Sunday, May 29, 2011

More progress

Panel installed in the fascia
After quite some deliberation where exactly to put the local panel for Emsingen, I cut a hole in the fascia, and put the panel behind. This gives a nice look, and I hope the panel will be in a useful position for operators of all ages. The alternatives just didn't work for everyone. I tried installed the panel at an angle below the fascia, but that would have required to either intrude into the operator space, or the panel wouldn't have been visible for taller operators. Another option I briefly considered was the mount it from the ceiling (maybe on a movable arm), but that wasn't really satisfying either. In the end the traditional "mount it in the fascia" option worked out best. The temporary mounts for the panel will remain in place until I have a chance to give it a good work-out.

Platform detail.
I cleaned half of the underground track so far. I cut myself a little "cleaning pad" from hardboard and glued a handle to it. That way it's easy to apply some cleaning solution to the hardboard and slide it up and down the track. I'm trying to avoid using a Brightboy to reduce the amount of new scratches on these old sectional tracks.

The platforms of Emsingen are taking shape. The platform edges are made from wood and will get a pattern of large stone blocks when I'm done with the sand cover. The area between the wood pieces are filled with very fine, soupy and colored plaster, and topped with very fine N scale ballast.

This method of building a platform has grown on me, and I'm likely going to use it again when it's time to build the platform in Talheim. The photo shows the almost finished state of the platform (of course for messy work like this, the track gets covered up with painters tape). Later I will add some vegetation, "platform furniture" (lights, benches, signs), as well as people to break up the monotony. 

Summer Rain

Summer ... Rain? Here? Seriously? That can't be right.


We very much enjoyed the dripping of the rain while sitting outside. The smell of fresh rain on grass.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


The BR211 from Roco is a very nice runner. It runs fairly quietly, with only a slight wirring sound. Nowhere as loud as the Maerklin BR86, but not as quiet as the Maerklin BR24, which is practically silent.

BR211 completed its run-in routine over the last two evenings. Now it's time for detailing and some minor reprogramming (I want to be able to turn off the red rear lights from the throttle, since they are only supposed to be on when the engine is running light). I'll use that opportunity to save the decoder values into JMRI, and adjust the locomotive address.

Staging 2 tracks affect current draw sensor

Last night I was running a few locomotives and notices that there's lots of LocoNet traffic. LocoNet monitor reveals that the sensor measuring current draw in the staging departure block was continously flipping on and off.

After installing Staging 2 all three tracks were part of that block. I didn't really worry about train detection when I temporarily installed Staging 2. Bad idea...

Either way, apparently there's some resistance between the rails in Staging 2. I'll have to check for that when I install the track there permanently. Meanwhile, I  insulated Staging 2 from the departure block, and now the sensor is behaving properly again.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Emsingen Panel close to working

The LocoNet problems I had with the SRC16 are now resolved (Thank you, thank you, Bill Robinson!) Adding a DS64 on the LocoNet bus apparently provided enough signal stability that the SRC16 can work properly with the Intellibox.

I moved on to programming the local panel and it's respective routes before putting the decoder back into the layout. So ... much ... fun!

I'll post some pictures once everything is installed.

Update 05/24/2011:
The Emsingen panel and SRC16 are working correctly in place now. Routes work as advertised. For some routes the SRC16 needs to throw switches that are connected only to the track bus. The Intellibox translates the Switch commands sent to LocoNet from the SRC16 into DCC commands sent via the DCC accessory bus and executed by a Tam Valley Depot servo decoder.

Next up:
Temporarily put Staging 2 in place, track cleaning, some loco maintenance, and a shake out Ops session to determine work items for the next 2-3 weeks.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Reshuffling, part 1

I'm probably trying to do too much, but whatever...

Too much stuff.
Some of the supplies and tools cabinets are in the way of Staging 2. And I wanted to rearrange that area for a while now, make it more narrow to actually allow for a second chair, so the cabinets have to move. And the computer (oh, finding a new place for that is a lot harder than I thought).

And I wanted to finally hook up the blue "night light", and build a box into the wall so that freight cars can actually enter the factory hall at Werner & Soehne.

New switch to get into Staging 2
And I wanted to gain more storage for various kits and building material that's currently stored under the layout. So I started putting some of the computer supplies from the big garage cabinet into a box, only to realize that *that* cabinet is apparently too humid. Various USB connectors had rust on them, and spray cans where rusty at the bottom. Hmmmm. I should have grabbed that shelf/cabinet combo my neighbors gave away for free last weekend, and chop it down so that it fits along the train room...

I got the shelf for Staging 2 installed, since that defines how much space I have for the shelves and boxes. I opened up the wall, after moving all the wood and styrofoam out of the way that's stored on the other side, and ran wiring for the blue light, and built the box in the wall for Werner & Soehne.

Shelving Rearranged
Oh, and yesterday I finished painting the upstairs hallway, the stairs and a couple somewhat inaccessible walls above the entrance area. Took me only 3 1/2 years after our move-in date to get to that.

That reminds me... A little over 3 years ago, I started construction of what is now the train room. Progress has been slow, but steady, even though at times there's been very little happening for months at a time.

