Who were those masked men?

(October 2020) Suffolk County Long Island has seen the Covid-19 pandemic abate to somewhat safer levels (at least more acceptable under the circumstances of a global pandemic). NY State “Phase 4” allows most businesses to reopen with restrictions. The railroad has restarted Op Sessions with masks required by all parties to maintain mutual protection.

Here are some snaps of the most recent op session.

Panorama view. At left, Stephen and Ron work Fresh Pond Yard. In the middle distance, Ben sorts the RS-50 cars into RS-60 and RS-70. On the Right, John B sets out stone cars at Posillico in Farmingdale and John F is watching the clock for time so he can depart Ronkonkoma with a westbound passenger train.
Howard working the YPD-131 job, reconfiguring the train consists in LI City yard for a Friday afternoon rush hour. His geep is returning with two observation cars which have been run east to be turned around so they are facing the right direction for an eastbound trip. (“The LIC Roustabout Job”)
Stephen has arrived in Jamaica with a (completely fictional) train which runs through from Greenport to Buffalo (-your state tax dollar at work!) LIRR power is cut off at Jamaica.
The C420’s have run through the station and tuck into Yard E
Special guest electric power is a P5A which I plan to letter as LIRR 367. A “loaner” from PRR. An Amtrak crew takes charge of the train here along with the new power, a qualified LIRR Pilot rides from here to Harold xlkg. The entire operation is a complete shenanigan I know.

Riverhead made it’s debut on this operating session. Ben found out that I built just enough track to switch Paraco Gas with the mandated hazmat buffer car one geep and the LPG tanks. Some day it won’t matter, as these tracks will continue west towards Calverton.
Work finished, the RS-71 leaves Riverhead, “complete” with 270 on the rear carrying the markers. Nice job on the markers, Ben.
The same RS-71 at Brentwood with 261 leading over the switch into Pine Aire. John’s checking his run sheet to see how this delay will affect the length of his break between runs at Ronkonkoma. Ben will have make nice with 204 if this keeps happening!!! Clearly lack of speed was the issue!
Joe and Ron are working the west end of Fresh Pond Yard, and Jim (with radio) is Tower Director at Divide. When controls and indications are complete for Divide tower the screen will move out of the aisle to a more out of the way place – probably the other side of that wall behind the screen. Then Divide can hand up orders to trains passing through Hicksville just like the real deal.
“Back to work! The Superintendent has a camera look busy!”
John, John, and John

Progress during the lockdown

(a.k.a. “Honey, in case I have to quarantine I’m going to be in the basement”)

June 2020, the last operating session I attended was the first Friday in March. Like so many other model railroaders I realized that during this time with no monthly operating sessions, I could rip apart the layout in a big way and get some serious work done.


I had known for some time that the layout power scheme was problematic, I had kluged things together as I went to get things running as soon as possible to debug the track work and to expand operations.


2020-03-13 09.50.34
“Before” wiring. Functional but messy.

I needed to clean some things up, rationalize the power districts and install some circuit breakers.

The foundation for this work was begun at the beginning of the year, so by March I had two new locations where boosters and association power supplies could be located: under Fresh Pond Yard (the central layout peninsula) and under Queens (the far wall of the basement by the helix). I took equipment *out* of the power location by Bliss which had previously been serving the entire layout.

2020-03-27 09.13.38

The second Digitrax power supply above runs the 12VDC bus that handles layout accessories and under-deck lighting.

There were immediate benefits of this:

  1. Track bus wire total run length was reduced by 20-40 feet, so less voltage drop due to line loss
  2. Circuit breakers can now be placed right next to the boosters, and
  3. Where I used frog juicers, these could be placed upstream of the circuit breakers as recommended.

If you place a Frog Juicer on the track side of a PSX circuit breaker, it emits a high pitched whining noise, which cannot be good. At a bare minimum it’s really annoying to listen to.

2020-05-24 20.25.06

Above are the circuit breakers that handle C Secondary, Hicksville, and (eventually) Ronkonkoma. This one is mounted in the open space between LI City and Bliss, the other two had to go down under the lower deck – much less convenient.

I’m happy with the results, but I think since the central layout peninsula has twice as much trackage and equipment than the others I will most likely install another power location under Jamaica.


The CTC island from Farmingdale to Deer Park was expanding westward, and I realized that the time had come to start installing resistors on the wheel sets of all cars that didn’t already draw current, so they would activate the track occupancy detectors.

This is great fiddly work that can be done while watching Farscape or Stargate SG-1 for example. Neither task is one requiring extreme amounts of focus!

