Automation, Track Plan and Software

DCC is sometimes referred to as two wires to the track and off you go. This is essentially correct and even here the benefits are clear for those who want to run trains independently of each other with a controller, no need for isolated sections and switches. However for me this wasn't enough.

So I was drawn in by what else DCC could offer and the Holy Grail for me was to have varying degrees of automation but with the option to run trains manually, as a driver (with other trains working around me, or as a signalman from a physical control panel with proper levers and buttons to press, a signalling mimic panel with lights to show where trains were... and quite a but more.

Most importantly for me as i'm a relatively solitary soul and live in Germany, many miles from Blighty, it has to function fully with just one operator.

I visited Warley and met the team at Mc.Kinley Railway with their demonstration layout (you can see the link to a youtube video of this demo layout at the bottom) . David and Darren were very helpful and i've been down to see the layout on a few operating evenings. It just shows what can be done with some imagination.

Anyrail has been invaluable in planning out this layout. It's a model railway planning software available to download online and has many libraries of track (I use Peco Code 100). After using the free trial version I quickly realised the potential of  this software not only to plan the maximum amount of track and flexibility into the layout in the space provided, but also to document the following:

  • Point Addresses for the Signatrak DAC20 point decoders
  • Occupation Zones for the Digitrax BDL168
  • Power Zones for the Digitrax PM42
  • Locations for the Kadee magnets

The plans can be printed out in 1:1 scale, I use an A3 printer and change the track option to "centreline" and change the colour to the lightest grey that will be visible to save on ink. This really comes into it's own on complex track work.

I should point out of course i'm just a satisfied customer and have no connection to any companies mentioned on this website.

 2019 10 30 BDL168
There are 8 detections zones in each Digitrax BDL168, all of the blocks in each individual decoder has to be fed power from the same Power Control Device (Digitrax PM42). I have 8 x BDL168 which gives me a maximum of 64 zones - for automated running with Freiwald's Train Controller Software it's not essential to have detection on anything but stop and start blocks, however as I want to have a signal box mimic panel and also ensure that i'm keeping as prototypical as I can be (limited only by my knowledge of prototypical!) then I want detection on all running lines.

 

 2019 10 30 DAC20

The Signatrak Point decoders have 16 outputs which can control 8 points (2 outputs, thrown and closed per point) The only real conideration here is the distance from the decoder itself to try to economise on the amount of wire needed. I use Cobalt Classic and Omega Classic Analogue point motors. I have found that it is not possible to throw two point motors from one switch, however it is possible to programme the DAC20 to perform macros (i.e. throw point 293 and point 267) Routes are also possible. This will be useful if I wish to run the layout without computer control from a traditional panel which is an option I want to incorporate.

The DAC20 can also be also powered seperately from DCC track power so that if there is a short circuit (i.e. when a loco approaches an opposing point set against it) the Power Detection system will cut power to that zone, if the track power actually powered the motors it would not be possible to change the points and therefore alleviate the short). So the DAC20 is set up to receive power from an auxiliary power source the DCC signal through Loconet. It is for this reason that I have not progressed with the Cobalt IP Digital Point motors, although they are excellent products.

 

 Power Zones Hardware
The power zone unit (Digitrax PM42) provides short protection for 4 power zones. As described above this cuts power to the power zone affected (but not the other 3 zones) until the short is alleviated. I have also set up an indicator on Train Controller (it could be a physical LED directly from the PM42) that shows which zone is affected. Nice to have, but not essential.

 

 Kadee Magnets
With the various layers view in Anyrail it's possible to show different elements within the same file. So for example I planned out what I think are the best locations for Kadee uncoupling magnets, but you could also add anything. Of course it can all be done by printing off a track plan and scribbling on it.

 

 Train Controller (Railroad & Co.) By Friewald.

TC1

The brains behind the automation of this layout is in the Railroad & Co. / Traincontroller software by Freiwald. It's not cheap, but it's very versatile. I have not spent a lot of time exploring the full potential but if you are interested to get a flavour of what it does I can suggest you go through some of the instructional videos on Youtube by Rudys Model Railway Channel.

The above image is a screen print of one window in the software. The orange highlighted blocks represent occupied blocks with the loco name. The highlighted yellow dash is the route set. As the train progresses through the route it will light up not only the blocks but also the orange indicators.

If you look at Bay 3 you can see a green and red flag. These are "flagmen", or small coloured "flags". These are very powerful and are fully user defined. So for example the flagmen here are "lit" because several user defined conditions are met. i.e. Block "Bay 3" is occupied and the route is has been activated. There could be an "action" associated with this flag being met. i.e. i) wait for 10 seconds ii) change signal to green. A further flagman could be lit when a physical button is pressed (or a virtual button on Traincontroller) which is the TRTS (Train Ready to Start) signal from the guard. ONLY then would the train pysically start because the programming stiplates the TRTS needs to be activated, the action could trigger a sound file on the PC, a function on the loco, or another macro / action as well as setting the train moving.

This is just an example, but using DCC a Loconet accessory decoder could be wired to a physical push button switch, and this switch (address 99 let's say)  is linked to a flagman or a switch on the Traincontroller software, could be linked to the conditions needed to activate the route (i.e. set the train moving on a predefined route). The combination of DCC, Software and Hardware mean that it's possible to replicate many prototypical features of the prototype. And i'm only scratching the surface.

I'm beginning to understand this more, and therefore i'm able to explain it better too. More to come.

 

 

The Link to the Guide to Block Detection by McKinley Railway is here. There is a whole series of videos explaining many aspects of the layout from historical, modelling and DCC perspectives

mck1
 

 

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s2smodern

Rewiring the Digitrax and CML Boards

It doesn’t look like much has happened throughout 2017, life got in the way. 2018 seems to be much much clearer and progress seems much more likely. But much has been done. In the odd few days when there has been time and when i’ve actually been at home, the paints have been out. There have been a lot more “weathered” old Private Owner Wagons marketed by the usual manufacturers, but with a bit of effort I think a much better finish can be achieved. Working to the Vallejo instructions included in the “Weathered Wood“ pack of their acrylic paints I got the following result. For a first effort i’m not disappointed. Still need to finish these off with some weathering, rusting and metalcote on the metalwork and decals.

One of the big problems was wiring as I went along, getting some mojo together to go from section to section was difficult so I bit the bullet and completely re-wired the boards and got everything programmed and working. I also added a further BDL168 to give me precise stopping in the station, although the experiments I have done give me fairly accurate stopping distances with TrainController. This looks a lot neater anyway And laying track is now much less of a big job when I can wire it up straight afterwards.

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