Z21 -- no. 2

Hi everyone. It is good to be with other train enthusiast. I have been collecting Fleishmann N scale trains for a long time, but now I would like to digitalize the system. I purchased a Z21 digital system, but it is not currently working. I set up the Z21 system, Z21 app (including the Z21 updater), router, and I believe it was all set up correctly. I also purchased the ESU DCC decoder chips (LokPilot Nano Standard) for all of my locos. I fully trust Reynauld's with my trains and I asked them to install the decoder chips (which they did). So I am lost on what I should do. Did I miss any of the steps to make it work? help!


  • RailwriterRailwriter Durham, NC

    Hello Chris,

    Based on the information you have provided, there could be any number of factors or combination of factors that are behind your problems. The best way to troubleshoot a complex technical system is to try out one simple situation at a time.

    First some basic assumptions:

    • Are you sure you have the correct power supplies connected to the main Z21 unit and the router. (I remember reading somewhere that it is possible to swap these and that this can cause problems.)
    • Are the indicator lights on the Z21 and router showing the correct indications? (Check the documentation.)
    • I assume that when the technician installed the locomotive decoders, these were also provided (programmed) with individual addresses – and that you are aware of these addresses. (If not you will first need to program each decoder individually.)
    • I assume that you are aware that you will need to set up a “library” of digital locomotives in the app on your handheld device. If not, you will need to read the instructions on how to do so and then implement these instructions.

    If you have any questions or problems with the above points, we can start further discussion with these.

    Okay, I do not have a Z21; I have a white z21. And I do not use a wireless router and handheld device. Instead, I use cable-connected Roco MultiMaus controllers. But, I have looked at the documentation for the black Z21 unit, wireless router, and the application for handheld devices. So, I think I still have a good basic understanding of your system.

    Now, to some troubleshooting:

    It would help if you have at least a basic voltage meter or a small light bulb rated at around 18 volts – equipped with wires that can be touched to your rails. That way, you can check if the layout is getting track power.

    But, let’s try a very basic test setup.

    First, even with decoders installed, your locomotives should still run in analog mode. Connect one of your old analog controllers to a short section of track that is not part of your layout. Place a locomotive on it and make sure it operates in analog mode.

    Now, let’s do the same with your digital equipment. Connect your Z21 controller to a short section of track that is not part of your layout. (Do not put any locomotive on that track yet.) When everything is plugged in and turned on, check to make sure the track is getting power – with either a volt meter of a small light bulb rated around 18 volts.

    If the track is not getting power, then there is a problem in your basic hookup. Go back and recheck everything.

    If the track is getting power, place one locomotive on that track and try to communicate with it with your setup. If that works, and you are able to move the locomotive and turn its lights on and off, repeat the process – one at a time – with your other locomotives.

    If everything works so far, now try connecting your digital equipment to your layout. Only place one locomotive on your layout and again try to communicate with that one locomotive. If that works, then add one locomotive at a time and try to communicate with each.

    If things do not work, pay attention to the indicator lights on your equipment and/or check to see if you are getting any error messages in your app.

    That should give us at least a start. Let us know what the results are.

    -- Ernest

  • This is perfect. Let me try some of the suggestions and come back. More to follow....

  • Hi Ernest.
    Thank you again for all your advice. I think we made some progress, although the trains are not yet working:
    1) I checked the router and Z21 system to ensure that the plugs were set up ok.
    2) I asked a good friend who is a network/internet GURU, and he checked all the router and internet connections; no issues.
    3) I purchase a small voltage meter and it appears that my very small oval is getting good electricity (18 volts)
    So it looks like there is no issue with router/internet or electricity; I think it may be isolated with a problem in the APP?
    In the APP under "Vehicles", I used 102 for a loco address (for me, I use 100's for steam engines, 200's for electrical engines, 300's for diesel engines). Under "CV Programming" I kept having an error called "No locomotive found with this address". Anytime I used any of the "CV Programming" button's (Logo (program track), Loco (POM), Manual), I got a similar error "no locomotives were found". Is it possible that the Loco addresses hard-coded in from the decoders?
    Also, I set up a very small circular track and noticed that even though the electrical appears to work fine, the train did not move at all (basically dead). Any suggestions are very welcome.

