DRS and Tesco start at last…

October 31, 2008

After what seems like an ice age or two, the Tesco Intermodal operation between Grangemouth and Inverness finally starts. After a fashion. The first train consisted of empty boxes as a practice run. More trial runs are scheduled for next week. DRS Class 66 No.66 415 did the honours today. It was great to be out and about on a lovely fresh morning, chasing trains. Not done this for a while!

The following picture was taken today at Tomatin at MP100.75 on the Highland main line – 10.31hrs.

Arrival at Welsh’s Bridge, Inverness. DRS has taken over the former carriage cleaning depot, knocked most of it down and built a pretty nifty intermodal terminal on the site.

An example of the twenty boxes loaded on the trial train. It consisted of ten pairs of intermodal flats.

The new intermodal terminal at Inverness. There are loco release cross-overs at the end of each of the three roads.

Whilst watching the action at the new terminal as the DRS crew work through the procedures, there was some activity with Class 08, No. 08 308 by the newest carriage servicing shed on the Inverness site. It appears to be in a spot of trouble judging by the number of orange jackets in attendance…

Spare Pug to the rescue!


Atlas code 55 N scale track.

October 31, 2008

As the placing of track continues apace on my N scale MRL layout, it occurred to me how modellers in the US appear to make life easier for themselves in many aspects of the hobby, from baseboard (bench work) to wiring techniques. This includes their expectation of the products they buy. Take the turnouts from the Atlas code 55 trackage range, for example. The crossing vee (frog) is cast metal and insulated from the rest of the rails. It is very nicely done too, with a metal connector from the vee to a solder point by one of the sleepers which means it can be easily wired to a polarity change switch, say like one of those incorporated in a Tortoise point motor.

The stretcher bar extends to both sides of the switch offering the modeller the choice of left or right hand throw position to suit the track formation – the unwanted one is carefully trimmed off.  Also, the stock rail and switch rails are bonded so there is no need for electrical power routing via metal tags on the switch rails. Much more reliable that way.

The electrical characterisitcs of the turnouts became apparent when I first applied power to the first track formations I laid on the layout. With an insulated crossing vee AND reliable electrical connections beyond the vee between the diverging rails, any amount of complex track geometry could be powered from one point. As a bonus, and completely against the grain of everything I have done before – my big US diesels nicely bridged that crossing vee without a hiccup – do I need to power the frogs? I should really, just for good practice.

As I state in my DCC book, good wiring practice is good wiring practice, no matter what power source you use, be it analogue or DCC. Nonetheless, using turnouts straight from the packaging without having to do a Peco ‘Electrofrog’ reliability upgrade for reliable power supply is a huge relief. I don’t like the term DCC-friendly turnouts because there’s no such thing, but the Atlas code 55 ones are pretty perfect in this regard.

It should be remembered that nickel silver rail has a relatively high current resistance compared to copper wire and rail joiners can fail or cause unwanted voltage drop together with degradation of the digital signal. The ability of the DCC booster to detect short circuits depends on good contacts and current supply, so don’t rely on the rail to carry the current for long distances. I am now in the process of adding power dropper wires to each rail for as reliable power supply as can be achieved. This is good practice for both analogue and DCC control systems.

British outline and Atlas code 55 track:
It’s worth noting that wheel back-to-back measurements on British N gauge models is slightly different to that of US outline stock. It is slightly less which means that it will find the flange ways through Atlas code 55 track a little tight. Bearing in mind that this track is designed for US prototypes together with the correct sleeper spacing and scaled for 1:160 proportion, UK outline N gauge models still look quite good on it. Only modern Graham Farish will cope with the fine rail section without running on the rail clips (spikes).

I ease the back to back measurements on my UK outline models out slightly and they run through the track perfectly as a result. This does not affect their ability to negotiate Peco N gauge track at all. To help things along, I took a British N gauge back-to-back gauge and added a piece of 10thou styrene to it to obtain a slightly wider measurement. It has been successful and the electrical power features of this track makes it all worth while.

