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Basic Layout Information
for New Members

As a new member, you will obviously have a lot of questions about APN's layout and what it takes to get a train up and running on the layout.  Below is a list of the most common items that new members should know about getting trains running on the layout.  This list is not intended to cover every nuance of the layout, but rather a general overview of what it takes to get your train running on our layout.  Here is a list of topics that will be covered:


Layout Control System (DCC)

The APN layout uses a North Coast Engineering (NCE) DCC control system.  In order to run one of your locomotives on the APN layout you must have a DCC decoder installed in your locomotive.  All DCC decoders that adhere to the NMRA DCC standard are compatible with the APN DCC system.  You do not need to purchase a locomotive decoder from NCE, you may purchase a decoder from any DCC decoder manufacturer that you choose.  For those of you unfamiliar with DCC, then it may prove beneficial to visit the following educational articles:


Our DCC system and 12-volt 5A filtered DC switch machine power supply

DCC Throttle Options

Each APN member is responsible for procuring their own NCE compatible DCC throttle and throttle cable to use while running trains on the layout, although there several APN owned throttles available for members' use.  You do not need to purchase an entire DCC system (unless you want to), just a personal handheld throttle.  If you already have a DCC system for your home layout and it is not an NCE compatible system, e.g. Digitrax, Lenz, MRC, then you will still be required to purchase an NCE compatible throttle for use on the APN layout.  Handheld throttles are not compatible between competing DCC systems.  APN also has wireless throttle capability so you may get the wireless feature if you wish.  Here is a list of currently available compatible throttles from NCE: 

Note:  Each of these cabs also has a wireless upgrade option available at time of purchase.  If you choose wireless you should insist on getting a 3rd generation radio. (also known as Version 1.5) 

It is possible to get existing cabs retrofitted to radio, either by NCE or an authorized radio upgrade dealer. Beginning in the summer of 2010 the radio upgrades will include an internal antenna.  This sacrifices some slight radio reception performance in exchange for no protruding antenna to snag on things and possibly get broken off.  A more complete discussion of antennae can be found at Marcus Ammann's website.

Which throttle is right for you?  The intermediate throttles are the least expensive but don't allow you to use your throttle to program the locomotive or create multiple unit consists (MU).  APN has a master throttle permanently mounted on the wall next to work bench which will allow you to build MU consists.  Therefore, you do not need to purchase a master throttle (ProCab) if you do not wish to.  The Cab-06 is the top of the line intermediate throttle combining the convenient small size of an intermediate cab with a digital display and support for 28 function keys.

The PowerCab is an interesting choice in that incrementally it is not that much more expensive than the ProCab, and on APN's layout it will perform virtually the same as a ProCab.  But actually the PowerCab is a complete DCC System in itself, and with it you could convert your home layout or even a small section of test track to DCC.  The latter would allow you to test run or program DCC equipped engines at home.

APN Wangrow System One Master Cab permanently mounted on the wall next to workbench.

There is also a second NCE PowerHouse Pro system for a dedicated programming station located at the dispatcher's desk.  See the decoder programming section below for more information on programming your decoder.

Dedicated DCC system located at dispatcher desk for programming decoders


DCC Throttle Address

Each throttle that is used on the APN layout must have a unique throttle address programmed into it.  You must see Mark Herzog and he will assign you a throttle address for your handheld throttle and add this address to a spreadsheet.  The first thing that you do to when you bring your new throttle up to the APN layout is program the throttle with your newly assigned throttle address.  If you have a NCE / Wangrow system at home, you may program your throttle's address at home as the throttle address stays with the throttle and not with the command station.  See your throttle's manual for directions on how to program your throttle address.

DCC Throttle Cable

You purchased your new DCC throttle for the APN layout but before you are ready to use it, you must get a cord to plug it to the many throttle plug-in stations situated around the layout fascia (unless you are running wireless - see throttle manual on how to activate your wireless). 

Curly cord throttle cable and NCE compatible cabs

Currently, you have two options for acquiring a throttle cable:

  • Build your own throttle cable (or find someone that will build one for you) that has a RJ11 phone jack on one end and a 5-pin DIN plug on the other. 
  • Purchase a completed throttle cable with DIN plug direct from NCE p/n 524-210. The downsides of using the NCE part:
    • the RJ11 plug end will need to be replaced and reversed (another APN member can help you with this) to make it compatible with our jacks
    • it has a 90° plug that will point upward when plugged into our throttle jacks
    • it is only 7' long (this is usually adequate, but the cables most members use are 10' in length)


APN has a library of DCC-related manuals at the dispatcher's desk.  These manuals cover topics ranging from sound decoders to the complete DCC system.  These manuals may seem intimidating but it is important that you utilize these manuals to learn the various tasks that you will need to execute in order to run your train, such as building multiple unit consists and decoder programming.

