Automation with Computer Control

jimmielx

45mm gauge track - approx 16mm scale (1:19)
24 Oct 2009
625
5
Hastings, UK
I run my railway almost exclusively automatically with trains controlled by iTrain on a computer. It uses current sensing occupancy detection feedbacks to let the computer know where the trains are.
In case it is of interest I’ve made brief overview of it in action.


I built this line last spring, but have had two previous lines which were also automated in the same way.
Automation certainly poses some challenges, running needs to be very reliable. I’ve also had to overcome some the consequences of weather, but as long as the points aren’t frozen over (last week) or the tracks are not sitting in water we can run.
The railway is my boy’s absolute top favourite thing and we can happily run it for hours a day (which has been extremely helpful over the last year!) - here he is, not actually managing to controlling anything yet, but doing his best to mash the mouse around and occasionally ’altering’ a setting...! 18664286-EA9C-4059-9445-8222948584A5.jpeg
 

idlemarvel

Neither idle nor a marvel
13 Jul 2015
2,546
718
Ascot
Marvellous achievement James, well planned and executed. I was quite pleased to see you have chosen almost exactly the same control systems as I have - Lenz command station, LDT sensors, even down to the same Maplin power supply! Main difference is I use Rocrail instead of iTrains. I think you can do the same sort of things with both, but iTrains is much more "professional" in terms of the user interface.

As you say there is a LOT of preparation and wiring involved, but like you I find it is worth it. In your video it is all through trains and that is relatively easy to automate once you have the blocks and sensors defined. Have you ever attempted to run trains into the bay platforms or any kind of shunting? I'm sure it is possible but I never really got it to work consistently, so I tended to use railcars or similar push/pull trains so no uncoupling or run-around was required. Any thoughts?

I love your servo controlled signals, very authentic. I can see you sitting glass in hand in one of those patio chairs watching the trains go by and hoping your son hasn't figured out how to reschedule your services while you weren't looking!

Thanks for sharing the video.
 

dunnyrail

DOGS, Garden Railways, Steam Trains, Jive Dancing,
25 Oct 2009
19,101
3,866
72
St.Neots Cambridgeshire UK
Very interesting overview of a well thought out automated railway. I can see how complex setting up all of this would be by your description, in particular the pre-programmed routes which I can see will take up some considerable thought and key bashing. Particularly when you have what I imagine is 5 routes, one for each train. Do you have to program the interventions between each train/route or does software take care of that? I rather like the fact that you have 2 bay platforms and can imagine a Railcar shuttling between the two would be quite interesting or perhaps from 1 bay to the other via the complete line Interfacing with 4 other trains.

Automatic operation has never really been my thing but I can see the benefit on a day when you want trains running without manual intervention and with 5 on the go that variety will be particularly interesting. Also perhaps an hour or two a day would certainly keep the main line tracks well scrubbed clean for a running session.

Just wait till the little one gets his programming head into gear, faster and better crashes will no doubt be a must!
 

jimmielx

45mm gauge track - approx 16mm scale (1:19)
24 Oct 2009
625
5
Hastings, UK
So, does he enjoy watching, or does he get to control a train? Just curious.

Greg
He does enjoy watching the trains run! Controlling them is an option - I have a Lenz handset which can be plugged in at the main station or in the shed. The layout isn't ideal for operating like that because you just can't see it all from anywhere and although it is a loop, the section through the shed is single track, so points need to be changed as the trains go round. Occasionally he will use the controller to and from the main station, but rarely. He is in charge of the 'line-up' (which engine with which train) and then we watch them go. The running is a bit more interesting than just round and round - goods trains can overtake a passenger train waiting in the main station (I know this is not right!) and some trains visit bay platforms and only occasionally use the front loop. So although it's a simple layout variation can be built in with thoughtful programming.
 

idlemarvel

Neither idle nor a marvel
13 Jul 2015
2,546
718
Ascot
Can you set it up so that the software sets the route but you (or your son) drive the train? That way he could be the train driver with no danger of collision.
 

jimmielx

45mm gauge track - approx 16mm scale (1:19)
24 Oct 2009
625
5
Hastings, UK
Marvellous achievement James, well planned and executed. I was quite pleased to see you have chosen almost exactly the same control systems as I have - Lenz command station, LDT sensors, even down to the same Maplin power supply! Main difference is I use Rocrail instead of iTrains. I think you can do the same sort of things with both, but iTrains is much more "professional" in terms of the user interface.

