Line to Greenport finished, Queens flipped 180 degrees!

In December 2021 I finally finished the main line to Greenport, including the station platform at Mattituck as well.

Greenport and Mattituck felt a little close together, so I decided to run the track behind Greenport first. This lengthened the run, and also allowed for the more interesting parts of the town of Greenport to be a foot or so deeper.

One other benefit of this is that “East to the Right” is preserved at Greenport.

Gluing down the final section of track.

To celebrate the completion of the line I decided to allow a steam excursion… Why Not!

Joe Sicilano shot this video of the ceremonial “first train” arriving at the end of the line.

Super Turnouts

At the beginning of 2022, with the main line done and an out-of-town operators event (IslandOps) slated for the layout in early May I picked “something big to finish” before the event happened.

The Queens super turnouts had been laying incomplete as I pushed to get the main line done and this was the project I chose to attempt to complete by May. With Queens fully operational the lower level can really flex it’s muscles in terms of heavy passenger operations.

It was a good thing I took a while away from the project. As soon as I began again I realized that my original approximation of the real Queens was faulty. The long crossovers are at the eastern end and that isn’t where I had put them. The Eureka moment came when I realized that I could take all of the previous work, spin it 180-degrees (east-for-west) and then lay the west end of Queens with short turnouts just like the prototype.

Once I saw it flipped around I new I would not be happy with it the original way. It wasn’t long before this happened.

Nothing to it but to do it

Here is a sketch that attempts to show what I was just explaining

Once I spun everything around, the parts I chose to model appear in the correct order. Luckily none of the hand-laying had to be redone, which was a fortunate result.

Train Tracking

My JMRI Layout Editor panels have a considerable amount of back-end logic to make the track occupancy animations properly follow only the tracks in the route. Unfortunately these complicated layouts were causing the Train Identity Tracking to be unreliable. The JMRI groups.io group, and Dave Sand in particular were very helpful in showing me how the panels “push” the Block Contents (Train ID) forward with track occupancy.

I realized that the best solution was to build separate panels that handle the train tracking, with simplified layouts that don’t look especially fantastic, but enable the train tracking to operate flawlessly. Train ID information on the operators panel is looking at the tracking panel to get it’s ID information.

Below is the panel that the Operator uses:

And here is the panel optimized for train tracking. The operator will never see this.

JMRI panels do not have objects like a diamond double crossover that has slips forming one or more of the switches. Thus an interesting facet of the simpler panel is that most of the slips and crossings have been “pulled apart”. The logical paths through the interlocking have not changed. These switches follow the ones on the main panel exactly, so that it’s not possible to use any “new” paths that the pulling apart has created.

The “Entry Exit” routing (NX Routing) is still executed on the Main Panel.

A secondary panel like this is also helpful because now I can leave all of the debugging tools off of the main panel. (“the Hide when not Editing” option hides the control but does not de-activate it. Random clicks then cause seemingly random actions.)

Cheers!

Remote Operations

Two in-person operating sessions were cancelled recently due to Covid-19 concerns, which left the group somewhat deprived of model railroad operations. As they say “necessity is a mother” and this situation drove me to (finally) get everything working 100% with remote train driving and the camera cars.

Enhanced JMRI Web Throttle

Bernhard Beck of the Silicon Valley Lines club had developed a web interface the club uses to host remote operators with the camera car feed placed right on the throttle page. He kindly shared this code with me, along with some insight on piping multiple feeds into the same basement.

SVL enhanced JMRI web throttle, including the camera car video stream

Zoom for audio

I normally use Zello for communications from remote sources; It’s a simplex system that meshes well with FRS radios. Since this was essentially a shakedown session and all of the operators were using the web throttle for the first time I used Zoom for communication. You can knock Zoom on many levels but it does *just work* when you want to focus on other things, like camera cars and web throttles.

It’s also a good way to say hello before the trains run and communicate any “briefing” type info.

