All but 50 feet of Main Line done!

I had really wanted to get the 251 Manual Block section of the layout complete and operational for a session, so I got my butt in gear and got the benchwork built and the track laid and powered up. Medford is now connected to Riverhead. The inside of the third deck is now complete, with only the section from Riverhead to Mattituck and Greenport yet to be constructed, the main line run from LI City is now 650 feet!

I started by building the turnback blob on deck 3 at the end of the peninsula. Yaphank is on one side of this, just past Gershow, and Nicolia Concrete is on the other.

Quite a long cantilever was required here so I opted in this instance to use strut channel as the support:

There is only about 12 inches between decks, no room for the more traditional triangular supports I had used on the level below

I used pieces of plastic tubing to protect the signals on deck 2 while working on deck 3 above.

It’s too bad that I’m almost done with all of the layout benchwork, I feel like I’m finally getting the hang of it!!

Previously I had been building the brackets in place, and it was somewhat difficult to get them to come out square (or at least as square as I would like). Recently I began pre-assembling as much of the bracket as possible on the bench – leaving only one corner brace out so the unit can be slipped over the support stud.

Calverton siding was a late addition – meets go a little quicker when there isn’t an intervening station stop. There are some nice older barn type buildings north of the tracks there which should be fun models to build. The added siding gives the Dispatcher a little more flexibility as well.

I knocked a tree down when installing the 3rd deck. Lemons? Lemonade! Called some “tree guys…”

Hosted a couple of operating sessions with all of the track wiring temped in, then everything came back down off the brackets again for some finishing work.

The edge of the deck is a 1×2 which has a structural role to play. The 1×2’s overlap the joints in the plywood by 12-16 inches and sometimes this means that the switch actuator needs to be mechanically extended to a location where the 1×2 will be removed with the whole section:

Changing the orientation of the cranks in this type of mechanism reverses the direction of the throw – So I set it up so that pushing the knob “IN” to the layout always puts in the switch in the “Normal” position (lined for the main).

Meanwhile, on the second deck…

Just before Yaphank got built, in Farmingdale I started working on the big sandy pit where Posillico stores their gravel, taking advantage of one of the last times when there wouldn’t be something built right above it. I like the idea of a layout shelf where the back is lower than the front.

I should have taken more pictures of the process I apologize, here’s a shot of Coastal and Posillico once the basic ground treatment was done. The slopes in Posillico were done with a layer of cardboard and blue tape with Sculptamold on top of that. Once the plaster is hardened the cardboard and tape layer doesn’t really do much structurally.

Posillico on the left, New Highway in the middle, Coastal on the right (the transfer shed really needs to be built!!

This caused a ripple effect, so I added some of the earth gravelly mix to Bluelinx in Yaphank, and to Gershow

Then it was time to play with the belt sander

I got a burr under my saddle to get the rest of the “Super Turnouts” completed in Queens. Step one was to remove the cork and replace it with some lathing so that the spikes have some good wood to grip into. Lathing is very rough and uneven, smoothing it with the belt sander is NOT optional, IMHO.

The ties get glued down next. I modified some FastTracks Tie Racks so that 1) the longer third rail ties could hang over, and 2) so that I could make the ties longer and longer for the diverging switch rail. These fixtures really make this step a lot faster.

Once they were glued in place, I stained the ties with Minwax No.2718 “Ebony” stain, then ballasted. Here’s everything set to lay some rail:

That’s it for now!


Construction to Holtsville and Medford

Moving Divide

The computer that the Divide Operator uses to control their territory had been located in a temporary location on the layout itself, shoe horned behind Hicksville Station so the Train Director had to stand facing the station to route trains.

Train Director Schweitzer, in the aisle bumping elbows with train crews, Timetable is on the clipboard and the computer is behind him

This was actually a great location for testing since the controls were right in the aisle along with the wayside elements they controlled. But since Holtsville was to be located right above Hicksville the presence of the screen prohibited any contraction of the third deck there.

Since every switch was under control of the Operator, the Divide control computer was moved back into the staging area where it was always intended to go. Now it’s much more of a workable arrangement!

Operator’s Screen is in the middle along with the PBX phone. To the right is the Divide 2-3 NX panel (which still hasn’t been integrated into the JMRI/LCC computer system.) The laptop is the computer running the screen. On the laptop display is a camera feed which sees what the operator would see “out the window” of the tower, and a Fast Clock display.

