I have to admit that I remain pretty impressed of the work done by the guys (and ladies) over at Miniatur Wunderland, and it should therefore come as no surprise that I make an effort (during each visit) to learn more.. and Yes, I did fondle (verb: to stroke or caress lovingly) one or two vehicles the first time I visited Hamburg in 2007.. and yes it was with permission 🙂
Have a look at my GETTING STARTED WITH VEHICLE SYSTEMS 101 Article for quick introduction to car-systems.
This article is not about them, but to put model car systems into perspective I simply have to start this section by telling you to have a look at them for inspiration..
So in short- although there are others who claim to have the largest layouts in the world- Miniatur Wunderland (MiWuLa) is without any doubt the most-detailed of all model railways (and the only one sporting a fully operational harbour and airport attraction) in the world! The railway is located in the historic Speicherstadt district, Hamburg, Germany.
Fair Warning: Once your eyes have feasted on the pleasure of seemingly random moving, running, flashing, hooting, honking, braking and speeding miniature vehicles.. there’s no turning back!
Although originally based on the Faller Car System, the system in use by Miniatur Wunderland today, uses proprietary technologies inclusive of Software, Hardware and vehicle processors, and while Gerrit Braun shares a lot of tips via his “Gerrits Tagebuch” blog, the technology is pretty much in-house and proprietary.
All vehicles are able to check their right of way, stick to the “drive at right or left”-rule on the highway, stop at closed crossing gates, obey traffic lights, grant the right of way to fire engines with horn and lights on, and stop at pedestrian crossings. If stuck in a jam, they also let a car from a side street sneak in, and they also wait patiently behind trash trucks with frequent stops. There are also rowdies that race the street, get caught in a radar trap and shortly after that have to make an involuntary stop at the policeman’s stop sign. Buses make scheduled stops and at night all vehicles switch on their headlights. At dawn, the headlights are switched off again.
Do yourself a favor and watch one of the many Miniatur Wunderland videos (or even better, book your next vacation to Europe..) to experience the ultimate in train ship and vehicle control – your mind will run wild!
Back to the Article:-
The purpose of this article is to provide an introduction to available systems as well as offer some tips to get you started.
Based on extensive research and personal use of each of the available systems, I have found the following CAR Systems to be viable.
- Faller Car System & Faller Satellite System (v3.0)
- Tomytec Bus System
- BiDIB System
- Dynamo MCC
Obviously each system offers a slightly different approach/solution to essentially the same desired outcome.
Essentially every vehicle will consist of a motor, battery, steering mechanism, lights, control logic
While each component is discussed in detail in other related Articles, for the purpose of this article I want to highlight two sub-systems that ultimately make a CAR System functional.
Most vehicles use a magnet attached to the vehicle to follow some form of guide wire on the road surface.
The vehicle in essence just follows the guide wires with logic being handled by other (internal and/or external components)
- Vehicle Logic
Vehicles can either have very basic logic circuitry (ie Tomytec buses only support start/stop and low/high speed functions), or have onboard processors (CPU’s) that offer advanced functionality (ie DC-CAR, Open Car) that can control lights, sound and even routes.
Vehicles that offer advanced functions, typically require some form of control technology, that sends commands to/from a central command station (which can be a pc running software, or standalone electronic command station with built in functions).
Vehicles can react based on the commands received from other vehicles, form command stations, and can also send control and/or feedback status back to command stations.
The following technologies are used to send/receive commands to/from vehicles:
-Infra red (most common)
-Radio (in production)
-Ultrasonic & Wireless (in production – Faller System V3)
Notes & Recommendations:
- My No 1 recommendation is to start with a basic Faller-type road system and one or two test vehicles.
Tomytec’s busses work well on the faller road system, are reasonably cheap, and will have you running some vehicles at a fraction of the cost of any of the other vehicle systems!
It is important to think about, and design your road system with bus/vehicle Stops, junctions and turnouts in mind.. the last thing you want is to break up and re-do your roads at a later stage..
One your road system is working, and you are happy with the design, you can start investing in electronic control circuits.
- While the Faller system is certainly the most well known car system, it lacks in a number of areas, with “out of stock” inventory and limited automation modules probably being their biggest drawback. I might be wrong, but I have a strong suspicion that Faller sells the bulk of its inventory to Miniatur Wunderland, thus not really caring about the rest of the market (for now).
- Faller’s V3 car system promises a level of control not previously available. however it looks like it is limited to HO for now.
- The Dynamo MCC system is functional, but I have found it difficult to source components outside of Europe. Your miles may vary. The DMCC Car system works with Faller vehicles.
- Open Car, based on open source hardware/software is work in progress with functional modules available. Very promising, but currently lacks some commercial.
Here’s a brief introduction to each system:-
Anyone who’s been involved in model railroading for any length of time has probably heard of the Faller Car System, a set of motorized road vehicles and related accessories. Vehicles and accessories are available in HO and N-scale (1:160).
