Thursday, 15 August 2013

Still here, still building...

Been over a year since the last post, although I've still been working on little parts of the layout, progress has been slow.

-I have been building control panels with interlocking for each of the 3 towns. So far 2 are complete.
Panel on startup, CTI is not initialised so lights on the right hand side are dark

Panel Locked, note the red lights now lit up indicating panel is locked. (those point buttons won't work, all hooked up together via a common relay back to the tam valley singlets)

The key is turned, and the request button is pushed - the light starts flashing orange.

Once approved by the dispatcher, the light turns green

When the key is returned to the lock position, points move to normal again, and the panel locks itself.

A couple of notes about the panels... They use tam valley singlets, with push buttons hooked up to a common relay. there are two relays, one for the blue frame, and one for the yellow frame. yellow frame unlocks the points in the loop, whereas shunt mode (blue frame) puts blocks on the line, prohibiting traffic from moving through the area. useful for running around trains (which will be avoided as much as possible)

the key switch actually works, it is hooked up to a sensor used in conditional statements within CTI. Same goes for the push buttons on the RHS.

-I am rebuilding one of the helixes, due to problems with the track and the issues with height between helix modules.Am also motorising two points situated in the middle of the helix. Helix to be code 80 track to hopefully ease track laying.

-The staging yard is built, no photos yet..

-Have motorised all main line interfacing points, and am retrofitting certain crossovers that weren't using great quality servos. HXT900's from Hobbyking never skip a beat.

-Buying trains is the other pastime, picked up a cab forward, and a new run challenger (am addicted to sound decoders now!)

-I have a plan of sorts to get the layout into a fully functional state by the end of the year, including the following projects..

Finish Plano Control Panel
Prep work for Mendota Yard (laying cork, finalising design, ordering components, etc.)
install fascia to areas not requiring terraforming (still haven't decided on scenery designs yet)
Carpeting layout room
Starting scenery/ballasting/weathering track
Signal installation
misc rolling stock maintenance.

-am also doing a bit of a side project, 'Cubington' - the layout designed to fit into an office cubicle (English themed):

Will try and not make the next post a year from now, so until next time..

oh yeah, the name has changed to - now using names from the Chicago area, and focusing on the Mendota subdivision :)

Sunday, 8 July 2012

4 Months since the last post.. Whats been happening?

Good Question!

I made a minor benchwork change down the centre of the layout which has given me more storage space underneath the layout. I replaced the centre legs with horizontal hardwood ply bracers, which gives me a clean run down the centre:

Consequently I had to move the detection system above the layout, which has now been fully wired and tested:

I used ethernet cable to wire the local detector circuits (which are installed adjacent to their blocks on the layout) back to the central detector circuits show above. There are approx 31 sensors on the layout, which has left me around 10 spare. These will be used for local control panels to detect input by the crews (eg. turning a key in a lock to request control to the switches)

I have also mounted the laptop underneath the workbench which gives a lot more space for the network controller to work in. its a fairly simple mount which also allows me to easily remove the laptop if required.

Whilst building this I went and bought a VESA mount on ebay which I have mounted to the brick wall behind the laptop. This allows me to attach the 22" Samsung monitor to the wall which is part of the dual-screen system for the network controller. The panel is designed to fit on a 1920x1080 display, which leaves the lower monitor for a train graph, which can be updated in real time.

The In-Progress train graph
The completed Network Controller's desk, with Wireless KB and Mouse
Along with these projects I have also completed the track work in all towns, which leaves me with Staging and Mendota (frmr. Steino) Yard to finish:

Meriden (Former Meridian) with extended width to support a bit more scenery

Earlville (Formerly Spencer) again with extended width baseboards

Plano Branch (formerly Theta Branch)

Plano (Formerly Theta) with new branch line loop and third track that leads to Plano Branch

Other End of Plano, with 2 Industry roads

Extended Width Staging with dead auto racks 
The next step is to complete staging, and finish with Mendota Yard. Once these are completed, the next step will be to terraform the scenery and install the facia on each level.

So thats it for now, there are a couple of more things on the list for the future so will try and keep the site updated..

Sunday, 18 March 2012

TCS M4 Decoder install in a Budd Car.

I have managed to squeeze a TCS M4 into a Kato Budd car, underneath the floor. This keeps the interior unobstructed whilst allowing excellent running qualities of TCS decoders in this model.

The M4 installed in the floor well of the Budd Car. The chassis was milled to allow 4 decoder wires (for lighting) to pass into the front of the car, where there is more room.

