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Author Topic: Radio Control for HO  (Read 24897 times)
Atlantic Central

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« on: October 22, 2007, 11:50:23 AM »

As many of you know, I have often supported the idea that control systems for model trains are not one size fits all and that one should carefully consider their needs and wants before investing in expensive/complex control systems.

In addition to my continuing interest in the latest forms of computerized block control, I am now exploreing a new option - radio control.

This was prompted by seeing some others effectively using the Aristo Craft Train Engineer on their HO layouts. The following is the test results I have compiled and posted on the Aristo message board where I have been consulting with other TE users, mostly in large scale.

As promised, here are my test results on the trackside TE with HO scale. This is a bit long, and I will be posting more, but this seemed like  more than enough for now. Questions and comments are welcomed.

For the last several weeks I have been conducting tests with the Aristo Craft Train Engineer, CRE-55470, to determine how best these throttles could be applied to HO scale layouts, in particular my layout that is currently in a rebuilding phase.

First, let me just mention that I am an experienced modeler of 35-40 years and also have a strong electrical and electronics background. And, for a number of reasons I have rejected DCC as not being suitable for my needs on my new layout. This is not a criticism of DCC, for some layouts/modelers it is the perfect answer. But control systems for model trains should weigh all factors, complexity, desired features, style of operation, layout size, cost, maintenance, just to mention a few.

The two factors that ruled out DCC for me are decoder installation in a large fleet of motive power, and complex operational sequences with many small buttons on many/most of the throttles. Other negative factors include programming locos and complex wiring infrastructure for a large layout - not the magical two wires touted in the early days of DCC. I have always felt that for all that wiring infrastructure, I could “build in” more features with other systems, not have deal with features I don't need/want, and avoid the need for decoders.

Rigid thinking by many established in the hobby and active in the model press has lead to some assumptions by many that are not necessarily true. I have paid great attention over the years to different control system approaches and found that many alternative systems work quite well, again depending on your goals.

My Train Engineer Tests:

Locomotive performance - I tested a wide range of brands and types of both steam and diesel locos on both the linear and PWC settings. I was very pleased with the slow speed performance on both settings. The PWC setting does provide smoother start up at slower speeds and did allow slower steady speed operation. The PWC setting also greatly enhanced the performance of all constant lighting circuits. With the PWC setting, the headlights almost always cam on at full brightness before the loco moved. No over heating or damage was experienced on the PWC setting.

One anomaly that was found, locos with inexpensive built in decoders (like the Bachmann GE 70 tonner) did not perform well on either setting. Locos of this type are not great performers on analog anyway, but with TE they are worse.

I did not test the TE with any analog sound equipped locos (like the new BLI Blueline) and I tested only one DCC/DC sound equipped loco (BLI N&W class A), since it is the only DCC/DC sound equipped loco I own. The Class A actually preformed about the same as it does on any regular DC power pack, which is really only mediocre in my opinion because of the high starting voltage of those sound decoders in analog mode. It was slightly better on the analog setting, but differences where very slight. The basic sound system worked normally, but I was completely unable to access the horn and bell functions. So, if the Class A is typical, the TE, even in PWC mode, will run/work with high quality dual mode sound decoders. The next step would be to test some of the accessory sound controllers with the TE for whistle/bell control. Since I do not like or use sound in HO so for me it is not an issue.
 
Section Control w/multiple receivers - Back in the dark ages of model trains, early attempts to run more than one train on a connected system of track often used a simple system of simply dividing the layout into different sections (not really blocks, think zones or groups of blocks) and putting a separate power supply on each section. For more detail on this and a modern look at it, go to www.aglasshalffull.org/article-multi-throttle.html and read more.

So the question was, will the TE work in this system, what are the problems, pit falls, etc. This would require a train to move from receiver to receiver. What would be the operational and electrical implications of this and will it work? The advantage of such a system would be VERY simple layout wiring.

The answer is yes and no. On the linear setting it was easily possible to go from receiver to receiver with no problems. Simple diode circuits where wired up with pilot lights for easy reference as to the direction setting of the receivers, and bulb intensity helped with matching speed settings. Also, newer TE receivers with the fixed response to the direction button are much better for this type of operation.