ESP32CAM cars, rev. 2

I had used a camera glued into a well-car (double-stack container car) with an ESP32CAM powered by a FuelRod with success, but I needed to get multiple cars working and also successfully get them streaming over the internet for remote operators. The web throttle above handled the remote end, but some work also needed done to redd-up the basement.

First problem – My first camera car had the ESP32CAM mounted like so:

Although this was the easiest way to glue in into a well car, this puts the image rotated 90 degrees and the ESP32CAM has no way to rotate the image!!! I can’t complain because this board is only $8, and aside from that it does everything I need.

I had always managed to rotate the image somehow on the receiving end. The webThrottle puts the “receiving end” in the web browser in the remote user’s computer and it was indeed possible to configure it to rotate the image received over the stream. So far so good, but then I started driving trains around, and I realized that I really wasn’t dealing with the problem at the root.

As I had them mounted originally the camera image CAPTURED by the camera was “Portrait” and I found the field of view was missing critical information on the sides (like Signals!).

Here’s the raw image from the “portrait” camera car:

If the camera isn’t getting the information to begin with, no amount of rotation is going to add that information later! Apparently the ESP32CAM crops into the rectangle right on the chip, nothing can be done… except the obvious!

Fix the problem at the source: rotate the camera board. I don’t know why I didn’t start out this way to begin with.

The camera control interface does have an “H-Flip” and “V-Flip” so I was able to place the camera on the “Engineer’s Side” of the car – this also helps with signal reading. The board itself only barely hangs over the sides of the well car. I had to hack some stuff off of the cars to mount the cameras sideways like this, but I shouldn’t really run well cars on my railroad anyway due to the presence of the 3rd rail.

Anyway the only other solution was to eliminate signals from all right-hand curves from the layout. Yeah, no.

“Class Photo” in Long Island City Yard

Multiple cameras, one IP

OK just a warning, the fun easy part is over – this part is technical. I’m not a network engineer, but as an artifact of my job I have gained a dim awareness that allows me to do a few simple things.

The ESP32CAM boards have the Local WIFI name and password set up during the board programming, so they can hop on to the layout WIFI without any problem. They will hold the same IP address until that “lease” expires, but I needed a way to figure out which of the 5 cameras had which IP to start with.

I used an IP scanner program, and set it up to check the two ports that the ESP32CAM uses, 80 and 81.

There are three devices with ports 80 and 81 open

Use the IP to open the camera’s web interface, from there you choose your settings and start the stream. At this point I just wave my hand in front of the camera to see which one it is…. keep it simple!

It’s a good idea to place a post it somewhere on the car with the last part of the IP address if you have more than one. This was a life saver during the operations since I was reassigning cameras to engines on the fly.

You will have to recheck this every session, but since you have to restart the cameras each time as well it’s not really extra work. Remember that the router will generally use the same IP it did before unless it has been allocated to some other device in the mean time.

It seems likely that I could hard-code the IP information into the camera boards but I haven’t pursued that.

Port 80 is the web interface for the camera (aaa.bbb.ccc.nnn:80) but the IP for the stream itself is:

http:// aaa . bbb . ccc . nnn : 81/stream

Sometimes the http:// is required, I found this was true for OBS for example. It doesn’t hurt to include.

Important thing about the ESP32CAM: ONE CLIENT AT A TIME. You must close the Port 80 configuration window (which does stream the video) before it will send out the stream on port 81.

So the situation is that I have 5 camera cars on my local network with 5 different IP addresses, all willing to open a streaming connection over port 81. But “upstream” from here, the “internet” side of the router only has one IP that’s visible over the internet.

Some of you know that you can tell your router to send incoming TCPIP connection requests for a certain port to a particular address on your local network. This is “Port Forwarding”. In the normal situation you only have one computer that you need to forward the port to. In this case I had 5, so I had to do a little more.

NAPT table in the local router. “The names have been changed to protect the innocent.”

The IP addresses need to be different on the inside, with the same port on each. On the outside, there is only one visible IP address, but we can use different ports. What the router does is take the random high numbered ports I used and direct them to a specific address on the local network, to port 81. Note that to help my sanity, the last three digits of the “random high number port” equal the last octet of the local address.

