EVERYONE AT CLASSIC TOY TRAINS RUNS TRAINS DIFFERENTLY, and consequently our expectations for Lionel's new Legacy control system differed. Kent Johnson is Mr. Hi-Tech, always looking to improve his railroading experience with the latest gadgets. His home O gauge layout includes separately wired blocks, ample powered switches, and realistic operation.
Bob Keller is Mr. Lo-Tech - searching for the easiest way to enjoy trains with the minimal number of additional wired components and memorized keystrokes. His home layout doesn't have blocks or powered switches, and Bob seldom uses command control.
Two operators, two different approaches. To put it in a nutshell, both Bob and Kent were fairly pleased with the new control system.
The first phase of our testing could be summed up this way: Like kids on Christmas morning, we simply asked, "What can it do right out of the box?" Then we began a building-block approach, exploring the functions of Legacy and its connections to non-Legacy equipment.
We started by doing the last thing that any 20th-century male would do: We opened the manual. The manual is huge, and it was a tough read, although undoubtedly composed by someone intimately familiar with the system.
That wasn't necessarily a good thing. Why? The quick start segment didn't speed us to train fun, but instead led to quite a few rounds of page-flipping irritation.
Perhaps three starting points would have been appropriate: One for owners with Legacy locomotives at hand, another for owners with TMCC equipment at hand, and a third for everyone else. Although the instructions gave us a fair amount of frustration, the system won us over with ease. [Lionel has posted a revised manual, version 1.1, on their Web site www.lionel.com.]
The stand-alone Legacy system
The basic equipment package consists of the Legacy command base/charger, an antenna, a power supply, a bridge cable harness, and the CAB-2 handheld remote unit.
Hookup was simple. We connected its power source to charge the CAB-2 battery (it took about three hours) and connected the ground to our track.
On first (even second and third) glance, the CAB-2 looks like a prop from a 1950s science-fiction movie. It isn't as scary as it looks, although we found that bouncing back and forth between menus took some getting used to. Like most techo-things, the more you use it, the easier it is to operate.
For a detailed explanation of the major features of the remote, see the photo with callouts.
To get started, the first basic reference point is the LCD screen, which displays the menus you'll need to program and operate your trains.
The second most important feature is the keypad. The display on the LCD keys changes, depending on which menu you are in or what type of locomotive you're running. While we didn't have trouble reading the main LCD screen, the smaller keys could be a challenge to interpret clearly , especially in poor lighting.
The initial phase of our testing focused on what Legacy could do with TMCC-only locomotives.
Legacy and TMCC-equipped power
While Legacy's target audience is Legacy-equipped locomotion, Lionel also needed to accommodate a decade's worth of TMCC-equipped steam, diesel, and electric locomotives that populate the fleets of its customer base.
How well Legacy accomplishes this would be a deal-maker or deal-breaker for many operators.
The Legacy box comes with four small memory modules - two for system software and two generic modules for TMCC locomotives (one for TMCC diesels and the other for TMCC steam power). We went through the steps for loading several of each type - including diesel and steam power from Atlas O, Lionel, and Third Rail.
We needed a re-try or three before we became familiar with moving through the screen menus, but loading TMCC gear proved to be relatively straightforward.
Running a TMCC locomotive with Legacy does not turn that locomotive into a Legacy locomotive. It does, however, offer a high degree of compatibility with Legacy-equipped locomotion, and it has offers some improvement in TMCC locomotive performance.
To unlock all that Legacy has to offer, you'll need a Legacy-equipped locomotive.
Getting started in TMCC mode was complicated by just one thing: Based on our interpretation of some of the publicity and pre-release word of mouth, we wrongly expected a locomotive to respond to commands by its number when we loaded it with its module for the first time. Most locomotives are programmed as "engine 1," and that isn't changed, even after loading the generic TMCC module, and identifying the locomotive as, say, "no. 844."
We had to do the old-school TMCC number change with the TMCC and Legacy gear we loaded if we wanted to address the locomotives by a new number (between 1 and 99).
While there are many suggested improvements in TMCC performance cited by Legacy, the two that we viewed as most important are improved speed control and the Real Railroad Speeds "push-button" speed control option.
In Legacy-testing several TMCC-equipped locomotives built from 1997 through 2001, we noted less hesitation and balking and a tendency to respond to changes in the throttle more quickly. The older TMCC locomotives we used didn't experience a significant lowering of speeds (in fact, two actually had higher low speeds than when tested years back), but the changes for the better were enough to warrant a positive "huh" at the test track.
The most fun we experienced running older TMCC gear was in using Real Railroad Speeds. Simply press the buttons, and the locomotives speed up (or slow down) to the targeted speed and stay there. The only unsteadiness we noted was with our oldest TMCC diesel on the lowest speed settings - while going through O-54 curves.
