JMRI / Rocrail / iTrain

Airbuspilot

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Hi again

I have a small n gauge layout in 4 parts, one fully automatic branch line, two mainline tracks with independent fiddle yards which can be either fully automatic or manual and a central shunting yard which is fully manual including an Arduino controlled turntable. The automatics are DC and controlled by Arduinos, position sensing by Hall effect switches and with magnets under the engines. This setup runs very well and does not need a JMRI type of interface, however there are some limitations, the fast express, the commuter DMU and the freight train run at approximately the same speed as the Arduino cannot identify an engine. In principle this can be corrected by programming but as I am required by higher management to "put my crap away after use" I have to make a set up each time i run the layout and the set up must always be the same, a system which can recognise the engine could be better.

I am starting to experiment with DCC, I have a DCC controller made with an Arduino Uno and motor shield running DCC++EX which works well. I now need some sort of control interface and would like some advice. I will probably run like today with 80+ % automatic operation. The manual is essentially used when something goes wrong and i need to bring things back to the correct starting point. I would prefer to use Arduino type units rather than buy commercial products partly because its more interesting and also because it can take up to 6 weeks for parcels to arrive here and a proportion inevitably get lost.

JMRI - I understand this works well with Arduino however I have problems running it on my oldish MAC computer ( Catalina ) Decoder Pro works but Panel Pro refuses to start? Assuming I can make it work on a MAC i believe automation is possible but requires Python type programming. Also feedback from my existing Hall sensors via an Arduino is possible (I understand) as JMRI will find the incoming port?

Rocrail - I have set up Rocrail and am quite impressed but so far I have only used the intro section and not connected to my DCC controller. What i liked is the almost immediate suggestion that automation was not only possible but built in from day 1. What i need to establish, will Rocrail recognise my Arduino sensor shield as an independent USB input to the computer or does feedback need to come through the controller?

iTrain - I know nothing about this one, from what i have read it is very similar to Rocrail with very similar automation possibilities? I need to establish the same feedback requirements.

Any thoughts much appreciated.

Robin
 

idlemarvel

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Hi Robin,
I know quite a bit about Rocrail and I'd be surprised if it couldn't do what you want, but I need to do a bit of research into the Arduino and DCC++ aspects before I give a fuller answer.
 

Airbuspilot

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Hi Robin,
I know quite a bit about Rocrail and I'd be surprised if it couldn't do what you want, but I need to do a bit of research into the Arduino and DCC++ aspects before I give a fuller answer.
Thanks Dave
The Arduino sensor shield continuously scans all the sensors and only reports if one changes state, it does this via a USB cable independently of the DCC controllers own USB cable. I assume commercial boxes are designed with feedback in mind and so connection to the computer is designed into the system and, I assume, one cable connection.
The Arduino sketch was written by a guy called Geoff Bunza who has a blog in a US magazine, he wrote if with JMRI in mind.
Robin
 

jimmielx

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I’ve been using iTrain for ten years and like it very much. I run pretty much 100% automation.
You are right that a DCC command station handles commands to the layout as well as feedbacks from the layout, and therefore has a single data connection to a computer.
I use a Lenz command station and a USB interface.
iTrain supports many commercially available command stations and can support more than one if needed.
I looked at Rocrail and JMRI when I was starting. JMRI PanelPro wasn’t what I was looking for, Rocrail was much closer, but iTrain’s UI was what really sold it to me.
As I understand it Rocrail is open source and free. I think it has a similar feature set to iTrain. I struggled to get to grips with it
iTrain is commercial software which you pay for - it’s development is very active and in the past ten years has continued to add new functionality. It is very stable, very reliable and very capable. I find it very logical to setup and use. I barely scratch the surface of what it can do.
There is also Train Controller - don’t know much about it. I understand it is expensive.
Not sure if any of that is helpful! I have no hesitation in recommending iTrain. A free trial is available, so you can try all of them without any up front investment.
What I don’t know is how any of them would interface with your Arduino interface.
 

Airbuspilot

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I’ve been using iTrain for ten years and like it very much. I run pretty much 100% automation.
You are right that a DCC command station handles commands to the layout as well as feedbacks from the layout, and therefore has a single data connection to a computer.
I use a Lenz command station and a USB interface.
iTrain supports many commercially available command stations and can support more than one if needed.
I looked at Rocrail and JMRI when I was starting. JMRI PanelPro wasn’t what I was looking for, Rocrail was much closer, but iTrain’s UI was what really sold it to me.
As I understand it Rocrail is open source and free. I think it has a similar feature set to iTrain. I struggled to get to grips with it
iTrain is commercial software which you pay for - it’s development is very active and in the past ten years has continued to add new functionality. It is very stable, very reliable and very capable. I find it very logical to setup and use. I barely scratch the surface of what it can do.
There is also Train Controller - don’t know much about it. I understand it is expensive.
Not sure if any of that is helpful! I have no hesitation in recommending iTrain. A free trial is available, so you can try all of them without any up front investment.
What I don’t know is how any of them would interface with your Arduino interface.
Thanks James
my friend with the G scale has iTrain on his computer but so far we haven’t looked at it, track laying mode at the moment. I will have a look for my own purposes at the trial version. I don’t expect to use the full capability of any of these but without feedback automation doesn’t work and from preference I would like to stay with my Arduino.
 