Now do I power the crossing vees or take the chance that they will be okay?

Milepost 122 to 123 at West Missoula…

October 27, 2008

Finally reached the end of the yard and the first corner of the layout. I loosely placed track and made up the formation to check the fit with the corner location, a task that took a surprisingly long time. Milepost 122 to 123 is the location of the junction and cross-overs where the 2-track mainline leads away west to Desmet. In real life, this bit of MRL mainline is straight. In my world, to avoid shooting it off through the wall of the building and into the garden, it has to be ‘unprototypically’ curved. Also, the inevitable compression closes distances down too, but this yard throat is a Layout Design Element (LDE) which had to be included…and consequently I decided to allocate a little more space to it than on my original paper plan. Still, there’s still a good 12 feet of mainline run to the cement terminal and crossovers at Desmet.

A slot has been cut into the plywood to accommodate a small creek which flows under bridge 122 which is located between the cross-overs at West Missoula and the yard throat. Note my 16 inch radius gauge cut from mounting card – this is used to check my minimum radii measurements when laying track and introducing easements into curves.

This area of the layout hit the corner due to several reasons. Firstly, the need to maintain a minimum yard reception line length of 10 feet because they also act as a partly scenic staging yard for staging trains in the open,. There will be another set of storage sidings behind the yard, separated by a back scene. I also compromised on the number of lines entering the yard. At the real location, there’s four including the mainline, leading to five by the time the first highway bridge is reached. I brought another up through the bridge to create six for capacity. The mainline is clearly separated from the yard tracks by a wide strip of unoccupied land used as a dirt access road. All I need now is a picture of bridge 122…to fill that gap!

The empty space in the corner will soon be host to the end of the storage yards.

There’s some interesting signals to place at this location too because MRL’s 4th Sub is signalled with CTC.  Finally, before you ask – why is the baseboard top so flat? Simple: this area is fairly industrial and the line west of West Missoula passes the airport and more industry including three which are rail served. The mountain terrain will soon be apparent in the design, with lots of track bed on risers, but not yet!

With progress stopped for a while to assess progress and check some details, I have been installing the track bus under the lower level. There is a great example of this task on the following site: http://dalespeak.wordpress.com/2008/02/11/dcc-wiring-begins/

Thanks to Chris at Digitrains of Lincoln, I have the opportunity to try this new to the UK digital system. DCC-ers will be familiar with the CT-Electronik name. Its a wireless set shown in this photograph and I am sorely tempted – as if I don’t have enough systems to play with as it is! For more details, visit http://www.digitrains.co.uk

First digital operation…

October 26, 2008

Okay, it was a simple but oh so vital test with a couple of locos. Nonetheless, the first ‘trains’ ran yesterday, up and down the yard reception roads. Digitrax is the chosen digital system for my MRL 4th Sub project and the Super Chief base station together with a PM42 Power Management Module were installed. Power is supplied from an On Tracks 5amp transformer.

In case you are wondering what a PM42 is going to do for the layout, here’s an explanation. It’s an add-on device which manages power distribution around the layout. It has four circuits and four circuit breakers. The track (power) bus is connected in one end (actually you split it into 4 and connect to four pairs of terminals in the connector, one for Rail A and one for Rail B). The output is four separate runs of track bus cable which powers four ‘sub-power’ districts (the running line rails are double gapped where it crosses from one sub-power district into the next in the same manner as power districts are separated from each other). Each is independent of the others and if a short occurs in any one sub-district, the circuit trips leaving the remaining three unaffected. Short circuit detection is intercepted by the PM42 before it reaches the base station booster. This has obvious operating benefits although, unlike providing additional power districts using additional boosters and power supplies, there is no extra power made available.

