Keeping it simple…control panels

March 13, 2016

control panel OMWB_3

Overly complicated layout controls are not my thing – I am more interested in train operation than trying to duplicate a signal box interior. The minimalist approach does not detract from the train driving experience, particularly on my large N scale Montana Rail Link layout where the use of wireless throttles allows engineers to follow their trains around the layout – hence the need for local panels.

With completion of track laying at Paradise East (Paradise MT) together with a running circuit on this second level of the bi-level layout, the time to consider control panels to operate the main line turnouts arose (the yard turnouts are manual). Even with my minimalist approach to layout design and construction, I was surprised how little work was needed to put in two local panels fed by a master control panel for this level of the layout.

control panel OMWB_2

Simplicity is very much thanks to DCC where there is no need for any section switches to separate locomotives from each other. All there is on each control panel is a Double-Pole, Double-Throw (DPDT) switch for each turnout motor and indicator LEDs (green for normal position and red for thrown). Using duplicate controls at the master panel means that indicator LEDs are a must as the switch position is no indication of the set of the turnouts.

control panel OMWB_1

Simple wiring too! This is the local panel fed from the master panel. A simple wooden frame, 80 thou styrene card top and some securing screws is all that is necessary to get this element of the layout working. The corners, edges etc. are smoothed down and rounded off to avoid snagging clothes or skin!

control panel OMWB

The local Paradise East panel in operation except for the switch on the left which remains to be wired up with the powered main line turnout at the west end of Paradise Yard. Some aircraft lining tape will be applied to show the track layout. Eventually, the styrene tops will be replaced with something more graphic. But in the mean time, to get an area of layout operations quickly for fine-tuning, de-snagging and adjustment, simple controls are all that is needed!



New staging yard

February 2, 2011

A simple reorganisation of the layout cabin made space available for a new ‘east end’ staging yard for my N scale (1:160 scale) Montana Rail Link 4th Sub layout – on a narrow shelf. A sofa for visitors was swung round to go against a different wall and a different entrance door (the cabin has two) put into use. The sofa now crosses over the original door and the resulting change in space usage has made it possible to run a long staging yard down that particular wall, over my work bench, the back of the sofa and across the original but now sealed up door. Previously, the use of the door made that wall useless for a staging yard as it would not be long enough for 10-12ft.long trains without crossing the door and making access impossible. The picture below shows the connection from the new yard to the reverse loop at the east end of the layout. Note the small gap between the wall, window and the inner fascia allowing the window blind to drop neatly behind it.

The new shelf means I could look at removing five partially hidden (but accessible) but unsatisfactory storage and staging tracks from behind what would be Missoula Yard’s back scene. They are reorientated so east bound trains headed for the 3rd Sub can run straight down the main through the modelled portion of Missoula yard and straight into the staging. This removes the need for managing the original staging with a camera to help operators see what they were doing and has simplified the track work too.

The new yard is a narrow shelf, 6 inches wide, accommodating five staging tracks which will hold 12ft. long trains. It is stub ended and had to be long enough to put locos on both ends of the train to simplify re-staging for the next operating session. It shows that a rethink of how to use layout room space can open up new opportunities in layout design. In this case, it solved an awkward part of my layout design which would have worked but something I was not comfortable with. Also, layouts do not need to be wide and I like narrow shelf layout concepts where there is full operational potential, yet minimal impact on the room. It shows that a bedroom can be used for a layout if baseboards are placed high up the wall away from furniture and consists of narrow shelves. When working at the workbench or relaxing on the sofa, the new staging yard shelf has no impact on room use at all. But what a difference it has made to the layout’s operations!

Top Deck layout – a back scene and a turnout…

July 18, 2010

Slow progress on the Top Deck layout of late; the garden has taken over for the time being. However, there are some tasks which take a great deal of time and attention, none more than building turnouts and finishing the back scene. Well-built turnouts are critical for reliable operation and a properly finished back scene is critical to the finish of a layout. So both have been carefully constructed and finished recently before any work can commence on the train roads at the front of the layout together with new baseboards and track for the branch. All of the embankments, tunnel structure and hill side behind the mainline will be built before the train roads are installed and the mess carefully controlled with dust sheets and a powerful vacuum cleaner. This is important because below, on the two lower decks is my Montana Rail Link layout.