The operator enjoyed working from a real desk very much (I think). And to boot this opened up the 3rd deck for more construction.

East end of Ronkonkoma

I decided to add the Team Track at the end of the KO south siding. There are no regular freight customers here, but you can tell the season by which MOW equipment is laid up on that track, the fire protection water tank, or the snow plow

Prima Asphalt – Holtsville

Now part of Posillico Materials, Prima Asphalt was a going concern during the era of the layout. Prima was the destination of the “Tunnel Muck” Stone train that brought stone from the City Water Tunnel excavation in Maspeth, Queens. Athearn was kind enough to release the 24′ ore jennies that were used on this train recently, so now those cars “have a job” on the layout.

Prima Asphalt, looking west on the layout

In addition to aggregates for asphalt, Prima also takes tank cars of propane, delivered on the stub end track, and Bentonite in covered hoppers used in creating a protective layer in a local landfill. Basically it’s a trans-load facility in addition to an asphalt plant.

Medford Station

I had to make the tough choice of putting Medford station in the middle of a turn-back curve, a big u-turn at the end of an aisle. The underlying problem is the length of the block between Ronkonkoma and Yaphank. In that long block are a lot of industries but operationally it needs to be as condensed as possible to make train movements as fluid as possible. So Medford and it’s short platform was placed at the end of the aisle.

The track coming from the bottom is DICarlo Foods, that’s the main line at the bottom right.

DiCarlo Foods was placed in a location where there was open space, the layout of the spur really doesn’t reflect reality.

There will be a Medford Team Track but although the switch is installed I’m not going to build it until I get all of the bench work properly sliced up in Medford to put the station up on a bit of an embankment as it is in real life.


Gershow is the last part that I’ve recently gotten track down for. Gershow is a huge junk yard, or these days “recycling facility”. Over the years I had accumulated a large number of gondolas and it’s nice to finally have a place for them to go. There are three spurs for loading and a small storage yard on site for both empties and loads as required. The “switch-back” entrance is prototypical as well as the lack of a runaround. NY&A often runs with an engine at both ends of the train and since any run around siding is a distance away, it really helps for layouts like this one which are both facing and trailing point.

West end of Gershow, facing East
East end of Gershow

Rail expansion and electrical gremlins

Since construction began in 2015 I’ve never had a rail gap close up – until this winter (2020-21). I can’t say why this is, but there were a number of electrical problems that eventually came down to gaps that were no longer gaps. It was time to do what I should have done to start with – put styrene in the openings. In this case I had to open up the closed gaps with a cutting tool and then super glue in some .020 styrene. I do this with oversized bits that I cut to fit the rail edge once they are secured. Cutting to fit later makes it less critical how the position of the piece is when it gets glued in.

Styrene glued into rail gaps and ready for fitting. Double joints, since this is a power district boundary.

Camera Car

ESP32CAM based camera car

The ESP32CAM board is all you need to make a working HO scale camera car. Here it’s fitted into a container “well car” with a FuelRod used as a power supply. The board can be programmed using the Arduino Development Environment among others. I’m putting together a clinic on this to be presented at a NMRA Sunrise Trails Division zoom meeting. It will also be posted here once it’s been “premiered”.

Scenery added at Astro Ready Mix

Once the stone is unloaded at Astro Ready Mix it’s stored in bays divides by 2′ x 2′ x 4′ concrete blocks. I set out to make some similar stone piles.

You can see from the pictures that I’ve also filled in the area with spackle painted grey to simulate paving.

These are every type of stone I had on hand, from Woodland Scenics, Scenic Express, and Arizona Rock & Minerals

Automatic Block Signals

The Rule 251 “Current of Traffic” Territory between Bliss and Jay on the Lower Montauk Branch is now protected by automatic block signals. In addition to protection against rear-end collisions the other big selling point is that these signals downgrade to “Stop and Proceed” when there is a hand thrown switch out of position anywhere in their block, which can happen when the Fresh Pond Yard area gets busy and operators forget to line and lock switches for the main behind their train.

That’s about everything for now!


Layout Tour Video

I made this video about the trip of eastbound train No.258 from LI City to Ronkonkoma over the layout. It was shown for the first time on a Zoom meeting presented by the NMRA NER Sunrise Trails Division.

