Feb 2012

Freight Locomotives and Trains

I’ve written about my model freight trains before, but that was nearly two years ago, and I think it’s time for an update. This time I’m going to talk about the trains, as well as the locomotives. As usual, the focus of my collecting is the area around Tōkyō, and thus the trains found there are what I am writing about.

Freight locomotives in the Tōkyō area tend to be electric. There are exceptions: in addition to switching duties, the diesel-hydraulic DE10 can sometimes be found moving short trains. One example of this is the coal train I’ll describe further down below. But for the most part these trains are operating over lines already electrified for passenger trains, and so it makes more sense to use electric locomotives. Read More...

Electrical Substation

It might seem like stating the obvious, but an electric railways needs a supply of electricity for the trains to run. I’m not talking about the model trains, but the prototype. A typical commuter train can use up to 1.5 MW (megawatts) when accelerating. A Shinkansen can use 10 MW. At any given moment hundreds of trains are operating in the Tōkyō area, with power demands larger than a small city.

Where does that power come from? JR East buys some of it from the local utility (Tōkyō Electric Power Company, or TEPCO). TEPCO operates fossil, nuclear and hydroelectric power plants, transmitting power along transmission lines at up to 500,000 volts (500 kV). At substations this is reduced to much lower voltages (6,000 volts or less, according to wikipedia, although distribution lines can be higher-voltage) and sent along street utility poles to local pole-mounted transformers that step it down to 100 or 200 volts for residential use. Industries typically take the distribution voltage and have their own transformers as needed. Both Transmission and Distribution lines are typically three-phase AC power, with three wires (plus a ground, which is often not present on towers). AC is used because transformers only operate on AC, and higher voltages can be sent longer distances.

Almost Scenery

If you look at the River Crossing scene now, you’ll see grass and shrubs alongside the tracks. Yes, spring has come early to Sumida Crossing, and there’s ground cover on the hillside above the Village area.

This may not seem major to you. After all, ground cover isn’t exactly rocket science. It’s probably one of the easier aspects of model railroading when you come right down to it. But of all the different aspects of model railroading, it’s the one I absolutely hate. Unlike buildings or track, it’s not precise. And since it uses glue, there’s really no second chance. Like painting a picture, if you make a mistake all you can do is paint over it. There’s no “undo” with ground cover. So getting to the point where I’m ready to take that step is a major milestone for me. The River Crossing scene and its scenery is far from done, but this feels like real progress, at least to me.

And Now, A Word From Our Reader(s)

Yes, at long last I’m launching the comment system. That’s it down at the bottom of the page. What, you don’t see it? Well, it only appears on individual blog posts. If you are reading this as a list of several (which is what you get if you click on the Musings link) just click on the title above and you’ll get this post on a page of its own, with comments below and a large green form for posting new comments under that.


Photographic Backdrops II and January 2012 Status

I’d mentioned a few weeks ago the work I was planning to replace the old (and disintegrating) backdrop for the River Crossing scene with a new one. That’s completed, and the new backdrop in place (as seen above). The differences are subtle (aside from the fact that this one isn’t peeling off). The horizon is lower, as I cut out more of the foreground to give it more of a “seen from a distance” look. The colors are a bit more accurate (the green of the trees looks particularly good). Finally, the image resolution is higher, but you really can’t see that in these photos. It does make a difference in person, although perhaps not to the casual viewer. Below are the original presentation paper backdrops, from an early test before I glued them in place.