As you say there is a LOT of preparation and wiring involved, but like you I find it is worth it. In your video it is all through trains and that is relatively easy to automate once you have the blocks and sensors defined. Have you ever attempted to run trains into the bay platforms or any kind of shunting? I'm sure it is possible but I never really got it to work consistently, so I tended to use railcars or similar push/pull trains so no uncoupling or run-around was required. Any thoughts?

I love your servo controlled signals, very authentic. I can see you sitting glass in hand in one of those patio chairs watching the trains go by and hoping your son hasn't figured out how to reschedule your services while you weren't looking!

Thanks for sharing the video.
Hi Dave,

Great to hear that you have a similar setup. I did look at RocRail when I started, but in the end went with iTrain because the UI seemed quite intuitive. I'm pretty sure they do the same things though.

The video did just have through trains, but I also have a railcar and an auto trailer. Those do travel between the bay platforms as well as round the loops. Goods trains also occasionally visit the bay platforms - shunting (travelling in reverse) to get in or out, but I'm using hook and chain couplings so for me, although the software could do it, automating coupling and uncoupling isn't possible. The railcar and auto trailers routes are influenced by which platforms they find available, they generally prefer the bay platform and from there will shuttle back to the other bay, but if the bay platform is occupied then they will go to a different platform and consequently follow a different route. So we get quite excited when the railcar visits the front loop which is quite a rare occurrence (little things!). I've worked on the routes to keep running interesting, varied and free flowing. I'd like to add a small single track goods yard some time which will add further interest I hope. The thing that makes the running most interesting of all though is that so little of the layout is visible from any one place!

I've been using the LDT sensors for a long time and always found that although they work well they are very sensitive (1mA triggers them), so it wasn't taking much rain to have them triggering false occupancy - really annoying! Last year I discovered a simple hack for this using a resistor to basically leak a bit of current around the sensor and thus reduce it's sensitivity, they are now triggering at I think closer to 10mA and I'm only getting false occupancy in serious rain now which is just fine!

Currently my son is content to sit at the computer and pretend that he's running the trains, but he's just figuring out that you can change the points by clicking on them, so it really won't be long before he's 'improving' the programming, presumably followed fairly shortly by actually improving the programming - that's when I shall sit comfortably with the glass of wine you mention!
 

jimmielx

45mm gauge track - approx 16mm scale (1:19)
24 Oct 2009
625
5
Hastings, UK
Very interesting overview of a well thought out automated railway. I can see how complex setting up all of this would be by your description, in particular the pre-programmed routes which I can see will take up some considerable thought and key bashing. Particularly when you have what I imagine is 5 routes, one for each train. Do you have to program the interventions between each train/route or does software take care of that? I rather like the fact that you have 2 bay platforms and can imagine a Railcar shuttling between the two would be quite interesting or perhaps from 1 bay to the other via the complete line Interfacing with 4 other trains.

Automatic operation has never really been my thing but I can see the benefit on a day when you want trains running without manual intervention and with 5 on the go that variety will be particularly interesting. Also perhaps an hour or two a day would certainly keep the main line tracks well scrubbed clean for a running session.

Just wait till the little one gets his programming head into gear, faster and better crashes will no doubt be a must!
The set up and initial programming are a bit more complex, but once that's done and fettled it does just work!

You can program as many routes as you like and then assign them to which ever trains you like. So for example there is a simple circling passenger route which stops at each station and a good route which doesn't, but also routes which visit the bay platforms if they are unoccupied. You just program the routes, not the interactions which are managed by the software. For example, although it's basically a balloon loop there is an area through the shed on single track, so it's important that trains don't enter the single track from both ends at the same time other wise they'd deadlock and it would grind to a halt. So those blocks of single track are defined in the software so that a train must be able to reserve its entire route through the single track and out the other side before it starts.

In the fine months of last year when we weren't allowed out we have trains running from morning until night which certainly keeps the track clean and really notches up the real world km on the trains!
 

jimmielx

45mm gauge track - approx 16mm scale (1:19)
24 Oct 2009
625
5
Hastings, UK
Can you set it up so that the software sets the route but you (or your son) drive the train? That way he could be the train driver with no danger of collision.
Yes that is possible - certainly driving via the computer, I'm not sure if it works driving via the Lenz throttles. What would be fun would be to put a radio camera on the train and then drive manually obeying the signals (would have to get all the signals installed first...)!