Subscribe via RSS

DCC “Directional” Lighting without a Decoder

So, you have a 16-Car, 12-Car, 8-Car, 6-Car or 3-Car consist and you want to get the tail/head lights functioning correctly? Of course, you've already installed the expensive decoder in the engine car of the consist and if this is anything like all of the Japanese models I've dealt with, then it's somewhere in the middle and getting the power to the headlights is not really an option.
Ok, So companies like Kato have created smaller, feature-less decoders specifically for headlight and taillights in end cars... these are still the best option... the advantage to what I'm about to show you is that the lights will switch between backwards and forwards.
Anyway, if you can't, or are morally obliged not to, install the end-car decoders then you can cheat and install an AC/DC rectifier diode to 'fix' the direction of the train (and lights).
This, of course, means that the train you are going to install this into should really be only every traveling in one direction 'prototypically'. You'll be able to swap the end cars when you want the train to travel in the opposite direction, but this could be tedious and so it is entirely recommended this method only be used for consists where you intend on running them in one direction.

Micro Ace 6-Car "あいづ" KIHA 485系

So, as you may have recently seen, I installed a decoder in my 6-Car "あいづ" KIHA 485系。 The engine car was number 3 of 6, so couldn't really get any further into the center... which is a good thing as it means it's nearly pushing as much as it has to pull.

So, I decided as I'd got it at a bargain price, that I wasn't going to fork out too much to make it DCC. I had the decoder in the engine car and wanted the lights to not 'buzz' and function correctly. I intended on having it running in one direction most of the time and could handle swapping the end cars if I wanted it to go the other way.

What this meant is that I would get an AC->DC Rectifier (0.84c at the local electronics store) to convert the AC voltage off the tracks to DC.

Once in DC voltage the polarity would be fixed... even if the car was swapped around on the rails.

Right, so I removed the old lighting circuit board and bent the pins up that connected with the power rails... I then extended the AC side of the rectifier and pushed the pins into the area where the old contacts used to touch the power rails.

I then soldered up the DC output to the circuit board and threw it on the tracks to test.

Ok, this worked well... the lights even stayed on constantly after a bit of a wheel clean. Unfortunately, you now cannot 'shutdown' the train in a siding without cutting the power. The other issue now was that the rear car would have the 'Forward Lights' on as well if wired up directly... I therefore had to reverse the wiring after the DC output. I used my 0.25mm 'winding wire' for this.

And then a test...

And that was it... the train was DCC'd and ready to roll... It worked perfectly after this as well.

Twilight Express

I then quickly slapped a Rectifier in my Twilight Express end car and disabled the lighting in the car that sits right next to the engine.

To my surprise... a 12v BULB!... This must been an older set as Martjin had previously mentioned.

...and that was a wrap... yes, it's a mighty cop-out... and those who wish to have functional/switchable head/tail lights should not do this, but it does work and I must admit, does the job for my kinda running (Full Steam Ahead!)


Micro Ace 485 Series “あいづ” 6-Car Decoder Install

I found this for sale on eBay and, although it's JR East, I decided I could do with another 6-Car set.

Being my first Micro Ace product, I was extremely impressed with the level of detail. I was also extremely impressed with the electronics on the inside and the way everything just snaps together... of course, this is the same with the greater majority of Japanese model railway products... but this 6-Car set seemed much easier to pull apart.

Once apart, it was obvious that the decoder install was going to be very easy... The motor contacts could easily be separated and the power rails were made of copper... solderable! After the copper wire was on.. the wire was lead back up alongside the copper rails to the decoder... wires were also soldered onto the rails to provide power. Finally, the decoder was installed.

485 Series decoder installed

Right... lighting... as per any large consist... there is usually a considerable length to the end cars for directional lighting... this usually means that people should install separate decoders in the end cars (high price!) or run wires throughout the cars (ugly!)... so instead, I decided to convert the AC current to DC and force the lights to be in specific directions...

But you'll see that in my next post!


Eizan Dentetsu (叡山電鉄) Kirara 900 Decoder Install

I'd bought both the Maple Red and Maple Orange versions of this EMU back in 2006 when I first went to Japan and have always loved the quality and performance.


Since the latest trend has been to DCC all my gear, I had decided that what better candidate next than to do one of these up. It was all quite simple too. The 'power rails' run down each side (internally) of the chassis and after isolating these from the engine I soldered the decoder in.


Firstly I took the thing to bits... I love Kato and their use of clips... everything snaps apart, but you really need to be careful! I nearly broke one clip underneath as you have to squeeze them with a fair bit of force.


After disembowing the engine I soldered it directly to the Decoder as I could easily put it back without having to worry about where the wires ran.


Putting it back in was easy and the next step was to wire up the main power to the copper rails.


There's a pair of LEDs (Red/Orange) at either end and they're wired up in parallel where one is reversed to allow them to switch between reverse/forward marker lights. This of course, wont work with DCC as you now have one common (single polarity) wire and then two rev/fwd wires... so I ripped one LED out of the board, flipped it around and then had my common.

I then used some very fine-gauge 'winding wire' (used for transformers/magnets) to connect the LEDs up (there was already a resistor in the circuit) since the thicker decoder wiring wouldn't fit under the light shield. To get the lights in the rear trailer working I ran this wire all the way between the trailers and to the other board, resoldering it in the same way.


I also ran an extra two wires from the 'power rails' in the trailer to the rails in the motor car. Therefore ALL 4 bogies were wired for power pickup and the thing ran like a dream (initially it was a bit sloppy with only the 2 power car bogies picking up the power.)


After programming it to use address 12, it was set to go. Next is to do my Maple Orange. ...actually, I'll get back to the programming first... I want to have my app able to at least set the addresses on decoders.