The Faller system is based on vehicles with rechargeable batteries and the use of electromagnets to make the vehicles stop or turn at traffic lights, intersection, etc.
Sadly there are not a lot of N-Scale vehicles available at this point in time due to limitations in miniaturation.
HO modellers will be happy to learn that the selection of HO vehicles is considerably more, although availability outside of Europe remains a problem.
Be warned though, building a fleet will demand quite an investment as vehicles don’t come cheap. New models easily command price tags of over $100, while a typical N Scale Faller vehicle fitted with a DC decoder can easily come in at $250.
The Faller system was the first one to introduce independent vehicle movement (speed is determined by vehicle, while following the road by means of a ferrous wire in the road surface). A magnet on the steering mechanism ensures that the car follows the guide wire hidden under the road surface.
Each vehicle is fitted with a rechargeable battery, and the vehicles can be influenced externally with the use of “Reed” switches. A reed switch has one or more contacts that are closed/opened by a magnet (magnetic field). For better control, electromagnets are used instead of permanent magnets.
Thus using electromagnetic coils (placed at strategic points under the road survface), it becomes possible for the vehicles to be stopped at say athe place where these, so called. stop coil, is built. In addition, the FCS vehicles, of course, equipped with an on/off switch.
Faller as well as other companies now also provide laser cut street templates that can be used to quickly assemble roads.
Made in Japan (not China)..
Tomytec is the largest toy manufacturer in Japan (yes bigger than Kato- although Kato is more well known in the rest of the world due to their better international marketing and distribution strategies), and releases some very nice trains, buildings, vehicles, accessories and trams (to name but a few lines) that will certainly add visual as well as fun-value to any modelers collection. ..a typical Tomy catalog easily exceeds 700 pages!
While certainly not “German” Quality, the large range and affordable prices has firmly established Tomytec as the market leader in Japan – and let us not forget the size of the Japanese market..
Around 2011, Tomytec, introduced a very similar system to the Faller Car System (possibly licensing some of Faller’s technology), but with a much lower price tag.
There are basically two significant difference between Tomytek and Faller, the one being the road construction (tomytec ships with scalextrics type road pieces with the guide wire pre-installed) and the other difference being the batteries used. (Tomytec uses disposable batteries (longer-lasting, but not rechargeable) and permanent magnets for controls).
Building a fleet of busses is quite doable as a large range of bus bodies (sold through Tomytec’s Bus Collection ranges) are readily available and these can be readily/easily motorized using Tomix’s motor kits that have been purpose designed for this exact use.
The bus itself has only one control, a push-button on the underside to start and stop the motor. With the motor running, the magnet attached to the front wheels will cause the bus to follow the metal wire under the roadway.
Note: Wire sold for the Faller system works on the same principal, and can almost certainly be used if you wanted to make your own roads instead of using the Tomytec road segments. (although as noted in this article, the magnet strength is different so you likely can’t mix the two kinds of vehicles on one system without modifying the magnets and/or guidewire depth).
The Tomytec system includes two magnets that clip to the underside of the roadway. When placed to the right side of the middle of the road (as viewed from the perspective of the bus) these will cause the motor to change from low speed to high speed or vice versa (although the two aren’t substantially different, they are different enough to be noticeable).
There are two more magnets used in the bus stop. When placed under the center of the path of the bus, the long magnet (a permanent part of the bus stop) causes the bus to come to a stop until the magnet is removed (by pushing it to one side with a lever). However, if the second magnet is clipped to the bus stop, placing it under the center of the bus as the bus approaches the stop, the bus will stop over the long magnet, but restart on it’s own 7 seconds later (some documents say 10 seconds; mine stops for 7).
Because the bus always follows the wire, and the wire is in a fixed position under the bus stop, the bus will always pull into the bus stop, even if the lever is set to “go” (which moves the magnet out from under the route of the bus, preventing it from stopping the bus). This looks a little un-prototypical, but works.
Buses are also sold in starter sets.
When first released, only a single starter set was available, called the Moving Bus System Basic Set A. This set includes eight 70mm straight segments (3 of which are marked for a bus stop), and six each curves of 103mm and 140mm radius, which can form a very basic single-lane oval. By combining multiple starter sets, the modeller could easily create a basic bus route.
The road is comprised of multiple pieces that clip together
Here the “guide wire” can be seen. notice that you can move or add guide wire
Combining the Tomytec Bus System and the Tomix Tram
The modular street segments of the Tomytec Bus System are designed to work with Tomix (a Tomytec brand) Wide Tram tracks, thus allowing the creation of streets containing light-rail track and moving vehicles.
I have compiled a number of articles on tram converstions, you can Read more about creating a tram system here.
