RailPro seems to be gaining a lot of traction in the large scale community. I’m sure this is partially due to the great support provided by several large scale specialist dealers - RCS of New England and RLD Hobbies. I’m coming up on my 1 year anniversary of using RailPro so I thought it might be a good time to share what I like and don’t like about RailPro. If you are a RailPro user I’d love to hear your opinions as well.
I’m the type who digs in and figures out all of the tweaks and settings of any system that I have used over the years. I know several of you are less technical and rely on your dealer to do the set-ups and in some cases the install. I’m interested in your opinions too!
For starters - Ease of Use is my number one like.
The learning curve, for me, was pretty shallow even though the documentation could be better. A good example of documentation problems is the accessory module AM-1S. The specifications are only on the web, the module documentation only covers hook-up. To find out how to code the logic you need to look in a second manual - the one for the file transfer/programming tool! Also, the specs say the unit is capable of a certain number of inputs and outputs, but in a different place it’s stated that current software doesn’t support all those inputs and outputs!
Even with shortcomings in the documentation, I found it quite easy to customize modules get them to do what I wanted, like custom sounds and light effects or logic programming for accessories.
In operation, the screens on the hand controller are very user friendly and logically laid out. Lights, horns, bells and other effects are buttons on the screen. It’s not too difficult to move buttons around to a layout that is logical to the way you operate. Speed control is via a nice large knob. Setting up a consist (MU in Ring Speak) is a simple series of button presses. No speed tables or requirements that locos run at the same speed. The system has two-way communication between locos and the hand controller and sill adjust loco speeds on the fly to properly match loading.
Ease of installation should be placed here as well. Since this is a single board system with motor, light and sound control all in one package, installation is a lot less complicated than multiple module systems. One accessory that Ring (or anyone else) could add to make install super easy would be a screw terminal adapter for the light/sound harness. High current connections (power, motors and voltage out) are already on screw terminals, but as delivered, lights and speaker need to be soldered to the provided plug ended harness.
Sound: Using a good speaker will reveal how good the sound really is. Great fidelity and dynamic range with plenty of power to make it loud if you wish. For diesels, the amperage controlled sound is very accurate. The only thing that the better DCC systems have over it are notch-up before move. This could be overcome by using manual notch up/down buttons if it is important to you. For steam users, the news isn’t that good. Until recently, steam sounds were amperage controlled as well which just doesn’t work well. Loco will chuff several times before starting to move and continue to chuff after stopping! Also, in high load situations like heavy grades, as the loco draws more current to maintain speed, the chuffs speed up! Ring partially addressed this in a recent upgrade to use the input wire as a chuff trigger. This solves the start-up issue, but after running at speed, the trigger is ignored on slow-down so you can still get a chuff or two after stopping. Personally I think chuff trigger should be all or nothing - no attempt to use software to try and smooth it out. As of today, the chuff input is only supported with the Heavy Steam ULT sound.
Bottom line on sound - I’d give Diesel 4.5 stars, but steam only 2 or 3. With a little work Ring could improve the steam sounds to be on par with Phoenix.
So now, for some dislikes…
Sound - I’ve already mentioned the shortcomings with steam sound so I’ll leave it at that.
Loading sounds is a painfully slow process. First, the sound must be downloaded using the RailPro Assistant software, which isn’t particularly fast even with a great internet connection. Then the sound needs to be transferred to either the Hand Controller, or the HC simulator. The download/transfer to HC is actually one process and only applies to the first time you load a sound. Subsequent loads of the same sound don’t require it to be downloaded from the internet again or transferred to the HC if it is already there. Once in the HC, the sound needs to be copied to the locomotive module. Another painfully slow process. For the new ULT sounds, expect this entire process to take close to an hour There is little hope of this ever changing as change would probably obsolete all current hardware.
What would really help here would be the ability to clone a locomotive module. That does not exist today. Fortunately, you only have to deal with this during the initial load of a module and most of the dealers will pre-load sounds for you eliminating this frustration.
Battery Life - The HC battery life is pretty good and there is a charge indicator on the screen with a red warning when you are close to end-of-charge. Unfortunately though, if you run out of HC power, you have no choice but to shut down your trains and wait while the HC charges. The batteries are not user replaceable so swapping out to a fresh set in the middle of a session is not an option. I’ve had two instances where I’ve had trains out on the line when the indicator went red. I had to stop and charge the HC for at least and hour before I could bring trains back home.
I can’t think of anything else I don’t like! Let’s hear your likes and dislikes.