05 December 2009
Most of the track bus connections are now soldered to the track and run back to connector block into which the DCC power is fed. So far, so easy.
The newly laid track lengths themselves are not yet broken at the section breaks. I will do that later once the track is all laid, secured and wired. As mentioned in a previous post, the trackbed level at the section breaks has to be millimetre perfect; by laying the track across the break I hope to establish the alignment and then cut the track with minimal impact on the rail surface.
In the course of the past few weeks I have also, in odd moments, managed to get the three point motors connected up and working. I really do have an increasing need for the control panel.
The next step is to extend the storage sidings the other way (B4 and B5). All looking good so far.
07 November 2009
I'm using various Peco bits and pieces, like the capacitor discharge unit and the probe & studs, recently acquired. For the moment it's all mounted on a bit of hardboard so I can wire up new motors to test them. Eventually I'll put it all onto a proper control panel, once I've worked out where, in the increasingly cramped work space around the layout, I'm going to put it.
19 October 2009
Basically, nothing. The more I have thought about the branch line, the less convinced I have become that its course along the front of the layout is the right one. Scenically it gets in the way of the mainline, especially the bridge on F2; operationally it doesn't add a great deal of interest. I really want the branch line to come in from a different direction to give more visual interest and more scenic scope. A possibility is to build a branch-line trackbed on top of the spur carrying the new loop from F1. This would take the branch line along the side of the loft and make a separate little vignette that is more or less independent of the main layout. Branch line trains would run through this, past a scenic break of some sort, and continue onto the main layout past the F1 sidings and into the mainline station.
Well, it's an idea, and I have to think about it some more before committing myself. In any case, the branch line is now also, like the new loop, temporarily on hold. I have plenty else to do: laying track and turning this pile of wood into a working railway!
18 October 2009
Because the layout has so many section breaks it's important to keep everything as level as possible. My first attempt has not been altogether successful:
It isn't too bad, in the sense that it doesn't derail trains (although in this shot one might think it would), but (in the language of another universe) it doesn't pass my own QC check for smooth running. So I'll be working to improve my technique over the next few weeks.
In the course of the track laying I am also installing the PL-10 point motors under the trackbed. All the points in the shot below have holes cut, and motors attached!
I have managed to get power into the track and run a train up and down the short section that's been fixed so far. It's all a bit cobbled-together (as the photo below shows) but so far, it works well enough.
The relict Hornby R900 (still in good condition though!) was donated by my brother-in-law and serves a useful function as a 15V AC power source to drive the point motors. The Select DCC controller has no such output. When I build the control panel I may install a custom power source but this will do for now.
26 September 2009
I have also taken up the old branch line trackbed (sob!) and installed a new one (or most of it) along the front of the layout. This, when finished, will connect with the outer loop near the sidings on F1. The new branch line isn't the most exciting of routes but should make for a more manageable gradient.
Having got this far with the new loop, basically having both ends of it plumbed in and ready, I've decided not to do any more work on it for the time being. It will be easy to return to it in due course, without any disruption to the main layout. So once the new branch line is connected up I will return to the first fix and the track-laying. I really want to run some trains now!
Finally, a gratuitous shot of my birthday present from Karen. A very welcome addition to my motive power fleet!
14 September 2009
Black tracks are "visible" parts of the layout. Blue tracks are the sub-surface lines. Green is the new "relief" loop. The track labels should largely speak for themselves.
I am pleased with this as a first attempt. It will, of course, need some revision. But when I am finally happy with it I should be able to have it screen-printed onto something that can form the front of the control panel.
13 September 2009
And here's the new spur on F1 looking towards the back of this section (the section is currently resting on others along the back). Not a good photo; sorry.
On F5 I now need to realign the outer trackbed (F5o) as there's no longer enough clearance where the new loop spur crosses. This means starting and, of course, finishing the outer gradient further round the loop.
The other casualty of the F5 realignment is my neat little branch line feeder than snakes to and fro among the trackbed supports. The newly moved gradients now don't allow clearance for this any more, so I will reluctantly have to move it. The easiest solution will be to take a spur off the F5o mainline feeder, just after it emerges from under the new loop spur. This might also soften the gradient on the branch line, so it's no bad thing (although a less interesting alignment).
08 September 2009
I am hoping that this will all change shortly. I have a new loop to build, after all, and the time it takes to build it is time I didn't expect to be spending on construction at this stage. I thought I'd be well into the track-laying, and able to work in the evenings without needing to bang, drill or saw something every five minutes. So much for the optimism of July.
