Friday, 13 October 2017

Building JMRI Routes

As I now have a system for car routing and train management, I need to move on and get JMRI working for control of the track. Ideally, I would like have JMRI controlling all of the points and then, as I have a defined set of trains, a route set up for each of those trains.
First step is to layout the track on JMRI and hook it up to the Digitrax system. I have a Digitrax Evolution wireless set up with a Digitrax PR3 connecting it to my iMac. As the run is a quite long, I have a powered USB cable connecting the PR3 to the iMac, which is on the other side of the room.

This video gives a good idea of the layout (sorry that it is a bit out of focus but you can see the essentials).

I have laid out the track in JMRI and allocated Digitrax IDs to all of the switches. The PanelPro panel looks like this:

(Suggestions on making this prettier would be appreciated).

As part of my 470 Router project, I have a defined set of routes to which trains are allocated. This is the 470 Router output for those routes (still work in progress so needs prettying up).

I went through each of these routes and built a JMRI route for each one. As it happens, NH1 (a Budd RDC that shuttles between Hartford and Boston) has the same route as BMP2 (which is a B&M passenger train that does the same trip) so I only had to define eight routes through.  There are 20 trains in the schedule for a single day and each of them has one or other of these routes.

Remembering that I can't stand up for too long so operate by wheeling an office chair around the railroad room, this saves me having to check that everything is set up for each train. When I am doing switching, it doesn't matter if the Boston bound freight is switching in the middle of the run or I am just preparing the next S&NE way freight. As soon as a train has to move around the layout, I can reset the route and know that I haven't missed anything.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Major reconstruction on the staging

Having finished with the routing software, I found that single line staging at both ends, although it seemed to be OK, wasn't going to work. I decided to make both staging to be double track. This involved the following:

  1. Purchasing 2 new switches
  2. Purchasing 2 extra switch motors
  3. Taking down the old track
  4. Replacing the top layer of the boards with wider panels
  5. Relaying the track.
  6. Fitting the new switches
  7. Fitting the new switch motors
  8. Wiring up the switch and the indicator LEDs
My chosen switch motors are DCC Concepts Cobalt IP which I find work perfectly for me - plus they have route/frog switching built in.

Boston Staging

OK, so the first step was to take down what is known as the Boston Staging. This runs across the front of my scale model display cabinets so this has to be removable. I have had some trouble with the stability of this and even more trouble with the rail join across the gap, so something better had to be done.

First off, the staging needed to be lengthened as it was always going to be more stable when connected to the shelving unit beyond rather than stopping someway short. The base for the staging is a box girder made from 5mm foam core. I have a special foam core cutter that cuts a V-shaped channel which enables me to fold the material up and make a box girder.

I lengthened the box, fitted some foam core to sit the free end on the shelving unit and covered the top with a wider board so that I could now get two tracks along it.

The next step was to lay the track. Now, there is a problem fitting a switch onto the box girder - the switch motor hangs down (of course) but I can't get into the box to fit it or to wire it up. I have faced this problem before when having a switch motor issue on the normal layout part - again the base is foam core and I can't lift the layout to get underneath. What I do is make the switch and the motor into a single unit and wire the motor up from the switch rails. This way, if needed, I can lift the switch out at any time to work on the underneath. All I need to do is to pull the rail joiners back and free the switch. Here, you can see it in the process of being created.

The hole in the girder is large enough to take the switch motor. However, there was a problem when first installed - the switch is an "electro frog" and thus has insulated rail joiners attached. You can't slide these back so I had to increase the size of the hole to enable the switch to be slid backwards to free them up. Remember that this is on staging so the gaping hole doesn't matter.

the next task was to fit the indicator LED. The DCC Concepts motor has a built in connection for managing the polarity of the frog. This connection can be taken off and used to drive LEDs. I like to fit bi-coloured LEDS - red and green. Normally, these would be run out to a display panel such as this one:

Lights-on is a bit overwhelming but you can see how it works.

As it is, I will just place the single LED at one end of the staging. I have problems walking for any length of time so I spend my railroad time wheeling about on an office chair so using these display panels avoids me having stand up to check the switch settings.