My detectors are from RR Cir-Kits, and I have found that 10k-ohm resistors work fine with those. (NCE guys: you will generally need a lower value than 10k with the NCE detectors – R.T.F.M.!!)

On the recommendation of the esteemed Adam Pinales, I affixed 10k surface mount resistors to the axle with Gel Super Glue and then used silver conductive paint to make the connections from the resistor to the wheels.

Plastic wheels needed to be replaced, and I had both Walthers and Intermountain wheel-sets available. Some trucks fit one brand or the other a little better.

If I encountered a wheel-set with a plastic axle, I’d put the resistor in the middle:

2020-03-23 07.18.20

For metal axles I placed the resistor so that it would bridge across the plastic piece that insulated one of the wheels:

2020-03-23 07.19.37

The paint I use is: MG Chemicals 842AR-15ML Silver Print (Conductive Paint). It’s not cheap but it adds no additional resistance to the path as I understand that some other paints might do.

I recommend placing a resistor on two axles per car, regardless of the length of the car. If two 85-foot trash flat cars with one resistor each are coupled with the resistors at the far ends, there can be an 18 inch gap with no resistor axles and if your track detection section is short (think a single turnout) then it will temporarily vacate underneath a train, which is sub-optimal.

Divide CTC extended west

During operating sessions the Tower Director at Divide was doing a lot of walking around since DIVIDE-1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and FARM-1 where all local-only power-switches or “finger flicks”. I set out to give them track indications and remote control of all switches in their territory.

This involved separating the layout sections and installing MP-5 switch machines and placing current detector coils on the track power wiring.

2020-02-17 11.14.20

Below on the right: A Signal LCC node, which can drive two, 2-head PRR position light home signals, as well as the BOD-4-CP accessory board on the left (connected with the flat grey cable). Each BOD-4-CP can sense occupancy in 4 track sections. drive two MP-5 switch machines (or crossovers), and also take 4 switch inputs (Normal / Reverse position indications for the two connected switches for example)

2020-05-07 08.33.00

Converting to Electric Lock

Between FARM-1 and FARM-2 there are a couple of Electrically Locked hand throw switches that had been temporarily installed as simple toggles. I converted them to my normal “Padlock” “Release” “Throw” panels.


RR Cir-Kits makes a “RB-4” — Relay Board 4, but what if you just need a single relay?

I found this nice solid state relay in a DIP package, it’s a Vishay LH1540AT. The neat little board with the screw terminals that will take any DIP-6 chip is from Winford Engineering. Just be aware the board cost 3x what the chip did! I wanted to keep the wiring neat.

2020-05-17 09.44.35

The solid state relay gates voltage to the toggle when the Electric Lock conditions allow the turnout to be thrown.

Bridge Power-Cut

I set up an indication circuit for the drop-down bridge that allows entry to the inner layout area. The bridge locks when a metal plunger is inserted into a fitting. I drilled a hole through that fitting through the 2×4 brace for a long pin, so that when the plunger is fully seated it will push the pin and close an electrical contact. Absent the plunger the track power is removed from the bridge and one track section on either side.

2020-05-29 08.32.41

The tape kept the 1/4″ bit centered in the 1/2″ fitting as well as protecting the inside – critical since the plunger is a very snug fit; just a few mils.

In the two shots above, i’ve pushed the pin out to help show it’s position passing through the support.

2020-06-15 08.32.17
Bridge Open position, plunger out

2020-06-15 08.32.44
Bridge Closed and Locked position, the plunger (left) has pushed in the pin into the microswitch (right)

I used relays to cut the power off of the approach tracks and the bridge tracks. Obviously if you are backing a 37-car freight train towards the open bridge, the power cut-off isn’t going to help you, but one hopes one member of the crew is watching the back of the trains as it moves in reverse! I hope that is a “Fringe Case”.

Note that the relays are set up to place a 10K resistor on the detection circuit when the track power is removed – this makes all relevant signals drop to their most restrictive aspect when the bridge is open. In addition the LCC system reports the status of the bridge directly to the Tower Director’s screen at Divide. Note that although it monitors and reports the status of the bridge lock, LCC is not an active participant in the power cut or the bridge-closed circuit. The simple “Power on, then bridge closed, then enable track power” state logic sequence will generally fail into the safest state.

Divide Tower Director’s Console

The JMRI Layout Editor Panel was expanded to fill a spiffy new monitor that I had come across on sale at Best Buy. All of the new track indications and switch controls were piped into JMRI and worked into this display. Right now the Tower can “see” all of the trains and switches in the territory and can direct them more precisely – with less walking around. The “union” was threatening to charge by the mile for that job rather than per-hour!

