Monthly Status

Procrastination - February and March 2014

You may have noticed that posts here have become rather thin on the ground. I’m definitely having something of a lull in my work on the railroad. I haven’t really worked on the main layout in over a year (the last was work on the Hilltop scene, which is still half-done because I ran into some design problems I needed to think through). I’d been focused on working on the One Point Five Meter Line layout last fall, and that stalled out.

There are several reasons for that, but one of the big ones is that I got hung up on painting the main station before I did the track work, and doing the track work before I did any scenery (which is a good idea, generally). And around December I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to paint indoors using an airbrush as hoped, because the only places I could reasonably set up the spray booth were too close to gas appliances to be safe: the thinner I’d use is flammable, and not something I’d want to use near open flame. So I’m not doing any painting until it warms up outside, which is probably still a month away.

At that point I tried to distract myself with electronics and investigating DC motors, which kept me amused up until about mid-February, when I lost interest in that. I’d finished the interesting stuff, and just had a bunch of tests to do to compare motors, and couldn’t really work up any excitement there. I spent the last couple of weeks telling myself I’d do the tests “tomorrow” and write up a post, and of course I didn’t.

And at this point, work and other real-world stuff look likely to distract me for the next week or two, so I’m not getting to anything soon. I am going to try to get something together next week on some topic, just to get my hand back in. But I think it will be early April before much happens. Maybe by then I can paint the station building and actually start writing some meaningful posts. I have all these great ideas for things I want to do with the layout; I just seem to be hung up on getting started.

My goal remains to get the new layout operational by summer. And there really isn’t that much to it: several buildings to paint and detail, some relatively simple scenery, some roads to make (I want to try out a couple of new techniques for that) and a bunch of electronics (the control system I’d been working on until last October needs to be finished, and wiring signals and IR detectors should be interesting). Realistically, if I can get back into the swing of working on the layout a couple of nights a week, finishing it will be relatively easy.

But the last month has generally gone to procrastination with nothing much to show for it, and I expect the next couple of weeks won’t see much activity either. Procrastination; it’s a lifestyle.

January 2014 Status

January was a month spent on the mysteries of model train motors and the DC power supplies that drive them. There’s really not a whole lot to say beyond that. Work on the layout remains stalled, but at least I’m keeping myself interested in some aspect of the hobby. And hopefully this will blow out the mental cobwebs and let me get back to work with renewed excitement in a bit.

And motors are quite interesting things to study when you get right down to it. I’d spent some time on them a year ago when I was reviewing DCC decoders in preparation for converting the bulk of my trains over to DCC (another project on hold). But I realized partway through that effort that I knew less than I though I did, so I took some time off to work on other things before returning to the topic, which I did at the end of December.

This time, I decided to start with DC, rather than DCC, and clarify my understanding of how the motors worked in a traditional model railroad. Once I think I have that well grasped, I’ll return to looking at DCC decoders and what they do with motors.

At the very end of December I also added the new Tomix model of the E7 Shinkansen to my preorder list; the first train I’ll have bought in over six months, and only my second Tomix model (aside from a freight engine and some cars). This train is designed for slower “high speed” operation in a mountainous region, and thus has less of the “duck bill” look then other new Shinkansen (although it still has some of that), which also makes it appealing to me. I’ve never been a fan of that look, although it at least has the benefit of being done for a functional reason (reducing shockwave noise when exiting tunnels), rather than being stylistic.

December 2013 Status Etc

Another month plus, and not much to show for it. I’ve hit something of a wall, and just don’t feel inspired to work on any aspect of the layout. That’s really the first time in four years that this has happened. I’ve gone through slack periods before, but I was always able to focus on something else and get motivated.

I did spend some time on investigating DC power packs with the new oscilloscope, and I’ve updated the Power Pack Testing page with results so far. This has got me thinking about DC power in general, so perhaps I’ll write something more about that in another post. But for now, that’s about all there is to say.

Well, one more thing: I did get motivated to pre-order an E7 Shinkansen. Both Kato and Tomix currently have these available for preordering, with Tomix’s model due out in March for about US$323 for a 12-car train, and Kato’s due out in April for about US$302 for the same (both pre-order prices in Japan before shipment, at the current exchange rate).

November 2013 Status

Work on the layout pretty much didn’t happen in November. Partly that’s down to other distractions, and partly because I was trying to work out how to paint things in the winter, since my usual method of spray-cans depends on the outside air being above 50°F (10°C). And, unfortunately, most of what I’m doing now depends on painting models.