We were easily able to operate several TMCC locomotives on the same track at the same time with the CAB-2. To toss something else into the mix, we could run TMCC, Legacy, and DCS power simultaneously (though using separate DCS controls).
Legacy control provides nice continuity between existing fleets of TMCC-equipped power and an expanding fleet of Legacy-equipped super-power. So we would have to say that operating your TMCC-equipped locomotives with Lionel's Legacy system is not difficult, and it will wring better performance from your old warhorses.
The Big Kahuna: Legacy and Legacy-equipped gear
Which is more important to a train operator: how a train sounds, or how it runs? The Legacy system coupled with Legacy-equipped locomotives may well deliver the best of both worlds.
The kicker is, you'll hear the locomotive before you see it do anything, and yes, you'll probably swoon when you hear it. More exciting train operation is just a bonus. It's sort of like winning the lottery and discovering that you won a new car, too.
The current version of RailSounds couples terrific sound packages that are mated with superb speakers. When we first powered up our Legacy-equipped Canadian Pacific GP30, shivers were in order. Like the first few seconds of the first time you watched Star Wars, you catch your breath and think, "This could be great."
And it is.
The most hubbub regarding the Legacy system has been what you can do with the locomotive horn or whistle. The inelegantly named Warning Sound Controller is a spring-loaded up-or-down lever. Push it up once and quickly release it, the bell rings once. Push it up and hold it briefly, the bell starts continuously. Push it up and hold it again, and the bell stops.
Unlike previous horn/whistle controls, Legacy lets you personalize your toots! Push the lever down for horn/whistle activation and you'll get a surprise. The whistle reacts to the length of time you hold it down. It is exceptionally more precise than other controls.
Overall, the locomotive sounds are terrific, and they can be enhanced by operation of the train brake slider (pull it down, and you hear the diesel labor; move it up, and the load lessens). Just like a real train with a heavy load that hits a grade, it revs up to get to the top and then eases back on the flat track.
You can also feel "feedback" by vibrations through the CAB-2. This is a bit weird, but it is a feature sure to amaze your friends.
So the locomotive sounds great, and the whistle will leave you in cold sweats. That's nice.
But what about running those trains?
Measuring and controlling speed
Legacy offers two criteria for managing locomotive speeds. Most hobbyists want to measure train speeds in scale miles per hour. Legacy does not provide this. What it does offer are two other forms of measurement.
The first method is speed steps (which appear on the CAB-2 screen). Simply put, speed steps are measurements from the lowest to the highest speed the model is capable of.
For example, if two locomotives had the same low- and high-end speeds, but one had, say, 50 steps between the two points, while the other had 150 steps between the two points, the latter would have demonstrably better (more precise) speed control.
The other method is what Lionel dubs "Real Railroad Speeds."
Press the "Speed" button on the controller. Speed options (arrow icons simulate those on the controller keys) that you have (as identified by arrows on the controller) are restricted: > 5 mph, Slow; >> 15 mph, Medium; >>> 30 mph, Limited; >>>> 45 mph, Normal; >>>>> 65, and Highball; >>>>>> Maximum locomotive speed.
Using either method, Legacy locomotive reaction was very good, but when running models with these speeds, our impression was that the speeds were higher than suggested.
This, however, might just be that pressing a button to reach a pre-determined speed is a bit too "hands off," unlike spinning a red knob, or moving a transformer's throttle.
A further speed function is "roll": Decelerate or accelerate at momentum speed to speed step one. The roll feature is neat, because the locomotive in effect coasts - accompanied by less-labored engine sounds.
Tweaking the momentum settings -changing the time it takes a locomotive to start or stop to either "forever" or "right now" - is an interesting way to run your trains.
The speed graph is a great visual element. A black target line indicates the speed you want your locomotive to go, while the gray bar is the speed that your locomotive is commanded.
The gray bar seeks to match the target line, moving at the preset momentum.
As the locomotive strives to reach the goal, the sounds labor accordingly. Very neat!
Select control icons
There are many screen icons covered in the manual. There are different sets for Legacy steamers and diesels, as well as TMCC-equipped locomotives.
All symbols trigger actions and introduce a new level of locomotive control over Lionel products. Here are some of the choices.
Touch-screen icons for addressing an engine (after startup the screen choices change to the control panel): 0 through 9 numbers, start-up, shut-down, cab light (on/off), and speed limit (to set a high-speed maximum).
At Rest - Volume (up/down), crew talk, water injector, RailSounds (shut-down/ blow down), TowerCom, smoke (on/off), and reset.
Underway - Same, plus emergency stop
Under Railroad Speeds - Speed icons, TowerCom, smoke (on/off), labor graph, and roll.
At stop: Volume (up/down), CrewTalk, RPPM (up/down), RailSounds shutdown, TowerCom, smoke (on/off), and reset.
