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COMPUTER TRAIN CONTROL FOR DCC - Electrics - DCC - Getting You Started. - Your Model Railway Club
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 Posted: Sat Nov 8th, 2008 10:43 am
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Matt
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Part 1

COMPUTER TRAIN CONTROL FOR DCC

 

I am no expert in computer control, I have however done a lot of research into different methods of computer control. This is just my opinion on computer control. If you have information that you feel will benefit this thread please add your thoughts.

 

 So how do I start on this one, I like thinking outside of the box when it comes to operation. People will say (they are entitled to an opinion) that computer control is wrong. They will say that having a layout is all about driving your train from point A to point B. I disagree with this; computer control is just an advancement within our hobby.  My idea of a layout is having a number of trains operating. Then when I want to playtest trains I can shunt around a yard or move a loco from point A to point B. I don’t have a computer controlled layout but my layout is automated so my trains do not collide into the back of one another.  I have operated a loco along a piece of track using my PC.  I hope in the future (building a new layout) to have full computer control of my layout. Computer control can be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be. The biggest disadvantage to computer control is cost, if you want all the bells and whistles you have to pay for it. The toughest thing I found was breaking down the information provided by companies claiming that the product they produce is the all singing and all dancing answer to the problem you have. The truth is it isn’t, like many things there is no right way and no wrong way of adapting your layout to computer control. Computer control can be expensive, however if you are reading this the chances are you have a computer and DCC controller. (If you use DC control I will mention this later). So you can have computer control for the total sum of £0.00. . The internet is full of gizmos and gadgets to assist in train control. I will try and break things down into bite size chunks as follows

 

  • setting up
  • Different variations of control
  • DC computer control
  • planning
  • Blocks 
  • Equipment 
  • Simple control (rocrail)
  • Route control
  • Signalling
  • What I want to achieve in the future
Please do not add posts to this topic as Matt will be extending it. All comments to be made in the discussion thread. Thank You.

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 Posted: Tue Nov 11th, 2008 01:00 pm
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Matt
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Part 2

Setting up

I think I should start with what gave me my inspiration. 3 videos about a computer controlled layout. It is worth watching as the videos are mind blowing. I am not saying this is the correct way of doing things but you have to take your hat of to this fella. The computer software is RAILROAD & CO software.

 

video1

video2

video2



 

Sorry if this is like sucking on eggs to some people but I will explain things as simple as I know how.

The basic items you will need to control a train with a PC is



  1. track
  2. DCC controller
  3. PC
  4. software
  5. connection lead
1.      track

All standard track can be used for computer control.

2.      DCC controller

As far as I am aware all mid range controllers can be used for computer control. The Hornby Select cannot be used as this is a lower end controller. A rule of thumb is, if you can change CV settings it should work. Check with the software manufactures if you are not sure. I use the Hornby ELITE, this has only recently been upgraded with some software (rocrail) so it can be used. This means going into the setup files within the software and changing information, I will come onto this later.

3.      PC

Any box standard PC or laptop will do, internet connection is proffered so you can still visit the forum. The only requirement is you have a USB port available. Using a USB splitter (a USB gizmo to make 1 USB lead split into 3 or 4) is not recommended.

4.      Software

A number of computer programmes are available, I will concentrate on 2. both being at either end of the market as far as price goes. ROCRAIL is the lower end of the market costing £0.00 but does not have the same simplicity and visual effect as other software but it works. And RAILROAD & CO software is is much simpler to use but comes at a cost.

5. Connection cable

A USB lead is needed to connect the PC to the DCC controller; these are the same as you use to join a PC to a printer. A USB connection one end and a connection that looks like a church doorway at the other.

 

 

 

 

 

When setting up the computer to your layout it is handy to have internet connection. The reason for this is on the internet you have a wealth of information regarding computer control. For example if you are setting up ROCRAIL and come across a problem you can easily search for the problem, when I set out I had a piece of track in the living room with a loco sat on top so I could read the online information which helped resolve a lot of problems. It is not necessary to have internet connection; a few people (including myself) have been confused with some manuals. They refer to a SERVER i.e. the controller must be connected to the SERVER. In this instance the SERVER means the computerPC, not an online SERVER. So how do we go about setting up the computer, I will concentrate on the hardware rather than the software. I will go through the set up of the software later.

As mentioned I use the HORNBY ELITE, I will concentrate on this system so some controllers may vary slightly when setting up the software.

  The controller is set up as you would for normal operation, 2 wires from your output to your track or bus wire. The next step is setting up the PC to he controller, this is done by the USB lead and connects to the back of the controller. That is it

PC , USB lead, Controller, 2 wires to trackbus. The PC may not recognise the controller when you plug the USB lead in. this is when most of us start scratching our heads wondering why the stupid thing is not working. The best way of doing this is by following the instructions from the manufactures website for an upgrade. As I said earlier I use the ELITE but other systems may vary (note to other PC DCC operators, feel free to add information regarding your system).  You will need to know which PORT the USB is using. The computer needs to know this so it can transfer the information to the controller. Make a note of the PORT for later use as you will need to tell the software you are using this information. In order to find the PORT follow these steps.