Even the “one point five meter line” needs the station building painted before I can lay track, and I didn’t get that done in October before the weather turned cold.

I spent much of November working out what to do about a new airbrush, with the intent that I’d use some indoor-safe paint with it. The problem I ran into there, which finally brought everything to a crashing halt, was that there’s really no such thing. All of the paints I’d like to use probably requiring thinning (I really have to try an experiment with non-thinned acrylic though) and may of the “water-soluable” acrylics use alcohol as part of the formula. And both of my likely painting locations are near ignition sources (gas stove in the kitchen, furnace or water heater in the basement). Use of anything that puts a flammable liquid in the air isn’t in my plans.

I may figure out some way to rig my spray booth in a bedroom with an exhaust tube to a window. That will allow painting away from flames and vent any potentially problematic substances outside. This will require some planning, and a bit of carpentry, so it hasn’t happened yet.

But for the moment, I’m a bit stuck.

October 2013 Status

Another month, and nothing much to show for it.

I spent the first part of the month working on the software for the Tram Controller. Then I got tired of that and set it aside.

Next I spent some time thinking about the track on the One Point Five Meter Line layout, and what to use for the station at the Urban end of that, and the platforms. I documented that in previous posts.

And then I hit a wall. I just stalled out for a couple of weeks. I didn’t really want to work on the software. I spent some time playing with occupancy detector circuits on paper, but never got around to building one (that is still something I plan to do). I thought about the scenery and buildings for the One Point Five Meter Line, but didn’t actually DO anything. I did some maintenance on the website. But all in all, very little happened.

After a hiatus, I started thinking about structures again, and I may get back to working on those shortly. But October was a “nothing much happened” month for me, as least as far as model railroading goes.

September 2013 Monthly Status

September was an eventful month: work began in earnest on the “One Point Five Meter Line”, my short layout for displaying building models and showing off my Tram Controller. Additionally I made significant progress on the tram controller program, continuing the work I’d begun in August on driving multiplexed LEDs and, although I didn’t write about it, refining the sensor code to allow it to run faster.

The tram controller program itself is beginning to come together. It’s still a ways from actually running a train, but I’ve assembled the pieces and made a start on the actual logic that will know where the trains are and perform actions on them, based on the use of sensors and timers. After about six months of sporadic work, I can almost see the end in sight.

As usual I have more projects running through my head than I have time to do. There are a half-dozen buildings disassembled on my workbench (where they’ve been since May) waiting to be painted, lit, decorated, and reassembled. I’m hoping to make a start on those soon, with the completion of the benchwork for the One Point Five Meter line serving as a spur. Once I have a place I can put them, and wiring I can use to light them up and see how they look, I’ll be more interested in getting them done.

But despite the things not done, this month has a definite sense of accomplishment and progress, something I can’t say about the layout(s) every month. Read More...

August 2013 Status - a Retrospective

And not only another month, but another year has passed. Not much happened in August; as I mentioned last time I’ve mostly been working on the Arduino project. So this month’s post will focus on the past, but will also look forward to the future.

This month marks the fourth anniversary of Sumida Crossing, dating things from the start of construction. Planning actually started earlier, around June of 2009 in earnest although there had been a lot of thought prior to that. And the first real train didn’t run until early 2010 (unless you count a test on a loop of temporary track). And actually, although the first post in this blog dates from September 16, it wasn’t actually online until the end of November. Prior to that I’d been working on the initial version of the website offline, and hadn’t bought the domain name or space on a server until I judged it ready. I don’t think it even had a name before November; I’m pretty sure I made that up when I bought the domain name.

July 2013 Monthly Status

Not a whole lot got done on the layout in July, although I did manage to get the backdrop up for the Hilltop section. The rest has mostly been planning things, and a little bit of work on structures. I’ve also been doing some work on the Tram Controller project, but no substantive progress to report yet.

So a lot of little stuff, but very little to talk about. The design parts of it are both necessary and fun, but I’d like to have more to show for my efforts. Ah well, perhaps next time. It does make for a rather terse summary though.

June 2013 Monthly Status

Another month gone by, but I do have something to show for this one.

