The Programming Track

.. where I am confused …for a while
My buddy Gary Wise came by earlier as his wife Linda was doing that ‘shopping thing’ and he needed a place to go. So we hung out a bit and discovered that here was a dead .. and I mean DEAD piece of track on my main. HUH .. I say.

Now .. while I may claim to be a Model Railroader .. I am really more of a Modeler. That helps explain why as I told Gary – “I haven’t run a train in six months ..”. This got me a stern look while I looked under the layout to try and see .. why .. that piece of track was so totally dead. I could see the feeder wire … which .. hung loose. Huh says .. I .. that may partially explain the dead track .. I suppose the rail joiner COULD be really corroded .. then .. wait .. another feeder wire hanging loose. Huh again.

I swear .. sometimes the light over my head is a very dim one .. and it flickers a lot.

I remembered that I had diagrammed the electrical on my layout so I rummaged around my harddrive and found it .. and …

Oh …

I had isolated two sections of track on either side of what will be the programming track. I did all the isolating, wiring and was waiting for the 4PDT switches to come .. and completely forgot about it.

Yes .. poor little flickering light. Look .. I think it is dimming even more.

Programming Track
switchology1On the website the page Programming Track provided everything I needed to create one on my layout. I’m not going to go crazy on the details here as it is put very well in the link. I will though post the bit at the very start of the article:

A programming track is used to program decoders. For mobile decoders, it’s easiest to have a portion of your layout track to double as a programming track. Typically, it’s best to have your programming track near your programming device (Command Station, SPROG, or Computer). For greater flexibility the track should be part of the layout trackage. The reason for this is to minimize handling of finely detailed locos on your layout and allows you to simply drive your loco to the programming section, and read/change values of the decoder.1

To prevent a locomotive being programmed from accidentally shorting the program track you need a section of track – the isolation section that needs to be than your longest locomotive.

Finally .. to the wiring. A diagram is presented as shown to the left. I will start with this .. and “do my own thing”

my Programming Track wiring
switchology-600I added a second 4PDT. The Command Station and a DC Throttle feed the new switch. Depending on which way the switch is thrown then, either the signal from the Command Station or the DC Throttle is fed to the input of the second switch.

Depending on which way the second 4PDT switch is thrown the Test Track and Isolation sections are part of the main DCC or the Test Track is powered and the Isolation sections without any power.

It works like this
Looking at the switch diagram above I am calling the switch on the left switch 1 and the switch on the right switch 2.
Switch 1 toggle is up OR down. Switch 2 toggle is up.
switches_5Power from the Booster is routed to the Test Track and the two Isolating Track sections from Switch 2. A LED labeled Booster Power indicates this.

If Switch 1 is toggled up at the time, the DCC Program Power LED also lights since the way Switch 1 is wired this simply indicates the direction of the toggle. I can live with this for now – if I can figure how to add a transistor as a switch to cut power to this LED when Switch 2 is set to Booster I will do that.

With this switch position (Switch 2) the Isolation Sections and the Test Track are all part of the railroad operating from the Booster with DCC.

Switch 1 toggle is up. Switch 2 toggle is down.
switches_2With Switch 2 down, Switch 1 now controls everything. Power is fed from the Control Station through Switch 1 to Switch 2 and then to Programming Track. The Isolation Sections do their job by isolating the Programming track and the main system. The LED labeled ‘Test Track Power’ turns on.

Switch 1 toggle is down. Switch 2 toggle is down.
switches_4With both switches thrown down, again control goes to Switch 1. It now feeds power from a DC throttle to Switch 2 and to the Test Track (I call it a Test Track when DC powered). The Isolation Sections do their job by isolating the Test Track and the main system. The LED labeled “Test Track Power” turns on.
the LEDs
To recap, there are four Red LEDs.

  • DCC Program Track Power : Switch 1 is toggled up so the Program Track receives power and signals from the Command Station. The Isolation Sections are without power.
  • DC Power : Switch 1 is toggled down so the Test Track is powered by a DC Throttle. The Isolation Sections are doing their job and without power. This is to allow testing of DC locomotives as one of the “selling points” for On30 is that you can use HO mechanisms to kitbash an On30 locomotive.
  • Booster Power : Switch 2 is toggled up and the layout now operates as if the programming track wasn’t there. Isolation Sections and Program/Test Track all receive Booster Power.
    The DCC Program Track Power LED also lights if Switch 1 is toggled up as lugs 2,5 of Switch 1 is hard-wired to Booster Power. If I can figure out how – I will insert a transistor into the circuit as a switch to cut power to this LED when Switch 2 is set for Booster Power
  • Test Track Power : This LED will light as long as Switch 2 is toggled down since this means it is receiving power from Switch 1. LEDs DCC Program Power OR DC Power light light at the same time so we will have indicators of which power is being supplied to the Test Track and what power that is.

The LED can be a signal near the track, or mounted between the rails, or on the front of the facia, or both. Note: The LED is optional and may or may not work depending on the DCC system used. Some DCC systems will shutdown the main line when programming is active leaving the LED un-powered..2

Ok. Let me interject .. wow. I wanted a diagram I could use when I start wiring this thing up .. and I am somewhat .. taken back. I shouldn’t have been .. but then there is that flickering light-bulb over my head after all ..


My thoughts on this run something like .. not what I want to do under the bench-work. I think that everything .. panel, switches, terminal strips etc. needs to be contained in a separate assembly that can be built and wired on a work bench and then after screwed to the layout fascia.

Also .. the exterior connections are:

  • Command Station (Program track connector)
  • DC Throttle
  • Test Track
  • Booster (Main track connector)
  • Isolating Track

That is five connections. Which sucks a bit as I had 4-connector terminal strip in my parts box. If I had a six-connector terminal strip I could have had a single terminal strip to connect those exterior leads. I may still do that.

TestFitJumped to making the panel (control panel?). I picked up a small, cheap photo frame at WalMart, and 0.080″ Acrylic sheet at Lowes and a printed piece of cardstock .. all sandwiched together and a small box built around it. Here, I am test fitting it by loosely mounting. I need to mount the electrical panel underneath and then I can get a good measure of how long my cableing needs to be.

  1. Programming Track: DCC Wiki []
  2. Programming Track: DCC Wiki []


The Programming Track — 2 Comments

  1. well i enjoyed it and glad prob. is being taken care of as i like to run trains we will have to do the tuesday thing more often

    • Well .. working on just how to implement this. I am thinking to put all the terminal strips on a board which can be secured under the bench after all the wiring is done. There are a lot of wires so this is one of those things that .. umm .. is important I think.

      There are three terminal strips each with 16 terminal connections. What that means as far as the board is that there will be 12 wires to each switch and another 6 wires to the three LEDs. The plan .. is to bundle the 12 wires to each switch into a ‘cable’ using wire ties. The end of the cable will have the switches soldered to the wires – the wire cables long enough to reach from where the board will be mounted to the layout fascia where the panel will be located.

      Lastly, I am thinking of seeing if I can find a phono plug terminal strip (female) at Radio Shack. I can mount that on the edge of the board .. wire that to the terminals and then put phono plugs on the ends of the five exterior connections = Booster, Programming, DC Throttle, Isolation sections and Program/Test Track.

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