On PWC, the story is not as good. It seems that no matter what, the motors in the locos want to add the two sets of pluses together during the time the loco is picking up from both receivers, causing a very unpleasant surge in speed. No amount of voltage matching or system phasing had any improving effect, including the risky use of a common power supply.

So, with PWC, moving from one receiver to another is not a practical approach. And, while it worked in the linear mode, matching the speeds was somewhat harder than I had hoped. So I have ruled out simple section control with the TE.

Modified Cab Control - Many years ago (1960’s & 70’s) a modeler by the name of Ed Ravenscroft combined section control, cab control and power routing trackage (sometimes called X sections) to create a versatile form of cab control that required 1/3 or fewer block toggles than cab control and allowed the layout to be operated in several different ways, namely in a local/walk around fashion or from a main “dispatchers” panel. His system is outlined in a series of articles that appeared in several issues of Model Railroader during 1974.

While TE will not work with Ed’s exact wiring approach, the implementation of his system or a conventional cab control system should be no problem. It will require switching both wires of the cab power (no common rail wiring or “grounded” systems), and rotary switches that short out other positions should be avoided, but there are endless simple solutions to these issues.

In such an application the TE will have the advantage of being wireless and any transmitter can instantly become any free cab (by using the ten channels as the cab assignments). Several simple systems of local cab assignment instantly come to mind, such as coded plugs or push button controlled relays that could be controlled at various locations around the layout rather than one fixed control panel.

Power Supplies/short circuits - At HO scale (or N scale) current levels the TE needs no more than a 3 amp fuse and a good 3 amp/13.8 volt regulated power supply. I found those sold for CB radio operation to be quite effective. Separate power supplies for each receiver and the 3 amp fusing made it seemingly impossible to damage a receiver or a loco. And while I did not try to damage anything, I did have several fuse blowing events. I do intend to install the cooling fans even at these lower current levels. A cool electron is a happy electron!

User Friendly? - I found the TE to be very user friendly. This is an important factor to me. I easily became able to operate the transmitter without looking at it and was able to quickly get a good feel for any loco and control it with great precision for switching, coupling, etc. This was especially true on the PWC setting.

Features - I had the opportunity to test both the older and newer transmitters. The older one was the first series of the 10 channel type. The direction recall was unresponsive at times but was obviously useful for the applications I was testing. The speed recall was useless at the voltages/speeds of HO scale. At most speeds of normal operation little or no change and only one, two or sometimes three lights lit, giving no useful indication of speed. The on/off and all stop features of the new transmitter are much more useful.

I also had both older and newer receivers. The older ones responded to any direction button in a flip flop manner. Not good for small scales. I was quite pleased to find the new ones have returned to the absolute left/right design that was, from what I understand, on the original TE. This is very desirable for small scales no matter what type of control system is used, blocks, sections, zones, etc. I understand that some in the large scale crowd prefer the flip/flop arrangement - this just goes to show the big differences between running trains on “bench work” vs. in the back yard. 

Conclusion - Given the other wireless choices for model train control, their costs and complexity, the TE offers tremendous value for the price. Combined with other conventional wiring systems I see great potential to rival the operational features of DCC and maybe even exceeding them in some ways. Lower cost, no loco modifications (or expensive decode equipped locos) and good wireless reliability are all pluses in my book. I am now planning the exact details of how I will implement the TE.

It is obvious that good design and constant improvement has made the TE a very effective control system. The publishing of more info on its use should help expand its use. Much to my amazement (or maybe not) there is little to nothing published about using the TE in smaller scales - maybe I can help change that.

More latter as I decide exactly how to impliment my control system.

Sheldon 

       
« Last Edit: February 27, 2009, 02:11:04 PM by Atlantic Central » Logged
scottychaos


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« Reply #1 on: October 22, 2007, 03:06:55 PM »

"Radio control" already exists for the smaller scales..
its called "Wireless DCC".

I use the Aristocraft Train Engineer for my G-gauge trains.
and DCC for On2..so I am familiar with both.

I dont see where the T.E. has any advantage over DCC for smaller scales.
actually, DCC is much better for the smaller scales, because you can control much more than just the trains with DCC, which you cant do with the Aristo train engineer..and you can do "consists" with DCC (multiple powered engines on the same train) which you CANT do with the Aristo train engineer..

