Install a Digitrax Decoder in 5 easy steps - doing away with “Anti Digital Argument #1”

The first thing people always tell me when asked about digital operation is: “No no no, this is not for me. Putting decoders into all those locomotives. I can’t do it. It will cost a fortune”

True on some older locomotives it is quite a task, but nearly all modern releases, from 2000 onwards, offer slide in decoders, that are supposed to be plug in only. It is not quite as easy as that, but fairly easy. And remembering that I have two left hands with five thumbs on each, trust me, if I can do it, you can do it !

1. Material

The “Bill Of Materials” is as follows. First check on for the right decoder for your locomotive. Of course you will need a locomotive in the first place. A small screw driver, a hobby knife and pliers will round up the modest bill of material needed for your task.

For my Kato SD40-2 I used the Digitrax DN163K1a decoder.

2. Open It Up

Dismantling modern locos is quite simple. Just carefully bend the shell outward on both sides grabbing it at the middle and then shake it until the chassis comes out. If you need to use force, you are doing something wrong. I recommend marking hte chassis with a F for the front and a B for the back. Of course you can use the explosion drawing provided in the back of your box for later identification of what is what and where is where.

Place your decoder next to the locomotive. Use the instruction sheet that came with it to place it the right way, i.e. front to front, back to back.

3. Remove Dummy Board

Pull the Dummy Board to the left (if it doesn’t want to use a screwdriver very carefully) and when it is free of the latches move up and away. You might want to save it in case you want to reinstall it later because A.) you want to sell the locomotive again or B) the decoder does not work because it is broken as bought which happens sometimes.

4. Isolation Matters

So called Capton Tape is included with the decoder. Unfortunatley I find the black and white instruction sheet sometimes difficult to interpret. In that case try and picture why insulation is applied where, mostly (and I know nothing about electronics) it is easy to see by just holding the decoder to where it is supposed to go. No need to insulate where nothing touches. Use the hobby knife to cut a strip off the capton tape, Digitrax is generous with the amount included so don’t worry if you muck it up on the first go. Now glue it to the chassis as shown here / on the manual by Digitrax.

5. Install Decoder

Now place the decoder as shown and push it under the latches that are holding it. The little copper strips on the side of the motor remain undernaeth the decoders big copper strips. Don’t use too much force, you will break the decoder. Don’t put it in the wrong way round.

When all is firmly installed check that the long copper strips that lead electricity from the trucks to the motor have not fallen off and are still in place. Put the locomotive shell back on.

A person as clumsy as me can do this in 10 Minutes. What comes now is the real challenge. Decoder programming. Watch out for a future installment on this.


Last Update: Mar 1st 2008

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Digitrax Install