Locomotive Decoder Programming

Locomotive programming or, more specifically, decoder programming is probably the most complex task that you will have to learn.  However, once you do it a few times, you will see that it is not that complex after all.  The DCC system pretty much walks you through step-by-step and you just answer questions displayed on the master cab screen.

What address should I use for my decoder?  You may use any address between 0 - 9999 when you program your decoder; however, it is highly recommended that you use the same number as the locomotive number.  If you wish to have your engine participate in an APN operating session, then it is mandatory that you program the decoder's long address with the the locomotive number.  At APN, we use a first come, first served basis for decoder addresses.  Therefore, if the address you wish to use is already programmed into another member's locomotive, then you must select another address or be sure to never operate your locomotive when the other locomotive with the same address is in use.  It is always best to follow the instructions in the DCC System Manual (page 9) when programming your decoder; however, we also have a homebrew white paper entitled "Programming your first DCC decoder" if would rather use it instead.  We also have a the program DecoderPro installed at the programming station, and from it you can program your decoders with a few clicks of the mouse through a graphical interface.

Selecting a Locomotive

In order to run a train, you simply call up the lead locomotive address with your handheld throttle.  NCE gives you the option to program your locomotive with either a short address (0 - 127)  or long address (0 - 9999).  These addresses are stored in two different memory locations in the decoder, or CVs (Configuration Variables) in DCC parlance.   The short address is stored in CV1 and the long address is stored in CV17 & CV18.  The choices that you select in the Configuration Settings (CV29) is what determines which of two address types (short / long) the locomotive will respond to.  It is a common misconception that you can call up the locomotive by either the short or the long the long address; however, this is obviously not true.

APN recommends that you always use the long address option when programming your locomotive decoder since the short address range (0 - 127) is also shared by the multiple unit consist alias addresses.  Therefore, you can have a short address and a consist address assigned to the same value, which will, no doubt, lead to bad things!  One caveat to using a long address is that whenever you attempt to call up a long address which is less than 128, you must call up the locomotive address with a leading '0', e.g. to call up a locomotive programmed with a long address of '99', you would input '099' when prompted since the leading '0' tells the system that you want to use the address stored in CV17 & CV18 and not the address stored in CV1.  Note: You do not need to put a leading '0' in the long address when you are programming the decoder.  To learn how to call up a locomotive with a handheld throttle, click here.

Multiple Unit Consist

DCC allows you to build multiple unit consists and operate them as if they are one single locomotive. The only way to build a consist is through the use of a master throttle.  Your consist will get a new 'alias' address assigned to your locomotive automatically during the consist building process.  You may call up your consist by this alias address or by simply calling up the lead locomotive address just as you would for a single locomotive.  To learn how to create a multiple unit consist, click here.  When you are through running your consist, you should always delete the consist.

Trouble shooting DCC Tips

Problem: Erratic DCC operation

Solution: Reliable DCC performance is highly dependent on good electrical pickup.  The more wheels that pick up track power, the better.  Dirty track or wheels or a minimal number of wheels that pick up track power are the biggest killers of good DCC performance.  However, many modelers blame the decoder for jerky operation.  One easy way to determine if the problem isn't related to good electrical pickup is to look at the locomotive headlight when locomotive rolls down the track.  If the headlight burns constant and does not flicker, then you have reliable track pick up and you can look elsewhere (decoder or wiring to the motor) for the cause of erratic operation.

Problem: The last time you were running this locomotive it ran fine, but now it won't move when you call it up with your handheld throttle.

Solution: If the last time you were running this locomotive and it was part of a multiple unit consist and you did not clear the consist when you were done running your train, then this locomotive is most likely still programmed to respond to the alias "consist" address and not the locomotive address.  If you happen to remember the alias consist address then you can simply call up the alias consist address to run the train or use a master throttle to clear (delete) the alias consist address that is stored in the decoder.  If you want to clear the consist but if you do not know the alias consist address, then you can use a master throttle and go into Ops mode (Program on the Main) to manually clear out the alias consist address.  The alias consist address is stored in CV19; therefore, you can clear out the alias consist address by setting CV19 = 0.  The locomotive should now respond normally to the long / short address that was originally programmed into it.  It is a good habit to always clear your consists when you are through running.

Problem: You have a QSI sound-equipped locomotive and it ran fine the last time you had it on the layout but now it doesn't move when you call it up with your handheld throttle.