Capture Console

Capture 3-1W to 1-2WX
Detail of a route lined from Hicksville Station westward, crossing from track 1 to track 2 at Divide-1

The routes are lined using the JMRI “Entry-Exit” feature.

Grey tracks are vacant tracks with no allocated route. White tracks have a route lined over them. Red tracks are occupied by trains.

The layout is 100% position light signals, but the panel uses Amtrak Northeast Corridor style Position-Color-Light for two reasons: It can be difficult to determine the position of a panel signal when it is mounted sideways, so the color helps the operator determine the aspects more easily. Second, the JMRI Amtrak signal system definition is the only one that allows proper aspect progressions needed to replicate LIRR signal practice. Specifically, Home Signals need the ability to display both Stop/Proceed *and* Restricting.

The Train Director can give local crews control of switches in an interlocking for a period of time for making switching moves using the tablet mounted on the layout edge.

Capture DV Lcl
Divide 1 in local control

Capture DV ctrl
Divide 1 in remote control only

More work on the Super Turnouts

Finally, I’ve gotten back to work on the #24 super-turnouts. I recently completed another frog and set of points copying the ones that Turnout Jedi Master Phil Monat built almost a year ago.

2020-06-14 16.08.16
New points on the left, original on the right

2020-06-14 16.08.32
The wing rails on my new frog are a bit wider that Phil’s original


That’s all for the moment, hope to see you all in person…. sometime!!!


Return of the Silver and Black Rack Attack

(re: the title. I stopped paying attention to the Oakland Raiders the first time they left Oakland. I liked them when they were actual pirates not slick LA types. Props to Snake, Fred Blitnikoff, Ray Guy, Jim Plunkett, Cliff Branch and Dave Casper.)

There is a previous post about the Entrance Exit Interlocking rack that I designed and wired about 20 years back. Every layout I have designed since has included that particular arrangement of track circuits and switches with the intent that the Rack would Come Back, just like the Cat in the Hat.

This link illustrates how I integrated it into DIVIDE on my Layout. For some this may answer the question about why the layup track west of Hicksville is on the south side, and not the north side where it actually is!

Dissimilar to the Cat, the Rack did *NOT* the come back very next day, it’s been 11 years since a route has been lined on that panel. But now it’s back! It lives!

Starting with a clear panel, no routes, above I first select two individual routes, then cancel them. Then I select an “End-to-End” or “Through Route” by selecting an entrance in one switch group and an exit in another. The green/yellow LEDs illuminate in the routes’ path. Next I simulate moving a train through the route by sequentially occupying blocks. The last part of the demo shows the difference between a “Fleeted” route, represented by the green triangle, and a non-fleeted one.

Entrance-Exit panels simplify routing in complicated plants, particularly ones with a choice of path between two points, making more efficient use of the tower operator’s time. All of the routing logic is done with relays.

2020-04-16 08.14.29

There about about 1,000 wires in the back.

2020-04-16 08.14.40

Signal designers are taught never to re-invent something that’s already proven good, the art is applying existing “typical” circuits to specific contexts. In this case my source material was a set of standard circuits published by the AAR.

8025A Circuits

8025A Notes

The original 2006 plant took track statuses from the LED outputs of a Digitrax SE8C driving relays in the rack through opto-isolators. Electric valves controlled the switch machines which were small pistons similar to the DelAire “Air-Motor” type. The original plant had some signal aspects that I thought might be a good idea at the time, but later as I became more of a signal Rivet-Counter I found them untenable. The signal control relays in the rack were wired up to a RR CirKits TC-64 and Jython scripts in JMRI to distill NORAC compliant aspects once the control relays picked up, JMRI would then drive the DCC turnouts controlling the signal heads over LocoNet.

Today the plant is wired to LCC nodes, which happen to have exactly the same I/O plug pin-outs as the TC-64. Track occupancy events are also being sent over LCC, with no SE8C I had to make some “translator cables” to get the TowerLCC nodes to drive the opto-isolators mentioned above.

Here’s the circuit from the TowerLCC to opto interface The relays in the rack are on the right side. I placed a BOB-S breakout board between the two cables to simplify the hookup and debugging.

