Tam Valley Depot 5-amp booster

5-amp (peak) DCC Booster
Tam Valley Depot
4541 Hidalgo Ave.
San Diego CA 92117
Price: $54.95
Website: www.tamvalleydepot.com

Five-amp DCC booster; can be used with traditional track-powered DCC systems or in wireless, battery-powered DCC environments. Dimensions: 3" x 21/2" x 1/2"

Pros: Works with the DCC output of any compatible DCC-command system or wireless DCC receiver
Cons: Three-amp continuous rating may be low for typical large scale, track-powered DCC railroads running multiple locomotives
I have reviewed two wireless receivers designed to run generic DCC decoders in an onboard, battery-powered environment. The Airwire Convertr (Feb. 2014 GR) is designed for low-current applications but you can use any of the 17 available Airwire frequencies to communicate with it from the Airwire transmitter. The Tam Valley Depot DRS-1 receiver (Oct. 2015 GR) is a higher-current unit but is limited to only one Airwire frequency. The latter is actually a combination of two Tam Valley Depot products; their wireless DCC receiver and their five-amp booster. What would happen if I took their five-amp booster and connected it to the Airwire Convertr? That would give me the same higher-current capacity as the DRS-1 but allow me to use all of the Airwire frequencies.

I bounced this combination off the manufacturer, who agreed that it would work and told me how to wire things up. I was doing a battery installation on a friend’s LGB Forney already equipped with a DCC decoder. He wanted a generic battery car that could be used to power this (or any) decoder-equipped locomotive via a simple two-wire connector. He uses Airwire’s controllers so this was a great chance to try this combination.

In the DCC world, a “booster” is essentially an amplifier. It takes the DCC signal from a command station and combines it with an external power supply to provide power to the rails. This particular booster is rated at three amps continuous operation, and can handle up to five amps, with circuit protection that trips at 5.6 amps, according to the literature.

You would usually use a booster to power a specific block of track. A three-amp continuous rating is probably a little low for most large scale, track-powered DCC applications, where 10 amps is more the norm for booster outputs to block of track. However, this booster is well-suited for use in a wireless onboard environment, where it should be adequate for all but the most power-hungry locomotives. Compared to the receivers, the booster is fairly large—3" x 21/2" x 1/2"—but is still small enough to easily fit in most locomotives or a trailing car. It has three connections; DCC in, DCC out, and a coaxial DC power socket.

The power input must be DC. The manual recommends a voltage range between 12–18V, while the writing on the booster itself suggests a range from 9-24V. Voltage input is rated at 40V maximum, though this far exceeds the capacity of most DCC decoders, so you will want to make sure your input voltage to the booster is within the limits of the decoders it will be powering—typically less than 24V.

The DCC signal input can be anything from 5-24V. Note that this input voltage has no impact on the output voltage, which is isolated from the power coming from the power supply. The booster essentially reads the DCC signal coming in on the DCC input and applies it to the DC voltage coming from the power supply. The DCC output then goes to the rails (for traditional track-powered installations) or gets wired directly to the
decoder for on-board installations.

Installation of this board is simple. For use in a battery powered, wireless-DCC environment, all of the electronics are powered from the same battery, so the Tam Valley Depot booster and Airwire Convertr both take power from the 14.8V battery I’m using in the power car. I used a coaxial power plug to provide power to the booster, since it already had the socket wired in (size “M” on the plug). The center is positive. Next, I ran a pair of wires from the DCC output of the Convertr receiver to the DCC input of the booster. All that was needed was to run the DCC output of the booster forward to the decoder in the locomotive.

Once installed and tested, I took the locomotive and power car out for a proper shakedown. Because the booster just takes the output of the receiver and passes it to the decoder, there’s little to actually “test,” except to make sure it did what it was supposed to do regarding passing signals from the receiver to the decoder, which it did without issue. I could not get the locomotive to draw more than five amps, to test the circuit breaker on the board.

I think the primary use for this board for large-scale modelers will be in battery-powered applications. The question then becomes, when is it advantageous to use this board? The key strength of this booster is that it’s independent of specific transmitter/receiver technology. As long as the receiver outputs a DCC-compliant signal, this board will boost that signal to a level suitable for most large-scale locomotives. I think wireless, battery-powered DCC is an emerging field, and the lion’s share of the development will likely be in the smaller scales with lower current ratings. This board allows us large scalers to use that emerging technology without having to wait for manufacturers to make boards with high-current capacity just for us.


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