Underway - Same, plus emergency stop
Under Railroad Speeds - Speed icons, TowerCom, smoke (on/off), labor graph, and roll.
At stop: Volume (up/down), Crew Talk, up arrow, down arrow, RailSounds shutdown, TowerCom, Master Minus, Master Plus, reset.
Underway: No RailSounds (on/off), add emergency stop.
Under Railroad speeds: Speed 1 through 5, Master Minus, Master Plus, TowerCom, Speed step 1
Lash-ups are easier than ever to accomplish. Pick a train number, press info, build, enter the ID number of the front engine, and then press add. The locomotive icon on the screen shifts to the right, and you can start adding the next locomotive.
When you're done, save the lash-up by pressing set and then CTC to exit to the operating screen.
Legacy locomotives have 200 speed steps available, while TMCC-equipped or upgraded power can have anywhere from 32 steps up. These locomotives (especially some with aftermarket speed controls) may require experimentation to find products with similar motor performance, so take a few minutes to sort through the pushers and the pullers in your fleet so you don't have two engines pushing a slower engine or a faster engine between two slower locomotives.
Running conventional trains
You cannot operate conventional (non-TMCC or non-Legacy) trains with the out-of-the-box Legacy system without using additional equipment.
According to a coversation we had with Lionel's Customer Service, if you want to run conventional engines with the Legacy controller, you would need to purchase either a TPC 300 (product no. 6-14189) or a TPC 400 (product no. 6-14179). If you currently have original TMCC-1 system PowerMasters to control your conventional engines you must use your original CAB-1 controller to run them. The original TMCC-1 Base is not necessary and can be eliminated from your layout.
A PowerMaster Bridge is currently under development to allow for Legacy operation of the PowerMasters but it will not be available until late in 2008.
And, of course, the Lionel catalog points out that conventional and command locomotives can't be operated on the same track at the same time (it's that pesky 18 volts of power running down the track). Still, if you run blocks, you can operate these differing locomotive types on the same layout, so don't sell your postwar gear yet!
Due to the differing proprietary natures of the Lionel and MTH control systems, Legacy cannot control MTH locomotives equipped with ProtoSound 2.0/DCS. However, locomotives equipped with these divergent command systems can function on the same track at the same time.
You can operate TMCC and Legacy-equipped locomotives with the Legacy base, and operate DCS locomotives with MTH's DCS system (or run Legacy's base independently from a joint hookup with DCS and TMCC). We successfully ran Legacy and DCS-equipped locomotives on the same track using a single power source for both Legacy and DCS.
Control of switches and accessories
While many hobbyists (even those already using TrainMaster) are inclined to operate their switches and accessories by using large control levers or button controls, Legacy allows you to use components you may already be using for switches and accessories and to control car activation track sections.
Depending on your layout, the components you may need include a Legacy command base to control a no. 22980 SC-2 switch and accessory controller (controls as many as 12 accessories or six switches), a no. 14182 accessory switch controller (controls as many as eight accessories or four switches) or a no. 14185 operating track controller.
Accessories are entered through the Accessory Options menu, where you name the accessory. After it has been loaded, just select the accessory and activate it with the CAB-2.
Switches are similarly managed. Enter the switch information and name via the switch options menu. To operate the switch, identify the switch to be opened and press Aux 1 (through) or Aux 2 (out) to activate it.
Random impressions from testing:
The variable whistle is as much evidence of the dynamic nature of the RailSounds system as it is the ability of the Legacy controller to maximize the function.
This feature gets two thumbs up
The only recurring oddity we noted was that occasionally - for no obvious reason - the handheld unit couldn't "find" the command base. You have two menu choices - retry or search. Save yourself a few seconds and hit "search." It always found a good channel in a moment or two.
Both of our legacy bases became inoperative for no obvious reason, and we needed to re-load the software.
Building lash-ups was fun. If making a train with a mix of TMCC and Legacy-equipped locomotives, place the TMCC locomotive in the lead. The Legacy locomotive will follow the lower speed-steps of the TMCC engine to better match its speed.
The bottom line:
If you have a fleet of conventional locomotives and no interest in upgrading to a command system, let's state the obvious and suggest you pass on Legacy.
If, on the other hand, you plan on acquiring a fleet of Legacy-equipped locomotives, don't hesitate to buy this rig. It will truly enhance your fun.
But the real marketplace battleground will be the operators who've been buying TMCC gear since the mid-1990s. If you have a fleet of TMCC locomotives, we think you may want to seriously consider Legacy. This will improve performance of the models to a degree. Hold out hope for an affordable TMCC-to-Legacy conversion board to maximize operation of older power. In the meantime, tasks like building lash-ups, running with the pre-determined Real Railroad Speeds, and adjustable momentum will make running older power more fun.