I abandoned the air turnouts for the same reason the real railroads are abandoning them, I didn’t enjoy the additional work of maintaining an air compressor and air distribution system when the rest of the layout runs on electricity. The original switch correspondence circuit used some circuit tricks that merged the control and indication wiring. Since I’m using MP-5 switch machines with a polar circuit control, I determined the least invasive way to achieve the same goals was to use additional external relays, both to drive the polar circuit and to separate out the switch correspondence wiring.

Here is the interface board right after troubleshooting was done, before I tied up the wires:

2020-04-16 08.14.51

Top Left: Terminal strips had been removed from previous layout with wires attached!!

Top Right: Switch machine interface relays (DIN rail mount)

Bottom Left: LCC Power Point

Bottom Mid: 3 TowerLCC nodes

Bottom Right: My homemade TowerLCC to opto-insolator relay drive board. It was so satisfying to pull out a dusty box marked “Homemade DCC Interfaces” and find the opto board already made! This justifies all future hoarding.

Here is the sequence of the routing logic:

  • The operator selects a signal where the route begins, the button push is stored in the system. The entering signal button turns red.
  • Selection Relays energize in sequence, from the entering signal out through the plant, following the path of the rails. When there is a switch where you could go either way, two relays pick one for each possible direction over the switch. Once the entrance selection cascade reaches a potential exit, if that exit is available one track light will illuminate to demonstrate to the operator that the exit is available. (Routing conflicts would result in no exit light.). If the exit is available and there is another switch group beyond, then the cascade is pushed forward to the next group and more exit lights will light there if available.
  • The operator selects the desired exit by pushing the button associated with the signal at the exit (which has a lit exit light). The selection cascade then propagates back in reverse from the exit to the entrance, again following the track layout. This does two things: Once an “east” and “west” selection relay for a given switch are both active, the switch is called to move into that position. Also as the reverse-cascade occurs the relays associated with the “roads not taken” are de-energized.
  • With the entrance and exit both selected the system waits for the switches to complete their movement and then asserts a “Route Request” relay.
  • The work of the NX routing system is done, and now switch, signal and route locking are activated, the route is proved again at the vital level and as track occupancy conditions permit the signal is cleared to something better than Stop. A clear signal results in the panel button changing from red to yellow.

An interesting feature is that each signal only has one button, the function of which is contextual. With the selection cascade active up to a given signal, the button acts as an exit button, else it works as an entrance button. This dual-functionality classifies this as a UR “Union Route” style plant, a scheme devised by the Union Switch and Signal Co. General Railway Signal (GRS) patented the NX Entrance Exit name, but just like “Kleenex” or “Xerox”, “NX” and “Entrance Exit” are used for both schemes. For the curious the GRS NX diagrams are AAR 8071A. Further complicating matters, every GRS “NX” plant installed on NYCT uses the US&S “UR” scheme.

Here are a couple of drawings I updated to document the LCC hookups:

Switch Machine  316XC008

Track Circuits  316XC033

The next task for this plant is to integrate it into the Tower Director’s console at DIVIDE so the JMRI Layout Editor panel can request routes in the relay system. This will be challenging, but not impossible!

The panel needs to be re-combobulated since it is upside down based on the current railroad orientation, and the tracks bend in different ways than they did 4 layouts back. That is another project for a rainy day. For now it will work as a local panel just fine I think.



1-2020, Deck 2 Trackage Complete

Sorry for the delay I haven’t been on hiatus, I’ve been busy in the basement.

More Shakes

The shakedown sessions that begun in May have continued, now on a Monthly basis. The layout now runs almost exclusively on SmartPhone throttles, both Apple and Android. I’m not an expert on radio wave propagation, but from practical experience I can tell you that in *this*  basement, with 10 operators, the frequencies that WiFi throttles use give better performance than my DCC system’s radio frequencies – even after consulting with the DCC manufacturer and making adjustments. The interface between the WiFi throttles and the DCC system is JMRI.

Hall Trackage Completed

Hall interlocking (east of Jamaica) had only enough trackage complete to allow for operations to go through the area. For full flexibility through the 6-track Jamaica Station complex, allowing for all parallel moves and “across the plant” moves Hall needed to be complete. This work began after the May operating session.

Here is the completed layout.

2019-05-28 08.39.55

It’s a complicated arrangement, but it will support multiple trains arriving and departing simultaneously as on the prototype.

Below are the MP-5 machines mounted to the underside of the baseboard.2019-05-27 12.40.17Many, many wires needed to be installed to bring these machines to life.

2019-09-04 17.28.39

#24 Turnouts

The high-speed turnout project was begun, starting with some prep work in advance of a visit from Monat Track-Laying Enterprises, ltd.

Mt. Albert ties were glued down, stained black, then ballasted.