Looking in the opposite direction: the track at the real Folkestone East location does tighten up for Martello Tunnel. The train adjacent to the location of the signal box. My black pen scribbles are being replaced with correctly marked in track centres so I can place the foam underlay correctly. 1:6 turnouts and a 1:6 diamond crossing have been constructed for this location which will be a cross between the post 2000 track formation and the previous one.  Space and the need to reconcile a straight railway into a square room means some shortening of the junction into the train roads. I had to reclaim some space to make it fit!

The turnout leading from the main line into the train roads is placed at last, a 1:7 built on a Timbertracks turnout base using Peco track fixings and flat bottom rail. The cross-over from Down to Up line is curved were it is straight on the real location. I could have placed it on the straight, but this would have moved the junction down by several feet, shortening the train roads from 10-car to less than 8-car capacity between buffer stops and the start signal gantry. Compromise and pragmatic layout design is what it is all about and the model is an adaptation, not a scale model. Hence, some careful scenic work will be required to disguise the entrance to one of the fiddle yards seen in the back ground.

This pictures shows the finishing work to the back scene – the last of the filler needed to hide the joins and make it as seamless as possible. The layout is quite narrow, concentrating on modelling the railway and little beyond the boundary fence. After all, it is *supposed* to be a scenic test track! The land will be built up behind the track and planted with medium sized trees, using Woodland Scenics fine leaf foliage. Regarding the choice of stock, more on that soon – I have some work to do on the fleet so I can run trains representing the early 1980s to present day. Hence the creation of a hybrid track plan based on the post and pre-2000 formation. Makes operation much more interesting!

Track building for the Top Deck layout.

October 19, 2009

Remember the Top Deck of my fixed home layout? Well, things have been quiet on the blog front because I have made little progress worthy of reporting  – waiting for some track building tools to arrive – from Canada. I was far from keen on the hand filing of Code 83 flat bottom rail for turnout building without help. Furthermore, I as not hugely enthusiastic about copper clad sleeper turnouts on the scenic part of the layout (shown above) either, so decided to try C&L Finescale Timber Tracks turnout bases for the main line trackage; each one is laser cut from very high quality plywood.


I very much like the Fast Tracks turnout building tools, made in and supplied from Canada. I was first introduced to them when I bought an N scale turnout kit for five curved turnouts for the Montana Rail Link layout. I immediately saw the value of the point form tools for building the track on the top deck layout and for future use. The filing jig for HO/OO gauge switch blades and crossing vees is shown above: One for a No.5 angle and one for a No.6 angle turnout. They will accommodate rail sizes from code 70 to 100. You can buy jigs for smaller rail sizes too to enable construction of turnouts in N and Z gauge – see below for an N gauge one:


This curved turnout (above) is to 9mm gauge or N scale using Code 55 flat bottom rail. Built for my US-outline Montana Rail Link layout, it took an hour to build using the various point form tools and jigs supplied by Fast Tracks as a kit of parts.


Insert the rail, clamp up and file away until the correct profile for switch blades or crossing vee rails is achieved.


A lovely jig for soldering up the crossing vees accurately!


A combination of Fast Tracks point form tools,  C&L Finescale Timber Tracks turnout bases for UK practice and Peco Individualy track components has resulted in some pretty convincing flat bottom rail turnouts for the Kent Coast main line part of the top deck layout. Whilst such tools and turnout bases may seen expensive, the tools will last almost for all of my remaining modelling career and the laser cut point bases are brilliant to use. Furthermore, the resulting turnouts look far better and with better looking detail than those I may have built from copper PCB sleepers. And…no burnt fingers!

Dragging myself away from the layout…

January 12, 2009

…but progress is being made. Unfortunately, stuff done over the New Year was largely confined to wiring which is about as interesting as watching someone wire up a model railroad layout. Oh well, at least the DCC power bus is in place on the second deck. Wiring for the Tortoise point machines operating the junction at West Missoula were also started, and a neat little local control panel under construction.

