Saturday, October 29, 2011

Kalmbach Books now available in digital formats

Here's another publisher who is having a hard time adjusting to the digital age: Kalmbach, the publisher of the venerable Model Railroader magazine. I'm a subscriber of Model Railroader, and looking at inserts and ads in each issue, it's very obvious that Kalmbach is very good at recycling content from articles in different forms and trying to milk their customers any way they possibly can.

Recent example: The Model Railroader 75 year DVD set ... at a cost of $195. The biggest value here is being able to look up a certain article from a few years ago, but at almost $200 that's really not worth it. miba (the german equivalent to Model Railroader) is selling their 60 year collection on DVDs for 60 Euros, ie. at a cost equivalent to 4 digital yearly editions of miba on CD.

Another example: Kalmbach Books is releasing popular books in digital format by partnering with Zinio.  Take "Basic Model Railroading", an introductionary book to model railroading. Zinio charges $17.95, the exact same price as the recommended retail cost of the paperback version. Sounds fair?
Not really, no-one sells the paperback at retail price. It's on Amazon for about $10-12, and can be found new for as low as $5. While there's certainly some value to be able to carry around your railroad literature on a memory stick, is it worthy to pay more than street price? No, thank you.

And oddly ... I still prefer paper over pixels.

Friday, October 28, 2011

At night

I like this shot of the signals south of Blossom Hill in the headlights of an approaching train. I should come back with a decent camera and try to do this right. A cell phone camera in the end is still a cell phone camera...

The answer

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Nothing new

Yep, there's not much going on right now with the layout. The "busy season" has started, and on top of that a lot of things are happening at work. That doesn't leave much time for modeling, building stuff or even running trains. I don't expect to get much work done on the layout until at least Thanksgiving.

However, I'm getting my fair share of running trains over the next week: SVL has the last ops session of the year on Friday, and I'm invited to an ops session at a local layout next Tuesday. Both should be fun, though likely quite different in how they pan out.
The following Saturday, November 5th, 12 noon to 5pm is Open House at SVL.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Schedule

I designed the passenger schedule for the Welztalbahn around a few constraints.
  • The schedule would need to make sense in the real world. My operators most likely don't really care about this, since they are busy with getting trains and cars to where they are supposed to go, but I notice and that's what counts. 
  • Provide for some operational interest. I.e. make life a little bit harder for operators by setting up meets and having to think about train priorities and direction through Talheim interlocking.
  • Get in the way of freight trains and switching. 
Emsingen is the hub of activity on the layout, closely followed by the interlocking in Talheim. Above constraints led to the following principles:
  • Passenger traffic flows mostly between the big cities "surrounding" the layout area, as well as commuter service to Freiburg. 
  • Emsingen is "Eilzugstop" (i.e. the faster passenger trains stop only in Emsingen). 
  • Trains arriving from Prechtal via the (imagined) branch line either terminate in Emsingen, or continue on to Freiburg.
  • North-bound passenger trains to Prechtal can meet a south-bound Eilzug to Freiburg in Emsingen.
  • South-bound passenger trains from Prechtal can meet a north-bound Eilzug from Freiburg in Emsingen.
That yielded the following sequence of events:
PT = Prechtal, FR = Freiburg, ST = Stuttgart, TB = Tuebingen,  EM = Emsingen, TH = Talheim
(S) = running south-bound, (N) = running north-bound
  • EM switching
  • PT -> P 8114 (S) meet E 3577 (N) at Emsingen -> FR
  • FR -> E 3577 (N) meet P 8114 (S) at Emsingen -> ST
  • Ng 83271 (N) prep
  • Dg (S)
  • Ng 83721 (N)
  • ST -> E 3576 (S) -> FR
  • FR -> P 8115 (N) -> PT
  • Dg (N)
  • PT -> P 8116 (S) meet E 3555 (N) at Emsingen -> FR
  • FR -> E 3555 (N) meet P 8116 (S) at Emsingen -> TB
  • Ng 83720 (S) prep
  • Ng 83720 (S)
  • FR -> P 8117 (N) -> PT
  • TB -> E 3554 (S) -> FR
  • EM -> Ueb 97 836 (S) -> TH (Switching)
  • PT -> P 8118 (S) meet E 3579 (N) at Emsingen -> FR
  • FR -> E 3579 (S) meet P 8118 (S) at Emsingen -> ST
  • ST -> E 3578 (S) -> FR
  • FR -> P 8119 (N) -> PT
  • Dg (S)
  • PT -> P 8120 (S) meet E 3557 (N) at Emsingen -> FR
  • FR -> E 3557 (N) meet P 8120 (S) at Emsingen -> TB
  • TH -> Ueb 97 836 (N) -> EM
  • EM switching
There are still several flaws (e.g. meets in Emsingen are always the same direction, and there are no returning trains from Tuebingen), but I liked how the schedule left room for switching moves, and allowed for ebb and flow of traffic.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Third Ops Session at the Welztalbahn

Today marked the first time the Welztalbahn saw an operating session with 3 operators. Although, ... it almost didn't happen.

I prepped for the session early this week, wrote a short description of the layout, its "history", and setting. I created scheduled trains. I did some (minor) staging. All that was left to do this morning was cleaning track in staging, and testing one or two trains that changed, and/or were known to be a balky. I also had set up a Chromebook with a connection to JMRI's mini-web server and planned to operate the turnouts in Staging from that. 45 mins of prep on the layout and plenty of time to get other chores done around the house as well. When I threw one turnout, hell broke loose...