Here was the state of play after Phil visited to get some track down.

Below is the complete movable point frog, built on site by Phil, without a fixture.

2019-08-17 15.10.16


Hicksville Secondary

At one time there was an actual Hicksville Secondary Track, The most recent name for the remaining track is “Atlantic Pipe” which is a spur off of Divide-2 interlocking. Today there is an active trans-load yard in Hicksville. Based on these two data points I extrapolated the concept into a secondary track with multiple industries, some of which represent active customers further down the main line in the area inside the helix.

  • New Hyde Park Oil Terminal
  • Stock Drive Products
  • New Castle Building Products
  • US Post Office
  • Team Yard
    • Atlantic Pipe
    • Monreale Bread
    • Azzil Granite
    • Valle Signs
  • Team Dock
    • Atlantic Pipe
    • Bella Produce
    • LI Panelling and Flooring

I wanted the new trackage I laid to look old and worn out. To this end I glued styrene to alternate sides so that cars would rock from side to side as they roll on the tracks

And here’s a quick and dirty “removed siding switch”

2019-06-18 15.55.12


Pine Aire

Pine Aire was completed before the temporary Deer Park staging tracks were removed, allowing for the RS-50 job to start working the railroad. RS-50 hauls cars to and from RS-60 so part of the job is blocking cars for the ’60 after ’50 makes it back to Pine Aire.

In the last 5 years or so there were some sorting tracks added in Pine Aire just east of the Sagitikos Parkway. Since this takes some of the load off of Fresh Pond Yard and adds interest to the East End Job, I included them in the layout design.

2019-09-21 18.24.41

The second deck is supported by strut channel shelving brackets along this wall, and this was a lucky choice. Continuing the level benchwork would have missed the level of the existing helix by about 3/4″. I ran some taut mason twine back to the other end of the room and adjusted the brackets until they followed the twine. This placed the height adjustment evenly over the span of about 30 feet.

Astro Ready Mix (PC Richard)

With Pine Aire done, that area can act as staging for the east end of the layout until the 3rd deck is begun. The next step was replacing the temporary staging tracks beyond Farmingdale with the PC Richard siding area. Since I’m modeling the time before the second track was built through this area, the siding is a westbound facing point located just west of Commack Road crossing. This layout had a sharp s-curve and a rather steep downgrade to get in.

I had to “kerf” the baseboard to get a more even transition:

2019-11-12 18.26.06

This trackage is in a sort of valley between the railroad grade up on an embankment, and some large warehouses. I employed a device I’d seen on Rick Fortin’s AT&SF and also Chris Atkins’ NP Layout – the fascia raises up to simulate the buildings existing beyond the edge of the benchwork in the aisle.

CTC Island

The stretch of single track from Farmingdale to Deer Park had been operated under Manual Block rules, and this turned out to be onerous in practice. I decided to install an “island” of CTC to protect this section of single track. At some point this “island” will be part of the system that protects the trackage on the entire second deck.

Two sidings exist within the signaled territory, and as on the prototype these are protected by electric lock circuits.

2020-02-06 10.10.27

112 EL page

JMRI 4.18

Had a bit of a panic attack in December, JMRI version 4.18 had a bug that killed WiThrottle (the WiFi throttle server). JMRI has an extremely active user/developer community and by the time I realized I had a problem – six days after release – the problem had been identified and a workaround had been posted online.


Until next time, remember “Model Railroading is Fun”



5-2019 Shakedown II (electric bugalloo)

I hosted the Central Suffolk Operations Group for a shakedown session early this month.

Here are some pictures taken by John Freaca – I was running around like crazy since the throttles were misbehaving in a big way. This is the price one pays for adding some radio receivers just two days before an operating session!

Shakedown 1905026
Full Mayhem! I’m throwing switches in NY Penn and Jay using the laptop while talking to Yardmaster Ron Engel. Steven Vaughan is about to take a train eastbound out of Penn Station Staging. Mike Ryan is seen behind Ron.

Shakedown 1905026a
Jay Interlocking, looking east towards Jamaica

Shakedown 1905026b
“NY Penn Staging”. 2 loop tracks around the outside, and the diamond crossover leads to 8 stub end staging tracks.

Shakedown 1905026d
British Rail EMU’s were filling in on some of the Electric Runs. Prototype-Shmototype. It’s laid up on “West Side Yard” staging track 1.


Shakedown 1905027a
Howard Dwyer, standing in the blue coat is running the RDC’s westbound through Fresh Pond Queens, while Ron works in the yard. Ben Lederer (behind Ron) is running a train in Hicksville on the second deck.