The backdrop for the hilltop scene has been painted in primer and let cure. I’m going to work on the mounting structure this week. The photo for it has also been printed (US$72 at my local print shop) and is laid out letting the ink dry fully. I expect I’m a week or so away from gluing it to the backdrop, and by next week should have it installed.

Along the way my plans changed to make a 18” tall (46 cm) backdrop instead of the larger one I’d planned, and the image was adjusted slightly to match, but it’s still basically the same. There was no single reason for the change, just a feeling that 18” fit the area better, and would maintain the “low key” backing I was looking for better, whereas a taller one might tend to overshadow the real scenery. I can always re-do it in the future if I change my mind, total cost with wood is under US$100 and I’ll gladly write that off on a failed experiment, after enough time goes by that I’m sure it is a failed one. Right now, I think I made the right choice.

I’ve also been working on the Village area, and actually done some painting on the Tomix apartment. And I’ve started tearing down the other models to begin painting and lighting/detailing them. I’ll work on several in parallel along with the Tomix apartment. Some notes on the buildings I’m working with are on the Village Buildings page.

And I’ve been doing some work on how I want to build the roads and sidewalks of the village area. I mentioned the planning in general last time. More on the details in some future post when my ideas have settled more.

A bunch of stuff arrived from Japan this month. Among it some track I needed to build a test-track on my bench for continued work on the Tram Controller project, and some Tomix viaduct I want to experiment with for the future Helix (although that may sit on the shelf for a long time; I need it now to measure and check clearances for the hilltop construction, rather than for work on the helix itself).

So, a fairly busy month for the layout, all things considered.

May 2013 Monthly Status

Another month, and not much accomplished. Almost all of the layout work this month was related to playing with the tram controller project. And while that was fun, and will ultimately be useful, it does leave me feeling like I have neglected the layout.

The “mountaintop” scenery project continues to be on my mind, and I continue to procrastinate on actually getting going on it, in part because there are still a few problems I haven’t solved related to attaching the backdrop (which has no support directly below where it goes) and making the scenery transition from the low areas of the adjacent scenes to the lower level of the “mountain”, which is at least six inches (15 cm) higher. I have ideas, and what I really need to do is grab a knife and rasp and start shaping foam, to see if they work out. At worst I’ll waste one of the leftover chunks of foam that have been cluttering the basement for the past three years (I bought a couple of sheets more than I turned out to need).

While I’ve said this before, several times, I think this time the mountaintop scene really is going to be my project for the month of June.

April 2013 Monthly Status

April was a month for working on my Tram Controller project. I didn’t do anything else on the layout (aside from looking at some of my bus models). I made good progress on the controller, despite a few head-scratching puzzles along the way. For successes, I managed to get supersonic PWM working with a couple of motor shields, implemented a simple throttle system with momentum, and managed to get my train-detection sensors mostly working (there’s still a bit to do there). Read More...

March 2013 Monthly Status

I’m going to change how I do the end-of-month status posts, and just do them separately. This probably won’t get pushed out until the next real post, simply because I’m lazy (and my software makes changing one page in these musings far more work than it needs to be).

March, as you may have noticed, consisted mainly of me demonstrating how little electrical knowledge I really have, much to my chagrin. I set out to construct a model of how PWM works in a DC motor, so I could better understand how my motors worked, and I managed to get it wrong pretty nearly at every step.

That all being true, I still learned quite a lot, and I have a better handle on just what PWM does now than I did before, and what kind of trade-offs are being made. At some point I’ll go fix my last couple of errors and do another, hopefully final, post to summarize all that. But I’m going to let this cook in the back of my head for a while, both to spare my readers (assuming any are left) and my own sanity. Read More...

A Clean Track is a Happy Track and February 2013 Monthly Status

Track gets dirty. Cleaning track is a nuisance. But if you want trains to run reliably, it’s an essential nuisance.

My layout is in an unfinished basement, with lots of boxes and other junk that collect a fine layer of dust, not to mention exposed joists with insulation, and power tools that kick up their own dust from cutting wood. A drop ceiling, drywall, and tile floor around the layout would be nice. But it’s not very practical in this basement. Maybe in a future basement...

So I clean. Often.

Rethinking Storage Tracks and January 2013 Status

While I’m spending a lot of time playing with decoders, that’s not the only thing on my mind. One idea that’s been eating at me for a while now is to redesign the under-table storage tracks. I’d originally planned to locate these under the Urban Station scene, reached by a helix that led down to them from the “unsceniced” end.

