Jump to content
Martijn Meerts

Automated computer control chapter 1 - Introduction

Recommended Posts

Martijn Meerts

Automated computer control chapter 1 - An introduction.

 

 

Before I begin, I just want to say I'm no expert at this. In fact, I've only ever built 1 automated computer controlled layout, and that one had traffic in 1 direction only. However, when I was researching how to decided about things like blocks, brake sections, stop sections etc, I wasn't able to find many sites that had info available. A lot of sites had bits and pieces, but most were explanations seemingly meant for people who already knew it in the first place. The idea is that this series is mainly aimed at beginners who've never done anything with computer control, block control and automation. Also, the info here is only valid for digital control.

 

The first question many people ask, is why would anyone want to automate a layout. Isn't a large part of the idea behind a model train layout that you can operate it, and do shunting to put together consists etc.? That is of course true, but it'll limit the amount of trains you can run. Generally, people can only really keep track of 2, maybe 3 trains at a time. If you want more than those, you need to either get other people to run the layout with you, or start automating parts of the layout. Since people with an interest in model trains are getting more rare, and people with an interest in manually operating trains together with others even more rare, automation seems like a good option.

 

Before starting with automation however, there are a few things to consider. If you already have a layout, you may need to partially take it apart to get to hard to reach places. You'll also need to add a lot of wiring, and the wiring needs to be well thought out, otherwise it'll turn into a nightmare should something fail at a later time. Expenses can also quickly go up when automating a layout. But, if you do go through with it, you can easily run a lot of trains simultaneously. For example, my father's layout (the only one I've built so far that's computer controlled) is somewhere around 2.5 x 1 meter give or take. There's a fairly large main station, a couple of storage tracks, and an elevated track. Before we added computer control, we could, with the 2 of us, run about 5 trains at most. There'd be more on the tracks, but only 5 would be running. After we added computer control, it'll run 15 trains with ease.

 

Below is a link to a video of what the main station area looks like (operation wise, most platforms have been temporarily removed.) Everything you see here (including the smooth (in most cases) deceleration and acceleration) is controlled by a computer program. The program decides which train goes where, within a certain set of rules you specify, and there's various options to add routes, priorities, and even mass simulation (as in, heavy freight will have a much longer braking distance than a local passenger train.) The video is about 25Mb, it should start fairly quick though, as it's being streamed. Apologies for the rather bad quality, it's a cheap camera ;)

 

http://www.jr-chiisai.net/_div/computer_control/chapter01/computer_control.html

 

 

 

In the next chapter, I'll try to explain blocks. What are blocks, why do you need to divide a layout into blocks, why do blocks have multiple sections, etc.

 

 

Any comments, hints and tips about what you want to see in either the next chapter specifically, or in general, please post them and I'll see if I can incorporate them. Hopefully with your feedback we can turn this stuff into a decent document that should be a good help to anyone who wants to create a computer controlled layout ;)

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Bernard

Martinjn - This is a very very impressive layout!! It's hard to believe how complex ii is. Can you tell me again the dimensions? And how many trains it's controlling?

Great job!

Share this post


Link to post
Martijn Meerts

Bernard, this is just the main station area, which has 8 tracks if I remember right. There's also a 6 track storage yard, but we had to disable 1 of the tracks there. Then there's a small 2 track station on the upper level, and a steam engine servicing terminal with 2 roundhouses and a turntable. The servicing terminal is manually controlled however.

 

In theory, the layout can handle about 15-16 trains at a time, the problem with that is that trains will be waiting quite often for the following block to be freed up. Especially at a train station where trains have a chance of stopping for a minute or so to "let on passengers" =) Take it down to around 10 trains, and you'll have 2-3 trains running at any given time, and up to 9 or even all 10 can  be running at the same time.

 

Dimensions are a bit hard, since the table is pretty much a free form. I'm guessing the surface area is around 3.5 square meter (around 37-38 square foot.)

 

Have a look at http://gallery.me.com/rigwit#100010&bgcolor=dkgrey&view=grid for some pictures that show the very rough layout from when we started building, to the latest version.

Share this post


Link to post
NX:

I went from the end to the begging (i.e. chapter 3 -> chapter 2 -> chapter 1).

Thank you for the time invested in these threats.

Share this post


Link to post
NX:

Thank you for the link. This has very interesting information.

Share this post


Link to post
chadbag

Has the video in .0 ever been put on YouTube or another platform that will stream without having Flash installed locally?

Share this post


Link to post
Martijn Meerts

I never put any of these videos on YouTube no ...

Share this post


Link to post
defor

I've been very interested in automation, especially shunting and decoupling automation for a intermodal freight yard, and so far only one one solution seems viable, (a combination of electromagnetic decouplers along each platform, rfid readers at the throat of each platform, with tags on each car, and optical sensors to verify that exact positioning on a platform). Has anyone else looked automation of freight operations similar to this?

Share this post


Link to post
kvp
7 hours ago, defor said:

Has anyone else looked automation of freight operations similar to this?

Yes. Since i would prefer rapido couplers for freight (they are the default), i looked into mechanical remote uncouplers. They work fine and both pushrod operated and electric variants are ok. For identifying car positions simple threadle (wheel) sensors and car counting could work. This means the system knows which track has which cars (and with how many wheels and the car length) and counts what went in or got taken out. This needs manual entry for new incoming trains though. One wheel sensor at the back and one at the start of each track next to the decoupler could be enough. The back one could be omitted if the cars are always positioned next to the decoupler. Optical sensors should work similarly. For car recognition i looked into optical detection using a bar code like sticker under each car (the real chicago elevated and lego robots use it although the el cars have it on the side), but it's less reliable than rfid. Personally i feel car counting is enough. What put me off is the unreliable couping of rapido couplers with lighter (unweighted) cars that could get pushed away insread of coupling.

 

One interesting univerity student project i've seen used an overhead camera and optical recognition for car positions. (and large qr codes on the top of the cars for car ids) This got rid of all other sensors.

Share this post


Link to post

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×