I have spent the last 40 years using and programming computers from the very early days of Z80/S100 boxes up to my 27″ iMac/iPad/iPhone of today. I recently completed an Open University honours degree in computers which started in 1974 using Teletype terminals and punched tape through to finishing last year with programming mobile phones and creating cloud server farms. Hence, it is almost obligatory for me to use some sort of computer aid with my model railway. In fact, my final course was based on a project to manage the routing of freight cars on a US outline model railroad.
I am not going that sophisticated this time with my little 6′ long N Gauge “thingy”. What I am using is a combination of personally written software and JMRI. My DCC system is one of the latest Digitrax Evolution radio throttle systems with a PR3 USB connector box connecting to my Apple iMac. Eventually, the software is all going to run on a Fusion 10″ Windows 10 touch tablet, which will be great.
OK, so first off, my JMRI has been told of all of my “turnouts” (note that, even though I have returned to British outline, I must still use US terminology).
Sensibly, they have all been given names that mean something. Next, I accumulate those necessary into “Routes”
These define the most popular pathways into and out of the station. I haven’t attempted to define any shunting routes. Routes aren’t strictly necessary but you have to define the turnouts to enable the creation of a track diagram. Once you have turnouts described and working, drawing a track diagram is quite easy (he says – you have to go through a quite big learning curve to get anything like a real layout). Mind you, if you want to use JMRI track detection and signalling then you have to get fairly adept and go for it in a major way. Belonging to the JMRI news feed and also to MERG would be a help. My needs are a bit smaller than that. All I want to do is have a drawing of the layout and click on turnouts as I need. The way I did this was to use a screen shot of my layout on Anyrail as the background and then just place points – sorry turnouts – where they appear on that screen shot. This is what it looks like:
If you enlarge the image, you will be able to see theJMRI points laid on the drawing. This is a quick and simple way to get a working control panel.
Lastly, I want to be able to manage a timetable. Now this can be done on a sheet of paper and tick the trains off. It can be done with a set of cards but, of course, I like to use a computer. First off, I built an Excel spreadsheet that understood the times between trains and indicated where a loco was. This resulted in a coherent timetable to meet my expected train route times. I used this to build a CSV (Comma Separated File) which could be used as input to some software. This CSV looks like this:
|1||Local||Ellerby||Carlisle||108||2||2||Up Br. DMU||1|
|3||Milk||Manch||Ellerby||24||All||All||Up Milk Empty||1|
|4||DMU||Carlisle||Ellerby||108||2||2||Dn Br. DMU||1|
|5||Local||Manch.||Ellerby||25||4||4||Up Br. Local||1|
|6||DMU||Ellerby||Carlisle||108||2||2||Up Br. DMU||1|
|7||Local||Ellerby||Manch.||25||4||4||Dn Br. Local||1|
|11||DMU||Carlisle||Ellerby||108||2||2||Up Br. DMU||1|
|14||DMU||Ellerby||Carlisle||108||8||5||Dn Br. DMU||1|
|16||MG||Ellerby||Manch.||37||4||4||Dn Mix Goods||1|
|18||Local||Manch.||Ellerby||25||2||2||Up Br. Local||1|
|19||DMU||Carlisle||Ellerby||108||4||4||Dn Br. DMU||1|
|20||DMU||Ellerby||Carlisle||108||2||2||Up Br. DMU||1|
|21||Local||Ellerby||Manch.||25||2||2||Dn Br. Local||1|
|22||DMU||Carlisle||Ellerby||108||2||2||Dn Br. DMU||1|
This defines the day. The % column indicates the percentage that a train will run (0.0 – 1.0). All of the trains are currently marked as 1 except for the Parcels which only runs 70% of the time. The returning parcels is set to 0 as it only run if the previous train runs. Obviously, if the Up Parcels doesn’t come in then the Down Parcels isn’t even there to run! The max and min describe the number of coaches or wagons on each train as suitable so that every train isn’t the same length. Where I have a fixed number of wagons, such as my milk tankers for the Creamery, ALL says take everything that there is. There is no attempt to manage actual wagon movements as I have sufficient for any one day’s run. The software is written in my favourite Smalltalk language and the face of it looks like this.
This screen gives you all that you need to fish the required set out of the storage boxes (see previous post). It also shows you the DCC address of the required loco. At the moment, it is quite simple in that there is only one of each type of loco as I was using my second Class 25 as a station pilot. However, good old Kevin at Coastal DCC has tinkered with the 08 that I wired up for DCC and it now runs well, or so I am told. This means that I will have two 25s to get into the schedule so some programming is required.
I ran the whole system all the way through, yesterday afternoon and found a small snaglist that will need sorting out. No, the program didn’t crash. No, JMRI didn’t change the wrong point in a route. There were things that I should have worked out before I got to this stage:
- It is no good coming up with a departure for the express in platform one if you haven’t yet released the loco on the head end. I was left with a Class 47 behind the train and had to do a release manoeuvre before the train could go.
- There was not enough engine storage so I had 3 locos spread across the layout with nowhere to go.
- There was not enough fiddle yard. As the DMU and the Local Passenger come and go regularly, it would be good to leave them out all the time.
Point 1 needs a small software change. I will have to create a new timetable line to instigate a release process somewhere within the three train movements between the arrival and departure of the Express. The second and third points are easily fixed by buying points. (Isn’t English a crazy language – American “points are easily fixed by buying turnouts”makes it much clearer!). This has been done and an extra track will be laid by the engine shed and an extra line will be added to the fiddle yard. The fiddle yard will also be extended by about 1′. I will try and extend the engine service area but that may impinge on SWBO’s dressing table. She only has about 18” left as it is!