On reflection, this was less than ideal. First, any access to the underside of the layout for wiring work would require removing all of the trains from storage. Second, the helix to reach them would be quite long, at five and a half turns, which would be expensive and overly complex. Third, if I needed to work on the trains, I’d be kneeling on the concrete floor and reaching into a narrow space to access the trains on the back track, which pretty much guaranteed I wouldn’t be able to do much. The only thing it had going for it was that I could store a full-length sixteen-car Shinkansen (2.5m or eight and a half feet long) down there.

Other Lightboards

Up until now I’ve been concentrating on my Kato models as far as DCC conversion goes, and at the same time I’ve only really paid attention to the interior lighting of those cars. Now that I’m working up to large-scale DCC conversion of my non-Kato stock, which is mostly MicroAce and Greenmax at this point, I need to think about lighting the interior of those cars.

And it turns out, they’re pretty much identical. Both MicroAce and Tomix make their own interior lighting kits, and they’re very similar. A third-party company, F&MOKEI also makes lightboards, and claims they work with both manufacturers’ cars. And Greenmax notes compatibility of its cars with Tomix lights (Tomix is far larger a company than MicroAce, so it makes sense they only mention one).

November 2012 Status

November, as you may have noticed from recent posts, went largely to laying the groundwork for installing wire-in DCC decoders, and a bit of testing of same. After a few delays, most of what I was waiting for finally arrived, although a few things are still backordered. In particular, the six-pin NEM651-compatible plugs and sockets mentioned in the comments last time have arrived. For the curious, the parts list has been added to my page on DCC Decoders. Read More...

Wired DCC Decoders I

This is the first of what I expect will be several posts about wire-in DCC decoders. Up to this point I’ve either been using the Digitrax-made Kato decoders that snap into Kato trains, or lightboard-replacement decoders for locomotives. But I have a large number of trains that don’t take either of those, many of them the commuter trains I’ll want to run on my new commuter line (once I finish the DCC wiring for that). Read More...

In Search of the Perfect Post

One of the hardest lessons in model-railroading, at least for me, has been that “good enough” really is good enough. I spent fifteen years on my HO layout doing very little, in large part because what I did do fell short of what I’d set out to do, and I’d get frustrated and go do something else for six months. With Sumida Crossing, I started with the premise that I wasn’t trying to do a picture-perfect layout of the kind featured in magazines. Neither my skills nor my available time were up to that. Read More...

August 2012 Status

It’s now three years since the start of work on Sumida Crossing (if you date from actually applying saw to lumber, and not the earlier design work). The rate of change has slowed over time, and virtually come to a standstill this summer, although that was largely due to external factors. At lot of the apparent slowdown is that the easy stuff is done. Assembling the whole supporting structure of the layout and building and painting all the tables took a couple of weeks of “layout time” (time I can spend working on the layout, which is somewhat limited). I can spend more than that painting and detailing one little plastic building. It’s also because right now I’m in a phase that mostly involves electronics work, and that’s really not the stuff that excites me. But I’ll slog on through it to get back to having running trains and be able to put my efforts into detailing the layout, and playing with trains.

July 2012 Status

You may have noticed things are a bit quiet here. The Olympics are partly to blame for that, as I’ve been watching a lot of tv the last couple of weeks rather than working on the layout. The hot, muggy weather has also contributed, making the basement an unpleasant place to work this past month (the reach of the AC doesn’t extend down there). Which hasn’t precluded all work, just most of it. AndI had a vacation back in July largely consumed by helping my dad settle in to a new place.


June 2012 Status - What, its not June

Yeah, this is a bit late. I’ve been distracted. I’m throwing this up so I can summarize what did get done, before moving on.

Bike Shop II and May 2012 Status

The nice thing about the “Bike Shop” is that it’s a small model, and hence fairly quick work (by my standards a month really is quick). I’d written about this model a couple of weeks ago. At that point I’d finished the structural work, and given it several coats of paint from spray cans, providing a solid flat black layer to make it light-tight, and then a white interior layer for reflectivity, followed by a colored outer coat to give the “stone” a concrete look. Read More...

April 2012 Status

This monthly status is very late, which is why I’m doing it as a standalone posting rather than a footnote on an another entry. It’s mainly here because I don’t want to miss one, but there really isn’t a whole lot to say.