Quote
The two factors that ruled out DCC for me are decoder installation in a large fleet of motive power

you have to buy and install a seperate decoder (reciever) for each locomotive for the T.E. too..which according to the Aristocraft website are $39 each..which is the same, or MORE expensive, than most DCC decoders..so no advantage there.

Quote
and complex operational sequences with many small buttons on many/most of the throttles.

the train engineer has lots of buttons too..no advantage there either.

Your idea can work fine for a "small scale" layout if you only want to run a single locomotive on each train..(you cant run any consists..multiple powered engines on the same train) and if you have a small layout with simple wiring..
the T.E. would be good for steam-era layouts only..with only one steam engine per train..its useless for Diesels, because you cant run multiple powered units..

And if you have a small layout with simple wiring, DCC is just as easy to set up...not seeing any advantage there either.

good idea, but sorry..DCC blows it out of the water.

the only "maybe" advantage I can see for the T.E. is that the signal to control the loco is not sent through the track, it is sent through the air...but is that really a big deal?  the power is still sent through the track, so you still have to keep clean track with both systems!

DCC - need to keep your track clean for the signal and the power
T.E. - need to keep your track clean for the power only, but not the signal.

either way, you need to clean your track! Wink so that makes no actual advantage for the T.E.

I can see no clear advantages that the T.E. has over DCC..
and I can see many advantages that DCC has over the T.E.
anything you want to do with the TE can be done just as easily with DCC..
and DCC can do a lot more.

For those who want to read more on the Aristocraft Train Engineer,
check here:
http://www.aristocraft.com/catalog/crest/trainengineer/whitepaper/index.html#HO TRAIN ENGINEER CRE-55000

sure, the T.E. might have its place, and if it works for you thats great..
but IMO its a very limited system compared to DCC.

Scot
« Last Edit: October 22, 2007, 03:19:51 PM by scottychaos » Logged

Mike

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« Reply #2 on: October 22, 2007, 03:12:28 PM »

Sheldon- A very informative bunch of comments! For HO, do you envision using blocks, block selector switches, DPDT switches for TE source selection, and a couple of TE's, inorder to run multiple trains... or do you plan on one-at-a-time operation? I know our local HO club used to use two TE's on separate tracks... but now it's one track with DCC and one with TE and blocks. We are currently trying to locate 10 pole rotary switches at a reasonable price. With your often "beyond the box" approach, I am anxious to hear more of your thoughts. As a good Bach-man reader, I ANTICIPATE!- Mike S.
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Atlantic Central

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« Reply #3 on: October 22, 2007, 04:17:18 PM »

Scot,

Obvoiusly you did not read my intire post, I understand it is long and detailed.

I fully understand all the features and benifits of DCC. Most of its features I have no interest in. I want headlights to just come on and go off on their own, I don't use sound so I don't need to ring bells or blow whistles.

I am not takling about the HO Train Engineer with the decoders. I am talking about the trackside TE, the one with fast, slow, left, right and stop to control the train (5 buttons) (have you looked at a Digitrax or NEC throttle - a LOT more than a TE).

Consisting, a totally unnecessary feature even for most double heading and multi unit diesel operation. Almost every train I run is pulled by more than one powered unit without all that button pushing and code entering.

Mike,

I am still working out how blocks will be selected, but it will be simple to operate - possibly push buttons and pilot lights at vaious locations around the layout. I have to run now but will get back to you on this.

Sheldon
« Last Edit: October 22, 2007, 05:16:55 PM by Atlantic Central » Logged
Atlantic Central

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« Reply #4 on: October 22, 2007, 05:03:31 PM »

OK Mike, here is some more detail.

I am building a large layout with a double track continious main line about 400-500' long. Yes, there will be blocks and yes, more than one train will be running a time.

I invision about 8 TE throttles, maybe more. At leat four will be asignable to the mainline blocks. The blocks may be grouped into "zones", with a zone trypically being 3 signal blocks.

Cab asignment may be done at the zone level to minimize switching.

Picture this - a linear walk around layout where east is always to your right and west always to your left. As you walk along, when you come to turnouts there would be a small "tower" panel with the turnout controls. When you come to the begining/end of a zone, there would be a panel for cab asignments. It might have 5 small lighted pushbuttons for each zone. One for each of four cabs and one to clear that zone from being connected to any cab.