I have actually done a little bit of real work; specifically, I've put in the new lower-level trackbed on F1 to provide a feed from the storage sidings out to the new loop. The layout is a building site once again. Now that the holidays are over and the weekly routines are restarting, I expect to be able to do more work, and will post photos when I have something to show for all my thinking time.
06 August 2009
All the enthusiasm of the previous post quickly evaporated. Flushed with success from getting my three-car DMU round without suffering from the gradients, I tried a five-car loco-hauled train using a variety of locos. Every time I ran the test, it failed on the inner loop. Not one of my locos can haul a five-car train up that slope. Wheelslip kicks in, and everything gradually grinds to a halt. On the outer loop, where the gradient is less severe, the trains make it up more or less comfortably. But this layout has two loops and both have to work; at the moment, one of them doesn't. Hmmm. (And it's not as if some people didn't warn me this might happen!)
Various options have sprung to mind as I've pondered what is effectively a roadblock:
- Soften the inner loop gradient. Unfortunately, there isn't enough space to make an appreciable difference, so that option is more or less ruled out.
- Reduce the likelihood of wheelslip. This could be with rubber tyres on the traction wheels, or somehow making the track less slippery. I don't know how much effect that could really have.
- Have mechanical assistance, such as rack and pinion, to help pull trains up the slope. Apart from looking unsightly in the uncovered track sections, this would mean fitting every loco on the layout with traction pinions - not easy.
- Push trains up the slope with a tail loco. Not really practical as the loco would have to detach and return with the train still in motion, to avoid emerging from the tunnel and spoiling the illusion.
- Re-route the inner loop, as suggested by friend and fellow modeller Alan at Rio Grande. There is a loft cross-beam about 3ft from the front of the layout, which could be used to support an extra track with a gentle gradient, carrying inner loop trains from F1 round to F5.
It's a setback, but actually the operational potential of the new loop is rather interesting so it might be a blessing in disguise. The only trouble is, with the holiday season in full swing I don't know how long it'll be before I can get the work done.
14 July 2009
This is a vindication of all the work that has gone before, showing (a) that the trackbeds are level enough to support smooth running, and (b) that the mainline gradients are manageable. Although it has to be said, as far as (b) is concerned, that this is not the most stringent test. The test train, a Hornby class 101, is a small unit with a relatively good motor; I have yet to try the test with a longer loco-hauled train. And I also need to try the branch line, where perhaps the gradients are more challenging. I will do both of these things before going any further with construction. But, so far so good.
01 July 2009
The above shows B1 with the lid off and the underlay on. Also shown is one of my Peco setrack points with point motor attached. Every point that goes down on the lower level will need one of these motors before the lid goes on for good.
And here is F1 with the top sidings finished (and B1 removed as in the above photo).
And finally, here is B1 with the lid on (at least temporarily) showing where the lower track will join onto B2. On B1 all the bolt holes have been drilled and the top board attaches nicely to the frame. B1 is the first board that has to come out when moving the layout and it's a bit of a fiddle (as I discovered on Saturday when I had to extract it for this work) so I may have to strengthen the frame a tad more.
When I'm back from holiday I will try to run a layout test and see whether I can get a train all the way round the circuit. Watch this space...
20 June 2009
The level area will house a small depot (for freight or locos, I'm not sure yet). The curving trackbed to the right is the branch line that climbs up from its wiggle through the mainline supports.
The level board is the closest this layout comes to the construction method I used on the old portable layout (see this post). The surface is 6mm MDF, which is not ideal but is what I had left (all the plywood has been used or cut up). It is well supported by the timber frame, and won't ever have high-speed traffic, so should be OK. It's not fixed yet but there are enough surfaces in good contact to make that a simple task next time I'm up in the loft.
Here's a slightly wider shot of the same area showing the station throat as well:
I have also spent some time tidying the loft and organising the "bits and pieces" that I am gradually acquiring - including, most recently, a consignment of nuts and bolts for fixing the baseboard tops to the frames along the back.
Next up, a continuation of the first fix...
11 June 2009
The branch line now meets up with its access point to the storage sidings. I still have to add the track bed round to the station on B1; that will be the last piece of track bed construction that's required.
And so to the first fix. Below is a close-up of the junction between B1 and B2, showing the bolts that secure the top board to the frame. A lot more of this to come.
And here's an overview of the entire construction so far:
06 June 2009
Today I began the first-fix process by working on board B1; here is the result:
Comparison with a previous shot of this section in this post shows the new cross-bracing added today, along with the white fix-it blocks that will hold the top board in place. This section is now ready to have its top board added. I want to make the top boards detachable if possible, as I still worry about having to get at the tracks below for cleaning, re-railing or whatever.