  • ...Or could there be a problem from the decoder chips on the locos?

  • BR42BR42 Auburn

    Have you thought abut doing a decoder reset? You may want to try to read out the CV's, it may be that the decoder address is not the one you expect to be. Have you tried to use address 03?


  • good idea, but how do I do a decoder reset? I have not tried address 03, but let me try. I really appreciate the info.

  • BR42BR42 Auburn

    Do you have a programming track? Try to read CV1, this should give you the address. Decoders are usually reset by programming something into CV8, the something is unfortunately depending on who made the decoder. The manual should tell you. However, the decoder may have a problem, if you get the message no decoder found.


  • Thank you so much. I am sorry that I am a novice with all the technical items, so if you would be so kind to help me out, I would appreciate it.
    1) not sure what a programming track is? I thought it was just "plug and play" for the Z21? I wired the 2 wires on the "main track" on the Z21 to the actual track. (Pos and Neg)
    2) not sure how to "read CV1"? when I pushed the "Read CV", it still says "no locomotives found.."
    3) not sure how to "programming into CV8"?
    4) the decoders are all ESU LokPilot Nano Scandard (I think they are 6-wire chips?)
    5) I tried 3 of my locos using the same decoders with the same outcome (dead)

    I would be happy to send 3 or 4 of my locos if you would like to look at them to see what is going on? I would be happy to pay a fee for your input? or if you know of anyone who could help on-site (i.e. something I could send to someone? Anything to help.
    Looking forward to your help???

  • RailwriterRailwriter Durham, NC

    Hello Chris,

    If you are getting 18 volts to the tracks and are reasonably sure everything is hooked up correctly, you are probably more than half way home. (Your voltage meter is a good investment and be valuable in many situations later on.)

    Getting into digital operation, particularly if you are jumping in with a relatively complex system such as a Z21, isn’t always easy. But, in the long run it is worth it.

    Consider that a digital train operation is really a complex computer network, within which devices communicate with one another. The decoder in a single locomotive now has more computing power than the very first home desktop computers. (I started back in the 1980s with a Radio Shack model III, which had two floppy drives, no hard drives, 48K of memory, and certainly no sound.)

    Okay, back to your situation.:

    Your Z21 has dedicated programming track output. To use a programming track, you need to connect an isolated track to that output and to put just one locomotive at a time on that track.

    Based on what you have told us, I now believe that the person who installed your decoders did not program locomotive addresses.

    As you may know, decoders are factory supplied with the default address “3.” That means the value of CV 1 is equal to 3. (CVs are simply electronic cubbyholes on your decoders where various values are stored – each of which affects locomotive operation. Most of these you will never have to worry about.)

    You can try the following: Put a single locomotive on your layout (not the programming track), and try to operate it with your handheld device and app, using the locomotive address 3. That might work.

    If that works, then you know you will need to program locomotive addresses for all your locos using the programming track.

    The reason you only want to put a single locomotive on your layout is that if all your locomotive decoders still have the default address of 3, any commands you send to your layout will affect all locomotives.

    Now, about locomotive addresses: While you can have locomotive addresses of up to four digits, in the beginning I would stick to simple two and three digit locomotive addresses – below 132.

    The reason for this is that decoders can have two different types of locomotive addresses (one at a time) – either a so-called short address of under 132, or a longer address, with any value of 132 or higher.

    You have to tell the decoder during programming which type of address you are using. Using a long address is a two-step process: You first tell the decoder that you are using a long address; then you program the long address (which is stored in a different location within the decoder than the short address. As the short address is the default, it is simpler to use.

    For example, my Austrian class 93 steam locomotive has the address 93; my class 52 had the address 52.

    So, when you start using your programming track, I would suggest initially just using short addresses.

    Unfortunately, I cannot give you much help with using the app on your handheld device, as I do not use this app.

    Long-term, you may want to look at getting some of the books that Roco has produced on digital operations. As far as I know, at least the first two volumes have now been produced in English. I have vol. 1-3, but in the original German.

    I hope that helps. Keep us posted on your progress.

