Depending on your experience and perspective layout wiring can be simple or complex, scary or easy. No matter, it always deserves serious consideration, and depends on your particular needs. Here are some considerations to guide your decision.

Wiring Design Factors

Will your layout be super simple, running one train at a time, mostly continuous running, to enjoy just watching the train move around the layout? Then standard direct current (DC) may be a good choice with extra feeders as needed depending on the size of the layout. MRC is a recognized name in DC systems, and has added DCC systems to their line.

Will you want to run more than one train at a time, independently of each other? And perhaps do some switching or operating? Then a Digital Command Control (DCC) system with decoder equipped locomotives may be your choice; perhaps a simple starter system expandable to meet the needs of a growing railroad and locomotive roster. Digitrax and NCE are two big players in DCC systems. A great source for DCC information is Allan Gartner’s site Wiring for DCC.

Will you host operating sessions with guests; and/or will your railroad duplicate prototypical operations using trackside signals and Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) with a dispatcher? Then you may need DCC with computerized control of various functions, and the Java Model Railroad Interface (JMRI) to help in computerizing the railroad.

Will your layout be portable, will it need to be transportable and easy to disassemble for a move; or will it be a “permanent” layout not designed for future moves? If the former, then some sort of standard wiring typical of modular systems like T-Trak could work. If the latter, then a customizable standard scheme, or a completely unique custom wiring approach may be best (and require some electrical knowledge and skills).

How deep does your knowledge of low voltage circuits and electronics run? If not very, then you may want to limit yourself to basic DCC systems and simple wiring following standards so others can help.

Wiring Decisions for the AWRY

I want to host guest operators, and run multiple trains in operating sessions, using trackside signals for the mainline, on a layout comprised of modular components and sectional pieces that can be easily disassembled for a move, with removable modules that can be taken to public shows for display and operation. I also want to operate the railroad by myself on a frequent basis. I have a good understanding of model railroad electronics and wiring, and I have expertise in the use of personal computers.

Given those factors I decided on an expandable DCC system for train control, using customizable standard wiring for T-Trak layouts and modules. I will be following T-Trak wiring standards in general but using a specific, extremely simple to follow wiring standard written by Vic McTee and employed by the North Texas T-Trak Modular Railroad Club.

I use the Digitrax DCC system for my Texas railroad because it generally is quite simple to connect and use. I currently use the NCE DCC system for my Michigan railroad because it was inexpensive to start (I bought a used system from a fellow railroader) and it is used by most of my local model railroading friends. It tends to demand a more detailed knowledge of the workings of DCC but I have a good group of resources here to help me out.

I will use JMRI to assist in computerized control of certain operations, installed on an older laptop computer with networking capability. JMRI also has great interfaces to DCC systems for programming locomotive decoders through Decoder Pro, and running train and track control systems and stationary decoders through Panel Pro.


Take some time with the various factors involved to get firmly in mind what you plan to do with your model railroad. Then you’ll be well prepared to explore all of the options and make choices about wiring and controlling your model railroad. It doesn’t need to be scary if you just take it step by step and learn as you go.


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