April went to several projects, none of which completed. I’ve mainly been working on the River Crossing scenery, although it’s moving ahead very slowly. Work is still continuing on detailing the two apartment buildings. I’ve also been working on the track and catenary for the two double-track curves in the scene, finishing up wiring, adding the sensor tracks for the grade crossing that’s going in the adjacent Riverside Station scene, and general cleaning. And I built the previously-discussed electrical pylon kit.

Work Table and March 2012 Status

Work on the village buildings continues, although it’s been slow recently due to other demands on my time taking me away from layout work. This weekend, however, I found time to build a small work table. Read More...

Customizing Buildings I and Feb 2012 Status

I’ve always enjoyed building plastic models. When I was a kid I made many, many models of ships, planes, tanks, spaceships, dinosaurs and whatever else caught my interest. This included some train car kits for my HO layout. Some I even painted moderately well. The less said about my decaling skills, however, the better.

But sometime in High School I lost interest, and it wasn’t until working on the first adult HO layout that I dusted off my skills for some new kits, and also did some customization of kits (commonly known as “kitbashing” in the model railroad hobby). But until this year, those skills had languished again.

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.

Kato Subway Train and December 2011 Monthly Status

My latest Kato model is another subway train, the Tōkyō Metro 10000. I already have a model of this train made by Greenmax, which I have mentioned briefly a few times (it featured in the “first run” video of the subway, see my Subway First Run musing for more on that). It’s not a bad model, but it lacks an interior and requires wire-in decoders for conversion to DCC. And while I’ll eventually get around to that, it’s not high on my priority list. So trains that are easier to convert to DCC, and that means Kato, are at the top of my list for actual operations once I finish up installing all the DCC electronics for the Commuter and Subway loops.

For the above-ground Commuter loop, I have lots of Kato’s commuter EMUs, but trains for the underground Subway loop are another matter. As mentioned back in October I’d hoped to have the Kato Ginza Series 01 be one of those, but it ended up not supporting the EM13 motor decoder (probably due to the narrower width of the cars).

The Kato 10000 had been on my must-buy list anyway, but with fingers crossed that this one would be “DCC Friendly”, I eagerly awaited its arrival. Kato hadn’t actually said it would be DCC Friendly (meaning compatible with their Digitrax-made proprietary decoders) although they rarely do, and there was a cryptic reference to some issue with the interior lighting that had me worried it was some kind of one-off design. I’d previously bought several of Kato’s new “version 2” LED light sets (which I describe more on my new Kato Interior Lighting page) planning to install them in the Ginza train, but hadn’t gotten around to that after it turned out not to support the DCC motor decoder. So my plan was to use them, if I could.

Bus Wiring and November 2011 Status

DCC is often said to simplify a model railroad because it requires “only two wires”. While that’s true to an extent, most real model railroads will require quite a bit more. Or maybe I just like to over-complicate things.

Kato's "New" Coupler and Oct 2011 Status

When my Ginza 01 series train (Kato 10-864) arrived last month I put it on the track to break it in, then took it off and separated the cars as I usually do with commuter cars, levering them up until the couplers are nearly at a 90-degree angle, just as it says to in the brochure that comes with the train. This time, to my surprise, instead of uncoupling, one coupler assembly exploded into three parts (coupler, bracket, and spring). Attempting to re-install the spring led to it departing over the horizon (or at least into the depths of the basement), never to be seen again. A quick look at the brochure, and it was clear Kato had changed something. It showed the cars being separated by pulling apart rather than the levering up procedure I was used to from earlier commuter models.

This was a bit of a surprise, because the coupler looked just like the usual commuter coupler, with a square, pyramid-tipped spike and a matching socket, with a hook underneath, all designed to mimic the standard Japanese coupler used on many narrow-gauge trains, a type of multi-function close coupler known as a Shibata coupler after its developer, Mamoru Shibata, although often called more generically a “Scharfenberg” coupler, after the original European close-coupler it was modeled on. I decided it must be a new type of coupler developed for the new subway trains (which the Ginza is assumed to be the first of) and ordered a replacement. That turned out to be an incorrect assumption.

Fun with JMRI II and September 2011 Status

I’ve been playing around with JMRI some more, and trying to debug my transponding problem with the first of the electronics boards. This is really baffling. I checked the wiring, and it was fed through the RX sensor properly. I replaced BOTH the PM42 and the BDL168 circuit boards (I’ve got a stack of them waiting for more electronics boards once I get this one working) and I tried using other blocks. And I had more transponding sensor failures. On both sets of RX sensors. One defective set I might accept, but two?