It's nice to revisit these back sections, having not done anything with them for several weeks while I've been concentrating on the front sections. I sometimes wonder whether I am merely putting off the track-laying by finding things to do; but all this work is necessary and if I don't do it now, I would have to do it later and that would be much harder.
30 May 2009
Here is my solution:
The photo shows boards F3 and F4 (as well as my new Hornby 2009 wagon, purchased today!). All of the branch line track in the above photo will be covered by scenery: the line will emerge from a tunnel portal just to the left of the photo, and climb up and round to the station. At the top right there will also be a short section of uncovered branch track - just before it dives under the main station boards - to provide a bit of "watch for the train" interest!
The curves in the "buried" section are tight - all 1st radius - which will limit the rolling stock that can use this line. But for light freight and DMU movements it will be fine. I have cut the track bed but have not fixed it down yet. It winds its way through the main line supports and I will only need to move one support to provide enough clearance.
I am relieved to have solved this. More construction to follow: the last bits of track bed are about to go down.
The final linking sections took some work, as I had to get the levels and alignments exactly right, but on the whole it looks pretty good. My work rate today was slower than usual because of the heat (far warmer than it was outside - the loft absorbs and retains heat rather well). But I have reached the point I wanted to reach by the end of today.
Here are some close-ups of the two linking sections:
The long gap in the above photo will be the bridge mentioned in a previous post. I have removed some of the framework to allow me to put in a lowered section when the time comes to add scenery.
Note the double-slip crossover in the above. The hanging track to the left is the start of the branch line.
The time for laying track is fast approaching, but there are a few bits of tidying up and levelling to be done. I hope to avoid these dragging on as I really want to get started on the railway rather than the construction. And I also have some news about the branch line: more on that in the next post.
26 May 2009
The current thinking topic is electronics and control in the storage sidings. These tracks will go in first and I want to put in the wiring at the same time. Because the storage sidings are less accessible than the top tracks, not to mention invisible in normal operation, I want to be able to (a) switch all the lower level points remotely, and (b) know where my trains are so I can set the correct route for a given train.
(a) is relatively easy, if not necessarily cheap. I can motorise each of the points, and if I use the standard Peco PL-10 point motor I can also attach an accessory switch that is operated by the motor itself. This switch can be used to light LEDs depending on which way the point is set. So when the point is changed, the appropriate LED lights up to confirm that the motor has actually fired. Combine this with a probe-and-stud panel showing the track plan, and you get a handy control centre that shows the available routes. Doing this is probably within my electronics ability, if I think about it for long enough.
(b) is rather harder. In the real world, low-voltage track circuits are used to determine where trains are. This is not easily possible in the confined lengths of a model railway - or at least, not without electronics knowledge I don't have. MERG do all sorts of stuff in this area using comparators, but it's not for the faint-hearted.
So I might use an optoelectronic approach. Maplin sell an inexpensive infrared detector kit consisting of one IR LED and one IR phototransistor, both mounted in "side looking packages". With appropriate circuitry, a lamp can be made to light up if the beam is broken. My idea is to have a bunch of these positioned along each of the storage tracks: LEDs opposite phototransistors, acting like security beams. When a train passes along the track it cuts through the beams and causes indicator lights to illuminate on the control panel. With enough such units along each track, you get a signalman's-eye view of the sidings and can see, to whatever accuracy you like, where the trains are.
The theory is simple, but execution requires a lot of components and a lot of extra wiring. I will see how my ideas develop. But before anything else, I have to complete the trackbed construction. Next weekend includes the promise of some time to work on this.
18 May 2009
The photos below are a selection of views from the test.
Above: views of the station area from the left-hand and right-hand approaches respectively.
Above: a train waiting to depart from platform 3. The alignment of this line presently has a switchback curve (under the loco in the above photo) because the chimney breast turns out to be larger than I allowed for on plan (...doh). It means that the available length for platforms 2 and 3 is a bit shorter than I'd like. I am thinking about ways to move the entire station alignment forward, which would allow more space for the platform structure. However, doing this puts pressure on the curves on F5i which are already as tight as I want them to be. I feel some playing in XTrk coming on...
Above: the station throat on B5u. I have added the new board section at the front of the board, but not fixed it yet.
Above: a view of the entire layout as it stands now.
04 May 2009
I moved the start of the incline back to F1, and adjusted the height of the supports all the way along the trackbed. With a longer incline I have been able to soften the gradient and (so I hope) make it easier for trains to get up the slope.
In the course of making these changes I decided to test the slope with real trains. (Only afterwards did I realise that this was the first time I had run a train in the loft!) The revised slope is fine for locos that are running well: I recently acquired an Airfix class 25 from a friend and this pulls a train up the slope quite happily. But an older Lima class 33 struggles; the lesson is that I need my locos to be running as smoothly as possible.