Whilst on the subject of joinery, the road bed on the second deck commenced, made from 3/4 inch ply and running from the helix, rising at 2.0% to a height of 2 inches over the joists. The section completed is the ‘hidden’ part of the line which runs along the back of the deck, to make a 180 degree turn at the end to enter the scenic side to run back east to west (left to right) along the scenic front. Actually, to help with access, the ‘hidden’ line will have scenery, hidden behind trees, rocks and ridges and only viewable for driving when the operator is standing on a low box.  I do not wish to have one train pass through the same scene twice, visually speaking. A siding (loop) will be included on this hidden section of line to represent Cyr MT as a holding point for trains entering or leaving the helix to clear the main for trains coming the other way.

To the front of the second deck will be Fish Creek trestle or bridge 165 of the 4th Sub which is 144 feet high above the creek, 576 feet in length and with a 3 degree right hand curve to the west on a falling grade of 0.2%. This makes it 10.5  inches, give or take, tall in N scale terms and it will fit perfectly above the turn back loop in the lower staging yard before the scenic break on that level. That will still leave room for operations on the lower level. At 576 feet long, the model should be 3.6 feet long over nine spans. I may have to compromise a bit there…

Anyway, my thanks to the members of the  MRL Yahoo Group  for help with the height of the deck of the trestle. When working on a model like this so far from the full-size railroad, help from those closer to the action than I is invaluable. It’s as good as a railroad historical society. You can find the group at

The picture above shows work on the back or hidden stretch of line. An Atlas N scale SD35 provides an idea of scale. The old but unused (!!) hospital drape is an ideal protective cover for the track on the lower deck.

Working on the gradient from the helix – adjustments were being made to the risers to meet the 2% gradient line which was mathematically calculated rather than measured with an angle tool of some description. It was easy: 2 inches climb over 100 inches of track bed… The track bed is pushed as far back against the rear supports to provide as much room for the scenic line to the front as possible.

The pitch of the track bed is also checked with a torpedo spirit level. This needs some levelling…
Note the red and black wires of the DCC power bus, pre installed.

This technique keeps the ply track bed level whilst the joist positions are done. Any slight bowing of the ply is cancelled out making a level track bed or one with a consistent gradient easier to achieve. Sadly, obtaining cost effective but dead straight ply is not always possible and whilst the straightest sheets are chosen, long narrow sections of ply like this can take a slight bow after cutting.

Dapol’s newest 4mm scale wagon – the telescopic hood KIB:

Acquired for my British outline 4mm scale fleet, it’s a nicely finished model indeed. It seems to measure up quite well, although I still have some checks to do. It’s particularly interesting because I built three of these from scratch about 15 or more years’ ago. Phew! At the time, I did not have the correct bogies and they still run on stand-in O&K bogies which are a close but not exact match for the DB type used on the full-size wagons. I will switch in new ones and recover the O&K ones for some scratch building projects this year so both new ready to run and old scratch built models are a reasonable match.

My scratch built effort (to the front) lacks some finer detail. It, together with its two other companions may hit the work bench for some extra detailing and new bogies. In the meantime, it’s not such a bad job when compared to the Dapol model. Here’s some more shots of the Dapol wagon:
crw_4882_jfr2crw_4885_jfrcrw_4887_jfrNice job by Dapol. The steel coils are a bit strange but the rest of it passes muster as far as I am concerned.

By the way…

That damn spider turned up again…

I chased it into a corner with a piece of set track…don’t know where it’s lurking right now. Perhaps I should send one of the cats in to flush it out?

Work bench time: Gatwick GLV

September 13, 2008

Work bench time:
An old model from my collection (which was sold a long time ago) has returned: a Gatwick Express GLV. It suffered a little in storage and was returned OMWB for a rebuild. I do not have room for a GATX set and nor will the former owner. Following a spell in stripper where the remaining glue bonds finally gave up the ghost, it was cleaned up and rebuilt ready for painting in Network Rail yellow. Yuk!

The only problem is: I will need a yellow Class 73 to go with it. Ah well…