So I tried a variety of things, and noticed that the non-functional detectors would, every once in a while, work. In fact, I discovered that with the train motionless, one of them would periodically cycle from detection to non-detection, emitting a LocoNet message reporting the change in status each time. I tried moving the wires. I pulled a fresh RX1 set out of a bag, and set it up atop a trash can (see above) with every wire fed through it fully separated from every other wire in mid-air (about the middle of this I was holding things in both hands and wishing I had a third arm). And that failed too, reliably as it were.

August 2011 Status - Looking Back, and Looking Forward

It’s been about two years since construction started on Sumida Crossing, eventual replacement for the old Kitchen Table Layout (KTL) seen in the photo above (which itself had served me for close on two years, although that overlapped the later construction somewhat). The old KTL is gone now, broken down into its component elements and reused on the new layout, or stored away on shelves and in bins awaiting reuse.

The old layout was constrained to running two six-car trains (and a small freight branch/yard that couldn’t do much), plus others on sidings. Not much, but aside from one or two glitches (one bad unijoiner caused problems for weeks before I found it), it mostly worked and provided hours of entertainment for very little investment of time (the cash investment was much higher; all those pre-built buildings were expensive, and back then I was still buying from overpriced importers so the trains cost an arm and a leg (now that I buy direct from Japan they only cost one arm).

After two years of building I have a layout that looks fairly good and (when I don’t have it apart) lets me run two trains, and will shortly let me run six or more (I really have to finish up the rewiring of the commuter and subway loops and start converting more trains to DCC). And I’ve derived a lot of enjoyment from the research that went into it, and the construction. Not to mention having an excuse to buy more trains. Read More...

July 2011 Status - Expressway and Website

The month of July largely went to work on the expressway as part of the JNSForum’s 2011 contest, described on my page for the contest. The results so far can be seen in the photo above: one 6-inch segment of what will ultimately be a four-foot section of elevated expressway. Still missing is the guardrail down the median.

June 2011 Status: Winds of Change from the Orchard

The big news is that Sumida Crossing is going to be moving. Not the physical layout, but the website. With Apple declaring iWeb dead and an end to their hosting service in a year, it’s time to find a new home. I could procrastinate, but iWeb’s limitations have been an irritant for some time, and an excuse to find a tool I like a little better, while still using a template-driven WYSIWYG editor, was all I needed. I’ve been on iWeb nearly two years now, and while it’s served me well and let me focus on “just writing” the site, it’s time for a change. And like pulling a tooth, this kind of change is best done quickly, to reduce the pain, so I’m working to a faster-than-usual timeline for me.

May 2011 Status, Trams and Signmaking

After a relatively quiet winter and spring, work on the layout is picking up (most people do this in the winter, but I don’t seem to work that way). As mentioned in the last musing, I spent most of May working on the subway station of the Riverside Station scene. And I’m still basking in the glow of completing that. I go down to the basement every few days and turn the station LEDs on just to grin at it for a few minutes and think: it’s done, I actually finished something!

A big part of that was making signs using found photographs and graphics images. I’d described that briefly earlier in the month, but hadn’t gone into much detail. This method worked out very well, and I used it to produce the station platforms signs (using images from Tōkyō Metro’s website plus my own text), the subway maps (using an online map, vastly reduced in size), the advertising billboards (from photos found online), and even the vending machines on the platform (from photographs of real ones found on Flickr).

April 2011 Status, Subway Station Planning and a Bus System

April sped by rather quickly, as least in part because I had some non-railroad distractions that took me away from the layout. Not much was done in concrete terms, but planning for the Riverside Crossing Subway Station made good progress. Mostly I acquired parts for some more power management wiring (PM42 circuit breakers, BDL168 occupancy detectors, and RX4 transponding sensors, as well as wire, terminal strips, and miscellaneous connectors). I also painted several sheets of cut-to-size plywood with primer, to which I’ll attach all the electronics and wiring. Then I’ll hang the plywood under the layout, where it can be easily wired to terminal strips, but remain far enough away from the track and bus wires to avoid interference with the transponding sensors. I’ll have more on this after I’ve built the first of these.

