Articles - Tsunami Decoder Programming
03/18/2014
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To be able to program the Soundtraxx Tsunami sound decoders, a basic Digitrax setup just won't do. The Digitrax Command Station doesn't provide enough power at its programming terminals to be able to correctly communicate with the decoder. The reason why Digitrax did that was because if you apply full power to the programming track and you accidentally caused an electrical short in your decoder installation, the decoder may get permanently damaged. To prevent that from happening, the Digitrax Command Station provides lower power at its programming terminals, but that is not enough for the Soundtraxx Tsunamis.

The photo below is of the Soundtraxx PTB-100, which is a programming track booster. It is specifically designed to be used for programming sound decoders, however, non-sound decoders can be programmed with it as well. It increases the power to the programming tracks, but it has extra protection built-in to prevent a decoder from being blown up if it was installed with an electrical short.

The instructions that come with the unit are pretty easy to follow. Simply install it in between the programming terminals of the command station and the programming track. The LEDs on the board indicate these states:
- green slow blink: place engine on track.
- green on: power to track, being programmed (don't place/remove engine on track).
- yellow blink: programming accepted.
- red slow blink: short-circuit (remove engine 20 sec. to reset).
- red fast blink: power supply is not providing at least 14VDC.
Tsunami Decoder Programming
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Once you have the PTB-100 installed, you can use the Digitrax DT400 (or whatever throttle and system you use) to program the individual configuration variables (CVs) of the decoder. For the basic CVs that control the decoder's number (usually the engine's number) that is pretty easy to do, but with today's sound decoders that becomes overwhelming. It is much better and easier to do that with your computer and some software.

To be able to have the computer talk to your command station (to send it the programming commands to the decoder), you need a piece of hardware. RR-CirKits has been manufacturing a product called "LocoBuffer" for several years now. This piece of hardware makes it possible to establish communications between a computer and the DCC command station.
Tsunami Decoder Programming
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I bought their Locobuffer USB package, because most modern computers now use USB for externally connecting devices. The package comes with the LocoBuffer device (the grey plastic box), a RJ-12 6-wire telephone cable, a 3-foot USB 2.0 cable, and a CD-ROM containing the device driver for the various supported computer operating systems and the JMRI and RR&Co software (demo version only). This large collection of parts is shown in the photo. Initially my laptop had Windows Vista Home Premium 64bit installed on it, so I needed to download the drivers from the RR-CirKits web site, because Vista didn't like the ones provided on the CD-ROM. The screenshots shown on the RR-CirKits' web site are pretty accurate and very helpful in getting you started. Installing the drivers was fairly straight-forward once I had them downloaded from their web site. When I upgraded my laptop to Windows 7, I needed to download the drivers for that OS, also provided by RR-CirKits. To actually communicate with the layout and its attached decoders, you will need to download the free JMRI (Java Model Railroad Interface) software package. This will also install DecoderPro (used to program decoders) and PanelPro (used to control turnouts, support operations, etc. on the layout). Again, these are available on the CD-ROM, but if you have an Internet connection, it is much better to download the latest version from the web site rather than some, potentially, outdated version on the CD-ROM. I presume that the CD-ROM was provided for those who do not have an Internet connection.
Tsunami Decoder Programming
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The most convenient way I have found to program my engines' decoders is to have a dual-purpose section of track on the layout. The idea is to flip a switch to connect this section of track to your normal track power, and flip the switch in the other direction to have it be connected to the programming system. The diagram below shows the schematic of my entire set-up.

The switch is the central component in this design. Connect its center contacts to the isolated section of track. Note that if you are going to use a separate, dedicated programming-only track, you do not need this switch.

Connect the yellow wires of the Soundtraxx PTB-100 to the programming output terminals of the DCC Command Station. Connect the orange output wires of the PTB-100 to one set of contacts of the toggle switch.

Connect the DCC Command Station's normal track power terminals to the rest of the layout and to the other contacts of the toggle switch (the light green/cyan lines in my schematic).

Connect the LocoBuffer USB to the DCC Command Station using the supplied LocoNet "telephone" cable (it will use up one of the connections on the command station). Then, connect the LocoBuffer USB to an available USB port on your desktop or laptop computer using the supplied USB cable (note the two different plug styles on the cable). The first time you do this, your computer will be triggered to install the necessary drivers and software. Be sure to read the RR-CirKits instructions, because you do not want to let Windows do the default installation.

Power up your system, and set the toggle switch such that it is connecting the isolated section of track to the normal track power output of the command station. Run an engine onto the track to verify that that feature works. Make sure all of the wheels of the engine are in the isolated section of track, making no contact with the rest of the track of your layout. Make sure that this section of isolated track is longer than your longest engine, and give it a couple of extra inches on either side. This is because as the decoder is programmed, it briefly moves the engine to acknowledge the writing of the decoder's CVs. If you make the track too short, the engine could creep over the insulating gap causing problems.

