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!