This is done with a very simple relay circuit  and allows for there to be a set of pushbuttons at each end of every zone and as well as a set at a master "CTC" panel if desired. The pilot lights would indicate at all locations which cab is asigned to which zone.

And by asigning the TE's to different channels on the same frequency, any free transmitter can be any cab, and any transmitter can jump from cab to cab. This would be most useful for display running during open houses. Or when operating alone, you could put a train on the main (or one in each direction in my case), work the yard and jump around to each cab asignment to run all three and do very little "block" or "zone" switching, but rather simply jump from channel to channel. Only when a train needed to leave or enter its "route" would you need to use the cab asignment pushbuttons.

I use a similar set up for turnouts so they to can be controlled at more than one location and their position is reported via LED pilot lights.

So as your walk around with your train (just like DCC) and throw turnouts by whatever system (just like DCC) you would ocasionally push a button to advance your throttle to the zone. Other track power routing would be done by turnout position (known for decades as "X" sections), eliminating the need for any small blocks.

I will most likely use some sort of detection and signaling, but that is not needed for this to work or for this example.

For more understanding of how block control can be simplified by zones and X sections you should find the MR articles by Ed Ravenscroft on MLZ control that I refered to in the orginal post. With proper design and panning, you can actually wire a cab control layout with only 1/4 to 1/3 the block toggles of the conventional way and actually increase operational flexibilty.

Mike - you do not want to use rotary switches with TE. Most rotary switches, especially with that many positions, short out as they go from postion to position. That is a dangerous situation with the TE. For two TE's DPDT toggles will work. For more than two cabs, some sort of switching that completely disconnects the first one before connectiong the second is needed.

This has also gotten quite long, I will wait for your questions/comments.

Sheldon
« Last Edit: October 23, 2007, 02:43:14 PM by Atlantic Central » Logged
scottychaos


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« Reply #5 on: October 22, 2007, 06:18:56 PM »

Sheldon,
now im totally lost!  Shocked

where are the receivers?
If you have no receivers in the locos themselves, you must be using the track receiver then? this guy?

http://www.aristocraft.com/catalog/crest/trainengineer/images/CRE-55471.GIF

but that works by changing the voltage to the track..controlling only one train at a time...so im confused as to how you are running multiple trains with this system..

clearly im missing something!  Sad
Im used to the TE when controlling G gauge trains..my club uses them on its G gauge modules...but all one "transmitter and reciever" set can do is increase and decrease the voltage to the track...all locomotives on that track will increase or decrease in speed at the same time, there is no individual control.

what am I missing?

Scot
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Atlantic Central

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« Reply #6 on: October 22, 2007, 07:29:45 PM »

Scot,

Yes, that is the receiver I am using, one for each "cab".

I don't mean to be rude, but if you are not familar with the term "cab control" or "block control" than this discussion is above your knowledge.

The track is electricly divided into sections known as blocks, the power from cab "A" is transfered from block to block as the train moves around the layout. Leaving other blocks free to be powered by cab "B", "C", etc., each one controling its train/locomotive.

The real question is finding the easiest way to handle those power asignments/transfers - the TE makes it easier. If you did not understand my explaination to Mike, than you still have a lot to learn about wiring. A lot you should learn even if you choose to use DDC.

It is in many ways not all that different from the power districts on a large DCC layout.

One more note about consisting. ANY two, three, four or more locos that run at close to the same speed can be "consisted" on regular DC as long as the power supply can provide enough amps. True, DCC lets you ajust loco speed response to allow consisting of locos with widely different speed curves but in my case thats not needed.

I suggest you carefully reread my posts and buy a good book on old fashioned model train wiring if you really have any interest in understanding this.

Also, if you read my post carefully, I did not bash DCC in fact I said for some modelers goals it is perfect! Not everyone wants to run their layout/trains the same way. DCC, while very nice in some ways, is not the end all, be all of model train control.

Just ask Mike Wolf at MTH trains, he thinks his sysytem is way better.

Sheldon
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scottychaos


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« Reply #7 on: October 22, 2007, 08:33:05 PM »


I don't mean to be rude, but if you are not familar with the term "cab control" or "block control" than this discussion is above your knowledge.

If you did not understand my explaination to Mike, than you still have a lot to learn about wiring. A lot you should learn even if you choose to use DDC.