How does this address get to the remote computer? It is sent by the JMRI webThrottle when it provides that html/css/javascript to the remote computer. You have to manually set up a memory table in JMRI with the address to be offered. The JMRI webserver port must be forwarded from the outside to the address of your JMRI computer.

  1. Remote user types [Host Router internet address] : [JMRI web server port] in their browser address page
  2. JMRI computer sends the JMRI webserver home page to the remote browser
  3. Remote user selects “webthrottle”
  4. JMRI computer sends screen with available locos
  5. Remote user selects a locomotive to drive
  6. JMRI then sends the throttle screen page, this information includes the URL for the camera car stream
  7. Remote computer initiates the stream by sending a packet to [Host Router internet address] : [artificial port]
  8. The router sees that the [artificial port] is in the NAPT table, and revises the TCP/IP so that it comes out the local side destined for [camera car local address] : [81/stream]
  9. Camera car handshakes and the stream begins, arriving inside the web throttle in the remote browser.

I warned you.

Fantastic, so now what?

The guys that ran trains remotely “had more fun that they thought they would”. In the current times (fall 2021) we are still dealing with the Covid pandemic. There may be op sessions that are entirely remote, or (more likely) hybrid sessions were some people who have-to or prefer-to stay home can still participate. But at least I can still host operations on some level – these two remote options are nice to have.

In the future, remote operations solves a problem I have with the vary large number of passenger trains I would like to run versus the fact that in-person operators like to do local switching. I can handle the passenger rush hour with all hands, then remote operators can continue running passenger service since that doesn’t require a “local switchman” in the basement.

I’m sure some of this is more than a little unclear, please feel free to post any questions in the comments.

Cheers,

Dave

Here’s a link to a full run of the layout, made with one of the new camera cars:

HO Scale mock 3rd rail

Ken Harris asked a question about 3rd rail tie lengths and this warrants a quick post.

I knew that the 3rd rail would be only cosmetic on this layout – as a matter of practicality. about 3 years ago I thought I had the dimensions all worked out, but I found that some HO engines have truck details that are a bit oversized and this was causing derailments.

Recently I moved everything around using the engines that were causing trouble

The resulting 3rd rail position is about 10 scale inches beyond where it should be, but I think if I install it consistently this shouldn’t be too distracting. Of course amongst of my operating crew are a couple of Track Superintendents and I’m sure I’ll get some ball busting from them about it.

Below are the dimensions for adding an extension to Atlas flex track to create a longer third rail tie, sometimes called a “Stone Tie”.

As a cheat I discovered that I could glue the protection board (the styrene strip) directly to the top of the rail. This is one benefit of the rail not having to actually transmit electricity.

So how long are these extra tie bits?

(Yes, that is NOT how you spell “extension”.) After you cut away the plastic tie bit that sticks out beyond the rail, you replace it by supergluing a piece of strip wood 1/2″ in length, which is about 3-foot 8-inches in 1:87 scale. I spray paint the whole strip flat black before I cut it into pieces. If the bare wood end is visible after installation I mark it with a black Sharpie.

Here is some more tie data, which I use when hand-laying, or when I’m filling in some of the missing flex track ties to make the installation look a little more realistic.

1:87 scale feet on top, real inches on the bottom

If I recall correctly, the prototype distance from the gauge of the running rail to the third rail is in the neighborhood of 28 inches.

It’s been covered in other posts, but the white plastic 3rd rail supports (“chairs”) are Peco IL-120, and I use Micro Engineering Blackened code 55 rail in them.

Obligatory glamor shot. Note to self: still have to put spikes on
the far side, in case of pictures like this!

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!

Dave

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

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!

Cheers!

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.

Enjoy!

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.

Serendipity

D’Oh

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.

Forgeries

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:

Scenery

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.

“Substations”

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.

“Before”:

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.

Resistors

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!!!