The motor decoder wires and decoder power wires have been soldered in discreetly below floor level. 
The floor installed on top. The plastic spacer that was once underneath the  floor was cut up and used to fill this hole so it cannot be seen from outside the car.

The strip LED mounted in the roof of the car. Using two 1k5 resistors brings the light down to an acceptable brightness. The strip LEDs are from a supplier on eBay, at ~$15.00 for a 5m roll they are good value and are useful in all manner of projects.

The car with the plastic spacer installed above the decoder,

Progress Report 18/03/2012

So its been 3 months since I last posted on here- just letting you know the layout is alive and well, and now has a complete circuit of track which I have been test running and tweaking as required.

Nothing much visually has changed, however there are several projects underway, apart from the completion of the mainline.

-The rear workbench has been completed:

Completed workbench with LED strip lighting on the bottom shelf. The laptop on the end wall is where the CTC Panel will be located.

-All mainline points now have Tam Valley controllers attached, and have been configured on CTI Electronics' CTC Panel. 

-The initial CTI order has been placed, which will allow block detection and train routing without signals. I am in the process of building the block detectors, using a schematic off the Marbelup Valley Railway ( The owner Richard has been able to assist me with this schematic as he also uses CTI on his layout, and has this circuit schematic on his site.

The prototype detector

The same detector with the LED lit up, indicating that the track is occupied.

-This weekend I have begun building the initial mainline track sensors - there are 31 to complete, and after ordering all of the parts the cost per sensor is $7.00. It is taking longer than I anticipated, however the commissioning of the CTI system will be done in stages to ensure reliability. So far 4 detectors have been installed, and I am using ethernet cable to feed the signals back to the centre of the layout where all CTI modules will be installed. This allows me to send back 4 signals per cable.

Two detectors installed at staging.

-By May 2012, all non-mainline track except the main yard should be complete. This will hopefully include all other block detection and point motor controllers.

I've also been building my loco and rolling stock collection. I have purchased 3 passenger trains for running during operations:

1. Kato Metra Set (Seen here with Strip LED interior lighting, and an extra intermediate coach)

2. Kato Amtrak commuter set, with a Con-Cor baggage car (could not find stock of the Phase IV Kato model anywhere)

All Coaches are using Strip LED's with 1k resistors. 
The baggage car required pickups, whereas all Kato stock has Phosphor-Bronze strips for Kato's own proprietary  lighting kit.

3. Kato Budd Car. This car has been fitted with a TCS M4 decoder and interior lighting. I have tried to install the decoder below eye level, which proved to a be a delicate but worthwhile effort. I still have another car to do, as they will run as a two car set along the branch line.

I will attach some more install pics in another post.

I have also purchased a couple of unit trains, thereby completing the traffic required for the layout except manifest and mixed freights. I am in the process of commissioning the autorack train, and have a spine car and reefer train on order. To haul these trains I have recently taken delivery of 10 Kato BNSF locos, which I am in the process of fitting with decoders and Micro-Trains couplers.

So I have quite a few projects that will keep me busy over the next few months, with the hope of starting to terraform some scenery in July. will see how we go.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Progress Notes - 23/12/11

Just a quick note on what has been happening on the subdivision of late, and what is planned for the next couple of weeks.

-The LHS helix is currently being constructed - 1 layer down, 7 to go. Have alloted myself a day over xmas to finish the build, completing the main loop of track.
-Point motors for 5 locations have been installed. More mainline points will come online in the coming months. They have also been linked to the CTI signalling system over the DCC bus.
-Metal wheels have been fitted to all freight cars, still have around 280 axles so they should last for a while.

Future projects:

    -Purchase CTI detection boards and base system
    -Build Mainline detection circuits
    -fit resistor wheelsets to current rollingstock.
-Build new workbench at rear of layout.
more articles to come soon.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Thoughts on Operations

As mentioned in a previous post, I think I am now to a point where I can start to think about planning my operating sessions. Granted I designed the layout for operations, and I have been continually trying to design my layout around this concept, and now I think i can start to bring the two together.

The 'Points' of the layout, heading east from staging:

Staging (WB Trains)
Theta East
Theta (Branch)
Steino Yard
Staging (EB Trains)


Staging here does not have an EB or WB suffix, as here is how it looks on the signalling panel:

Here the 'end to end' staging is shown, so it is possible to run a through train, or run a train from WB Trains staging, across the layout, and back to EB Staging. Note the Signal Numbers, used for reporting and helping me find each signal within the ctc systems source code.