I suggest you carefully reread my posts and buy a good book on old fashioned model train wiring if you really have any interest in understanding this.


of course you mean to be rude..because you are.
If you didnt mean to be, you wouldnt be,
but since you clearly were, you clearly are..

so 8 sets of transmitters and receivers?
at $182 each, thats $1,546.
each of the 8 receiver needs to be wired into the layout, with multiple blocks..

Vs. a basic DCC set at $150, plus 8 decoders at $20 each,
for a total of $310..
2 wires to the layout.

way more expensive, way more complicated, much less functionality..
sign me up!

you dont need to respond, then you wont have to be rude again.

I understand your idea fully..I just happen to think its pointless.

but thats just my opinion..if you dont agree my feelings wont be hurt.
thats what makes this hobby great! you are free to do whatever you like..
thanks for the amusing afternoon!  Grin
carry on then..

Scot
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SteamGene

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« Reply #8 on: October 22, 2007, 08:39:18 PM »

I think both of your are making diesels of yourselves.
I remember reading of  a guy who, when visiting a model railroad, checked for homosote.  If the layout ran on homosote, it was good; if it did not, it was bad.
As Shakespeare said,
"There is more in heaven and earth than is known in your philosphy, Horatio."
Gene
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Jim Banner

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« Reply #9 on: October 22, 2007, 09:42:03 PM »

Having used radio throttles with conventional block control back in the late 60's and early 70's, I can say that it did have some advantages.  One was walk around, wireless throttles, which is the ONLY way to go, then or now.  At least it is the only way to go once your layout (a) is being run by more than one operator and (b) cannot be operated from one fixed place because of size or visibility.

The second advantage was walk around block switching.  That is, the block toggles could be placed along the facia near where the blocks physically existed instead of on a central panel.  This eliminated the necessity of a "tower man" to switch power between blocks as the operators followed their trains.  It also much simplified the block wiring.  The two CAB outputs were bussed around the layout with just 4 wires while the block leads were typically only a few inches long.  Eight CABS would require a 16 wire bus, still a lot less wire than a central panel.  Plus they would require an DP8T rotary instead of the DPDT toggle I used.  X-sections could still be used, although I found it difficult for new operators to understand the difference between a CAB selector switch and a route selector switch.

The biggest disadvantage of this system was usually expressed as "who has my %$#@% block!"  Or as Digitrax puts it, we were still running our track, not our trains.

Some of Sheldon's description sounds more like dispatcher control than the engineer control we normally think of when we talk about block control.  Dispatcher control was big in the 40's and 50's for club layouts.  It required a group of operators, each of whom ran a section of the layout.  Each section typically controlled one "town" along with all it sidings, yards, etc.   I associate it with Lionel 0-gauge, but I am sure it was used in other scales.  To hand a train off from one operator to another operator was usually done with a short transfer section which could be switched to either operator's section, much like an X-section.  Sheldon's problem with handing off a train from one receiver to the next can probably be similarly solved.
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Atlantic Central

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« Reply #10 on: October 22, 2007, 09:59:41 PM »

scot,

My 150 locos X $30 decoder = $4500.00

Easy DCC wireless starter set = $487.00

6 boosters w/power supply = 6 x $234.00 = $1404.00

7 additional wireless throtttles 7 x $219.00 = $1533.00

Total for same layout coverage/operation w/DCC = $7924.00


Also Scot, what wireless DCC system is only $150? Wireless IS the point, I agree with that, but you can't buy one wireless handheld for $150 let alone the rest of the DCC system.
 
Sheldon
« Last Edit: October 23, 2007, 08:07:25 AM by Atlantic Central » Logged
Jim Banner

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« Reply #11 on: October 22, 2007, 11:30:07 PM »

A cost of $7924 for DCC seemed a tad high.  For half of that, you could do DCC in style using Digitrax.

But $1546 for radio seemed also seemed a bit high too (and not just because of the error in multiplication.)  There is no need to use 10 amp receivers unless each train is going to have 20 or so locomotives.  More in line with the needs of H0 are the 2 amp units at $83.  That would be $66.  Plus of course 8 power supplies.  But they could be 2 amp 15 volt wall wart units at say $10 each.  Total $744, not including rotary switches.