In addition to commentary about the layout in general it also focuses on the operational aspects of moving the train over the railroad – the “simulated job of railroading” that is part of an operating session on my layout. You will hear interactions between the crew of No.258 and the two Towers in control of the railroad, Jay and Divide.


December ’20 update

Ore Jennies

The new Athearn Roundhouse LIRR ore jennies arrive, and the loads are “sand” loads. This is correct since at one point those hoppers were indeed used to haul sand out to a project in Speonk, but I’d like to use them to haul “tunnel muck” (drilling debris) from the city water tunnel project in Maspeth, Queens out to Prima Asphalt in Holtsville. I laid out all of the sand colored loads and then “double fisted it” spraying with both gray and black cans of spray paint one after the other, until it looked like gravel. The result is good enough for government work at least.

More Geeps

I had some Atlas Trainman LIRR Geeps that needed DCC decoders, so I tried giving one “the treatment”

276, on the right, has the (very) yellow factory LED. 272 is the loco I worked on, and step one was installing a new white LED.
LIRR Geeps don’t look right when in “push mode” without displaying marker lights

I drilled out holes for the marker lights, and filled the hole with a small piece of fiber optic. Glued behind that was an 0603 red LED, which I got pre-wired from Amazon. I highly recommend getting the pre-wired LED’s because the solder pads on those LED’s are are extremely small. The fiber optics are intended for projects like putting lights in buildings, or “stars” into a ceiling.

Third Rail Revisions

With scenery progressing east of Pinelawn, it was time to get some more 3rd rail built. This required a little bit of research, because some of the diesel trucks had been hitting the protection board in the original installation area around Divide-1 interlocking.

I made this quick and dirty drilling fixture for the pin vise by gluing a cross tie to a track gauge
Here’s the truck dragging on the third rail

On a couple of occasions, the truck caught the end of the protection board and ripped it off the supports.

I moved the holes for the 3rd rail chairs out an additional 0.100″. The other change is that the protection board is now glued directly to the top of the contact rail, which would be completely impossible in real life, but since the third rail purely cosmetic it’s a reasonable cheat which makes construction much much faster. This also makes the protection board lower which also helps with the clearance issue.

The new positioning of the 3rd rail in on the left. I think this will work regardless of how loose any future HO scale manufacturers are with their tolerances.



I wish I could say that I put those wires on the inside of the helix “for just such an occasion”… But it was just dumb luck. Model and Prototype railroads both have rules for train consisting that (if I had followed them) would have prevented this string-lining incident.

Ronkonkoma Yard

It would solve a lot of operational problems to have as many layup tracks at the east end of the railroad as there are at the west end. To that end I built about 60% of the total length of Ronkonkoma Yard – enough to layup 6 trains. In the picture above the paved walkway between tracks is in, the tie blocks have been glued in to simulate the longer 3rd rail ties, and I’m drilling the holes for the chairs. The rail joiners that will become inaccessible were also (later) soldered as a precaution.

Here’s a shot with everything done. As discussed in other forums the MP-54’s were gone long before KO Yard opened. My world, my rules!!!

Moving forward I’m going to work on Huntington Staging next, continuing to effort to balance out the east end layup tracks.

Enjoy the holidays everybody!

November Update

I’m trying to be a little more regular with these blurbs; time will tell.


Joe Gregory was kind enough to send me a picture of a real LIRR Block Sheet, something I had never seen before in captivity.

This is the sheet that my operators will use in the Manual Block section of the layout to track train movements, so to date it’s been a missing piece of paperwork. Below is my forgery done in Excel:


Yes you read that right. As much as I enjoy my grey plywood plains some scenery work has begun, thanks to my Friendly Neighborhood Master Model Railroader – John Feraca. John has volunteered to stop by a few nights a month and help me get past the “inertia” associated with starting scenery. For example he gave me a list of supplies to have on hand when he came by to visit the first time. To start I painted the rails with Rustoleum Camouflage Brown. WIPE THE PAINT OFF OF THE TOP OF THE RAILS AS SOON AS YOU PAINT. I can’t stress that enough. Don’t delay!

The brown paint on the sides makes the code 100 track look a lot more palatable. After getting that paint on the track we were ready to get some sculptamold down and paint in the typical “neutral ground” color.

