SERIES 217 YOKOSUKA/SOBU COMMUTER
KATO 10-495

N-SCALE TRAIN SET

10/13/15- Japanese train set aquisition #3. Be honest: This is kinda boring-looking, isn't it? It's a silver, unsexy thing with a utilitarian and boxy look with just a hint of streamlining in the front that makes it look like a modern bus. Just what you'd expect in a commuter train.

I got this mainly because it was from the same design generation as the series 498 Hakusan/Asuma; it was "DCC-friendly" and had the same style of non-Rapido couplers. I knew that the motor and contacts were easy to access from the underside hatch and that the cab headlights could be controlled properly by Kato's FL12 decoder. I assumed that it would perform as reliably as the 498 and stay on the tracks at curves. In other words, I'd never have bought this plain-jane train if it had the same older design and worked as tentatively as the 0-2000 Shinkansen (which at least looked sexy). I wanted another train that worked as well as the 489.

Actually, the plain-jane looks were one of the reasons I got this train set. As a nod to realism, I wanted a less flashy train to blend inconspicuously with the city scenery... and to give the daikaiju figures something different to eat.

This is a modern JR train, whereas the 489 Hakusan and Series 0-2000 Shinkansen are older JNR trains, which starts me down the path of clashing temporal anomalies, otherwise known as anachronisms, or trains from different time periods that shouldn't be running together. I'm not big on following the Prototypical Rulebook, but if I'd found the blue and creme retro JNR version first, I would have bought that instead. (I think is looks more interesting.) That said, I got eight cars for the price I'd paid for a four or five car set; I could pick the five cars I wanted to run and have three to keep the box company.

Motor Decoder: This gave me another opportunity to try installing the Kato EM13 slide-in decoder that had frustrated me with the series 498. My experience was exactly the same: I tried over and over to seat it just right and never got a peep from the motor. I successfully installed one in the Shinkansen, but only by soldering it in. Even then, I wasn't very impressed with its performance since I couldn't adjust the top speed CV.

I was prepared for this and had an ESU LokPilot Micro v4 on hand to solder in; no problems and the default programming was spot on-- no tweaking necessary. The ESU decoders are more expensive, but well worth it IMO.

Front and Rear Cab Lights: With the FL12 decoder, these lights didn't work as I expected them to. From browsing the Internet, I didn't find any English-language mention of this, so I'll mention it here.

In forward or reverse, the red head (tail) lights always fire in the cab that's at the rear of the train. When going forward, the front cab's headlights don't turn on, but all the other lights do. However, if you reverse direction, none of the lights on the front turn on at all.

I switched and reversed the decoders in both cars and the behavior was always the same, which leads me to believe that neither of the decoders nor cabs are defective: That may just be the way it was designed to work in order to operate correctly on DC while accommodating DCC to some degree. Maybe the design of the decoder is generic for a lot of different models and couldn't be made to switch all those different lights on this train properly?

I prefer that lights show on the front cab whether it's going forward, or reverse. Removing the rear cab's decoder fires all the lights on the cab (including the red tail light) whether going forward or reverse. So that's what I did. For me, some lights (even the wrong ones) are better than no lights.

I tried to figure out the connections of the FL12 decoder that I'd removed to see if it could used as a wired-in, economical lights-only decoder for non-DCC-friendly installations. It's pretty clear that the two large pads on the underside are for power; however, there are two sets of medium-sized contact pads on the topside right and left, plus tiny contact pads at the front and rear. The logical place to start was to disassemble the cab and see what they plugged into and trace the wiring back to the LEDs and any additional circuitry... but I was too lazy for that. I searched for schematics and diagrams and photos but didn't find any, so I probed the pads with a resistor/LED, with the circuitboard placed across on live rails. I didn't stumble across anything that resembled an on/off pattern when switching the controller's direction. However, I later found a Japanese page with pictures that showed LEDs connected across right and left pads, one at the front and one at the rear. Unfortunately, it didn't work for me-- Tested it back in the train and I believe I fried the decoder while I was poking around with the resistor/LED!

Idiot.

 

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