Miscellany and March 2011 Status

March was another of those “not much obvious happened” months. I did manage to get the layout back together, with two of the circuit-breaker/block-occupancy-detector systems wired up. And I installed some lighting in the Subway Station as a test. But I still don’t have the track back together and operational (I’m waiting on some more DCC electronics on order). In the meantime, I’ve amused myself with several things and some work on the website as I plan my next moves.

First, I’ve taken more photographs of the Overhead Transit Station (photo above) and the associated platforms I’m using on the Urban Station scene, and updated my pages for it and for the Unitrack platforms. The photos were also added to the Stations photo album. Once I get the Riverside Station track operational, I’m going to be turning my attention to the Urban Station for a time (and as noted last time I’ve added a page about the Urban Station itself). I have some new track (Kato’s new V15 20-874 set and 20-875 single-track concrete-tie track) on order for that, about which more after it arrives. I really like the combination of the Overhead Station (and expansion for a second platform), the new platforms, and the V15 set; this makes for a really nice modern-looking station.

I’ve also done some more testing of DC power packs, checking out the behavior of pulsed power on motor temperatures (no effect that I could measure) and examining yet another power pack. The notes on both have been added to the DC Power Pack page. Photos were added to the Electronics photo album.

And I built another of Don’s LOLBoosters, and ran some tests for him. Not much to say on that, but I added a couple of photos and some text to my page on it.

February 2011 Status - Occupancy Detection Revisited

Work has progressed slowly this month, partly from distractions, and partly because I’ve been reluctant to finish up the block occupancy detector wiring. I finally realized that the reason for this was that I wasn’t happy with my hybrid approach to occupancy detection and transponding.

To recap, my Subway and Commuter loop tracks were to be divided into blocks, with Digitrax BDL168 occupancy detectors and PM42 circuit breakers (circuit breakers are typically one per track per table, whereas there may be two, three or even four detectable track sections on a single track on one table, and more in a couple of cases). The PM42 provides for four circuit breakers, which is a nice fit for the four tracks, and the BDL168 is divided into four independent quadrants (so each can be wired to a separate circuit breaker), each with four block detectors. I’d originally planned one PM42/BDL168 per scene, meaning that wires would have to cross a table boundary in the Urban and Riverside Station scenes.

And that was a problem, for several reasons. First, running wires between tables violates my “keep all wires except bus wires local” design goal (it makes the layout harder to disassemble), second while the BDL168 can support 16 occupancy detectors, in some places I needed more than four on one track, which broke the association of the PM42 circuit breaker element to a single track, meaning a short would shut down a second line. And finally, I wanted to do Transponding, and the BDL168 only supports 8 transponding sensors (using a pair of RX4 sets), meaning some blocks would be able to report which train was in them, and some would only be able to report that some train was present, but not which. None of these were fatal flaws, but they were eating at me. And I finally realized that I only needed two more sets (seven instead of five) to fix these problems.

Almost There - January 2011 Status

January went primarily to the backdrops and the risers/inclines of the Riverside Station scene commuter loop, and now the Riverside Station scene begins to come together. The tables themselves are not yet connected to each other or anything else, as I’m taking the opportunity to work on the wiring with them stood on edge, which is much easier than working on it from below.


2010 in Review - A Year of Construction

It’s been an eventful year. Last December the website had only been live for a month, and I’d just finished the subway tracks atop a layer of unpainted pink foam, with no scenery at all (and they’d be pulled up and put back a couple of times before they went live for real in June). In that time I’ve created the big curve around the village, built the elevated station and expressway, and begun work on the Riverside station. I’ve also largely finished the DCC electronics (except for switch controls and occupancy detectors).

November 2010 Status: Pausing for Thought

After completing the outer loop in September, I took a break from construction. Partly this was because I wanted to run trains, and the next bit of construction I had planned would require disrupting that for a time. Partly it was because I had a number of loose ends I needed to catch up on (chronicled in past musings). And a part of it was an inability to nail down the final design of the Riverside Station track, which was the next thing I needed to work on.

Freight Trains, Electronics and October 2010 Status

Not much got done on the layout itself in October, mostly I’ve been running trains (as documented in an earlier post with a video) and doing a bit of electrical work (mostly the previously noted update to the power panel). I’ve spent a good bit of time on a couple of other things though.

Car Lighting Power Protection and September 2010 Status

There isn’t much status to give for this month, as the only major layout event was finally completing the Rapid/Shinkansen loop and running DCC trains (a major milestone, but one I’ve already covered). But this month also marks the one-year anniversary of when I first started keeping this record (I didn’t actually get it online until November, but I was making offline entries and writing down design information from September 2009), and it’s worth a short look back on the year.