Detecting which port to use

  1. In order to update the Elite firmware you must know which Communications Port the Elite is using. Double Click the "Device Manager XP and NT" file included with the driver and firmware that you downloaded and saved to your desktop (for non-Windows XP users please see right).
  2. Scroll down the list until you see "Ports (COM & LPT)" and click the '+' symbol to expand the menu.
  3. Look for an item labeled "R8214 Hornby Elite" in the list. Make a note of the "COM" port number. e.g COM3
  4. You can now close this window
 

Or try this

Left click on start

Open control panel

Open system file

Left click on hardware

Left click on device manager

This will bring up a list of your computers hardware, follow step 2.

 

If you are using the ELITE you need to ensure you are using FIRMWARE V1.2, V1.3 is now available from the HORNBY website

HORNBY V1.3 UPGRADE

i will leave this at this stage rather than flooding the thread with mumbo jumbo.;-)


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 Posted: Sat Nov 15th, 2008 11:13 am
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Matt
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PART 3

DC computer control

An interesting one this, a computer cannot control a DC train. What it can do is control the voltage supplied to the track the same as a DC controller. I am a DC novice as I have never had a DC layout. So my knowledge on this is limited. The way I look at computer control is, you have the computer based software and the layout based hardware. DC computer control downfall is because the success DCC has had. DCC was like a new trend hitting the playground; everybody wanted a piece of the action. When you had a piece you wanted a bigger piece. You tried to make your piece a bit better than the kids next to you. I can hardly find anything on DC computer control software on the internet; at the end of the day you need software that converts your command into an action.  When the DCC boom hit people wanted DCC to do more, as computers grew and knowledge grew technology advanced. Maybe not in this order we had lights, sound and computer control. Someone maybe not associated to any company sat down bored one night and thought about making his model train better. Hey presto computer control was born. I don’t think this ever happened with DC control. DC is limited in what can be achieved, I don’t want to start an argument about DC V’s DCC I am just trying to get across the point that the limit  of computer control you can reach with DC is limited.

I found a website called computer control, Jane L (no other information) wanted a computer controlled train set for her younger brother. She achieved this using a device called MOTOR-BEE, I can go on talking about this but I have never tried this so it will be a lot simpler to read the information provided on the site

DC computer control

Sol gave some information and links to a couple of sites the first being JMRI. This gives information on JMRI and C/MRI .C/MRI is a system of digital input and digital output lines that can be used to connect a computer to a model railroad layout, allowing computer monitoring and control of various things of the layout

 

JMRI

 

The second link is to a site that provides information on PAMRRC layout control system. This read is quite hard going and not for the faint hearted.

 

PAMRRC layout control system

With my limited DC knowledge this is all the information I have, if anyone would like to add to this please PM me and I will edit it into the thread.

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 Posted: Sun Nov 16th, 2008 09:27 am
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Matt
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PART 4

Planning

 

Part 4 could turn into a never ending story; the amount of information available is immense. You can spend hours searching the net trying to find information about computer control. You will then walk away scratching your head wishing you have never considered computer control and being no closer to what you set out to achieve. Before you even consider looking into EQUIPMENT (will be part 6) you should sit down and think about what you want to end up with. This should be done at the track planning stage as attempting to add equipment once the track is down can be a pain. I am now planning my next layout; I will have 4 track plans for this

 

  1. This plan will show the layout with just track, points buildings etc.
  2. This plan will show signals ground, 2 aspect signals and hardware\equipment required to operate the signals.
  3. This plan will show any other equipment like train detectors and hardware required achieving your goal.
  4. This plan will show no track but will link all the components together, more a plan of the underside of the baseboard.
 

Before a track plan is even thought about we need to know what we want to achieve, I know this is a little back to front but the track plan will change as computer control is added. Once you know what you want from computer control you can then come up with your track plan taking into consideration about computer control. I believe it is much easier doing it this way than coming up with an almighty all singing all dancing track plan then trying to adapt computer control to that plan. If you just want a PC based throttle then you do not need to go into the separate plans. If you want automated trains\signals etc then I would make separate plans. This will all fall into place later when we start talking about blocks and train detection.

 Before we can achieve a goal we need to have an AIM. We need to know what we want from the finished product. We need to know what we want to end up with and start planning for that.

 A few options, I want…….

