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Boosters- What do they do, and who needs them?

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Joined: 28 Nov 2009
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    Posted: 01 Jul 2013 at 11:18pm
The following discussion applies to both Marklin DCC and NMRA DCC users, so I decided to post it in the general forum.

Does one need a booster when running a layout with digital control?  This question very much depends on the size and a way a layout is operated.  For this one needs to realize that the digital command station has two components, the computer that produces the digital signal and a built in booster that amplifies it to produce a high enough current to actually run the trains.  The average European made command station booster produces about 3 Amp, while those by Digitrax and MRC deliver up to 5 Amp.  On the first glance this looks like a lot of power compared to a conventional 1 Amp power pack, but one needs to keep in mind that the power pack runs one or two engines.  Most engines draw about .6 Amp at full load, so that one can run at the most five engines from a command station at a time.  But this is only a theoretical calculation:  Parked locos use small amount of currents, and the booster usually cannot deliver the full 3 Amp continuously due to heat problems.  A more reasonable is about 2.5 Amp.  That means that one can really run 3 - 4 locos maximum. 

However there is a simple solution:  The digital signal is run through one or more amplifiers = boosters, and each of these boosters powers its own part of the layout in which not more than 3 - 4 engines run.  Each area powered by an individual booster is called a power district.  Individual power districts have to be separated from one another in both tracks.  Boosters can be cheaper since they do not need to have the brain to produce a digital signal.  Besides the possibility to run more trains, there are other reasons for having separate power districts.  A short in one power district does not shut down the others.  For instance, it is a good idea to run all switch decoders with a separate booster.  In this way, switches can still be thrown even if there is a short because a loco causes a short by running through a wrongly aligned switch. 

On my layout I have four power districts:

Power District I:  Main station and track on the large part of the layout

Power District II: Hidden storage yard and stub end station

Power District III: Return loop

Power District IV: Switches and Signals

PDI - PDIII are powered by a Digitrax 8 Amp Superchief DCS 200 booster and command station which produces 5.6Amp continuously.  A Digitrax PM42 splits this power into two 4 Amp power districts (effectively the same as two 3 Amp booster) and the return loop (effectively he same as installing a return loop controller).  PDIV is powered by a DCS50 throttle, command station and booster, which set to operate as a booster.  Having more than one booster/command station has another advantage that in case of a command station failure one has a backup that allows operations, albeit with a smaller number of trains, until the damaged one is fixed.

Best regards,

Ulrich 
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