jimmielx

45mm gauge track - approx 16mm scale (1:19)
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Thanks James
my friend with the G scale has iTrain on his computer but so far we haven’t looked at it, track laying mode at the moment. I will have a look for my own purposes at the trial version. I don’t expect to use the full capability of any of these but without feedback automation doesn’t work and from preference I would like to stay with my Arduino.
That sounds reasonable. iTrain has a forum for registered users - your friend should have access to that since they have the trial version, JMRI does and I'm sure RocRail would too. It would be worth asking on those if your Arduino feedback setup is currently supported. I have seen Arduino questions asked on the iTrain forum, but I've not followed them as it's outside my main area of interest.
 

idlemarvel

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To continue my earlier comments on Rocrail.
It supports DCC++ on Arduino, see here: dccpp:dccpp-en [Innovative Model Railroad Control System]
It supports a variety of sensors, see here: sensors [Innovative Model Railroad Control System]
This is what I know about Rocrail from my experience. I have no vested interest in it, just a satisfied user.
Rocrail was designed with automation in mind. It uses a block structure and once you place a loco in a block it always knowns where it is via block sensors. If you want to add individual loco or even rolling stock detection you can do that as well with barcodes or RFID but there is no need. There is a function to return all locos to their "home" (starting point) when you have finished. It supports full automation (locos, points and signals under Rocrail control), manual (you control points and signals from the screen and drive the locos yourself), or semi-automated, where Rocrail controls the signals and points, sets the routes, and you drive the loco along the route. You can do this while other trains run automatically.
The documentation leaves something to be desired, but there is an active forum which will answer most questions patiently. It has a strong following in Germany and Netherlands, but is used worldwide. It is actively being developed with new builds almost daily to fix bugs and add new features. I have used Rocrail for many years in OO gauge and G scale and I haven't found anything it wasn't able to do, although sometimes it wasn't easy to find out how! You might find this aspect of Rocrail frustrating.
I'm sure from what J jimmielx says and has done that iTrains could do much the same (I've never used it) and as he has found the manuals are much better. iTrains is a product rather than a project. Rocrail is basically free (there is an optional annual subscription of €12). JRMI is also free and I have tried that in the past but I don't think the automation facilities are as good as with iTrains or Rocrail. JRMI scores with DecoderPro which is the graphical tool to manage decoder settings.
The main challenge with automation outdoors is the sensors - making them reliable and weather proof, and trying to avoid too many miles of cable! I settled on current detection which is pretty reliable and only needs one, albeit heavyweight current carrying, cable from each block to the control centre. There may be cheap wireless options available today with adruino or raspberry pi, I haven't looked into this aspect as my layout is indoors now.
Hope this rambling helps.
 

Airbuspilot

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To continue my earlier comments on Rocrail.
It supports DCC++ on Arduino, see here: dccpp:dccpp-en [Innovative Model Railroad Control System]
It supports a variety of sensors, see here: sensors [Innovative Model Railroad Control System]
This is what I know about Rocrail from my experience. I have no vested interest in it, just a satisfied user.
Rocrail was designed with automation in mind. It uses a block structure and once you place a loco in a block it always knowns where it is via block sensors. If you want to add individual loco or even rolling stock detection you can do that as well with barcodes or RFID but there is no need. There is a function to return all locos to their "home" (starting point) when you have finished. It supports full automation (locos, points and signals under Rocrail control), manual (you control points and signals from the screen and drive the locos yourself), or semi-automated, where Rocrail controls the signals and points, sets the routes, and you drive the loco along the route. You can do this while other trains run automatically.
The documentation leaves something to be desired, but there is an active forum which will answer most questions patiently. It has a strong following in Germany and Netherlands, but is used worldwide. It is actively being developed with new builds almost daily to fix bugs and add new features. I have used Rocrail for many years in OO gauge and G scale and I haven't found anything it wasn't able to do, although sometimes it wasn't easy to find out how! You might find this aspect of Rocrail frustrating.
I'm sure from what J jimmielx says and has done that iTrains could do much the same (I've never used it) and as he has found the manuals are much better. iTrains is a product rather than a project. Rocrail is basically free (there is an optional annual subscription of €12). JRMI is also free and I have tried that in the past but I don't think the automation facilities are as good as with iTrains or Rocrail. JRMI scores with DecoderPro which is the graphical tool to manage decoder settings.
The main challenge with automation outdoors is the sensors - making them reliable and weather proof, and trying to avoid too many miles of cable! I settled on current detection which is pretty reliable and only needs one, albeit heavyweight current carrying, cable from each block to the control centre. There may be cheap wireless options available today with adruino or raspberry pi, I haven't looked into this aspect as my layout is indoors now.
Hope this rambling helps.
James and Dave
Thanks for your very comprehensive answers. I have Rocrail running and will download the trial iTrain. As you say the instructions are a bit confusing, I‘m having a problem with both decoder pro and Rocrail identifying my first DCC loco but it’s probably a DCC++ problem with the MAC interface, seriously considering buying a second hand PC as I think most of these were designed with MAC as an afterthought.
I joined the iTrain and Rocrail forums but none of them seem to compare to this one.
Robin
 

Dagnall

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I also use rocrail as I like the automation on my garden track. It gives me time to play with the grandchildren whilst they run around watching the trains.
I would only add that rocrail also had a new set of esp32. /esp8266 ‘WIO’ wireless modules that provide a load of functionality. I use a single board at a remote station that can sense multiple hall sensors and control up to 4 servo controlled points. - much easier than running cbus networks. it might also help if you have to ‘tidy up after playing!!’

There is also a WIo dcc controller that can either be used conventionally to power the tracks, or as a mobile unit in a battery powered loco.