28 September 2010

I've not given up, honest

One of my readers commented today that they hadn't seen a blog update for some time. Nearly three months, in fact. There are various reasons for this. I have not given up on the layout - far from it - but a combination of summer holidays and a bit of a setback have conspired to stop development. The setback is that my curved crossover (shown in this photo) is not properly laid out. Trains approaching on the outer track from B2 get derailed when they reach the first curved point. The curves are too tight, and there is evidently a discontinuity in the curve that causes derailments. I simply can't allow that to continue.

There is no solution to this that doesn't involve compromise. The trackbed is too tight to allow me to correct the alignment of the crossover, and I can't re-do it without completely rebuilding that side of the layout. At current rate of progress that would set me back several months. I have experimented with a couple of alternative arrangements which will work better, but none of them has quite the operational flexibility I hoped for. I just have to accept that, I think. So I am now deciding which configuration to use, and will then implement it. I hope I'll get on a bit more quickly from now on.

07 July 2010

Running test #2

The video evidence is here! Click on the links below...



Everything is running pretty smoothly, although there are a few minor electrical problems where, for example, the class 50 suddenly starts reversing without any changes from the controller. I'm not sure whether this is down to the DCC decoder or something else - it always does it at the same point on the track, which is a bit odd. Whatever the cause, I remain unconvinced by Hornby's DCC decoder. It will have to do for the moment. There are also a couple of dodgy curve transitions that I will need to look at before the lid goes on .

Before doing the test, I took some time to re-align the throat to the storage sidings on B1l/B2l. Aside from some re-laying of track to get rid of bad rail breaks, this involved a major decision: to join the track across section breaks, using rail connectors. Without the connectors, the alignment was just proving too difficult to get smooth. Now, the junction alignment poses no derailment risk, but I will have more work to do if and when I ever have to move the layout, because the baseboard sections are more or less fixed together. I just have to hope we don't move for a while...

Next step: put in some lighting and webcams along the storage sidings, and then rig up the control panel. Slowly but surely, I'm getting there.

27 June 2010

Onward and upward

Track laying continues around the inner feeder loop, from B1l round to F4i. My trusty Hoover gets up the inner incline without any complaints - so the secret really may be in beefing up my motive power. I wonder how much that will cost...

The crossover shown in the picture (F1i) will have surface-mounted point motors because there is too much woodwork underneath the track beds to accommodate underslung PL-10s. I still hope to use PL-10s, because I can then attach microswitches to give me a display on the control panel (remember that?).

The single point in the foreground is the turnout for the "cassette loader" mentioned in a much earlier post. I don't know whether I will ever build that, but it's useful to have the option. So far, that is the only Hornby point on the model.

I have now got as far as I can reasonably go with the track laying, without doing other stuff. That "other stuff" is listed in my previous post. In essence: sort out the alignment around the lower level first, then make the storage sidings ready (lights, camera, action!) for the lids to go on.

Having been admonished in an old Cyril Freezer book that "unless there is access to all tracks, performance will suffer" [1], I am thinking a lot about how I'll keep good access to the lower-level storage sidings once the lids do go on. I know my design is not optimal - I would rather not hide the sidings away like that - but space constraints have dictated it for the type of layout I want to build. My current thinking is to make the front of every station baseboard (i.e. boards B2-B4) hinged, so that I can lift up flaps to get into the sidings. I'm still working on that, but it seems to be the best option I have.

[1] C.J. Freezer, PSL Book of Model Railway Track Plans, 1988. Yeovil: Patrick Stephens Ltd.

18 June 2010

Going slowly round the bend

This is not the promised video, but as I've finally completed track-laying on the outer loop (woo!) I thought I'd post a couple of short clips.

video video

The track-laying has gone well and I am pleased with the appearance of the loop. Ballasting will come later so it doesn't look especially "authentic" at the moment. The tools and the large rolls of loft insulation don't help the authenticity either. When I've had the chance to tidy up (which will be next week now), I will make the promised video starting in the storage sidings.

The point visible at the far end of the loop is the beginning of the station throat. Before I can start laying track in the station I will have to do a number of things:
  1. Complete all the lower-level track laying and wiring
  2. Sort out some issues with levels at the section breaks - to eliminate the risk of derailment in inaccessible places
  3. Devise a way of monitoring the trains in the hidden storage sidings
  4. Finally lay the baseboard tops to "seal in" the lower level sidings
(3) is by far the hardest of these. In the absence of detailed electronics knowledge I am currently thinking that I will use a few cheap webcams, with LED lighting for illumination, and monitor the sidings on the laptop. I had big plans for optoelectronic detectors: that might be a phase 2 project, but is neither practical nor affordable at the moment.

09 June 2010

A digital Hoover, and a disappointing portal

A quiet evening last week saw me take the plunge and convert my Hornby class 50 loco to run on DCC. It was supplied DCC-ready so the process was not difficult: just lifting the shell off, unplugging something, fitting the DCC decoder into the resultant socket, and putting the shell back on. But the shell has so many delicate pipes and dangly bits that I've been very reluctant to do it, for fear of breaking something. It shows how hesitant a modeller I am if I can't even trust myself to do something as simple as that. Memories of the Great Train Accident, recounted in brief here, still haunt me I guess.

But I have finally done it, without incident, and as a result I have a functioning, digital Hoover that responds to my every whim. Well, it doesn't make a cup of tea, or even clean the stair carpet. But it does take DCC commands, and it does haul a seven-coach train up the outer incline with no loss of traction. In my book, that's a result.

