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Over the last two years the Capital Model Railway Club (CMRC) in Wellington, New Zealand has been building a new exhibition layout.
With only 12 active members and lying half a world away from major suppliers, we have had to adopt an in house design and build approach for a good number of the items used on the layout. That has included virtually all of the electronics and animations.
After briefly mentioning a home brewed accessory decoder for our layout, a number of forum members have asked for details. Having been a beneficiary of other Open Source (OS) projects such as Adrian Bowyer’s RepRap 3D printer, our own Dr Geoff Bunza and of course JMRI, we felt the best way to share this information might be to make it an Open Source initiative. In addition, there may be other components of the layout that could also be shared.
While Open Source is often linked only to computer software I prefer the following description: “Open source revolves around the concept of freely sharing technological information so that it may be improved through multiple insights and viewpoints. Since the technology is open source, the amount of work that needs to be done is reduced because multiple contributions are added by many individuals.”
I would like to think that this “Initiative” could spread well beyond the tiny contribution that we in the CMRC can offer. Other examples that readily spring to mind are the many model railroad related 3D printed objects freely available on fora such as Thingiverse and of course Dr Bunza’s animation projects.
I am also extremely conscious of not stepping on the toes of other initiatives such as JMRI, LCC, or commercial projects. This should be seen as complementary rather than competitive.
As the new CMRC layout forms the core of this discussion, I thought it best to provide a few details about it. At the design stage we came up with the following givens:
All of the 16 modules are 800mm (2ft 8”) wide The 2ft section is the display area and the 8” wide section is for staging. The two are separated by a 1ft high backdrop. The modules are either 4ft or 5ft long
The track plan is essentially 3 nested loops. A running (display loop) on the outside, an operating loop and a staging loop. On the running loop trains can only be run in a clockwise direction while on the operating loop trains can be run simultaneously in either direction. There are 4 links to the staging loop to bring trains on or off show.
We have been the beneficiaries of a deceased former member who left the club a considerable amount of equipment from his home layout. This included a Digitrax DCS 240 Command Station and a large quantity of Peco turnouts. A station on the layout proudly bears his name.
As we managed to sell our previous layout at our main exhibition in November 2017, we needed to get a wriggle on with our new layout.
In that first year we managed to construct all 16 modules and 8 aluminum storage cases. We designed a track layout and laid most of the track together with 68 servo controlled turnouts and about 78 signals.
Alignment and clamping was achieved with a combination of table pins and “Norse” latches. (This aspect was published in the April 18 Edition of MRH – “Toma: Bringing it all Together) https://model-railroad-hobbyist.com/magazine/mrh2018-04
In addition, our electronics guru had come up with a PCB design that would enable occupancy detection, signal control, turnout control, animation and lighting effects and short circuit protection. We made and fitted one of these PCBs to each module. A loconet bus connected each of the 16 PCBs together and to a dispatchers PC running loconet.
Our intra module wiring consisted of three connections:
Only one module had any scenery but the bare layout was displayed with trains running. at our Exhibition in November 2018.
Our aim of improving setup and take down times was also achieved. From arrival at the venue to trains running was under 2 hours (Previous layout was over 4 hours). Take down was 1.5 hours.
That first exhibition provided a number of valuable lessons so a number of modifications were made to the track plan. Being a club design each of the members has their own views that can vary from “we need more track” to “less is more”. Similarly concepts of how scenery should look vary considerably. It then becomes a case of attempting to achieve compromise between view points while also trying to achieve a consistent “look”
Notwithstanding, we have endeavored to harness individual expertise by appointing Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in areas such as electronics, hand laid track, building construction, scenery etc etc.
Of necessity, 90% of the track had to be laid on all of the modules. However, in this second year we have taken more of a TOMA approach by doing scenery one module at a time. When a Module is done to a certain level, the adjacent module is connected and the scenery carried across to the next one. Scenery is now at the 75% complete stage on 5 modules and at about the 30% stage on a further 4 modules.
None of the modules have been ballasted and we will probably leave this for as long as possible. Changing track layouts is a lot easier when the track hasn’t been ballasted and we would prefer to get a lot more running time under our belts.
The layout was on display again last weekend and I have attached a short video to give a sense of how we are trying to achieve the aim of being a draw card for spectators. This is my first attempt at video editing so please forgive all the issues.
In addition to the video, I thought it might be useful to show some photos of the layout set up at Railex 2019.
All sixteen modules in their frames ready for loading. Adjustable feet being wound down to 0
First two frames in the truck. It's a tight fit
Truck loaded. Everything fits - Just. The grey box is a carry frame for our Blast furnace structure. The top unbolts and the base plugs straight into the module with connections for both track power and lighting. There are over 2000 LEDs on this structure alone.
Set up begins. The length of timber in the hands of the guy in the middle of the picture is actually a layout jig that sets the spacing for each of the 8 frames. The frame at the left of the picture contains our power supplies and Digitrax DCS 240 command station. One switch on the front panel switches everything on/off.
Set up nearing completion with all Frames/Modules in place. As you can see, the Frames double as legs to support the Modules. With the Norse latches there is no risk of modules pulling apart. We use a laser level to set the height correctly for each Frame.
Two hours after arrival at the venue, set up is complete and trains are running. The two monitors on the Dispatchers desk show the JMRI panel on the left and Route selection options on the right. The backboard is in place and you can see the staging loops on this side of the backboard with one of the staging exits just to the right of the second monitor. Plywood tops on each of the Frames make great shelves for storing rolling stock etc.
We run a Wifi router and make extensive use of Engine Driver and Wi Throttle for running trains. Many of our members prefer to run their trains from outside the layout as it makes it much easier to communicate with the public. It also makes it a lot easier to avoid running red signals.
Interference with the Wifi signal has yet to happen. Duplex Digitrax throttles can also be used.
I mentioned at the start that we would focus this layout on making it attractive to the public as a priority over any claim to prototypical accuracy. To that end, we make no excuse for what some might regard as excessive bling.
Over the two days of the show, I believe our approach was vindicated if the level of interest and number of comments made to us was anything to go by. Her are some typical photos of crowd reactions during the show
Most of those taking photos with smart phones were actually females in the 20 to 30 age bracket!! There was also a huge number of kids of all ages. (Who says the hobby is dying).
Comment of the weekend went to a 30 something female who had clearly been dragged to the show by her partner. However, when she stood in front of our road works scene with the roller going back and forth and various Faller cars and trucks stopping for the Stop/Go lights, she turned to one of our guys and said "I could stand here and watch this all day". Her smile said it all.
I should point out that the Faller Cars are fully integrated with the trains and JMRI. A train on the ops loop will activate lights and barrier arms as it approaches a crossing (occupancy detection). When that happens the stop coils in the road bed are activated and both Stop/Go lights at the road works go red. Once the train clears the block the arms go up and after a brief pause the vehicles head off. This is all coordinated through JMRI Logix.
The Road Works scene was actually devised to regulate the spacing between cars. Every vehicle is stopped at the road works and released after a short delay to ensure even spacing between vehicles.
The Road Roller is driven by a small stepper motor and a I will share details of that later.
This article first appeared on model-railroad-hobbyist.com
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