I sympathize with the large number of decoders needed.  Even low cost decoders would cost about $2325 when you need 150 of them.  When faced with a similar problem (on a smaller scale) I still chose DCC and am still installing decoders as I can afford them.  At the rate I am going, I should be finished in about 2012, assuming I can resist the urge to buy any more locomotives.  I already have decoders in twice as many locomotives as  my railroad could possibly justify, but hey, that's model railroading!

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Atlantic Central

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« Reply #12 on: October 23, 2007, 07:29:49 AM »

Jim,

I am using the more advanced TE to get the 10 frequency X 10 channel capablity of the newest unit, and the more advanced TE has a pulse width modulation output that provides superior speed control and great constant lighting effects. The anvanced TE allows movement from channel to channel at the touch of a button and the receivers obvoiusly provide memory so one person can operate multiple trains or any available transmitter will be able to be any free cab at the touch of a button. AND, the transmitters don't have 30 tiny buttons nor do they require two and three step sequences during normal operations.

My operationing goal is "fexibility". I don't want to be locked into only running the railroad one way. Even though I belong to a local group, I am a bit of a Lone Wolf as the expression goes. I want to be able to operate with a crew or by myself. I also want both "operation" and display running, and detection and signaling. I am NOT sold on "walk around" operation for EVERY aspect of operating a large layout like I am building. I (and several in our local group) also like CTC operation with a "dispatcher", which requires a central panel for mainline turnouts/routes and is better with detection.

I do agree, that when I want to "walk around" wireless is a necessity. In this case easy to use, 100 foot range, has not lost a signal yet in my tests, necessity.

My only disapointment with computerized block control to this point is the lack of any wireless throttle developement by those supplying hardware/software.

Yes I am working on what you discribed, not the operator per town, but the block controls spread around the layout.

If I where to consider DCC, Easy DCC is the only DCC system I would consider based on the ergonomics of the wireless throttles. While the Digitrax UT4 is tolerable, I find their full feature throttle totally unuseable. The "turn it forever" speed control, the computer icon display, the small size of the buttons - all not acceptable.

Everytime we run trains on a layout with Digitrax, somebodies wireless throttle "loooses" its train. Maybe they need to buy more batteries, but if so those things eat them like candy.

I have friends with layouts the size I am building (500' double track mainline, large yard, stagging, etc.). They have all exceeded the $4,000-$5,000 range with Digitrax - power district boosters and circuit breakers being the one cost not really figured in in the begining.

Sheldon




 
« Last Edit: October 23, 2007, 02:50:13 PM by Atlantic Central » Logged
Atlantic Central

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« Reply #13 on: October 23, 2007, 07:33:28 AM »

Gene,

I'm not trying to convert Scot, why is he trying to "save" me?

I don't believe the individual or the group is served by letting Johnny think 2+2=5 just to protect his falsely generated self esteem.

Sheldon
« Last Edit: October 23, 2007, 09:41:14 AM by Atlantic Central » Logged
Atlantic Central

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« Reply #14 on: October 23, 2007, 08:03:52 AM »

Jim, a few more thoughts,

I am now working on a block selection system that would lock out others from "taking my block" or at least clearly indicate to all that someone else already has the block, and would allow blocks to be assigned/dropped from multiple locations - localy and on a "CTC" panel. My turnouts are allready that way.

I also feel that most modelers over the years have made blocks too short. Mainline running blocks should be 3 to 5 times the length of a train. I have never had the bad experiance you related about X sections. All my x sections have been controlled by their respective turnout controls, not any seperate "route" controls.

I have also decided that the semiautomatic  and colision avoidance features possible with compertized block control are not as valueable as first thought. This is partly due to a change in the layout design. the old plan had lots of hidden track, the new one has almost no hidden track.

I may look at a programable controller for the block asignment logic.

The loco performance of the TE is really outstanding, as good or better than any decoder/dcc throttle I have seen. I am using a 3 AMP, 13.8 volt, regulated power supply with each TE receiver and have fused them down accordingly. I spent $20 each on the power supplies. And the advanced TE's are only $150 street price. That's $1360 for eight throttles before block wiring.

I won't use rotary switches, don't want the shorting of other circuits as they are positioned. And after saving all that decoder money I can invest in a controller or some relays for a more sofisticated block asignment system.

Sheldon
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