Thursday, April 10, 2008

Order Part 1 and how to operate staging

Today, the first part of an order from EuroRail Hobbies & More arrived. Maerklin 2205 Flextrack and the Uhlenbrock 72600 decoders. It's funny to be in California, unpack the box, and read all the German instruction booklets. I think I don't need any additional flextrack, unless it turns out to be cheaper than regular track of the same total length. Will need to figure out how to properly trim the track to length, as well as how track insulation works with K track. I'm looking forward to watching trains on those nice gentle curves through my scenery ... ok, well, mostly gentle curves I don't have a ton of space to play with.

The decoders are quite small and will fit perfectly in the space where the direction changer switch coil of the locomotives is currently located. I'll wait with the actual digitalization of the locos until the shipment with the Intellibox shows up, so that I can actually test the decoder, too. Meanwhile, I need to get a smaller tip for my
solder iron. The solder pads on those decoders are smaller than I expected...

Since the (hidden) lower level of the layout will be built completely from M track, I still have some time to figure out dealing with K track. The first layout build stage will feature the hidden staging yard and associated ramps only. I will probably digitize the switches on that part of the layout right away to make use of the "Fahrstrassen" support in the Intellibox. I am planning to operate switches on the visible part of the layout manually. Aside from maybe having a computer automatically pick through trains from the staging yard and send them on their way, the layout is small enough to easily keep myself (and another operator) busy with manual operation, especially now that the access ramp to staging has double-track and I don't have to wait for a train to make it all the way down to staging before I can send another train up.

Here's how this might work: All staging tracks are loaded with trains. The computer picks a track sends the train to the outbound track on the ramp. Whenever an operator feels like it, they can release the train from the outbound track into the layout.

The switches in the tunnel to staging are aligned so that no matter which track an operator sends a train to staging, it ends up on the inbound track. There needs to be some visual indication to the operator that the inbound track to staging is occupied. Maybe some green/red light? A distance signal? I'd like something that's on the layout and makes sense in the context. Trains on the inbound track to staging stop before the staging yard and automatic operation takes over. Whenever the computer notices a train stopped on the inbound track, it picks an empty staging track, aligns the switches accordingly and the train proceeds under computer control to the assigned staging track.

For this to work, I need 3 occupancy detectors. One at the top end of the outbound track ("there is a train ready to leave staging") , one at the top end of the inbound track (sets signal "inbound track is busy, no more trains to staging please"), one at the bottom of the inbound track ("yo, computer, send this train to a staging track"). Once that detector shows the inbound track free, it can reset the signal at the top to allow another train in. A safety section can be added to make sure no train can proceed into staging if the inbound track is occupied.

I could do this with 2 occupancy detectors, but would loose a little bit safety and feedback to the human operators, since the wouldn't know when the train actually made it safely into the staging yard.

Each staging yard track needs a computer controlled isolated section at the head end, so that trains really stop before entering the exit switch ladder, as well as any accessories (like smoke generators in steam engines) are turned off. In theory, all decoders should be able to deal with this.

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