friend section control! In other words, in some ways you could say that I'm implying that things are going full circle and that the circle progresses through all of the train control modes above, including wireless DCC, and ends up back where it started: at section control (for some of us).
This would surely be a nutty prediction to make if I couldn't produce anything to back it up. But I've researched it and I believe I can back it up just fine. Judge for yourself:
Multi-Throttle Layout Control—Section Control for the 21st Century
In planning my most recent layout, the N-scale Squirrel Valley Railroad, I went all out and went to lots of train shows, conventions, layout tours, etc., where I talked to many people; and then I got brochures and collected articles on every control method ever devised. And I asked the manufacturers many questions. I was building on decades of not just layout building, but twelve years in the software business designing model train simulation software and talking to all kinds of people about their layout wants and needs as well as their software wants and needs with regards to layout design software and train running simulation software. Finally, I made a list of all the wants and needs my wife and I have with regards to our current layout project, and I examined each of the possible layout control methods in turn for how well they filled our needs and how much they would put a dent in our pocketbooks. The results surprised me as much as they may surprise you. Note: Keep in mind that I have a completely operational and very satisfying model railroad already: the Deep Rock Railroad. It's a traditional, dual-cab, triple-folded loop layout with delayed action uncoupling using electromagnetic uncouplers, lots of signals of various types, and optical sensors under the hidden staging tracks to let us know what train is where. We run it in the traditional manner from a central control panel.
But we wanted another type of layout as well. Here's a partial list of the requirements that we came up with for our dream layout. We were totally honest in our list of wants and totally open-minded and objective in our analysis of the various control methods that we encountered. All we wished to do is determine what would satisfy our needs best, and then begin building. And that's what we did. Here's the list:
• Easy to build, easy to wire, easy to run
• A minimum of switching toggles, turning knobs, plugging/unplugging jacks needed to operate trains
• Walk-around operation that maximized attention to trains and scenery and the feeling that one is the engineer in the cab of the train one is running, and minimized everything else
• Low maintenance: minimal track or points cleaning, minimal hassles with battery charging (e.g.: wireless DCC) or replacement
• Controls mounted on profile boards at the point of action, not on some more centralized control panel where the view of the action is too remote
• Automatic running of simpler operations (e.g.: refuse dumping loco, subway with three stops and reversing at both ends, interurban doodlebug, elevated transit, trolley run)
• No more soldering than absolutely necessary—we don't like the fumes
• No disassembly of, and especially no soldering or wiring of delicate little N-scale locos unless absolutely necessary