A little while ago I decided to build a 6′ x 2’6″ N Scale test track. The following are my initial observations.
The primary objective was to be able to test run locomotives and cars in a continuous circle and to change the DCC loco code from the default of “3” to the loco road number.
There were many secondary objectives including:
- Testing Kato turnouts and track
- Testing DCC Concepts ADS solenoid accessory decoders and NCE Snap-It decoders
- Testing NCE BD-20 track detectors and Team Digital DBD22 track detectors
- Finding the appropriate use for NCEs AUI-01 and the Mini Panel systems
- Using JMRI Panel Pro and Decoder Pro
- Using the program “Train Controller” from Freiwald Software
- Finding the best method of wiring the layout. ie:
- Using Tortoise or Servo motors and JMRI
- Using solenoid motors with DCC Concepts ADS or Snap-It accessory decoders and JMRI
- Using single CDUs (Capacitor Discharge Unit) to power large numbers of solenoid motors and Gaugemaster GM500 latching relays to activate signals and light LEDs to indicate turnout positions.
- Last, but by no means least, finding the easiest method of signaling the layout.
As my NCE Power Pro Radio system was wired to the main layout I used my backup NCE Power Cab system to run the test layout.
- The motors in the Kato turnouts are polarity driven with only two wires – quite different to the 3 wire solenoid Peco point motors.
- The NCE Power Cab is very under-powered at 1.8 volts and about 1.8 amps.
- Start up amp usage was around .31 amps.
- The DCC Concepts ADS solenoid accessory decoders did not work as expected with the NCE Power Cab. Only 4 of the 8 operated correctly. The start up amp usage of the NCE Power Cab jumped to 1.33 amps.
- Consequently I had to use NCE Snap-Its to power the turnouts (using a DCC Concepts DCD-SDC adapter to convert the 3 wires to 2 wires for the Kato turnouts).
- The Snap-Its worked fine but did not have the additional SPST connections that the DCC Concepts ADS units have. However apparently they can connect to NCEs “Dual Relays” and maybe other relays. To be tested.
- JMRI failed to function after the first couple of screens. No idea why but I suspect that the RS232 connection of Power Pro is much stronger than the USB connection of the Power Cab. However I need Decoder Pro to work so I will persist with using JMRI. Otherwise I will have to use the RS232 connection of Power Pro on the main layout.
- The test version of “Train Controller” only works for 15 minutes which is not enough time to determine if it works ok.
- I was keen to use the Gaugemaster GM500 latching relay to indicate the turnout position. However with the Snap-It and the two wire Kato turnout I could not identify the correct connections. I know that these relays work fine with Peco point motors.
- The Team Digital DBD22 track detector worked fine – except that no matter how I wired it I could not get an external LED to light. The internal LEDs on the BDB board worked correctly. Consequently I replaced it with two NCE BD-20s and I will not be buying any more DBD22s!
- It would appear that using the AIU-01 with a Power Cab system is questionable. The AIU is only really of use with JMRI so that test can wait until the main layout is ready.
- There seems no point testing the NCE Mini Panel with such a small layout.
- The layout is inappropriate for testing Signal Systems.
As a result of the above I only intend to use the Kato layout for its primary purpose of test running locomotives and cars in a continuous circle and to change the DCC loco code from the default of “3” to the loco road number.
However I may well add scenery and make the layout into a display layout. There are two industry tracks, a two track yard and a railway station track. There are plenty of shunting options and for the future it could be used to test the “Ship It” system. Allowance has also been made for a Wye track so as locos can be turned.
With regard to the best method of operating a layout in terms of turnouts, block occupation and signals, there seems to be 3 options:
- Use Tortoise or Servo motors for turnouts and connect to JMRI Panel Pro – the problem I have here is that Tortoise are (a) very expensive, (b) too large to install on an N scale layout and (c) have to be installed from beneath the layout, unlike Peco motors which attach to the turnout when installed from above. Apart from the reservations listed I have a large number of Peco and SEEP solenoid motors in stock already.
- Use solenoid motors with either NCE Snap-Its or DCC Concepts ADS decoders. The problem here is that (a) I keep hitting snags and problems, (b) every turnout requires its own CDU making it VERY EXPENSIVE and increasing the wiring significantly and the system does not work well with latching relays, which I hope to use for signals.
- What might be called an ANALOGUE SYSTEM:
- Use one (or more) large 24-32 volt CDU’s to throw all of the turnouts.
- Use Gaugemaster GM500 latching relays to indicate turnout position.
- Use GM500s and BD-20s to activate signals.
- Use a diode matrix for route control.
- Use local control panels to indicate train operation.
Since starting to write this blog I have spent a lot of time on Google and YouTube investigating Signal Systems. Most either require JMRI, Arduino scripts, infra-red track detection (I only want to use Current Sensing devices like NCEs BD-20) or very complicated DIY designs. I have also noted that at least two (Team Digital and Iowa Scaled Engineering) Signal Systems which showed promise, in terms of what I am looking, for had discontinued their products.
However Circuitron (of Tortoise fame) appear to have circuit boards that might fit my requirements, which are simply to be able to change 3 colour signals using BD-20 block detectors and either Gaugemaster GM500 latching relays or standard relays. Consequently I have ordered the following Circuitron products:
- SD-1 Signal Driver
- ER-1 External Relay
- BD-2 Block Occupancy Detector
Once these products arrive I will be able to test them to see if they perform the Signaling functions I am hoping for. We shall see.