I made up a little circuit board for the LED as follows:

Here it all is, ready to go:

The last thing to do was to fit a clip so that the right hand end couldn't come detached from the main railroad board. I have used foam core clips for these when putting the railroad together but these would normally be temporary. This needed to be more robust to hold firmly and be able to be taken off and put back on. The only suitable material that I had handy was a sheet of PCB. Here is the way that that works (and you can see the LED indicator in place as well):

So, what does it all look like when complete?

This image is made up of about 6. The camera was fitted to the tripod and a stream of images was made with the focus moved along the stretch of track. I then used Helicon Focus to patch these images into one with a constant focus across the whole length of the board.

Once this was complete, I started out on the staging at the other end - Hartford, CT.  This staging runs along the back of my trusty iMac. The process was exactly the same, but went quicker of course. I made one mistake. That was to put the LED indicator at the same relative spot as with the Boston staging - wrong! This ended up behind the iMac. I had to extend the wires by about 36" and mount this under the girder, using masking tape. I then ran them out where I could see them.

This is the Hartford staging finished.

One last little detail. Again, as I can't get inside the box girder, the wiring for the two staging tracks is managed by using some self-adhesive copper tape across the top of the box. 

That's about it. Now, I can get back to sorting out industries, configuring up my car routing software for the new industry plan and then, hopefully, running some trains!


Sunday, 23 July 2017

Back to setting scenery

I have been very busy with my Open University project (470Routing) but I have managed to keep going on the home railroad. I have now ballasted the yard (with Woodland Scenics (WS) cinders) and the rest of the main town (Sunset) with WS N scale fine ballast. I have also set up the two-LED routing indicators. There hasn't been much running but the scenic work has been fun.

I have also managed to build two laser cut industries. One is the Branchline Trains Creamery whilst the other is the final part of the Ice House from GCLaser.

Using some WS lightweight Hydrocal I have put down some basic ground cover around the Creamery and the Ice House complex. It isn't finished yet but is starting to look quite good.

Here is the current situation:

(Click on the image for a full sized version)

Shortly, I will be completing the ground cover and the roads, along with the grade crossing.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

SNE Wired up and ready to go

I finally have an SNE that I like and that will probably work! I spent a lot of time drawing layouts and  posted quite a few iterations on the forums. The plan went through a lot of changes. Not only that but the boards have been built with extra bracing so they shouldn't suffer the dips that appeared in the last one.

The layout is at a much lower level so that I can get to everywhere whilst sitting in my chair.The switches are all controlled by DCCConcepts Cobalt Digital switch motors so all of the live frogs are wired up. I have, also, installed two-colour LEDs on every point so that I can see which way they are set without standing up.

The boards were built in sections but they are now held together with strong tape so that there is no movement between them. This tape will be covered by the scenery as it goes down.

Here are some images of the current state of play.

I have staging on both ends. This staging is build on foam core that has been turned into box girders. I have invested in a set of foam core tools and one of them is a v-cutter. This runs down a channel on the special FoamWerks straight edge and cuts a v-channel whereby the board can be folded with a 90 degree angle. This is extremely string and can span at least 5 feet without any flex. here is a shot of the end of one of the girders. as you can see, the v-cutter makes an excellent job of the cuts (such that you can hardly discern the "V" cut at all.

I have fitted a small level on the end and you can see the screw for the levelling foot, which is an M6 bolt with some foam core glued to it screwing into a T-nut. The other end is fixed to the base board. An added interest is that the desk is electric (in that it has a power lift and fall) which I use because of my arthritis - if I sit at it for any length of time my joints seize so I change the level on long sessions. This means that I then have to adjust the staging to get it back  to level as I never get the electric lift back to exactly where it started. The other end of the railroad is the same except that I have more space soI have fitted a wide base with two adjusters to get the levels right in both directions.

All joints across all boards are fixed with PCB sleepers and the track soldered in place. The sleepers are then glued to the foam board and we have joints with zero movement.

As you can see from the images of the layout, I have filled all of the spurs to get some idea of the capacity of each. With this information, I can incorporate this layout into the test phase of my university freight car routing project.