Myths The Internet Told Me and August 2010 Status

The Internet is a wonderful invention. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to order trains from halfway around the globe and have them delivered in under a week, nor would I have any idea of the difference between an E233-1000 and an E233-2000 (both are commuter trains, but the 2000 is a narrow-bodied variant with a end door for emergency exits; this model runs through onto the Chiyoda subway and nobody makes a model of it yet, but I want one). I hear that some people have more serious uses for the Internet, as well.

July 2010 Status - Behind the Scenes

Much of July went to more electrical work, partly planning, but mostly just crimping spade lugs to wires. Around 200 of them this month. There are now a total of six bus wire pairs beneath the tables: two for DCC (command station and future booster), two for the two tracks of the outer (Rapid/Shinkansen) loop, which will be switchable from DC to DCC, and one each for DCC accessory power and the Occupancy Detector & Signaling systems. I also wired up the control panel for the power.


June 2010 Status - A Sense of Accomplishment

Well, I have a much greater sense of accomplishment this month than last. June not only saw the subway line completed (in the electrical sense) and operational, it also saw substantial progress on the River Crossing scene. This included finishing the foam shaping for the other side of the river and painting it, as well as building and painting a roof for the subway where it runs through that hillside. There are still retaining walls and roads to build, and some painting, but it looks pretty good “for now” (still with just painted foam for scenery), while I turn my attention to work on the Riverside Station scene.

May 2010 Status - Carving Foam

Time marches on, but it seems to be crawling on the banks of the Sumida. The hillside covering the subway has made little apparent progress over the last month, going from squarish blocks of pink foam to carved, but still pink, sections, which only just received a first coat of primer (and have yet to be glued in place).

Riverbank Scenery and April 2010 Status

April was a fairly busy month. The Urban Station scene received a tram line, and had the viaduct station structure finished. I also built the second level of the unsceniced return curves at the far end of the layout. And then I began working on the other bank of the large river (I’d done the far bank back in February).

I hadn’t done much on the riverbank by the end of the month, although it’s progressed a bit since then. The temporary expressway has been “completed” with the addition of some construction paper guardrails and support beams, as well as being lowered 1.5 cm. I’ve also rough-cut the foam that will go under it, although it needs to be trimmed back a bit, and then shaped to provide a levee up to the level of the bridge crossing the river, with a sloping hillside above it. Read More...

March 2010 Status - An Urban Station, almost

Another month, and it seems like there isn’t much to show for it. That’s somewhat deceptive as many things have been accomplished, but nothing has been finished, and that makes it seem like less was done. I’ve covered most of this already, so I’ll quickly summarize the work. Read More...

February 2010 Status - Upper Level Beginnings

The “village” section of the River Crossing scene has been painted, with cork and basic ground cover (plaster cloth) applied. Much remains to be done, including the stonework of the embankment against the river, before scenery is likely to progress beyond this. But the goal of hiding the pink foam here, and getting the track in place, is done. Read More...

January 2010 Status - Planning the Upper Level

This month was spent thinking about the track that will go on the upper (ground) level, above the subway. I never actually did finish wiring up the subway loop (although I can run trains on it using DC, they get a bit slow on the opposite side of the loop from the powerpack; rail is a poor conductor of electricity). Read More...

December 2009 Status - Subway Track in Place

The subway level track is nearly complete, with the underlying foam and cork glued down, and the Unitrack in place. Read More...

It’s Alive! - November 2009 Status

Work has been progressing more slowly than I’d like, and the first level of foam has yet to be glued down, or the subway track installed. The backdrops were taken down and repainted in a lighter shade of blue, and I’m much happier with them now. Read More...

Inaugural Train

The first train ran tonight. As you can see, the table is still a bit unfinished. I added the legs and framing for the end that won’t have scenery, and put down the plywood for the subway level return loop. Read More...

September 2009 Status

The tables (phase 1, excluding the end section with the helix) are all assembled and mounted to the legs, with scenery backdrops and paint. That’s taken more than a month (after a couple of months of planning, mostly deciding on a track plan). I’m still in the design phase for the electrical systems. After some experiments with foam height and bridges, the design of the subway (and its implications for how many foam layers I will use) is done (I hope). Read More...