Shakedown 1905027b
With a “Can-o-Death” in the foreground, Ward Ruland eases an MP15 into Blissville Yard to pick up Municipal Solid Waste Containers there.

Shakedown 190502-05-02 21.57.10
Stephen Vaughan runs the RS-80 working Coastal Distribution in East Farmingdale.

Shakedown 190502-05-02 17.38.40

2-2019 Construction Update

East Farmingdale

Coastal and Posillico are operational now and connected to the rest of the middle deck. The bridge over Rt.110 was completed.

I temped in the wiring and played around with it a bit, with the 3:1 clock running. I used the timetable and drove passenger trains through on the intervals of mid day service (hourly each direction). First time out, it took me 3 fast-hours (1 actual hour) to swap empties for loads for both customers. Each had 12 cars each to swap, and things were complicated since the entire train could not be kept off the main tracks during the work.

Posillico on the right, Coastal on the left. The geometry is not precisely what exists in real life, but the layout is essentially the same, including the little pocket track for the ShuttleWagon they use to move cars. The west leg of Farmingdale wye was impossible to include. C’est la guerre!

View north on New Highway

2019-02-23 18.36.21

Crews working the siding will have to stop to ensure the crossing protection is active since the siding does not have “approach circuits”. This is a “real-world” consideration and it should relax the pace of operations which is desirable.

Connection between Jamaica and Floral Park

I find this picture amusing. It was less amusing at the time.

2018-12-30 15.26.45

Yes, that is sawdust by the leg of the helix.

The walls have gotten a quick coat of blue-grey paint (to be someday covered by a backdrop), and there is strut channel mounted every 32 inches to support the decks:

Strut channel is not the cheapest option, however this is the THIRD layout that I have used these pieces on and the pieces are going to be moving again, if I ever do!

English Kills

The section of the previous layout where the Bushwick Branch crossed English Kills creek is not going to make it in to this basement, unfortunately. I liked the gnarly colored water and the junked cars. Next time! The Bushwick would also make an interesting set of Free-Mo modules come to think of it!


12-2018 R.I.P. Washer and Dryer

Work is complete to install a new washer and dryer someplace else in the house… this removes an obstacle to connecting the various completed pieces of layout to each other.

The boxes represent the appliances’ former location. Now I can build west from Floral Park towards Jamaica:

Old Washer Dryer Location

While this work progressed I completed work on track and switches at JAY and NY interlockings. (Inside the red box)

NY and JAY complete

With the 8 layup staging tracks and 2 loop tracks installed representing NY Penn Station, I can get ready to run some multiple unit equipment eastward.

At this point I am using JMRI and WiThrottle to throw the switches. JMRI is the “middle man” between LCC and the smart phone. This allows me to throw switches before any control panels are built. The panels that were developed a year ago (see previous post) were used successfully to execute Entrance/Exit routing.


With the work done on NY, located in the central “turn back blob” on level one, I have begun working on level two in that area, which is east of Farmingdale station. Located on an inside curve of the benchwork support, this is the only location on the layout with a shelf width in excess of 24″ – I’m using the 32″ depth to full advantage to place a couple of large (for LIRR) industries. I have the practical track design all planned out now.

Below is FARM-2 on the left, where the main line narrows (narrowed!) down from 2 tracks to 1, then shortly thereafter  is the switch for the Farmingdale Double-End-Freight track. On the right are the three spur tracks where the hoppers are moved over the unloading platform.

I say “narrowed” now above because since I’ve been working with this layout concept for such a long time, that the trackage in the area has been updated… I’ve gone from a “present day” modeler to a “historical” one merely through procrastination!

2018-12-17 11.30.23
Posillico west end

Now we move further east. The siding bows out around the home signal on the main line in prototypical fashion. The switch marked “pocket” is where the TrackMobile is stored when it’s not being used to move cars. (Why they just don’t drive it into a garage – I do not know!)

2018-12-17 11.30.28
Posillico east end

Next on the siding is Coastal Distribution, a company that ships Long Island’s second largest export by rail: Construction Debris.

Rules are meant to be broken: The curved turnout is a 28″ + 24″ radius and my minimum is supposedly 28″. 24″ will do fine for 50′ gondolas, MP15’s and Geep 38’s I’d say. Placing the turnout mid-curve allows for a much better use of the wide benchwork here, and also makes room for the road (New Highway) which runs between the two industries.