    -- Ernest

  • Thank you, Ernest. This is very helpful. Not sure what you mean by "you need to connect an isolated track to that output and to put just one locomotive at a time on that track." I think I have a pretty good layout, but do I need to separate a section out of the main layout or a few tracks? could you help me understand? thx so much.

  • edited August 11

    I believe Ernest knows waaaaay more than I, but he is explaining that when programming a specific dcc equipped locomotive, it has to be the only locomotive on the track at that time. If there are two dcc locomotives on the track, then both will acquire the identical set of instructions. If there are three or three hundred locomotives on the track then they will all get that identical set of instructions. For simplicity, a separate section is sometimes used so that only that locomotive will be programmed. That separate track must be electrically isolated from the rest of the layout, or you will simply be programming everything to the exact same set of instructions. Of course, analog, or non-DCC locomotives, will not be affected regardless of what programs you apply. They don't care (but typically can run on the 03 setting and controlled separately).

    There may be times when you want to have two separate locomotives with the identical address, or set of instructions, so that they may work in unison, as in a double headed situation. But then, unless the gearing is identical, one may need to be programmed to run slower or faster than its neighbor so that they run at the same speed.

    Being of an adventurous nature, when I used to run two to five DCC locomotives on a single track main line (with passing sidings) simultaneously, sometimes with one going against oncoming traffic, I would have five different addresses, or sets of instructions to each one of the five, so as to stop and slow their rate of travel. It was a nightmare, but an enjoyable nightmare.

    Each locomotive would be set on the single, nine inch, length of track specifically designated for programming. A double pole throw switch to route all the electrical power to either it, or to the layout was utilized. Most simply explained: only one DCC locomotive may be programmed at a time.

  • Excellent; thank you much. There is a little bit of good news. I did use a program track as you suggested (about 4 or so lengths of track), fully separated by electrical power from the main track. I reset the loco parameters and the program track actually worked (I only used 1 loco). Very good news. Unfortunately, I could not set up a new loco address.

    I used your suggestion, Ernest, by utilizing a 2-digit address, but it don't work. Every time I used my new 2-digit aggress, I could get the same error message (no locomotive found). I tried to re-program the new 2-digit loco address ON THE PROGRAM TRACK (not on the main track). Should I now use the program main line to program the new 2-digit address?

    To summarize; if I use 03 as an address on the PROGRAM TRACK, I appears to work. If try to re-program the loco using a 2-digit address on the PROGRAM TRACK, it does not work ("no locomotive found"). sorry for all the questions, but I really appreciate all of your expertise. Am I missing a step here between address 03 (default) and a new 2-digit (customized) address?

  • BR42BR42 Auburn

    After resetting the loco, does it work with address 03?

  • YES; IT WORKS!!! this is great day. I hope I did it right, and it appears to be working:

    1) I programmed a separate section of track using 03 as an address under CV programming in the Z21, the trains started to move.
    2) Then I used a 2-digit code to "Set CV" (under CV programming)
    3) Then I used the same 2-digit code as my address, also under CV programming. (I did not change any of the other CV values; just address)
    4) finally, I updated my Vehicle information with the same 2-digit code. Remember, I WAS ONLY IN THE PROGRAM TRACK that I separated from my main track.
    5) Then I used my main track and it worked perfectly
    6) I did need to start this process over again for any new trains.

    interesting that steps 1-4 needed to in the right order. Thank you so much. I couldn't have made it with you all.
    More to follow....


  • I was so excited about the trains, and I forgot to add that the Z21 app what I used. Hope that helps.

  • BR42BR42 Auburn

    Glad it worked!

  • edited August 15

    Chris, I am very pleased to hear you got it running. I posted a bit about cleaning track, which can be found by hitting **"Recent Discussions." **DCC is its own art form, and I am a very poor source of information. None, the less, dirty track is the curse of model railroaders everywhere, and if the track is not clean, or on-board capacitors are not present, annoyance and delay is sure to follow.

    I would really like to see some images of what you are doing/running. Video, better yet! I am not terribly interested in how advanced your work is, only in the mere fact that you are doing it. High scale, or on the carpet, it's all good to me! I don't mind if it's a simple circle!

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