EF81 (Twilight Express) Marker Lights

Well, after a successful Decoder + Headlight install I thought I'd attempt to get the reverse marker lights going as well. I'd been told on the JNS forums that these lights are used very rarely in Japan and that explained why the model manufacturers (in this case Tomix) didn't bother to put lights behind them. Despite this there is a 'tube' of clear, but red, plastic behind the marker lights and this means that I would only have to get an LED lined up behind it to get them to work.

So, I went down to the local electronics store and looked for the smallest LEDs I could find...


... and I tell you what, they're tiny... I used the 'helping hands' aligator clips to get the soldering done and initially attempted to wire in one LED behind the lights.

The next issue was wiring... I first used thin insulated wire I'd stolen out of a broken toy shotgun (with laser sight)... and this was OK, but there was starting to be too much piling up on top of the chassis and causing headaches when trying to put the shell back on.

Then I found 'winding wire' for building electromagnets and transformers and this stuff did the trick perfectly! This worked OK, but I could only ever get the brightness I wanted behind one of the lights. Since I wanted to be even I chose to put two lights in there.


After a little electrical tape for insulation and some blu-tac for positioning I had what I found to be success :)
There's a few issues... like the lights moving when you remove/replace the shell... but once it's all together they look great...


...the light seen on coming through underneath isn't really visible in normal conditions... my camera just decided to extend the exposure. Anyway, one end done... the other is still to do.


EF81 (Twilight Express) DCC Decoder Install

Well... This wasn't anywhere near as easy as I was hoping... The Japanese really know how to use every last bit of space in their models and although the full-metal chassis adds a nice amount of weight for smooth running, it is hell when trying to make room for a decoder.

Anyway, that said, everything is in and functioning... there is just a little more to do on making the shell fit back on properly... and a little more to do on lighting. Out of the box, the locomotive does not have reverse marker lights... just the top front headlights. So I'll be purchasing some 3mm red LEDs tomorrow to fix this situation (there is just enough room to install them.)
So, after dismantling the locomotive, reality hit me when I realised how little room there was inside. The chassis is a two-part construction with each side conducting either negative or positive. This was bad... the power came directly off the bogies and into the chassis and then straight to the bushes on the motor. I had to insulate this somehow and get wires in there. I managed to drill through the soft metal chassis and then solder on to the bushes (There are actually removable contacts that slide on, of which I soldered to.)

In the picture above you can see that the chassis fills the entire shell and there is only a few chunks missing where the headlights go. Since I no longer needed the diode/capacitor combo for the original headlights, I could remove the board and use one of the spaces for the decoder.

I went and bought a set of files and got to work at hacking out a space for it to go. After I'd removed enough I decided to quickly tape up the wiring and decoder and attempt to run it...

Well, no problems here... the locomotive ran like a charm... at some very very slow crawls! The Hornby 8215 decoders (although cheap) contain the back emf technology for really low and strong speeds.
So, the next step was lighting... I unsoldered the original 12v globes from their boards and wired them directly to the decoder... they then were taped in place where they used to sit.

There was not much room at all near the decoder, as it had taken the spot of the previous light. In the end it's still too tight and there needs to be a little more room made (more filing.)

These locomotives were not fitted stock with reverse marker lights! They have the clear plastic inside and just enough room to hold a small globe to light them... so I haven't completed this yet until I get them working...
And then I need to find the carriage set for the my Twilight to pull :)


Odoriko 185 Series Decoder Install

[From Wikipedia:]The Odoriko (踊り子?) is a limited express train service in Japan operated by JR East which runs between Tokyo and Izukyū-Shimoda or Shuzenji.
The limited express service was inaugurated in October 1981 following the introduction of the then-new 185 series EMUs, replacing the earlier Izu express services from Tokyo to Izu. Services are currently operated by 7-, 10-, and 10+5-car 185 series EMUs, making it the longest Limited Express train running in Japan (excluding shinkansen trains).
The word odoriko means a girl dancer in Japanese. The train service was named after the title of novel Izu no Odoriko (The Dancing Girl of Izu) by Yasunari Kawabata. The stage of the novel is the destination of the train, Izu Peninsula.

I'd bought my 5-Car Micro Ace Set partially damaged (if anyone can tell me where to get replacement pantographs?) and had opened it up on the first night of running due to severe eletrical issues.
After a night with WD-40 and a soldering iron I had the set doing laps at good speed, but every other day it needed a service.

This all boiled down to the way the motor car connects to the tracks. The bogies both conduct both polarities into the chassis which is split in two and electrically isolated. Unfortunately at the point where the bogies touch the chassis was a lot of grime and damaged parts. It seems there were originally two pins that had been snapped meaning the bogies were very loose.
Anyway... all this meant that the electrical connection in the motor car was next to useless since a constant power source was required for DCC and interruptions would play havoc on the data stream from the rails.

I therefore decided that the best method was to slap the decoder in the end car (meant easier wiring of one set of headlights) and have a tiny cable run through (with a plug) to the motor car... This all went fairly smoothly... but I did have to remove the seating in the end car... I'll look into this again shortly.

I removed the 12v globes that originally lit up the car with white LEDs and around 1K2 total resistance to get the level of light emitted in the photo below. This was simply two 680ohm resistors in series to the anodes of both LEDs connected to the Blue wire from the decoder. The cathodes connected directly to the Yellow and White wires for forward and reverse. I initially wanted to use the original light circuit but found that bending LEDs to fit in there would be too tight.

Anyway... the end result is a beautifully running 5 car set with directional headlights at one end and to-be-completed headlights at the other end... should I run wires right through all 5 cars or buy another decoder just for 2 LEDs? ...