I am still getting used to my new DCC controller - I have one of the new Digitrax Evolution Duplex Starter sets (with the wireless controller). So far I am very happy with the set up. I have also got it integrated with JMRI. The eventual hope is to have the trains run from my phone and the routing software on my tablet. We shall see.

Next step is to mess about with the resistors on the LEDs as they are very bright and need toning down. 

Thursday, 4 May 2017

SNE Track design works

I put my track design on theModel Railroader Track forum for comments and had lots of help sorting out what would work and what wouldn't. There were concerns that I had done the usual trick of overestimating how much track that can be got onto a board and one commenter thought that I had used #2 turnouts to make everything work. In fact I had been a little ambitious but, with a bit of reorganising,I was able to get the basic layout to fit.

This is the "current" final layout.

I had to swing the runaround over so that it ran from one end of the main board to the other. To make this work,I had to move the passenger station onto the runaround. I also removed a couple of industries. Apart from that everything went in OK. here are some pictures as it went along.

The track is now down, wired up, had the turnout motors fitted and everything has been tested.

Here are all of the point motors laid out and pre-configured to their correct addresses. Little did I know what was to come!

 It wasn't until I tried everything on the board that I realised that motor No. 1 didn't work. I had done the classic Cobalt motor stupid error - put the two power wires in at the wrong end of the wiring panel. This is guaranteed to blow up a motor. Later versions have a little film cover to stop you. This is the second time that I have done this. So, a quick trip down to my friend Kevin at Coastal DCC and another £17.00 pounds spent. With that replaced, there was a further problem. Point #9 was the wrong way round. Sending close made it turn out and sending turn out made it close. Also, it was still self-centering at startup when I had switched that off for all the motors. Whilst I was with Kevin, I asked him about this and it seems that, very occasionally, the set/run switch gets a dry connection and, thus, programming the motor doesn't work. Fortunately, this is covered by their guarantee so Kevin will swap that over - hopefully tomorrow. In the meantime, I have swapped in #14 so that I could keep going.

The last activity that has been taking place is to put the wiring in for the switch display panel. To do this, I had to add a second wire into the frog polarity switch on each motor and run it out to the front. I have carefully numbered each one and wired them into a choc-block connector.

Here is a shot of the underneath with all of this in place. The red and black are the power bus wires and the yellow/green are the LED feeds. (I ran out of yellow!).

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Joining the Foam Core together

I have spent the day today connecting everything together. I have planned out the new layout. This has been amply discussed on the Model Railroader Magazine Forum.

I have been through four iterations of the plan and I think that I have got it close to where I want it.  However, the first thing to do was to connect the various boards together. The layout is like this:

I have connected 8,1 & 2 and 4, 5 & 6. The boards were hot glued and kept straight. The separate boards need to be connected together so that they don't move. I do this with foam core clips. I have used these before and they work very well. They look like this. There is a clip at the front and the back.

They sit right down and hold both sides together.

Tomorrow, I will start laying out the track to make sure that my design works. The design is as follows:

More photos tomorrow.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

All the foam core is down.

I have now laid out all of the foam core. It all fits very nicely and very tightly. It is 80mm high to accommodate the DCC Concepts point motors.

Here is a video of the layout as it stands. I hope that you like the music ( see my note at the end).

The next step is to start laying out the track. I have tried in the past to design the railroad on paper or on the computer but I never seem to get the spacing correct. This time, I have set my Givens and Druthers (fine old American expression that we don't have over here in the UK. I picked it up from the John Armstrong books and then heard it in a duet between Bobby Darin and Johnny Mercer  on "Two of a Kind" called "I'd Rather Have My Druthers" (a CD I heartily recommend!). Anyway, I will start sliding points around along with some of my industry buildings so that I get the spacing correct.  I am looking forward to that.

The music is, as you probably guessed, "The Little Red Caboose Behind The Train" as recorded by the Pickett Family sometime before WWII. YouTube picked up on the song and they have a claimant to the copyright so you may find an ad appearing! Sorry if that happens:-(