LocoNet went nuts. One of the semaphore signals was being set to red over and over again, two turnouts did the same thing. I cut power to the stationary decoders. ... Deep breath. ... turn power back on, and it all continued. Power-cycle everything, and it still continued. Further debugging showed it came from JMRI Logix, but that didn't seem to make that much sense either. There's nothing in the Logix doing this. After ripping a lot more hair out, fruitless debugging, and contemplating to cancel the ops session, I realized this all started with when I threw a switch in staging which I haven't done since I added semaphores ... could it be ... 4x DS64, 2x SRC16 ... that they draw just too much power on the 12V DC bus? ... Indeed! That bus is powered by a wallbrick rated for 1A, and when the system comes live, there are short spikes of up to 1.5A, multiple DS64 charging their capacitors. Overloading the wallbrick can cause all kinds of funky problems.

Robert brought along a DC powerpack, things worked well with that, and the session could start. I took the mole job running staging, while Balazs manned Emsingen, and Robert took Talheim. We ran a total of 19 trains (out of 20 planned; BR50 didn't want to cooperate for the last Dg run). Aside from the BR50 issue, there where no mechanical problems, and no derailments! The session ran for abot 2.5 hours at a leisurely pace that left time for chatting on the side.

The operator positions are based on location.

Running Emsingen is mostly a switching job, sorting cars in the yard, switching the sidings in Emsingen, and swapping cars from the local freights. This position also includes running the Emsingen tower.

The Talheim position gets to run most passenger trains and freights on the visible portion of the layout, as well as operate the interlocking tower in Talheim. The interlocking can get a bit busy at times. For balance, towards the end of the session this position switches Talheim industries, while the Emsingen operator gets to run some trains.

The mole job is responsible for positioning trains at the staging exit for the operators to pick up, and storing trains arriving from the visible portion of the layout in staging. This position keeps track of the schedule and occasionally runs trains when the schedule asks for a passenger train meet in Emsingen.

Suggestions for improvement:

  • Better indication of direction. For both stations it's unclear which direction is North or South.
  • Prepare instructions for the individual trains that explain the required moves. Especially expectations about direction, station stops, and meets.
  • Better instructions for how to operate the interlocking panel.
  • Control all switches from the panel.
  • Explain color codes of trains and waybills somewhere.
  • Make sure to have English labeling for everything.
The sequence schedule I cobbled together worked surprisingly well. I'll have a separate post about that.

Overall, this session was a much bigger success than the last time, and everyone had a good time. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

More Backdrop Painting

When I got home tonight I needed to decompress and started painting more of the backdrop along the wall near Hochwaldtunnel. Not only did I feel a lot better when dinner was ready, but I really liked how the landscape now frames the layout in that corner.

So after everybody was in bed I cleaned up the edges of the existing backdrop painting and kept going around the rear corner almost to the tunnel portal behind the roundhouse. I'm quite happy with the result. Most of the painting in the rear corner will likely be hidden by the town of Emsingen, but I hope at least some of it will remain visible.  ... and if not, I can always paint the mountains a bit higher...

Wednesday, October 05, 2011


It seems I dropped my body clock somewhere on the East Coast on the flight back. In the evenings I rarely make it past 8:30pm, and in the morning I'm awake by 5am at the latest. Arriving in the office while it's not quite daylight yet ...

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Interlocking now working in Talheim

I finally completed the interlocking in Talheim, including working semaphore signals.

Here's a rough overview of how I implemented it with Logix in JMRI.

1) The panel: I built an actual panel with push buttons. All approach tracks as well as the station tracks in Talheim have a button. A route is requested by first pressing the origin, then the destination push button. The panel is built using a Team Digital SRC16 and connected to LocoNet.

2) Button state: When a push button is pressed, it causes a Loconet Sensor (LS) message and a respective Internal Sensor (IS) in JMRI is set to active, as well as a IS for "button pressed".

3) Route Selection: When the second button is pressed, the IS of the first button, the "button pressed" IS, and the LS of the button just pressed, uniquely identify the route being requested. For each route I wrote a Logix with the precondition of the respective sensor combinations. In the action part of the Logix, I trigger a JMRI route to line the switches, reset the "button pressed" IS, and set the interlocking internal sensors.

4) Interlocking: Each route through Talheim potentially conflicts with another route. There is an Internal Sensor for each valid route. When the respective Logix for a route is triggered, it sets the Internal Sensor for this route to active, and all conflicting routes to inactive.

5) Route Execution: The JMRI routes selected in 3) trigger the switch machines and line the switches. When the route is set, an Internal Sensor becomes active that indicates the route is set.

6) Signals: Each valid route has associated signals. When both the IS for the route is active, as well as the JMRI route sensor is active, the signal allowing a train to enter that route is set to Green. Since the interlocking sets routes to inactive, another Logix rule triggers on the IS of a route becoming inactive, and sets the signal to red.


The logic works very well, and since the flow always originates with the panel and goes "downhill" from there, I don't think there are loops or races in the logic.

I have not yet implemented setting the signals to Red once a train passes, since I don't have the respective track sections wired up.