03 May 2009
I decided that I really needed to finish off the lower levels, so I know where I can fix the supports to carry the upper-level baseboards. This issue was stopping me from finalising the station approaches on both B1 and B5. With the lower-level track beds all in place I can now finish off the top tracks. Fingers crossed that everything will link up without overly tight curves on F1o/B1u and F5i/B5u.
The "spur to nowhere" visible at the back of B2 will eventually be the feeder for the cassette loader mentioned in a previous post. I won't do any more work on that for the moment as it would just get in the way of more important things.
The trackbed joins at B1l-F1i and F1i-F2i are interesting because here the track is not running perpendicular to the baseboard breaks. If I had made a straight trackbed join at these points, I would have had to make a diagonal cut across the tracks, which would make the alignment less stable. My solution is as follows:
The trackbed join now runs perpendicular to the track for each line, so there is a sawtooth pattern where the boards slot together. This pattern should help the boards to marry properly when being assembled. I will have to do the same on F4i-F5i as here the track will be starting to swing round to meet up with the station approach on B5u.
The "sharp" bits of the sawteeth overhang the boards they adjoin, resting on the frame of the next board. So there's now a rigid sequence to assembly and disassembly of the layout, and all future overhangs have to be consistent with that. Board F1 will now always be the first board to come out, followed by F2...F5 and then the back boards. In assembly, this sequence is reversed.
I am pleased with all of this work except for one thing: the gradient of the inner loop is much steeper than I wanted. Whereas I had planned for the incline to start on B1l as soon as the lower trackbed emerges from under the upper tracks, it actually doesn't start until halfway across F2i. So there is less distance to gain the required height, and the resulting gradient is only marginally shallower than the "standard" 6% Hornby gradient with which my trains have struggled in the past. I will look at that on my next loft visit; it may be possible to make the incline start sooner and so soften the gradient.
17 April 2009
15 April 2009
I decided not to buy points for the branch line at the moment. I still don't have a clear idea about where the branch line will go, so it seems premature to order in the track and points.
08 April 2009
The picture shows the finished double-track bed for the feeder tracks, with the final running height at top board level. Most of the bed on boards F3 and F4 will be "above ground" in the final model; the tunnel portal will be somewhere at the right-hand side of F4.
At both ends of the incline I have tried to ensure that there is a smooth transition from gradient to level; the upper transition happens in the middle of F3 (looking at the photo, it seems that it may still need a bit of adjustment). I certainly want to avoid changes of gradient at the edges of the boards at all costs, as here the track will be discontinuous as well.
The feeder track beds are made from 6mm MDF (the remnants of my old table-top layout) braced underneath with battens to increase rigidity. Because the top material is 6mm grade rather than 9mm, I have added an extra 3mm of height to the supports at top board level, to ensure that the surface levels align when the 6mm MDF meets the 9mm plywood further round the loop. As I've gone round I have also been adding extra front-to-back battens to F3 and F4, to provide extra strength and make it easier to attach the track bed supports.
I am pleased with recent progress and am looking forward to completing the loop round to the station approach on B1u. Next comes F2 and a bridge over a river!
30 March 2009
This picture shows boards B5 and F5 with the double-track feeder from the storage sidings (B5l), eventually destined for the station (B1u). The track is not fixed; I only put it down to test the alignment through the curved sections. The final elevation of the feeders in this picture is about 5.5cm above base height, and the maximum gradient (~3%) is about half what you get using Hornby inclined piers at their standard spacing. I want to avoid going any steeper than that if at all possible.
Eventually, all of the track bed shown here will be covered by scenery, and the track will emerge from a tunnel portal into a cutting just to the left of this picture.
I have not paid any attention at all to the front boards since I first built them months ago, and I found that I had to put a lot more front-to-back bracing on board F5 before I could fix any track beds. I will of course have to do the same for the other front boards when I get to them.
The plan of attack is to complete the entire outer mainline loop, right round to the LH station approach, and then work on the inner mainline loop which connects the RH station approach to the LH storage sidings.
19 March 2009
The entire of the back section is now constructed. Board B5, the right-hand section, went in most recently. This means that all of the solid-top area of the layout (basically, the station and its approaches) is now ready for final alignment, fixing and track laying.
Here is board B5 with the lid off showing the supports and the storage siding approaches. The small spur in the foreground is the feeder for the branch line, the larger one behind it is for the main line.
