Portable/low cost/compact DCC Systems

Portable System

I wanted to make a small portable system, so when visiting friends or doing a show and tell on a loco, I did not have to haul my 10 amp NCE system or my expensive Zimo system.

NCE makes a low power DCC system where the throttle, the command station and the booster are all built into the outline of a traditional throttle, called the PowerCab:

Power Cab Throttle

Note that this system is about 13 volts DCC and 2 amps. You cannot run large locos and you cannot run fast.

Note that the monochrome LCD display is the absolute best in sunlight. The brighter the sun, the easier to see, the opposite of a color display or a cell phone.

So all it took was to package the connector plate in a small box (I found these at the Michaels craft store):



 I decided to build a small, portable DCC system, which would have the following uses:

  • small and self-contained to bring to club meetings and friend's housesP1010907

I even blocked off the other socket, which can support another wired throttle.

The back side has the power connector and the connector to the tracks:


That's it, just about the smallest portable DCC system, and inexpensive (about $165 for the PowerCab), and the NCE system can program ANY DCC decoder, one of the best and most capable systems out there.


Full Blown Portable system:

Next I wanted something more capable:

    • capable of G scale voltages and current
    • fully featured system for programming
    • works in sunlight
    • have JMRI capability

I also thought it would be fun to make it inexpensive, since there are so many old wives tales about the cost, especially vs. battery R/C.

First, instead of buying a already configured 5 amp system, I figured I would start with a lower powered, but high functioning system, add an inexpensive booster, and an inexpensive laptop for JMRI. Since I already know the cheapest full featured DCC system with a purpose Built throttle was the NCE PowerCab system, I could have a rough idea of the volume necessary.

So, I then looked for a small portable case that could house everything, and was inexpensive. The plastic carrying cases can be almost $200, and I won't be leaving it in the rain. Then I came up with a small flight bag. Looking around a bit, I found a smaller version, called a "Pilot's Carry-On Case", and I got mine on sale for about $17 at Walmart, great!


 It's pretty small, 18" x 13" x 6", very compact and light, the outer zippered compartments can hold an extension cord/manuals.

Inside I have everything needed:

Top right is the inexpensive laptop ~100 running windows 10, and just to the left of it is a 4 port USB hub

The white box is a $35 wifi router, which is connected a Ethernet<>USB adapter, you can see the adapter plugged into the router and the USB hub.

Also in the hub is the USB connector to the NCE USB adapter. Together all this gives JMRI complete control of the NCE system, and the wifi router allows you to use the free apps for Android and iPhone and JMRI for wireless throttles.


The lower components, from right to left are the NCE PowerCab, it's "interface box, and a $50 Tam Valley 5 amp booster. The PowerCab itself will put out 2 amps and about 12 volts DCC, you can see the JST connectors and the LGB track power clips, so you can hook up either the lower voltage/power system, or "cut in" the 5 amp booster for G scale.



The level under the laptop has the power supplies and NCE USB interface. The top power supply puts out about 20v & 5 amps for the Tam Valley 5 amp booster. The lower power supply is the NCE power supply for the PowerCab, which is about 2 amps and 12 volts.

The NCE interface lets the laptop and JMRI control the DCC system, and again, JMRI also includes "wireless server" software that runs over the WiFi and lets you use free apps on your cell phone.

For those not familiar with JMRI, it is free, and has throttles, the WiFi support for cell phones, an extensive database of thousands of decoders, and provides a great GUI for programming, and a database for your locos and decoders, so you can store and retrieve all your customized DCC settings.

With the remaining USB ports and the laptop, programmers for decoders, like Phoenix, Zimo, ESU, Massoth, etc. can be supported by just plugging in.




More compact and even less expensive DCC system:

In February 2020, a new single board to support the wifi server function of JMRI has been announced available by NCE, the WifiTrax board. WifiTrax is an independent company making many more WiFi based products, but here I am mentioning just the single board that has the WiFi and the "interpreter" to interface with 4 popular cell phone apps and the NCE cab bus.

WFD 30 V1 570x585


This board only needs to be connected to the PowerCab system, since the WiFi is on board. I ordered one early May, will report back soon.

So, a minimal system is:

  • the PowerCab
  • A Tam Valley 5 amp booster (or any other booster)
  • the WifiTrax board above

So, total $320 for a system that supports up to 4 cell phones as throttles plus the PowerCab itself.


Lots of possibilities here, and I will make a page highlighting WifiTrax' other products.

Here is their web site: http://www.wifitrax.com/