The layout is a continuous run model, however the staging works on an end to end basis. I am planning to modify the yard to allow locos to run around their trains, thereby eliminating the use of hands.
So first up we have staging. Where trains come and go from, and where they are assembled/broken down between sessions.

Theta East

 As we head east, we reach the first stop, Theta East. Here there is one industry at one end of the loop, and a branch line diverging at the other end. Lets head up the branch (shown above as dark, non-signalled territory).

The branch contains 3 industries, two lineside on the way to Theta, and one at Theta. Returning, we come back onto the main at Theta, and head back onto the main. because of the direction of the main, you return to Steino Yard through staging. Continuing East, you head along the main through Theta Loop (used for crossing large unit trains) towards Spencer.


Arriving at Spencer, the track diverges into a main and loop, and continues towards the Helix on the left hand side of the layout. It is called 'mid helix' as if you were to put each part of the layout end to end, this helix would be in the middle.

As you can see from the diagram each industry track is shown, however it is black indicating it is not protected by RVD (Rail Vehicle Detection) signalling. Each crossover with an 'M' indicates it is unlocked by the dispatcher.

In Spencer there are 3 Industries, as well as a small loop for pushing cuts of cars into crossovers that are against the direction of travel. This track could actually be used as an industry as well, for this exercise I will use it as an industry, bringing Spencer's Industries to 4.

Upon leaving Spencer, we hit Notch 8 for the long 2.5% grade towards Meridian, on the upper level.


Arriving off the helix we go back to single line for a brief period, before arriving at Meridian.

At Meridian, there are two industries, one at each end of the loop. they may be expaneded upon, since there are only two inputs I'd like to make the switching a little interesting. For this exercise, there are two industries only.

Steino Yard
Onwards from Meridian, we hit the Steino Triangle - Gateway to Steino Yard:

Inside the Triangle is yard working, so it is not included on the CTC Panel. Instead, here is the current Iteration of the yard, with the industries highlighted in yellow:

So as you can see here, Steino Yard has 5 Industries, as well as a passenger terminus on the LHS, and freght marshalling facilities.

Below are the counts for each town and their Respective Industries:

Theta East 1
Theta (Branch) 3
Spencer 4
Meridian 2
Steino Yard 5

Total: 15

15 Industries are being served on this subdivision. Now I know the 'points' of the layout, I can now define how the freight flows. Its fairly simple, 98% of traffic runs like this:

Staging -> Steino Yard -> {Town} -> Steino -> Steino Yard -> Staging.

A simple path really, I'll try and explain it below..

-An EB Train of Empties leaves staging bound for Steino Yard. Upon arrival at Steino Yard, it picks up a full rake of cars that are ready to depart, and continues to EB Staging. (You'll see where this 'full rake' came from later)

-Meanwhile at Steino Yard, the shunter is busy arranging the cuts from the EB Arrival into EB and WB local turns. The EB train in this scenario will do the following:

Theta East

  • Depart Steino Yard towards Summit and Staging.
  • Arrive Theta, Switch
  • Arrive Spencer, Switch
  • Return to Steino Yard.

Whilst the WB Train will:
  • Depart Steino Yard towards Meridian
  • Arrive Meridian, Switch
  • Arrive Spencer, Switch
  • Continue Around via staging through road to Steino Yard.

There is still a train to go out.. The Theta Branch Turn. Rather than attaching it to another train, it is its own job, since it runs on one side of the layout only. The Theta Branch Turn will:

  • Depart Steino Yard towards Staging
  • Arrive Theta, continue down branch
  • Switch Theta
  • Switch Lineside Industries outside of Theta.
so we know the trains now go to their lineside industries, and each job picks up however many cars they need to drop off. This is done by assiging cuts of cars to a waybill.

So.. While the local turns are out, the Steino Yard switcher is preparing to switch each arrival train's cars into industries located within Steino. This is the start of the Steino -> Steino Yard process. As the local turns return to the yard, they either switch the cars themselves into Steino Industries, or the shunter does it for them. (depending on how busy each operator is) As they shunt the cars in, they take cars out, which are then formed into trains at Steino Yard to head to staging.

The mentality behind this is that goods coming from the lineside industries produce 'raw' goods, and the industries at Steino move them to refined goods. It adds another link in the chain to keep freight flowing.

