So I don’t have a controller and I’m a bit confused between the differences between analogue/digital etc.
Analogue controllers send DC voltage to the track. The magnitude of the voltage i.e from zero to 12 volts DC determines the speed that the loco travels at. The polarity of the voltage on the track determines the direction [forward / reverse] the train goes in.
Within the loco there is a direct electrical connection between the wheels and the electric motor.
Digital DCC Controllers send a 'Bi-polar' square wave voltage to the track that has a typical 'peak to peak' voltage swing of 28.8 volts [+14.4 volts to -14.4 volts]. The frequency of this alternating voltage is a nominal 7,000 cycles per second [but is variable]. This track voltage is consistently the same and shouldn't vary. The signal waveform is used to carry Digital Data information to tell the locos what you want them to do.
Within the loco a Digital DCC decoder is fitted between the wheels and the motor. The decoder reads the digital data sent on the track and then in turn powers the motor and loco functions based upon the signals that it decodes.
If you place a DC Analogue loco [this includes a 'DCC Ready' loco] on the DCC track without first fitting a DCC decoder, the swinging 28.8 volts DCC track voltage will burn out the 12 volt motor.
Modern 'DCC Ready' locos have a socket in them where a DCC Digital decoder can be plugged. Older locos can be converted to DCC and have a decoder fitted, but older locos have challenges to overcome and can take skill. Converting older locos may not be a task to be undertaken by a novice as their first exposure to DCC.
I’ve got lots of track, given to us by another member of the family.
If the track in your photo is typical of all the track you have acquired. Then it is heavily corroded and with visible rust on it. Rust [iron oxide] is not a good conductor of electricity and has some insulating properties.
Digital DCC signals are extremely sensitive to poor track electrical continuity. If the rest of your track is pretty much in the same state as the example in the photo. Then I predict that you will experience extreme running issues with DCC control.
The track condition in the photo is not that good for DC Analogue either, but at least DC Analogue is little bit more tolerant of poor quality track.
The age of your track means that it is electro plated steel. Once the corrosion becomes visible [as per your photo] then the electro-plating is compromised. Even if you scour the track rails clean it will be loosing battle, a bit like painting the Forth Bridge. The corrosion will come back and need constantly removing.
The metal track joiners in your photo are very corroded too. They are a critical part of the transference of electrical power from one track piece to the next. I recommend [if you do try using this old track] that all the joiners are replaced with new ones. Prior to fitting, the ends of the rails need to be made shiny again to maximise electrical continuity. Under no circumstances should you try and use soldering of the joints as a workaround to improve electrical reliability. The joints need to be able to expand and contract.
To go DC or DCC.
My opinion would be not to go DCC at this stage. Your locos if the same age as the track are likely to be in the 'not very easy to convert' category, and your indicated track condition does not lend itself to DCC control either.
Can you simply add lots of track and as long as it makes an electrical ‘circuit’ the trains will run – or is that not possible?
Track is track. It makes no odds, what shape the track is laid in and the layout size etc. Your old track is likely to have lots of intermittent power issues, particularly with the points. Not only the corrosion, but the track joiners impact on the electrical reliability too. Large layouts can be built reliably with modern Nickle Silver based track. Large layouts can also be built with old steel track, but a lot more skill and effort is needed to make the large steel based layout reliable [because of the corrosion and potential power issues highlighted above].
I ask because the controller (pic attached on sale from Hornby) has no plug attachment for the power source or wires with it?
The picture referred to in your original post is the Hornby R7229 Set Controller.
The picture on the Hornby product page is misleading. The wires are not shown in the image, but they are part of the product. The wires to the track are shown in this image taken from a Google search.
They take the form of a pair of wires directly connected internally and part of the R7229 controller that are terminated on the ends with terminal plugs designed for the modern R602 track power clip and the R8206 power track.
They are not directly compatible with the obsolete track power connectors shown in your photo.
The R7229 factory fitted terminals could potentially be cut off so that the wire ends could be used with your old connectors, but that could potentially invalidate the controller Warranty.
But also consider this. The R7229 is designed for modern locomotive motors. The R7229 can only supply a maximum of 500mA [0.5 Amp] track current. If your locos are of the same vintage as your track, they will have motors that require significantly more current than the R7229 can provide. You ideally need a controller that can provide at least 1 Amp of current to the track.
If all your track and locos are of the same vintage as your photos indicate then you are probably better off looking for a second-hand HM Clipper (very common on eBay) or a more modern higher current DC Analogue controller, which really means either the Hornby HM2000 controller or a non Hornby branded one.
If I went to a train model shop, would they be able to sort me out everything I need? It might be easier to do that.
It really does depend upon the model shop. They certainly could if you binned all your old track and bought new. Then everything would connect together. If the Model Shop was staffed not by 'basic sales staff' but by dedicated enthusiasts with appropriate knowledge of the old kit you have, then they might be able to offer valid advice. But if it is staffed by just counter staff with no background historical knowledge, then they are likely to only give advice on the products they sell and not be aware of the issues trying to mix and match old and new products.
Do you need to keep to defined track layouts for the trains to work?
No .... you are at liberty to use your imagination. The Hornby track itself imposes a certain level of imagination restriction as the available track pieces in the Hornby catalogue are quite limited. You have to work within the defined track geometry of Hornby track products.
The Hornby track geometry has changed little since the vintage of your track in the photo. There might be the odd geometry difference that has evolved over the years, but the current geometry is fairly universal with all the previous Hornby track.
The current Hornby track geometry can be viewed here:
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