  • A simple PC based throttle
  • A simple PC based throttle and train detection
  • A simple PC based throttle,  train detection and automated signalling
  • train detection, automated signalling and PC based point operation
  • automated train movement, train detection,  automated signalling and route setting
The above can all be mixed and matched, you could simply have route setting on the PC and use your DCC throttle to operate the loco. You could have train detection for hidden sidings on a PC or just automated signalling and route setting. You need to sit down with a drink and think about what you want to achieve. Once this is done you can start looking at the track plans. Now you know what you want to achieve you can add this to your plans. We will come onto Equipment, block detection and automated this and that at a later stage but all this needs to be added at the planning stage. 2 reasons for this are

  1. COST we all want an all sing all dancing layout but we do not have a bottomless pit full of money. By planning the equipment you want now has a couple of advantages.
·        You can see if your ideas are feasible cost wise (this is not cheap when you want multiple functions)

·        If you are within budget you can spread the cost over a period of time so SWMBO has less chance of finding out how much you have spent.

·        It is easier to change things about now to get within a budget than have the track complete and then realise you cannot afford to complete the layout.

 

  1. SIMPLICITY if you can spend time on your plans now you will save a lot of messing about later. Know what equipment will go to each part of the layout. If this is done right you can make electronic boards up which will include items like accessory decoders, signalling modules and train detection modules. If this is thought about now you can do things like set this in a pull out draw within the baseboard. You will also know what wires need to be run around the layout; it is much simpler to place these wires in before the track has been laid. How many times have you been upside down under a baseboard cursing to high heaven (sorry Rector).
 

Computer control can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. Like I have said I am no expert but just passing on my limited knowledge of a subject. My way is not the only way of doing things, it may be the wrong way but it works for me. Don’t be put off by the planning stage, this is all part of the hobby and I quite like this part.

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 Posted: Sun Nov 16th, 2008 10:55 am
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Matt
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PART 5

 

Block detection

 

Now we start to get down to the meat of things, BLOCK DETECTION. For a manually operated layout block detection is not needed. However when automatic control is needed, it is necessary to know "where the trains are" I will talk about block detection now as this is how automated signalling and route settings work. Basicly if you want more than a simple PC based throttle or PC based point control your layout will use blocks.

The fundamental need is to be able to split the track into blocks, and monitor the presence of trains in each block. Each block must be longer than the largest train; movement from block to block sets the basis for automatic control. If the block ahead is free, a train can proceed; if it is not, a train must stop. It is a good idea for each block to have a signal unless they are a hidden siding or fiddle yard .

There are two quite different detector methods;

·         Occupancy detectors determine, from the electrical current drawn, if a train is present in the track ahead. This requires that the track is fed with power in short sections, and that each feed has a current detector. These, nowadays, are sensitive enough to detect a loco that is present but not moving.

 

·         Position detectors identify the presence of a train at a particular location. This might be an optical detector, a microswitch, or a reed relay operated by magnets. These can reliably indicate that a train has passed and is here right now.

So how does a BLOCK work, the simplest way to describe this is, if you have an oval track and you quarter the track like 4 slices of cake. You number each slice 1,2,3,4 you now have your 4 blocks. The common way to do this is to cut and join the right hand rail at the end of each block with a insulated rail joiner, this will make each block independent of the block either side. If the same power source is used to each block a train will run round until you tell it to stop. However if you use a power source that is controlled either by a PC, occupancy detector or a position detector the train will act differently. On my layout now I use position detectors, I have set one up at the end of each block. In this example four will be used 1 at the end of each block. When these position detectors are triggered (a train passing) they cut the power to the block that the train is exiting from. So if a train enters that block it will be stopped as no power will be going to the track. If you have four blocks you can have three trains moving as you always need a free block for a train to move into. Another way of looking at this is if you have a pond with 10 stepping stones in a circle and 9 people on the stepping stones. Only one free stepping stone is available so only one person can move, if that person moves forward the stepping stone he has just vacated becomes free allowing the next person to move and then the next.

Another way block detection can be used is detection and telling a device (PC\module) that that block is occupied. If we go back to the oval and the four blocks. If this is duplicated onto a PC screen and block detectors are used, when a train travels through a block this will be indicated onto the screen. Looking forward a bit now at automated control and route selection. On the PC each block is named and the location of that block is put into a track plan. We have our oval named 1,2,3 and 4 which is entered onto a track plan on a PC. You tell the PC train number 03 is in block 1, when that train moves forward and enters block 2 this will also show on the PC. Looking back at the videos when the operator was talking about computer control he said I will move train XX from station A to station C. all he was really saying was I will move train XX from block 1 to block 4. if this was to happen on our oval the train would set of from block 1 through block 2 through block 3 and stop in block 4. if we added a couple of sidings to our oval and the points used accessory decoders we would add this information to the track plan. So when we tell the computer to move the train from block 1 to block 4 it would look at the plan and see that the train will  pass through block 2 and 3 before getting to 4 and in block 3 2 points are present. It would then switch the points as the train entered that block. This is computer controlled route selection. I hope I have not complicated things. But Blocks within a computer controlled layout are like the engine in the car. I have simplified things as much as I can (I hope)

 

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