In analyzing which of all the above methods would best meet our needs, I must admit that I didn't even have section control on the list of possibilities, as I'd considered it obsolete. But here's what happened: After careful consideration of all the current available methods, we determined that none of them met our needs! I was fairly sure going in that we'd end up with wireless DCC even though it went against a few of the items in the list above. We have no desire to walk around plugging and unplugging anything so regular DCC and plug-in walk-around cab control were both out—that's not a put-down of such methods; it's just a personal preference. We don't wish to do that—we'd prefer to concentrate on the trains on our walk-around layout.
So here we were with no options that would satisfy us. Each of the following had some neat and attractive features that would work for us but others that were not on the same wavelength as where we were at: Aristo-Craft's Train Engineer, ALPS-3000, Digitrax (especially the wireless stuff), Dynatrol, Ramtrax, Remote Control Systems of Illinois, Roadmaster from Signal Research, System One, and others. None met our admittedly tough criteria. So then I went to logic alone and tried to use everything I knew to evolve a new method that exactly fit our needs. It took a couple of days but at the end of the process I had what I'm calling Multi-Throttle Control. I didn't even realize at first that it was essentially section control—the same type of control I'd used as a kid with Lionels. Nor did I remember the name for that control method. It look Westcott's classic wiring book, cited above, to refresh my memory on that one. But now it's time to look at why this turned out to best fill our needs, and to do that I have no choice but to go back and re-examine why people quit using it and why people mostly seem to feel it's obsolete for serious modelers (although it's obviously quite popular with starter sets that kids get for Christmas).
An Abandonment Re-examined
Here's why the method was dumped:
• a large quantity of throttles would be too expensive
• limited flexibility of control
• speed-ups at section boundaries
Let's go through these one by one. Is buying a bunch of throttles too expensive? Standard Hobby Supply or Rio Grande are both eager to sell you MRC's #2800 Dualpower throttle for about $41 or $20.50 per throttle control, since each Dualpower is two throttles in one. I needed 22 of these because I have 43 sections needing power, half on the mainline and half not. This turns out to be about 1/3 to 1/2 of what wireless DCC would have cost me (depending upon options and whether I got the decoders put in or did it myself), considering everything.
For instance, I hate points cleaning and insist on powering my turnout frogs with my Tortoises' built-in accessory switches—recall the above "low maintenance" criterion. But you can't switch more than an amp of current with a Tortoise, according to Circuitron, the maker, so this means an additional $14 a pop for relays for the Tortoises' accessory switches to operate because DCC uses over an amp. And since I have 73 Tortoises on my layout, that's quite an expensive proposition. So it turns out that if expense is a criterion, you should be going toward section (specifically, Multi-Throttle) control, not away from it. Note: Just to be clear, cab control is cheaper than Multi-Throttle control, but DCC is more expensive than all the other methods, therefore Multi-Throttle control is priced about average, compared to other control systems.
Next: limited flexibility of control. Since there are many hobbyists like my wife and I who have figured out how we want to do things and do not need the flexibility to do it some other way (especially since we have our other layout for that purpose), this is not a real issue. Our goal is to have an operational method that fits our criteria, not one that might please others or fill others' needs. When I get into how one runs Multi-Throttle walk-around layouts and how they compare with DCC, you'll see that the system has its own flexibility and is a delight to use.
Finally, there's the issue of speed-ups at section boundaries. I spent hours (on my dual cab-control layout) experimenting with trains going from one block to the next where every other block is controlled by cab A and the rest by cab B. I used N-scale Atlas, Kato and Life-Like locos, Peco turnouts, single-throttle MRC Railpower 1370s, and careful observations at all block boundaries: There were no speed-ups at block boundaries. If you set the throttles to the same speed, you won't even know when a section boundary is hit and a new throttle's power is encountered. If you set them to different speeds, they obey and change speeds at boundaries—which actually turns out to be very useful in Multi-Throttle Control, as you'll see below.
Then I built my Multi-Throttle layout with 22 Dualpowers and 43 separately controlled sections. I tested block boundaries again. There were mild speed-ups at 40% of the 43 section boundaries, but none at all on the rest. This was a disconcerting little mystery as it contradicted the tests I'd made with other MRC power packs, and it made no sense that close to half of them were acting up.