To program the decoder in the engine, flip the toggle switch in the other position, start up Decoder Pro on your computer, and have it identify or detect the decoder on the track. Check the PTB-100's LEDs to see if there is a problem. Also check the LocoBuffer's LEDs to see if all is OK (see its documentation for what the LEDs mean). Note that when you install the LocoBuffer's software driver, it installs a "LocoNet Checker" setup program. Find that sub-directory, and double-click its setup.exe file to launch the installation program. This program provides some diagnostics as it attempts to communicate with your command station. If your setup works, you should be able to program your engine's decoder using DecoderPro. Once you have programmed it, flip the toggle switch and try out the new programming.
Tsunami Decoder Programming
This photo shows the construction of the programming track on my current S-scale layout. I laid the regular track up to the point of where the insulated section of track was to be on this spur. I had previously marked off on the edge of the sub-roadbed where the programming track was to be, because I wanted to remember to stop laying the track at that spot.
Tsunami Decoder Programming
I cut two small 0.020" styrene pieces and superglued them to the end of the rails (if you look closely you can see them). If you use rail joiners, you can just use insulated rail joiners (I don't use rail joiners on my home layout). Next, I did my normal track laying step to get the two rails in place. The photo shows these two rails ready to be installed. I used a different color feeder wire so as to distinguish these from the other feeders.
Tsunami Decoder Programming
After the rails were installed, I trimmed the styrene pieces to match the rail profile and painted them. I temporarily connected the red wires to the DCC bus so that I could test the new track. I then went and built a utility panel that houses the programming-or-track switch to which these red wires are connected. That utility panel is the user interface to my system, set up just like the diagram above shows. The photo below shows an engine testing the programming track. It is now trivial to drive the engine onto the programming track, flip a switch, do the programming, flip the switch back, and I'm up and running again. Never touching the engine. Connecting my laptop to the DCC system is trivial too, with my new utility panel. DecoderPro makes it easy to program the decoder. I did have to use the online manual for DecoderPro, because the application is not intuitive to use unless you've been working with it for a while. So far I have used my set-up to successfully program Digitrax DZ121, DZ142, and DZ143 decoders, as well as Soundtraxx Tsunami and older DSD decoders.
Tsunami Decoder Programming
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Update: As you may have read elsewhere on my web site, I have switched to using Neil Stanton's S-CAB system for my engine controls. I also am using his battery power solution. My Digitrax DCC system therefore then became surplus. I decided to move the whole system onto a single board that allows me to still program decoders for club members. This board holds all the components discussed above. They are all held onto the board with industrial-strength, thick double-sided tape. This makes them removable should the need arise, yet they are firmly planted for now. All that is needed to program decoders is right here. There is a wall plug for connecting the power supply, and a USB plug for connecting the Locobuffer to my laptop (both are dangling off the board). Using this set-up I can program CVs using the throttle (no computer required, but more tedious), or I can connect a computer with DecoderPro installed and use that via the LocoBuffer USB device (more cumbersome to set up, but easier to program, especially for sound decoders).
Tsunami Decoder Programming
This view shows the Soundtraxx PTB-100 hooked-up to the rest of the components. Its yellow wires are routed to the Digitrax command station's programming output terminals. The black wires are connected to the 15-volt power supply, which also powers the Digitrax command station. The orange wires connect the PTB-100 to the programming track. I built this board set-up so that I can take it with me to train shows to help program other club members' DCC-equipped engines.
Tsunami Decoder Programming
Programming Board version 2 I decided to expand this board's functionality. First, I wanted to add a switch that allows me to select whether the track is powered by the programmer (which is what the version above did) or the normal track power. This was accomplished via the slide switch to the right of my hand in the photo below. Second, I wanted to have a set up to where I could test and program a decoder all by itself (i.e. before installing it in an engine).
Tsunami Decoder Programming
This next photo shows a close-up of the slide switch. Similar to the toggle switch I mention in the diagram above, this slide switch allows me to select whether the decoder connected to the rails is being programmed or if it receives normal track power. With the switch to the right (in the photo), the two pieces of rail are directly connected to the Rail A and Rail B terminals on the Digitrax Command Station. This allows me to run the engine back and forth on this 2-foot section of track, to briefly test any programming changes I have made to the decoder.

If the switch is flipped to the left, the track is connected to the orange output wires of the PTB-100, and thus able to be programmed. I can then program the engine via the hand throttle (which would be plugged into the B slot on the command station), or via the LocoBuffer USB, which would be connected to the computer.
Tsunami Decoder Programming
As I mentioned, sometimes is good to be able to test a decoder before it is installed in an engine. As an example, I have an old Digitrax DZ143 here that I have removed from an N-scale engine. I wanted to see if it still worked (it did!), and to be able to re-program it. When you test or program a decoder all by itself, you will need to attach a load to the output leads. Usually that is in the form of a motor. I had this left-over motor that I connected to some leads, which in turn are connected to a barrier strip. The three blocks of wood are there to keep the motor in place, since there is no mounting bracket on the motor. I also want to be able to test the headlight and back-up light functions of the decoder, so I installed two LEDs (green for front, red for back), each connected to a 1K ohm resistor. A black wire connects the common lead for the LEDs to the decoder's blue wire. The other leads of the LEDs connect to the white and yellow wires of the decoder. The decoder gets its power and signal from the two rails via the barrier strip on the right. There's a mess of wires around the decoder, but it is rather straightforward to connect a decoder to test it. I marked on the board which decoder wire colors need to be connected where.

So, with this setup I can program a decoder by itself, or I can program a decoder installed in an engine.
Tsunami Decoder Programming