Google maps reveals that I’ve compressed this area in a fashion similar to folding up a Japanese fan. In real like Coastal is built on the old Farmingdale wye, and heads away from the main line at a 90 degree angle.East Farmindale

One other thing I did was lay some rolling stock on the sidings and spurs, to see how these jobs might be worked in terms of moving cuts of cars around. As a result I moved the east end switch on the double end freight siding back about 18″. This will enable the crews to work Coastal without having a huge amount of extra moves. I’m glad I took time to check that

2018-12-17 11.49.30


At the moment I’m wrestling with the overpass over Route 110, preliminary planning shows that the roadway is going to have to start at the edge of the benchwork 1 inch lower than the deck level. I’ve cut a special runner for the benchwork here, but that’s about as far as I’ve gotten with it:

2018-12-19 08.46.59



I think the mail goes into that slot…. We’ll see how this turns out in the next post.


Cheers! Happy Holidays.

9-2018 LCC Bit by Bit

I returned from the NMRA national convention in Kansas City full of excellent dinners and with my notions about how to execute LCC on my layout firmly in place.

I’ve been working on the junction where the four tracks running west from Jamaica join with the 8 staging tracks and the turn-back loop which represent the function of New York Penn Station  on the layout.

NY Single Line Plan

Here’s a section of NY Penn interlocking, a little distorted due to the panorama shot.

2018-09-12 18.50.55

Here’s what’s underneath it:

2018-09-12 18.47.08

So what is all this stuff, and what does it do? And where is the “LCC”?

Let’s move across the picture above from left to right.

BOD-8 working with SignalLCC

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On the right, is a SignalLCC node. This is an LCC node which will drive 4 signals of 4 aspects (lamps) each and also has 8 lines of general-purpose Input/Output lines. The green terminal strips at the bottom are for wiring the signals, four aspects and one common per signal head. Above that is a 10-pin IDC cable which connects the 8-channel I/O port to the device on the left which as a BOD-8 (Block-Occupancy-Detector 8-channel) Both products are from RR-CirKits All of the daughter boards that RR-CirKits manufactured to work with it’s LocoNet products (Tower-64, LNCP) also work with their LCC nodes. The standardization on a 10-pin IDC daughter board architecture was an excellent idea. The BOD-8 has 8 current-sensing coils connected to the terminals strips at the bottom, the round white pots are for adjustment of detector sensitivity. The blue/white twisted pair wire is headed towards the current sensing coils which are located near the power distribution terminal strips. The two RJ45 ports at the top of the SignalLCC has an LCC terminator plugged into the left port, and a plain old Cat-6 cable plugged into the left. This is the “LCC” cable – the “single wire” referred to in some high-level literature. It should be apparent that although there is indeed a “single wire” that forms the backbone of the LCC network, switch machines, track, and signals all require some wiring to *get to* the LCC system, and this wiring cannot be avoided.

Power Distribution Terminal Strip2018-09-12 18.46.29

To the right there is a power distribution strip. This is a product supplied by AutomationDirect.com. The yellow deals in the middle jump adjacent blocks together. The left 2 terminals with the orange wire are DCC “A” which is the wire that I consistently use to break up into different blocks for train detection and signaling. The next two terminals are assigned to track circuit “NY-45T” (I use “track circuit” as on the prototype, as opposed to “detection block” or “detection section”). Note the little u-shaped yellow wire which connects the NY-45T blocks with the DCC “A” blocks: The wire is run through the brown current sensing coil – you can see the blue/white wires attached which run from the coil back to the BOD-8. All of the various smaller black track feeder wires in the switch area are combined at this point, and the current detector is placed so that any current drawn by the engine or resistors in the track circuit (block) is sensed with the single coil. The 4 terminals on the right are the DCC “B” wire for which I use blue. To the upper right is the MP5 switch machine for turnout 45E. I’ve scrawled N and R (for Normal and Reverse) on the cover as a reference, since it varies from switch to switch based on context.