Definitely blows the two-wire myth of DCC right out of the window but it is a two-wire supply of power to each sub power district one red and the other is black. The wiring consists of the power in and four pairs out together with a power supply for the PM42 and a single earth to the command station (yellow). What really interests me in the PM42 is that they can have one or all of the circuits programmed to provide the required polarity switching for reverse loops, such as the two I have in my layout plans. I allocated two circuits to reverse loop management and the remainder to manage two sub-power districts. I may need more as the project develops, but this is sufficient for Phase 1 of the layout.

The blue edge connector on the PM42 was wired on the work bench and then assembled on top of the baseboard like this for testing and programming through OPS Switching. Once working reliably, which took no time at all, everything was installed in the layout.

That looks a great deal neater. The base station is located in the balloon track seen in previous pictures so it can be reached easily. The programming track will also occupy this space too. Two wiring runs are routed to the upper deck and the other two run under the lower deck baseboards. Note the labelling over the PM42 which was mounted on the wall out of harm’s way but where indicator LEDs can be clearly seen (Note that all cable runs should be clearly labelled and cable colours for Rail A together with Rail B clearly identified).

The DT400 throttle was connected directly to the command station for testing the circuits as seen. With this work complete and functioning correctly, the track bus was installed under the baseboards and throttle (cab) bus faceplates together with the correct cabling prepared for fitting to the front of the layout. With that, it’s back to track!

Dapol’s FEAB is stunning…

October 23, 2008

At first glance. It (they because the FEA-B runs as a twin) has a great deal of fine detail which must place it in one of the top spots for 4mm scale wagon modellers. Having given it a thorough looking over, I can find little wrong with it from my point of view – it LOOKS like an FEA-B, so it is.

Here’s a selection of pictures of my GBRf pair of twin wagons: No.s 640603, 640604, 640619 and 640620. They were supplied by The Engine Shed of Leytonstone. Always a good shop to try and Dave has got me out of a few fixes with acquiring hard to locate stock. The telephone number is: 0208 539 3950.

C-Rail Intermodal and Bachmann containers fit the model well. Spigots are supplied although they can be a bit loose. ‘Tacky Wax’ is a great product for ensuring your boxes stay where they should – unless you use the Heljan container crane.

The ready to run guys seem to pull the stops out on intermodal wagons. It’s always a pity to hide that detail under boxes!

Printed detail is crisp and sharp. Standalone detail is right up there with the best of them from the US.

Bogies have enough room for EM and P4 wheels. The OO ones supplied are good, if a loose fit. Nothing that a set of brass cup bearings won’t cure. This is better than bogies with clearances that are too tight.

FEA-Bs run in fixed pairs. The inner bar coupling is simple but effective. A spare is included with each pair of wagons which at around £18, is great value for money.

Headstock detail together with NEM coupling pocket is shown above. Buffers are not sprung but very nicely moulded. I would rather see fixed buffers that are accurate and well defined than shoddy sprung ones that look nothing like the real thing. Sprung buffers are not always a sign of quality and it surprises me how many modellers will accept poor buffers on rtr stock just because they are sprung…

The loading deck of one half of the twin set. It’s a cracking model in my view, it runs well, well weighted and showing no sign of bending or distortion. It’s not a bad effort by Dapol at all. I am in for another pair when the second set of numbers are released.

Cabin insulation update:
Nansulate liquid insulation has been in place in the roof space of the cabin for around 30 days now. The curing time for this material is 30 to 60 days for maximum efficiency, so I would expect to see some difference in the comfort and warmth in the cabin itself. Here’s some anecdotal evidence that it is working:

With nearly 360 square feet of space to heat and a high roof area without A-frame support it’s a large volume to heat. The cabin needed two heaters last Autumn and winter: a 2kW oil-filled Delonghi ‘Dragon’ radiator and an older, less efficient 2kW heater which amounted to being a short across the grid. It took two hours to get space heating up to a comfortable working temperature in the evenings. A couple of nights’ ago, the external temperature was 4 degrees centigrade and only 12 in the cabin with the radiator on frost setting when I entered for a track placing session. The oil-filled radiator brought the temperature up to warm and comfortable in 30 minutes before it was turned down. The convection heater? oh, that was discarded (recycled) weeks ago!