Friday, May 13, 2011

In other news

Some long outstanding orders are finally starting to come in.
  • A Roco BR211 diesel engine that will go very nicely with passenger trains for local service, along with the Maerklin BR24, and the (still to be digitized) Schienenbus.
  • All remaining hardware to digitize the Schienenbus.
  • Another DS64 and a couple more Tortoises.
  • The engine shed for Emsingen will complete the set of buildings for the small servicing facility I'm planning, and allow me to proceed with the overall arrangement of tracks and buildings there.
  • Bullfrog Snot liquid traction tires to get better traction for BR24. I haven't used this before, but I hope it will address the slipping issues experienced by this otherwise very nice model.
  • The first city houses for the town of Emsingen. This will be a combination of existing kits from the old layout, a few new kits, some low-relief models, and potentially a partial photo background for more depth.

Uhlenbrock Intellibox + Team Digital SRC16 powered from track = Smoke

I love the SRC16. It's a very powerful and flexible stationary DCC decoder with 16 independent inputs and the ability to drive up to 16 slow motion switch machines like the Circuitron Tortoise (when using the MotoD board, otherwise it's 8 Tortoises). I use a single SRC16 for the control panel in Emsingen, and all slow-motion switch machines at that station.

I mentioned before that I had trouble getting my Team Digital SRC16 to say a peep on LocoNet. After quite a bit of back and forth with Team Digital's support, and breaking a second SRC16 at least now I know what the problem is.

LocoNet Ground of the Uhlenbrock Intellibox is not referenced to track ground (contrary to e.g. a Digitrax system). So when you power the SRC16 from track power, and plug in LocoNet, you most certainly fry a little resistor near the LocoNet plugs. Afterwards the SRC16 still works just fine, but lost it's ability to talk to LocoNet, no matter what CVs are set.

The suggested work-around is simple:
Don't use track power, use a 12V DC wallwart. I'll try to bench-test this soon. I'm looking forward to being able to continue with work in Emsingen.

Team Digital was nice enough to repair the two fried units.

Update 05/25/2011:
The bench-test worked out great .

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Only days after announcing a security vulnerability in the Mac Client, Skype gets purchased by Microsoft for $8.5B. Apparently Windows is so secure now, that the Microsoft security folks needed a new challenge.

Monday, May 09, 2011

More staging

More staging? Don't I have enough staging tracks already? Well, yeah, kinda.

I have 4 staging tracks at the moment, 170-200cm in length. That is a lot longer than my longest passing tracks which is 120cm in Emsingen, so when I operate I often end up doubling up two of the shorter trains in the longer staging tracks. ... And then the schedule asks for the rear train to show up first. There are ways around that (e.g. shuffling trains to another staging track, or releasing the first train to the ramp, and then use the down ramp track to bring the second train up... yes, there are a lot of switches in staging...) but those operations are not fun to do, and the risk of derailments is high. I call the existing staging yard Staging 1.
Additionally, as I digitize more locomotives, I need more space for active trains.

To provide more storage capacity and expand staging capacity, I decided to stick a few more staging tracks below Moebelfabrik Kopper along one wall of the room. The shelf for Staging 2 is not yet built, so I tested the track arrangement by simply laying out the tracks on top of the future of home of Moebelfabrik Kopper.

Here are the constraints for Staging 2:

  • stub-ended staging (due to space and location)
  • 3-4 tracks (I'm not going to buy any additional M-Track for Staging 2)
  • accessible
  • enter/exit Staging 2 from the departure track of Staging 1 (use the cross-over on the ramp to get from the down ramp track to the departure track and the switch to Staging 2
  • no manual handling of locomotives between arrival and departure at Staging 2
I was able to cut an additional switch for accessing Staging 2 in the existing trackage behind the last switch of Staging 1 without modifying the existing geometry of the departure track.  Originally I planned a trapezoid switch arrangement for Staging 2 giving me 120 cm usable length for each staging track. Due to how the departure track curves and underground supports, I gave up on that approach and ended up with above arrangement. I'm mostly using M-track switches from my Dad's layout. Each staging track will have a usable length of 130cm. The switch ladder made from double-slip switches allows locomotives to move around the train.

The rear track is 77cm between switches, the middle track 90cm, and the front track 117cm. This is sufficient for most passenger locals I'm plannung to run. The full 130cm are available for longer trains, but those need more involved maneuvers to swap the locomotive to the other end of the train. A stub track can be attached to the last switch in the lower right of the picture. That track will stick through the door and will need to be removable. It might be possible to build a removable return loop from that last switch out into the garage and conecting to the middle track through a hole in the wall. 

There is a short stub track off the switches on the layout side to arrange for locomotive changes without running around the cars of an arrived train.

Sunday, May 08, 2011


recent article in the California HSR Blog talks about the security implications of potential terrorist attacks on high-speed rail infrastructure.

Of course, as one response TSA-style passenger screenings (also known as "security theater") are being floated by the folks that own that hammer.
Robert Cruickshank's discussion of the topic in the blog entry is worth reading, as he presents a very level-headed and fact-based response to such suggestions.

My take on this is, that rail systems by their nature are very large, and the tracks are easily accessible. For the determined, it's trivial and quite a bit more effective to attack trains without being inside, so to me the idea to increase train security by screening the passengers is simply ridiculous.

Maybe that's because, like Robert suggests, because I'm used to european trains as an effective, well integrated transportation mode. Contrary to Robert I don't think Europeans are "taking their chances" using public transit. Instead the mode of transportation is a choice that everyone makes when they leave the relative safety of their house. Every year a lot more people die from car accidents than terrorist attacks...