NCE Power Cab DCC Train Controller System Review

Model train set
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The NCE Power Cab is Northcoast Engineering's offering for the entry-level DCC (Digital Command Control) market. What sets the Power Cab apart from its competition is the way it has been designed to grow.

If you have ever used any of NCE's other DCC systems, the Power Cab is going to look very familiar. In your hand, it is exactly like the ProCab used with all other NCE systems. The difference is you aren't just holding the cab, but the entire DCC system; cab, command station and booster!

Best of all, attached to another NCE layout, the Power Cab can be used as a regular ProCab without any interference.

Features

The Power Cab is marketed as a starter system, and it is competitively priced with other "basic" systems on the market. Part of the attraction of the Power Cab, however, is that it has nearly all of the features you'd get with a larger Powerhouse Pro system for a fraction of the cost.

MSRP on the Power Cab is $199.95. Look at all you get for that:

  • 2 Amp DCC System will run 2-3 HO trains or up to 4 N scale trains
  • Complete installation includes the cab, PCP power panel, power supply, two cords and a complete instruction manual
  • Supports all of the standard NCE options including:
    • 2 or 4 digit addressing
    • advanced consisting
    • available USB interface for networking with computers (separate addition)
    • momentum controls
    • programming on a separate program track or on the main
    • easy operation of stationary decoders and much much more
  • Easy to expand: add one additional cab now, add more cabs with the addition of a larger booster. With the right accessories, this can become the heart of a system handling up to 60 throttles!
  • Use the Power Cab as a deluxe ProCab on another NCE layout

One advantage of all of NCE's products is the user-friendly controls.

People who have never run a model train before can pick up an NCE cab and run like a pro in minutes. Everything is very intuitive. The digital read-out on the cab walks you through every process, from selecting a locomotive to consisting, to programming.

With its easy-to-understand operation and installation and ability to grow to almost any capacity, the Power Cab is a really good choice for someone just getting started.

Installation

This cab was purchased for use on the Denver and the Rio Grande Project Layout. You can see complete instructions on how the Power Cab was installed on that layout.

Installation really couldn't be any easier.

  1. Install the PCP plugin on the fascia
  2. Attach two wires to the track
  3. Plug in the power supply
  4. Plug in the cab
  5. Run trains

From start to finish, installation takes only a few minutes and requires only basic tools. No advanced electrical or DCC experience is required.

Operations

Operations with the Power Cab are very intuitive. Most of the buttons on the cab are self-explanatory. The instructions included cover everything from operations to programming.

Without going into great detail, here is an example of just how easy it is to use this system. Let's select and run a locomotive:

  1. Choose the locomotive you want to run. This system can recognize up to 9,999 unique addresses.
  2. Press the "Select Loco" button and then the numbers of the address (most model railroaders program the address to match the road number.)
  3. Press "Enter."

That's it! Use the thumbwheel or the push-buttons to control the train speed. Horn, bell and other functions are easy to find.

Although the processes are more advanced, consisting locomotives and even programming are just as logical and easy to follow.

With its recall function, up to six different locomotives or consists can be remembered in the cab. You can scroll through these addresses without having to retype the number. For many small layouts, this may be all you ever need.

Expansion

The real beauty of the Power Cab is how easy it is to grow. As is, you can add an additional standard cab to the system to control more trains or add a second operator.

These cabs are sold separately. The add-on cabs can not do programming or create a consist, but they can do all of the other functions needed to run a train or work stationary decoders.

If your railroad continues to grow, there are add-on options available to make your Power Cab more robust. Additional boosters, radio components, cabs and more can be added to expand this into a very impressive system.

One very nice feature of this system is that the Power Cab can be used as a ProCab on another layout with an NCE system (assuming the cab address is not duplicated.) So you can take your cab to a club or friend's layout for an operating session. It was a big reason for deciding on this system for the Rio Grande. Once completed, the project layout will be used a few times a year at shows and clinics. The rest of the time, the cab won't go to waste - it will go to work on my other layout.

The only real limitation of the Power Cab is the lack of a radio option for the cab itself. You can add radio transmitters and an additional cab with radio.

If you have your mind set on building a large system that will require multiple boosters, cabs and the like, then the standard NCE system is a great way to go. But at less than half the cost of a PH Pro starter system, the Power Cab is a wise investment if you don't think you'll ever get to that big layout - or if you know you at least won't get there for several years.