This shot is looking eastward over Wellwood Avenue, towards the Pinelawn Station Platform headed towards Deer Park.

The cork will be used as the base for the roads.

Signals for Ronkonkoma and Brentwood

The Manual Block working from Brentwood up the Helix to Brentwood was OK until Riverhead was finished. Since then from BRENT you can have trains coming or going from two locations, and this resulted in an exciting near miss one evening. So I looked in the Signal Parts Bin and realized the best thing to do was to upgrade the area to “Controlled Manual Block” with Home Signals showing a “Go/Stop” status for entry to each block. My belief is that this is much clearer for the operators.

KO-2W and 1W signals wired, not yet stood up
KO-1E signal about to be “planted”
I put modeling clay in the gap right under the mast base, it holds the signal still but gives if someone bumps the signal by mistake. The West Island Club is where I first saw that trick.
Looking West from Ronkonkoma Platform “C”.
Signal KO-2W is displaying Rule.280 “Clear Block”

“Clear Block” Rule 280 is displayed by the Operator when they know that the block is clear and they have “gained control” of it. There is no check of track occupancy aside from the Operator’s marks on the Block Sheet. It is possible for the Operator to display this signal at any time, so there is a very real human factor involved in the safety of this situation. LIRR combines Manual Block rules with TT&TO and associated train superiority rules, and the system has been very safe for a hundred years and remains so in the last remaining section from Ronkonkoma to Greenport.

Pedestal Signals

Brentwood home signals 1E, 2E View east 1/20/2018. Jeff Erlitz photo

Pedestal Signals are used in close-clearance areas where full size home signals would be too big or create other difficulties. I have never seen one available in HO scale. That being the case it’s a job for the faithful resin 3D printer. It was my first project with the Anycubic Photon, it was the kind of specialty signal model that I’d used to justify the purchase, but sadly it was the first practical project I’d ever done with it. I designed the flat target with holes in it using Tinkercad.

After the resin was cured I painted it flat black.

The whole thing is a little oversized, but based on my experience with dwarf position-light signals and human operators I was OK with that.

The LED’s were glued with gel superglue, and that’s 30ga wire-wrap wire. Wire-wrap wire insulation does not melt if you get careless with your soldering iron.

Pedestal wiring , with maximum two lamps per aspect, is a bit easier than full home signal wiring with maximum three. Each LED gets a discrete drive, and the commons all get wired together. The logic is funkier = with the exception of “BHB” each lamp is involved in more than one aspect.

1/8 square styrene rod makes the mast, with the wires pulled through.

These aren’t fantastic, but they’re in the back of the layout around a corner, so they only have to pass “the two foot test” -which is lucky for me! I’m happy with it as an initial effort. They give the information they need to give, which is all a signal needs to do really!

Clear Block on BRENT 2E

Signal Repeater for the Helix

The Westbound signals at BRENT presented a different problem – they are located by necessity inside the helix itself. This “Repeater Signal Panel” was the solution:

The point where the signals govern is immediately to their left, on the helix tracks.

The panel is a sandwich of adhesive paper (with the image), stuck to .040 styrene which was painted black on the back. These are both glued to a piece of 1/2″ wood that has holes cut for the LED’s behind.

This is the LED wiring diagram *AS VIEWED FROM THE BACK*

This is a “Common Anode” configuration.

If the signal can display “Slow Approach” or “Approach Slow” (Upper Quadrant 45 degree on the “B” head) the other nomenclature is BHA.

The RR Cir-Kits signal driver circuit is “constant-current” and drives both the single LEDs and the two LEDs in series with equal current, and thus even illumination.

Action Shots

Everyone masked up and operating:

Howard Dwyer, Ben Lederer’s hat, Stephen Vaughan, John Feraca.
Train time in Hicksville!

Eastbound and Westbound electric passenger trains are pausing at the Hicksville platform. The diesel will begin a run to Long Island City shortly.

That’s the Divide Tower console screen in the background, in it’s temporary location

Cheers, see you guys soon!

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 Train 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 Train 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 Train 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 Train 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.

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There about about 1,000 wires in the back.

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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:

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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 Train 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.

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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.

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#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.

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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”

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Jay Interlocking, looking east towards Jamaica

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“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.

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Stephen Vaughan runs the RS-80 working Coastal Distribution in East Farmingdale.

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