Layout progress:
A quick rethink on the pathing of trains running on the mainline past the yard reception roads and through to the staging yard has seen a few changes to the arrangement of the balloon track. There is a simple link to complete the turn back line rather than the turn back line being composed of the mainline itself. This ensures the design is an end-to-end railroad with turn back links in the non scenic parts at each end. There’s a lot of space in that balloon track area which will be occupied with the programming track and test tracks, not to mention the DCC system itself.

I am experimenting with Caboose industry ground throws for the yard and industrial spur parts of the layout. They are simple to install and work really well. An internal spring mechanism prevents excess pressure being applied to the switch.

Here’s another view. They are remarkably quick to fit and require no wiring. I know that they will not be to everyone’s taste but I think they have found a niche on my layout.

Whilst thinking about track and the trackage system I am using, I need to post more information on Atlas code 55 track and it’s use with Bachmann Farish stock. There are some characteristics (good ones) of the turnouts that also deserve further scrutiny. So long for now!

Track laying commences on the (N scale) MRL 4th Sub.

October 17, 2008

Track laying in Missoula Yard, or rather the west leads and reception roads (4th Sub Milepost 122.13 to 122.87 at West Missoula Yard Limit), has commenced.

For to model the whole yard would require a building many feet in length and the resulting track purchase would bankrupt me! Cork road bed was cut and stuck down last night after the track formation was determined. This morning, everything appeared as it should – nice level cork without bulges and other unwanted deformation.

Work commences on the east end of the layout representing Missoula MT.

Cork placement will continue so that the cross overs at MP122.86, tracks 5 and 6, the ACS lead, the main line and the stock yard lead can be placed as phase 1 of the layout project. This means that additional track detail can be added later after the layout is up for test running. Additional lines can be added later before scenery commences. The track is pinned initially for alignment. Those pins will be removed after the ballasting is complete and there is sufficient glue to hold both the track and ballast in place. That’s a long way off of course.

In effect, the West End is a reception/departure yard as intended by the original builders of the full size yard. It leads into a return loop (off-scene) with access to seven storage yards that will hold seven 12 ft trains. There will be one running line in that area which is a return loop line representing the MRL 10th Sub which climbs away at 2.2% grade up Evaro Hill from Desmet at MP126. The mainline to Desmet and the junction complete with its signal bridge will be placed next.

The challenge is achieving reasonable distances between ‘stations’ so the tail of the longest trains is not half way down one yard when entering the next.

The following image shows more detail including the off-scene loop and the relationship to the second layout deck.

A last image of progress so far. More after the weekend!

Dundee show:
It’s the Dundee exhibition this weekend and I will be attending with the Nairnshire Modelling Supplies trade stand with all those essential modelling materials and components. I look forward to seeing you there. Our next outing after that will be Newcastle show on 8th and 9th November.


October 16, 2008

Choosing track is important. The N scale project had to be equipped with track which closely follows US practice and looks close to the wooden sleepered track used on Montana Rail Link. I considered a variety of trackage systems before settling on Atlas code 55.

The rail cross section is nice and fine. Sleeper (tie) detail is crisp and sharp. Note the rail spikes on alternate sides of the rail for each baseplate on the set track.

There is a wide selection of turnouts and crossings available including a monster #10. This is the #7 switch:

#5 switch for use in staging yards and other non-scenic areas:

Turnouts are fitted with metal isolated crossing vees which are controlled with a SPST switch for polarity switching when the turnout is set. It does not rely on contact between stock rails and switch rails to conduct power, thankfully and they should perform well with DCC control. One point to note about this track – the typical heavy pizza cutter N scale wheel set won’t run at all well on it. Low profile wheels are the only way!