What is Hornby DCC ?

Ever since model railways were introduced, with the exception of clockwork models to begin with, Hornby ho train sets and other brands have always been electronically controlled via 12 volts DC (direct current). Whilst this is great and a lot of fun, there have always been obvious limitations with DC controlled model trains. Before we investigate what is hornby DCC, it is important to understand DC, and how it works.

With DC control, you essentially control the track and not the actual trains. This means that even if you have two trains on the same track, they will both move at the same speed and in the same direction. Each train will start at the same time, speed up at the same time, slow down at the same time, and stop at the same time.

Introducing Hornby DCC

What Does Hornby DCC Mean ?

DCC stands for ‘Digital Command Control‘. DCC simplifies and enhances the model railway control experience by allowing multiple trains to be controlled independently on a layout, even on the same track. Dedicated DCC controllers are required.

What Is The Benefit of DCC ?

When your layout is DCC controlled, you are the train driver, you control the train, the lighting, the speed, direction. DCC also enables the locomotive to adopt various sound effects unique to the locomotive you are operating, not only can you control the train lighting, you can also control the lighting within the coaches too. As mentioned above, you can also control more than one train on the same track independently.

What Does Hornby DCC Ready Mean ?

Whenever you see the badge ‘DCC Ready’ or have purchased a locomotive that is ‘DCC Ready’, then this means that although that locomotive is currently configured to run on a DC layout, it does in fact contain a decoder socket that enables you to insert a DCC chip. Once the DCC chip has been inserted and activated, it will then run on a DCC enabled layout, and will no longer run on a DC enabled layout.

How Does Hornby DCC Work ?

First of all, a compatible DCC controller is required – the Hornby ‘Select’ and Hornby ‘Elite’ digital units work great. If you are just starting out and are new to the world of DCC, then the Hornby ‘Select’ controller is a great choice. The Hornby select is capable of operating and storing information for 59 locomotives & 38 accessories, and can operate 10 locomotives simultaneously.

what is hornby dcc
Hornby DCC Controller

Unlike DC controllers which output 12 volts, DCC controllers pass a constant 15 volts along the rails, not only to the locomotives but also provide information signals to other accessories on the track such as coaches too. Each DCC ready locomotive must be fitted with a small chip, a microprocessor receiver, also known as a decoder. Once this is installed, the chip can be programmed via a keypad & LCD display on the DCC controller and the locomotive will then be ready for operation. Each locomotive will have an ID number assigned from 1 to 59.

The keypad comes equipped with 16 keys which are used to programme & register locomotives or accessories. You can set the acceleration & deceleration levels, and also directional settings.

Rotary Control

Once the locomotive that you want to operate is assigned and the travel direction has been decided, the locomotive is ready to run. Rotary control also enables you to set the desired speed of the locomotive, you can set a gradual target speed, so when the locomotive sets away, it will gradually accelerate until it reaches its target speed. Similarly, this is also the same for when you want to slow down the locomotive, you can set it to come to a gradual stop.

Can analogue trains run on DCC?

Analogue trains, also known as ‘DC’ controlled trains, are not compatible with a DCC enabled layout. If you try to run DC trains on a DCC layout then you risk damaging the locomotives. However, it is possible to run DCC locomotives on a DC layout – just not the other way around !

Does DCC Have Sound ?

When the DCC decoders were first introduced, very few had sound. To get the sound effects you would require a TTS decoder at the time, which also does the same as a standard DCC decoder. Now, most DCC decoders are equipped with the primary sound effects such as the motor / engine, whistle & bells.

Can you convert Analogue Trains To Digital ?

Yes this is possible – older DC locomotives that are not ‘DCC Ready’ will require that the decoder is hard-wired. Many ‘DC’ locomotives that have been released within the last few years will be DCC Ready, so only the decoder chip is required to convert a DC locomotive to DCC, and plug in one of these decoder chips is a very easy task. But be aware, that once you have converted your locomotives to DCC, your existing DC controller will not work, it will not power a DCC enabled train. To operate DCC activated trains you will need a DCC controller. Overall, doing the conversion and everything that involves may be quite expensive, and it could be cheaper and more beneficial to purchase a DCC enabled starter set. These starter sets are already DCC enabled, and also come with the all important DCC controller.

Limitations of Hornby DC

  • Locomotive speed & direction is controlled by varying the current to the track
  • You can only run one locomotive independently on one track
  • Hornby DC locomotives cannot run on a DCC enabled layout

Advantages of Hornby DCC

  • Each locomotive is controlled independently, at different speeds
  • You can operate more than one locomotive on the same track at the same time
  • Hornby DCC locomotives can run on a DC enabled layout

2 thoughts on “What is Hornby DCC ?”

  1. I don’t know anything about trains but you see very passionate about them! Your article makes me discover a whole new world related to trains. What I learnt about the Hornby DCC is that each locomotive can be controlled independently but there are still some limitations. Do you have any idea about the improvements that we can bring to make that happen? Thanks!

  2. Growing up I was always fascinated with trains and my brothers and I would spend hours building tracks in various ways to see different ways in which we could get the train to run. Now it is like an adult’s sport. Much more advanced, and one can even build out a whole landscape if you have the room to spare. Even the DDC is a new word that I have learned today, but I am surprised that you can only run one train on it or two at the same speed if I understand correctly.


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