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The prototype Big Horn Subdivision of the BNSF is dispatched by CTC. This is a relatively heavily used segment of single track main with numerous sidings for meets. During my first operating session, I decided that given the lack of signals on my layout we would dispatch the layout using track warrants. This proved to be a huge workload for the dispatcher (me) and for the crews, and I was not satisfied with the fluidity of the layout. Too much of our time was spent copying warrants and not enough running trains. This set me to thinking about how better to dispatch. I will explain the tentative solution that I'm in the process of implementing in comments below.
In the April 2017 MR an article described a method of using paper signal templates to dispatch a layout via what is essentially "poor man's CTC". This system requires the dispatcher to place the appropriate template in front of a red signal template at each signal that would display other than a stop aspect. When the signals have been placed the train crew can proceed on signal indication and remove the overlay as they "knock down" the signals during their journey. This resets the signal to red for any following trains.
Obviously this entails many compromises, but at least as many advantages. The elimination of a ton of wiring, no need to use powered switch machines, eliminating the need for detection, and no need to program a CTC panel are among the main advantages. I figure I can implement this system in a month of model railroading time for less than a hundred dollars versus a couple thousand dollars minimum and no idea how much time (minimum of a year is my estimate) for a full blown CTC system when you count the cost of signals, control modules, detection loops and wheelsets, and switch machines. Time is money too.
As I thought through the idea, though, I did come up with some potential improvements. The main one is making the signals look a bit more realistic than using paper templates. I figured, why not build a semi-scale model of a signal and build it in a way that it's easy to just apply the proper aspect overlay to display whether you want clear, approach, or stop displayed. My first attempt involved a pin on the signal head that would allow me to hang the proper face over the red signal. It worked, but it was kind of fiddly. Here's a look at the first signal I glued up:
That worked, but as I said the templates were fiddly-pretty small, and hard to handle. And you have to be pretty steady to fit the head over a small styrene pin. So at the suggestion of a friend, I tried tiny, tiny magnets mounted on the back of the red template and a small scrap of steel glued to the back of the other overlays. These are also slightly oversized to make them easier to handle (and to see) and I found some colored 5 mm jewels in the Wal Mart craft aisle that dress things up a bit. Here are some examples:
Each of these has either a green or yellow aspect displayed, over the permanently installed red aspect, supported by a magnet. One other advantage of using magnets is the ability to just hang the templates on a magnetic strip on the fascia below the location of the signal for storage. The signal masts for these are small dowels.
In subsequent comments to this post I will explain how I used my Silhouette Cameo print and cut feature to make the signal templates and the construction of the signals themselves. My aim in this comment was to provide some background information on the project. I'm interested other's observations on this idea.
At the west end of Sheridan Yard, the heart of my railroad, in real life there is a signal bridge. After seeing a photo of this bridge, I decided the layout needed something similar and so I set work creating such a thing. I believe that even though this is an ex-CBQ line, the signal bridge is ex-NP as it matches a number I have seen and photographed along NP lines in Minnesota and North Dakota. I started fabricating a model from Evergreen styrene and the curved support that I drew and cut out using the Silhouette. Here is the basic model prior to beginning to add detail such as signal heads and railings to protect the worker from falling.
Here's another shot after I spent some time getting the details worked out. Just about ready for a coat of paint at this time, only a couple more details to add.
Each signal head is configured like the pole mounted signals, with a tiny magnet on the back of the red head used to attach overlays as needed.
And just like that, this project has outgrown what I initially intended and taken on a life of its own. Sometimes it seems like model railroading leads me where it wants rather than the reverse. And to tell you the truth I like it that way!
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This article first appeared on model-railroad-hobbyist.com
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