Until recently I thought I would have a break from construction once I reached this stage, and lay track in the storage sidings. But I have decided that, instead, I will push to complete the constructional aspects at the front, put in the track beds and scenery supports, and get the frame completely ready, before I lay any track anywhere. This is partly because I don't have all the track I need yet, partly because of the danger of getting sawdust into the mechanisms, and partly because I don't want to run the risk of forgetting how I've built things if I have to come back to it later. Having got the hang of this cutting, glueing and screwing lark, I am in the mood to complete the woodwork and get it all out of the way so that I can turn my full attention to the fun bits. So now I have to start thinking about gradients again to build the storage approaches, and about track courses and the shape of the scenery along the front sections.
I'm enjoying the construction side of things more than I expected, but I still want to get it done so I can turn the frame into a railway.
03 March 2009
That leaves the right-hand-most of the back boards still to do. In some ways it will be the hardest because this section is a little bit wider than the others, i.e. a few cm wider than a standard 606mm plywood sheet. But now I know what I'm doing, I should be able to complete it smoothly enough, given the time.
Cue arty shot of the train in the above photo...
(It looks better if you don't blow it up to full size.)
Every time I complete a milestone (even a mini one like this), my desire to get trains running comes back. And it's good to know that the next major expense will be track and pointwork, rather than wood and screws.
In the last post I promised an update on the track plan. Well, here goes. Like all good track plans it is still evolving, and there are some problems I haven't found solutions for yet.
Comparing this with the previous track plan (see this previous post) reveals a number of important changes:
- The trackwork has been upgraded to Peco Streamline, so the pointwork is smoother and more convincing. The plan now calls for two double-slip points
- I have broken the link between the mainline tracks at the bottom right. Previously there was a way of getting from one to the other, to allow an artificial tail-chase. I liked that less the more I looked at it
- The branch line now follows a different course and now diverges at (1.8,0.3) just before it disappears off the plan. The RH branch goes into short storage sidings underneath the scenery. The LH branch is supposed to link up with the storage sidings under the main station, but there is a lot of height to lose and I'm not sure how to do it yet. One possibility is a helix - not a particularly realistic construct, and one for which space is not readily available, but a good way of packing lots of gradient into a small space.
- The plan has fewer sidings. This is not necessarily a good thing as most real railways have lots of sidings around stations, and operationally I will need some. But it's better for avoiding too much layout clutter. I am sure the final siding arrangement will change again before being committed to the model.
- There is also a bit of rudimentary scenery (i.e. a river and a bridge!). I am still learning how to make the most of the scenic features in XTrk.
20 January 2009
For a few weeks now I have been approaching work in the loft with something of a heavy heart. Family events have a lot to do with that, but I have also been disheartened by the apparent lack of progress. Time spent in the loft was leading to no real visible change.
Well, yesterday I think I managed to break out of that cycle, and I can now start to see an endpoint to all the chaos. I had a day off and was able to spend several productive hours working on the railway. I finally got some kind of process going, and results were relatively quick to come. What has appeared for a while to be a disorganised pile of wood has now begun to look something like a model railway.
This picture shows the three baseboards completed thus far with, at the left, the access road from the storage sidings emerging. The boards are not fixed yet as there is still work to do underneath them - not least, laying and wiring the track for the storage sidings. But the top is pleasingly level and should, when fixed, provide a good running surface. The sections are also completely detachable - they will bolt together eventually, but for now they can be taken out; this makes for much easier working.
Those of you paying attention will notice that the right-hand board in the picture, which is actually the central back section and the first one I made (see this previous post), is lower than it used to be. In fact, it is precisely 2cm lower. After some fiddling with the board design, I decided that the present height (8cm above the storage sidings) would be sufficient. It softens the gradients into the storage sidings and improves clearance near the roof purlins along the sides of the layout. It also happens that 8cm is the height of the standard Hornby R657 girder bridge, so we'll be well clear of any loading gauges. I am building all boards to this 8cm clearance and have reduced the height of the middle board to compensate.
Access to the storage sidings will still be an issue. I continue to think that I will have to make a detachable section on the top station, but I am also thinking about some kind of cassette dock on the LH approach road (near where the coach is in the above picture), to allow me to add and remove trains easily. More on that in the future.
Below is the same area with the tops removed, showing how the plywood risers fit around the track bed for the storage sidings. I am adding some horizontal batten to provide more support for the top boards - these are yet to be completed.
(I am very grateful for the power screwdriver I was given for Christmas. This has already saved me a lot of effort.)
Next to do is to complete the other two baseboards along the back wall. I now know what I am doing and should be able to complete these relatively quickly, although both have their unique problems. Once the back baseboards are completed I can finally think about laying some track.
Over the past few weeks the track plan has also changed somewhat. More on this in the next post.