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PRODUCT SPOTLIGHT - Marklin Central Station 3 - Part One

John Chandler

JOHN CHANDLER introduces the first in a series of articles about this new Marklin Control System.

Marklin is amongst the oldest producers of model railways in the world. Founded in 1859, they have produced various styles of models whilst always taking advantage of the latest technologies available.

Starting from AC three-rail trains, they have expanded into digital control with their systems going way beyond the basic DCC control with which most of us are familiar. Their MFX system takes digital control to a whole new level whereby merely placing the locomotive, or other fitted stock, on the track starts a communication process between it and the control system, effectively introducing itself to the controller.

In advancing the digital control concept beyond mere DCC, Marklin have accepted that there will be legacy systems both of DCC and Motorola formats and have maintained 'backwards compatibility' for those systems.

Unfortunately, Marklin, per se, tends to have a low following in the UK since it is perceived as a 'quirky 3 rail AC' structure; the rest of the World doesn't see it this way and laps it up!

Marklin's current controllers, viz. their Central Station 2 and their Mobile Station, fully address this issue; both of these systems are capable of controlling anything from N Scale to G Scale, 2-rail or 3-rail, MFX, DCC or Motorola formats straight out-of-the-box! They also openly support computer and WiFi control with Apps for Android and Apple, and tools such as RocRail and JMRI.

Hornby, Bachmann, Graham Farish, Dapol, Fleischmann, Roco and Piko DCC products can also benefit from this system.

In this series of articles - produced by Marklin themselves - the (behind-the-scenes) complexities and the (visible) simplicities of the system will unfold as we head to the launch of the Central Station 3 state-of-the-art digital control system.

Marklin Central Station 3 Controller

Faster, more convenient and even more user-friendly: With the Central Station 3, Marklin is now launching the next generation of layout controls onto the market.

It’s amazing how time flies. It is already seven years since Central Station 2 was released – and that digital controller still has its finger on the pulse of today. In electronics, this long service life goes to show that from the start the CS2 had enough built-in reserves for developments for some years.

Developments such as extension to DCC format, the introduction of the World of Operation mfx+ or the comprehensive expansion of operating sequence technology were all easily handled by this unit. But new developments in computer technology and electronics cry out to be applied within the model railways.

Marklin Central Station 3 Controller

Brilliant picture: Definition of the 7" screen is now 1024 x 600 pixels.

Marklin’s answer to this challenge is called Central Station 3. The developers at Marklin focused on the following criteria when working on developing the new generation of control devices:

  • More possibilities for being able to align the system to the special requirements of individual customer groups.
  • Enhancing the innovative and user-friendly operator interface.
  • Installing enough resources to be able to handle requirements for several years to come.
  • The greatest possible level of compatibility with previous Marklin Products.

The answer to these specifications was two new units at once:

Why two units? The answer is simple: because there are major differences in the requirements a railway modeller has for his model railway controls.

Marklin Central Station 3 Controller

Up to twelve locos can be run in parallel with the Central Station 3, without losing the overview. Two of them are controlled with the rotary knobs, as previously.

Are you one of the modellers who only want a single central unit to control your layout? If so, the MN60226 is the right one for you – only one of these units is permitted on the entire system. If you use the Central Station 3 plus, you can use as many additional units as you want. If to start with you don’t need this possibility, you will surely benefit from the lower price of the CS3 compared with the CS3 plus.

Compared with the CS3, the CS3 plus has a further added characteristic: it can have the feedback modules MN60881 or MN60882 directly connected to it. With both of these CS3 versions it is possible to use a terminal MN60125 to connect the L88 feedback module (item MN60883) and, if you wish, further feedback modules (MN60881 or MN60882) as you want.

Incidentally, we are already working on the option of upgrading a CS3 to a CS3 plus. Both units require a switched mode power pack for power supply. Modellers with a 230 V mains supply will used the familiar versions MN60101 or LGB51095 (only for gauge 1 or G-gauge) or for other gauges MN60061.

Apart from the differences above, the Central Station 3 and Central Station 3 plus are identical. Both of them have the following characteristics:

  • The heart and brain of the systems are a new type of processor which is faster , and therefore can more effectively realize the control commands of the operator or requirements of the automatic program running in the background. The CS3 is seven times the speed of the CS2.
  • The internal memory is now 4 GB and with an SD-memory card, this can be extended by up to 32 GB.
  • Compared with the CS2, the display with a 7" screen not only has a much enhanced resolution of 1024 x 600 pixels for even greater detail and sharper pictures, and it also has a capacitive touch screen. All you need to do in future is touch the screen with a fingertip, pressure will not be needed. There are also several contact points and so it will be possible to zoom by spreading thumb and forefinger in a single movement, like on a phone or tablet.
  • Up to 32 controllable functions will be supported in the decoder generation developed alongside them.
  • A built-in loudspeaker will enable you to enjoy additional sound effects directly such as those on mfx+-locomotives. Alternatively, you can add a second loudspeaker for stereo effect.
  • Up to two USB devices such as keyboard, mouse or memory stick can now be connected.
  • Central Station 3 is the centre of attention as far as updating the current range of Marklin locos and solenoid accessories or other Marklin controllers is concerned.
Marklin Central Station 3 Controller

Outgoing: Up to two USB devices can be connected to the new Central Station, for instance a mouse, a keyboard or a memory stick. Talking about memory, the CS3 has 4 GB internal memory, and this can be increased by up to 32 GB.

The user interface is also treading new paths.

The two rotary control knobs familiar from Central Station 2 are still there on Central Station 3, but all other control commands are given exclusively via the new colour display. The arrangement of the individual control levels has been completely redesigned. Compared with the Central Station 2, it is a completely different control concept, but it’s intuitive to use, and then you can enjoy the advantages and the convenience of the new control steps.

Central focus is the layout, which is used to monitor condition of the layout and control turnouts and signals to ensure smooth operation of your trains. At the bottom edge of the display there is a strip which you use to reach the locomotives’ control panels if required. At the top edge there is a further menu strip which leads to the other operating levels, such as the memory. This level will only be required in exceptional circumstances during operations and thus will be seldom selected in practice.

Marklin Central Station 3 Controller

Simple: To reset a turnout, it is enough just to touch the symbol on the screen – it’s no longer necessary to press on it.

So let’s concentrate first of all on the layout. While the CS2 could only show a much-simplified diagram of the track layout, the CS3 is now able to illustrate even curved sections of track. The current setting of turnouts is also shown in colour. Red indicates the setting “reverse” (branch), while the “normal” setting of the turnout is shown in green. Illustration of the signals is very much more detailed and displays their aspect more clearly. This is probably the easiest system for controlling your model railroad that Marklin has offered before.

The zoom function, with which you can enlarge or reduce sections of the layout at will, is very useful. Anyone used to using a tablet PC or a smartphone will be able to use this function straight away by intuition. And by the way, if you want to use this function in conjunction with an additional PC or with apps for tablet PC and smart phone, you won’t be disappointed with the CS3 – Marklin are working on these right now.

Marklin Central Station 3 Controller

Pivotal point: the CS3 and the CS3 plus. From PC to Internet router to the loudspeaker box, everything can be connected to a Central Station 3 – with the CS3 plus, you can even add additional Central Stations. Only one CS3 can be used on the entire system.

That's all for this basic look at the CS3 system, in the next article we will look at the practical side of the controller.

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