Solution: QSI has a several shutdown modes (Page 16) for their sound-equipped locomotives; disconnect, standby and total shutdown.  Once the locomotive is placed in either of these shutdown modes, either deliberately or accidentally, then you must use the proper startup procedure (Page 17) to get the locomotive to respond normally to throttle commands.  Basically, to bring the sound decoder out of either of the shutdown modes, you hit the F6 key two times and the locomotive will now respond normally to throttle commands.

Problem: You are using the System One Master Cab that is permanently mounted on the wall next to the workbench and the speed buttons work but the wheel no longer works.

Solution: There is a bug in the latest EPROM firmware (embedded software) for the System One command station which causes the wheel controller to stop working once you hit one of the speed buttons.  Basically, the wheel will work correctly until someone hits one of the speed buttons on the master cab.  Once someone hits either of the speed buttons on the master cab, then the wheel gets disabled and the only way to get the wheel back is by powering down the command station and powering it back up again.  This firmware bug only affects System One Master Cabs and does not affect NCE ProCabs or PowerCabs

Powering the layout On/Off

The layout track and switch machine power is operated from a single bank of wall switches located in the meeting room to the right of the double doors.   Each wall switch controls the 120 VAC outlets on each of the four walls (north wall, south wall, etc.) in the layout room.  The wall switch on the far left is the switch that actually turns the layout power on and off.   The local on/off power switches on the DCC and turnout power supplies themselves are left in the ON position all the time and just the 120 VAC wall outlets that these devices plug into are turned on and off via the wall switch in the meeting room.  PLEASE REMEMBER TO TURN OFF ALL FOUR WALL SWITCHES IN THE MEETING ROOM BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE BUILDING!

Layout room outlet power control switches located in the meeting room

To aid in verifying that all the correct wall outlets have been powered down before you leave, a series of remote indicator lights has been placed to left of the main exit door in the meeting room.  All of these indicator lights must be OFF before you leave the building. 

Layout room outlet power remote indicator lights near the building exit door.  All of these lights

 must be OFF when you leave the building

Rolling Stock

The rolling stock on our layout is a mixture of both APN-owned and privately owned cars.  The APN cars are identified with a green dot on the bottom of the car.  Members are encouraged to ID their cars by putting their assigned ID number somewhere on the bottom of the car.  There is a also a rolling stock standards document that must be adhered to for both APN and privately owned rolling stock that is to remain on layout.  In addition, APN uses Kadee-compatible couplers on all of its rolling stock, e.g. no hook and horn (XF) style couplers.

The APN layout is equipped with current sensing block occupancy detectors and; therefore, all rolling stock that is to participate in operating sessions must have resistors installed on at least one axle per truck (two axles per car).  For more information on adding resistors to your rolling stock click here.

Each APN member is assigned a personal identification number that he or she may use to identify personal pieces of rolling stock left on the layout.  Examples of numbering options are peal-and-stick labels, decals, or a fine-tip permenant marker pen.


Analog (DC) Test Track

APN has an analog (DC) test track mounted along the wall behind the main workbench.  This test track will allow members to test run their locomotives on conventional DC to be sure they operate properly before going through the effort of installing a DCC decoder and finding out the locomotive doesn't even run.  The rule of thumb is that if a locomotive doesn't run well on conventional DC, then it definitely is not going to run well on DCC.

Analog (DC) throttle located at the far left hand side of the workbench.  The DC test track

 is the rear track - the track that the SP steam engine is parked on.
(NOTE: as of September, 2009, the power was moved,
so now the front track is the DC test track)



Layout Etiquette

  • After you are through running, please:
      - Move your train off of the mainline/return it to staging
      - Return all turnout positions back to normal (mainline) positions for the next person.
      - If you use the under layout staging tracks, return the control panel rotary selector
        knobs to Track 1 when finished.

  • If you use the APN master cab that is permanently mounted on the wall next to the workbench to build / break multiple unit consists, then please make sure to assign the locomotive address on the cab back to '000' when you are through working with your consist.  This helps to eliminate "runaways".

  • Keep the staging yard through track clear.  The through track is represented in yellow on the track diagram on the fascia.

  • If you break something, own up to it and report it!  Accidents can happen, but it is very rude and disrespectful to damage something and then try to hide it.

  • Help stamp out broken grab irons, handrails, sunshades and other details! Unless it’s your locomotive, or your piece of rolling stock, do not pick it up unless it is inoperable. If it’s in your way, move it the same way the prototype does, with locomotives, not with your hands.

  • If you use an APN owned tool or borrow a tool, put it back where it belongs.




More detailed information on operating trains on APN's layout can be found by
clicking here

Other information all APN members should be familiar with can be found by clicking here

Enjoy our layout and clubhouse facilities!

Created 07/01/2007 by Scott Kurzawski
Updated 04/23/2022