Tomix wide tram track – notice it uses the same design as the Tomytec Bus System
Advantage of the Tomytec/Tomix System
- Roads and Tramway can easily be installed using the standard road/track segments, without the need to embed track and guidewire in plaster, or hand-make the same with sheet styrene as per the faller methods.
- Cost Effective
- Large range of busses
- Although more limited than the Faller vehicle system, as an accent to a carefully-planned scene on a layout, or a diorama, the Tomytec bus sytem can cost-effectivly introduce moving vehicles to any layout.
Disadvantage of the Tomytec/Tomix System
- A bus alone, moving on a road with otherwise stationary vehicles is going to look out of place. Tomytec needs to introduce more vehicles (including cars
- Limited road segments
- Some more sophisticated control systems (e.g, traffic lights with electromagnetic stop controls like Faller’s) would also be useful.
The DC-CAR system has quite a following with the company saying they have sold over 14 000 decoders (1 decoder = 1 vehicle). The Company has developed a nice solution with add on components to grow your layout.
Of the different car-systems currently available, this system (currently) gives the modeler the most choices when it comes to custom vehicles, vehicle decoders, vehicle control, traffic control, I dare say Faller needs to wake up!
Essentially the DC-CAR system allows you to operate as many cars as you want.. I would however caution on this, as yes, in theory you can have as many cars as you want , but the moment you add computer control with feedback, the “unlimited” quickly turns into an more realistic 100 – 200 vehicles, as you simply won’t have enough processing power.
(This obviously also largely depends on the amount of control logic that needs to be processed)
Some of the typical features included:
- The cars can intelligently drive independently without any control from the outside
- Acceleration, deceleration and spacing is managed by each car (regulated by the built-in DC car decoder)
- There are many possibilities for controlling the vehicles
- The DC Car decoder has quite a few options
The Dinamo/MCC is a system to control speed, lights and other functions of model cars in a very realistic way. With Dinamo/MCC every car is equipped with an addressable decoder. The decoder controls motor, lights and other functions of the car. The cars are under full command of a PC, which receives position-feedbacks from the road and uses that information to guide the cars.
Steering the cars is done indentically to the “standard” solution: with FCS by a steel-wire in the road-surface which is followed by a small magnet in the car’s steering mechanism. In stead of steel wire, one can also use magnetic strip in the road surface.
Since cars have (rubber) tires, there is no electrical contact between road and car. This has two consequences: The car needs to take it’s own “fuel”, usually being a rechargable battery. Also there is no way to communicate with the car through “wires”, so communication has to be wireless.
The Open Car System is a private open source project, which deals with the radio control of model cars according to the principle of the Faller Car System©. The control is with a digital DCC signal directly from the track by the BiDiB (which is an alternative model bus system), by a Xpressnet speed controller as an autonomous solution possible.
This system is somewhat comparable to the DC-CAR System as well as Karsten Hanafy’s infracar. The main aim of the OpenCar system is to develop a comparable system but with a low price tag and an open architecture (freely accessible system parameters) based on Open Source licensing.
The downside to the current design is that limited of-the-shelf products are available – and this means the average modeler will have a difficult time assembling a working system.
At the time of updating this article (Aug 2017) there was only one web-based shop selling some components of the system. Keep in mind that this is work in progress and that the point of using open source is to allow contribution by anyone – and not necessarily a company with profits in mind (it doesn’t mean that someone cannot make some money..)
So because the project is not driven by a commercial interest, it does mean that you will probably have to tinker a bit to get your car system up and running smoothly.
As already mentioned, the OpenCar system is developed around the BiDiB protocol (BiDiB® is short for BiDirectional Bus) and its developers claim that its becoming the standard bus for computer based model railway control.
Note: Keep in mind that while the BiDiB protocol is promising and exciting , in order to become the “new standard bus for model railroading” it has to be adopted by the industry, be standards compliant, be available, be supported, be preferred by customers world-wide.. a tall order indeed! Unless the protocol is adopted by the major manufacturers (currently only a handful of smaller players have signed up), this protocol might well end up being just another competing technology.. nonetheless, I am excited !
The name BiDiB stands for the protocol itself and this can be implemented in many different physical connections like Ethernet, USB or BiDiBus which is designed especially to address some of the critical requirements needed for large layouts.
A quick note about Software Support for your Vehicle system..
While basic systems like the Faller Car System is a closed system, meaning that the vehicles drive, stop, go by themselves with little to no intelligence, many modellers end up looking at alternative ways of controlling the vehicles and eventually move on to computer controlled automation..
Popular Software in use today include:
- +Street by Freiwald expands TrainController™ with features and functions that go beyond pure model railroad computer and which are useful for the control of autos.
- iCar iTrain offers an easy to use and also brand new solution to control your model cars with your computer
- Rocrail ® is a free software for the control of model railways and car systems
- Win-Digipet The control program for digital model railways!
Ok, so hopefully this article will inspire you to want to add some moving vehicles to your layout !
Article Credit: Stéfan