And, with the shell off, I can see that it's a monster of a motor. Far bigger and heavier than the power plants in any of my old locos. Maybe that's the real answer to my incline conundrum: upgrade all my old locos with more powerful motors and add ballast to weigh them down. Would that be cheaper than buying new locos? I have no idea at this point.

Track-laying continues around the outer incline; there's no point showing another picture which is just a variant of "here's some more track what I laid". After a while, they all look the same. But I promise to post a short video when I can run a train all the way from the storage sidings round to the B1u station approach. That should be next week or the week after.

But what is this "disappointing portal" of which the title speaks? Well, I figured I should be ready for the scenery by getting hold of the tunnel portals for the two inclines. I ordered and received two Peco portals (LK-32) in readiness. I have to say I find them very disappointing. They're flimsy and not very convincing-looking, and it's not clear how I am supposed to attach them. Glue, I suppose. I would probably have been better off waiting, and looking a bit further afield. And maybe I will still do that.

I did, though, get good service from Buffers Model Railways ("As featured on James May's Toy Stories", so says their website). I would use them again, and recommend them.

21 May 2010

Slow ahead, slow

Although I may not have posted for two months, I have continued to work on the model (although slowly). Track laying on the outer loop feeder has reached F2, halfway across which section the track will emerge from the tunnel portal.

It's going fine so far and, because I have been wiring the track bus as I go along, I have been able to do running tests to check progress at every point. Trains run smoothly out of the storage sidings onto the feeder tracks, up the incline, and back again.

You may also notice that I have painted the trackbed. I'm using a Dulux mix colour "spicy sandalwood 1" which gives a good approximation to bare earth colour, at least in the lighting I have at the moment. Where the track emerges from the tunnel (or rather, a little before that), I have split the cork mat into narrow track-beds, to give an impression of embanking once the ballast is added. Track is fixed as far as the visible joins in the above photo.

I've been spending lots of time thinking about scenery... more on this in the next post.

27 March 2010

I'm still here!

It may have been two months since my last post, but there has been some progress. Excruciatingly slow progress, yes, but progress nonetheless.

The low-level storage sidings are finally finished, and I can now turn my attention to the feeder tracks. It feels like it won't be long before I am laying track that will actually be visible on the final model - about time too!

Below is a shot of the B5l throat, completed as planned using curved points to save space.

And here are the storage sidings looking the other way:

Continuing round the track from B5, I have also laid a scissors crossing on F5o.

The point motors for the above have been wired in pairs so that one button press changes the route through the entire crossing. It's one of the nicer aspects of the Peco track system that you can do this kind of thing within a normal track configuration. The separation of the running tracks is a little wider than standard, but that's easily corrected in the surrounding trackwork. Immediately to the right of the above photo, the track swings round and climbs towards the F2 tunnel portal.

All things considered, it's going pretty well. But I realised today that it's nearly two years since I first started this blog... and I haven't even got trains running yet!

25 January 2010

That's better...

Amazing what a bit of tidying up can do. The space looks so much bigger (and lighter) now!

B1 has been in and out of its frame a few times over the weekend while I've been continuing to lay track and points. Some of the corner joints have not fared too well with the stress of it. I think I might need to do some reinforcement of the section frames. It will also be better, I guess, once the lids go on the back sections.

Not much else to report at the moment: I keep plodding along.

21 January 2010

The disadvantages of a cramped loft

Working in a small, cluttered loft certainly has its disadvantages. Below is a picture taken this evening of the layout space. No beautification or kindly angles; it just tells it like it is.

I feel a serious tidy-up coming on. Quite apart from the hazards, I am increasingly finding that I have to move half a ton of stuff before I can do anything. For example, today I have been laying track on B1l, to do which I had to take this section out of the frame and move it into a workable position. As the above shows, I had no choice but to stack it on top of other bits of baseboard, tools, materials, and goodness knows what else. There was just nowhere else to put it.

So I think next time I go up to the loft, I will spend some time sorting out what I really need from what I can do without. I need to tidy up, reorganise and rationalise.

And oh yes, I made some progress today as well. Equipped with a set of curved points, I have laid the curved crossover on B1l, complete with motors. See below, with track template still in place. The above rant notwithstanding, things are continuing to move forward.

09 January 2010

Track laying #4

More work on the storage sidings today: I completed the throat on B1-B2, including the motors. I am pretty pleased with the alignment, and some quick tests show that all routes run smoothly with no risk of derailment.

I can't do much more on either throat now until I get some curved points. Until that happens I will have to work on other jobs. Plenty of those to be getting on with.

03 January 2010

Track laying #3

After the predictably long Christmas break, work has resumed on laying track. The first picture shows the view along B4 to B5, with all tracks aligned properly. Nothing beyond B3 is fixed yet because I haven't settled the alignment of the pointwork on the B5 throat.

Below is a closeup of the throat area on B5 as laid out before fixing. This is a transitional view as I am in the process of changing some of the points from straight to curved, to soften some curves. The curved point shown in the centre of the picture replaces a straight point in the plan, and allows the feeder track leading away to the right to have a larger radius. The right-most point, currently straight, will also be changed to a curved point to allow a similar relaxation on the other feeder track.

The original plan called for a branch-line spur leading off the storage sidings on B5 (the track bed is visible in the above photo under the spare point on the right). Unfortunately the turnout for this spur sits across the B4-B5 section break, which makes it unfeasible in the current modular construction. I don't want to have to abandon the spur, as to do so would put the final nail in the coffin for the old branch line route, but I can't presently see a way to avoid it without compromising the modularity of the layout. Sigh. Such is life.