As the full train/s is/are formed ready to depart to staging, an empty train coming from staging will arrive. this starts the cycle over again, When this cycle begins is anyones guess, however it is likely one operating session will see this cycle go run through once.

Other traffic (The dispatchers challenge)

Having these three freight trains on the line at any one time will most likely be a rare occurence, therefore preventing the looping of the cycle described above during an operating session.

Other traffic will include:

-Unit Intermodal/Coal/Refrigerated goods trains (the latter coming into Steino to be loaeded, hence the balloon loop around the outside)
-Local Passenger trains

These two extra trains will add interest and give drivers something to run whilst things are quiet. It also provides a challenge for the dispatcher to co-ordinate these two types of traffic with the local freights, as the unit trains will not fit in certain loops, and the passenger trains have priority over others.

I hope this decribes in some way how I'd like to run the layout - since this is entirely theoretical it may be subject to change, but I won't know until I run it in practice. Until then, it will be an idea that I will base my test operating sessions on.

Thanks for reading!


Progress - 06/11/2011

So its been a while since I've posted, however I have some updates!

1. The first Helix is complete.

As you can see below, the helix has been installed onto the layout. It took about 8 hours all up to install the table, lay the helix, and on each layer, lay the track as a continuous curve, and solder droppers for power. Many thanks to Rodney from Ashlin Designs for the custom built helix, easy to set up and very sturdy.

The Helix will join the two levels together. 2.5% Grade, 12.75" and 14" radius curves.
Side view with two trains stabled on the tracks (no locos)
A better view of the current end-of-line.

Another view into the helix.

2. The Upper level roadbed is complete.

As you can see below, the roadbed not extends through the whole layout on the upper level. Since it skips the peninsula (which will contain the yard) it is a simple 'U' Shape around. I managed to finish the spline in 2-3 days, with still plenty to spare.

Left Hand Side, future site of 'Meridian' with the loop and main line present for the helix.

The future site of 'Steino Triangle' - The entrance to Steino Yard.

A view showing both the upper and lower levels, with my current project of soldering sub-buses evidenced on the lower level.

Looking back onto the helix.
  3. The plans for the next couple of months.

By Christmas time, I would like to have a complete track around. That is going to be a hard ask, since I have to:

-Order another helix, install and lay track on said helix.
-Lay track along the upper level
-Have one point hooked into the DCC Bus.

Still, nothing like a challenge!

To keep myself motivated I'm also shortly going to purchase two locos to test the track with. A Kato SD70ACe, (UP Colours) and an Atlas GP38-2 (BNSF)

Why these two?
-One is a 6 axle and one is a 4 axle loco. This will help me test the pointwork and trackage that I have currently laid.
-Different brands have different characteristics, so this will let me see how they behave on the helix and along the other parts of the line.

Eventually they will be utilised for the unit coal train and local industry jobs.

4. This yard bugs me.

Is this yard too complex? Am I trying to compress too much track into the limited space I have? I'm starting to think so. Looking back at my previous design iterations for this yard, I can see how it has had a habit of filling out the empty space I have.

The yard in an operations context has a simple purpose:

-Trains come in with empties from staging.
-empties are arranged into industry turns for local trains to pickup.
-local trains come in from linside industries, drop off 'raw' goods which are then switched to industries within the yard.
-'refined' goods (cars picked up from industries within the yard) are switched into outgoing trains. they are then picked up and taken to staging - the car cycle is complete.
-A unit reefer train swings around the outside of the yard - to make things interesting.

I'm thinking of keeping the left hand side the way it its, but replace the haphazard tracks in the lower right with a ladder for a large grain/hopper goods complex.

The right hand side will become a lot simpler, the two passenger arrival roads will become a passenger arrival and loop road only, to allow freight trains to use the loop. the freighlt loop and industries will disappear to be replaced with a slightly modified layout of the 'timesaver' shunting puzzle. a lot simpler trackage, and a bit more room to put in some scenic items. since I will be battling a low depth-of-field on the rest of the layout, its probably a good idea.

Whilst writing this I did a quick mockup - I'm liking it this way a lot more already.

A modified design, with changed track each side, and expanded shunting necks.

I'm going to write another article shortly outlining my current idea for operations on the layout, after visiting a couple of layouts I have gotten some ideas on how to forward cars and I think i am now at a point where I can begin to start a theoritical car flow, and work on it from there once we start operating (Q1/Q2 next year hopefully)

Thats it for now, enjoy!