Switch Operating Relays2018-09-12 18.46.35

This is a sixteen channel relay board that’s made in China and available on Amazon.com among others. They are inexpensive, but one needs to be careful when ordering these boards – the board has to have the ability to use a separate power supply for the relays themselves. Note the two blue terminals at the top right. The outputs on the TowerLCC / SignalLCC are 5-volt logic level, so if the board description says that it is compatible with an Arduino or other micro controller, then I have found that it will be compatible with the RR-CirKits LCC nodes. There are a lot of relay boards available online which don’t necessarily meet the above criteria. It looks like a mess of wires, but 2/3 of them are only jumpers used to distribute the +/-12vdc power for the switch machines to each of the 16 relays. Each pair of relays form a Normal and Reverse operating pair (NWR/RWR) as in the circuit previously discussed:MP5_Final

Relay Board Interface2018-09-12 18.46.41

The two rainbow IDC cables connect the two 8-pin IO ports on the TowerLCC on the right with the 16 control lines on the relay board on the left. The TowerLCC uses a 2×5 IDC connector and the relay board uses a 2×10 so I had to “brew my own” interface cables. I found the green plugs on Mouser. You can mash the wires in with a screwdriver, or if you like there is a special tool that Amp makes that basically does the same thing. Note the two MP5 switch machines have the opposite sense – Signal engineering is all about context! The TowerLCC is more generic than the SignalLCC – it simply has 16 lines of Inputs/Outputs in two groups of 8. If you’re wondering about the somewhat, uh, *organic* placement of these items… It’s driven by the constraints of the very narrow baseboard in this area. All of the equipment needed to be installed directly under the double tracks. I try to keep the SignalLCC nodes near the signals they will be controlling to keep the wiring to the signals short.

Terminal Strip and BOB-S2018-09-12 18.46.45

Here’s another power terminal strip. This one has two terminals at the right for the layout’s 12vdc bus. I use #16 2-conductor cable for this. Generally all of my wiring is one color, but I like to keep the busses distinctive in some way. On the right is a BOB-S Break Out Board which is a nifty product. The wires are coming in from the switch machines indicating the normal or reverse positions of each turnout or crossover. They leave on the 10-pin IDC cable headed towards the nearby SignalLCC.

East End SignalLCC2018-09-12 18.46.51

This SignalLCC drives the home signals at the opposite end of the interlocking. It’s partner at the west end is taking in track circuit inputs from a BOD-8, whereas this one is taking turnout position inputs directly from the switch machines via the BOB-S. The wire poking through marked “13EF” is coming through from the frog of switch 13E. the wire runs directly to the MP5 machine “Aux1” switch. The other two contacts on the Aux1 are the DCC “A” and DCC “B” wires with DCC “A” funneled through the block detection. Powering the frog enables block detection throughout the entire length of the turnout.

It’s been a tech heavy post, my apologies!

Cheers for now. Next month there should be an interesting structure for the layout which will make a nice change in blog content!




The Helix is complete!

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3 of the six track connections are not built yet, since the 2nd and 3rd deck approaches to them have not been completed at this time. But the helix, which ties all of the decks together, is built up to it’s fullest extent.

Having this done is a real motivation to get other areas of construction moving along.

Speaking of that, the first drop-down bridge is also done!



There was a lot of standing and staring at the bridge in progress. In the end it is working very smoothly – but let’s check back in on this after 12 months of seasonal humidity changes!

Some work needs to be done to stop trains headed towards the abyss if the bridge is left open. I’ve already come 10 feet from sending a loco over the brink. I would like to place a microswitch in a position which verifies that the locking plunger (red handle) is all of the way through the hole and holding the bridge closed. I did not plan for this unfortunately, so the installation might involve a lot more standing and staring. Movable bridges on real railroads always employ similar devices (tied into the signal system) that detect that the bridge locks (and wedges, miter rails, etc) are all in proper position for rail traffic.





3-2018 The BLOB!

Not the 1958 classic starring Steve McQueen, but it is indeed a thing that has been growing, down in the basement, with not much sign of stopping!

As a general reference this is the turn-back blob located in the center-right of the plan, just above the green dots (columns):NY&A Bot

The half wall down the middle of the room has been built out to it’s fullest extent:2018-01-21 09.58.22


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The two layers of turn-back tracks are test fitted. The next limiting factor was the interlocking at Jay near Jamaica station. I had to plot out the track work at Jay and then work back west from there in order to make sure the switches for staging weren’t too close, resulting in ramps with too steep of a grade. Immediately west of Jay some tracks begin going up and some go down.



The plywood was slotted then “kerfed” to allow the grades to begin smoothly.

At the top of the ramp the switches for staging were laid out. I take the design from the computer, but the final setup is done by eye. The critical stud spacing where the tracks curve through was done using the xtrakcad software.

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Note that only the Lower Montauk track 1 has been cut out at this point. I had to be sure I had clearance for the track to pass under the switches above.

Here are three views from staging east towards Jay all taken from the same location:

Here’s a picture of the 1/4″ ply getting added to the curved ply for rigidity. The strut cannel angles are salvaged from other projects and work great as weights.

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Cheers for now!