RailPro v2 Released by Ring Engineering
Ring Engineering has released a second generation of their RailPro product line: Locomotive Module (LM), Handheld Controller (HC) and Power Supply (PWR). I have been watching this product line for a few years now, and this comes as exciting news.
Locomotive Module LM-2 and LM-2S
The first noticeable change from the LM-1 to the LM-2/LM-2S is the size. The locomotive module has shrunk just a little from 2.03″ x 0.69″ x 0.28″ to 1.50″ x 0.68″ x 0.25″. The overall volume has been reduced from 0.39 cubic inches to 0.25 cubic inches. This decrease is welcome, but that 0.68″ width still keeps the installs difficult limits install potential. Still, kudos for a step in the right direction.
A new comer to the RailPro arena is the No-Sound flavor of the Locomotive Module. According to the Ring Engineering website, the size of the LM-2 is identical to the LM-2S so the only difference appears to be the lower price (due to lacking sound features). MSRP of $59.99 for non sound, $99.99 for sound are curious price points. $99.99 for a decoder + sound beats the average DCC Decoder/Sound Decoder combo in price, but the $59.99 for the LM-2 is much more expensive than a plain vanilla DCC Decoder (~$25).
Handheld Controller HC-2
Ring seems to have made minor improvements in Battery charge time and a slight improvement in Battery life for the next generation of their Handheld Controller. Other than the newer lower price (MSRP of $299 vs $399) not much seems to have changed. But that price drop is rather nice. Typically, online hobby shops seem to have been offering a standard 25% lower price than Ring’s MSRP. (e.g. YankeeDabbler.com) At the time of this writing, the LM-2S and HC-2 have not been widely distributed yet, but I am hoping the 25% continues with the new generation products as well. This could put the HC-2 at $224.99 and the LM-2S at $74.99. That is extremely competitive when compared to their DCC counterparts.
Model Railroad Power Supply PWR-56
While not available yet, Ring appears to be addressing the community’s concern over the price point for the PWR-75: $269.99. That is just too much for a power supply. While the PWR-75 comes with some nice features, in the end, it is just a power supply. I will be interested to see just how Ring justifies the $119.99 MSRP for the PWR-56. That is still a large amount of money for a power supply, especially when it is rather easy and inexpensive (< $10) to convert a computer Power Supply for use on a model railroad.
Conclusions on RailPro v2
Since I have not adopted DCC yet (due to time and $) I have had my eye on Ring’s RailPro products for a year or two now. The new generation of RailPro products are certainly exciting, but I feel they fall short of establishing itself as THE DCC replacement. Assuming that Ring never intended RailPro to be a DCC replacement, then I feel they have succeeded in creating a viable alternative to DCC.
What would I like to see out of Ring next? Firstly, for the RailPro system to embrace the growing battery power movement, aka, Dead Rails. Secondly, for Ring to release their Computer to RailPro interface. Harnessing existing software like JMRI to act as a bridge between co-existing RailPro and DCC systems would be, in my opinion, the critical piece for making RailPro a serious competitor in the Command and Control Systems industry.
My only fear is that of the Single Source Supplier. In software development circles, we call this problem The Bus Factor.. How many employees at Ring Engineering can get hit by a bus and the company continues? What would happen if (for any reason) Ring Engineering goes out of business and us RailPro adopters are left without any support, upgrades, ability to convert images, etc? Questions not to be ignored, that is certain.