Sunday, 3 November 2019

New Layout - November 2019

New Layout: Am I crazy or really motivated?


Building a major layout is a big commitment. When you look at the time and expenses committed in hindsight it becomes a reality check. Sometimes we don’t realise we spent the best part of the last xxx years getting here. My current (now past) layout was started in 2013 and was not looking finished until 2018. That is 5 years of pretty dedicated work. The result, in my case was a good railroad. It ran well and operations worked OK. It was featured in a number of magazine articles internationally.






In 2019 I attended both the N Scale Convention in Chicago and the NMRA Convention in Salt Lake City. Despite a major commitment to a large layout that was operating very well, I decided to make a clean change and construct a new layout. Colleagues said I was crazy: “how will you find the time?.” “Your current layout is great”. “Will you have enough time to do it”? Etc”

Some background:
Eight years past my wife and I built a new house. Every new house has resulted in a new layout and there have been several in between. So, I can say I have experience starting a new layout. But, back to this house and layout. The architect could not comprehend why I needed a 6x6 meter room with no windows and dual power circuits etc. He continued to add it as a workshop and not part of the house. Finally, the house was built and the “train room” became the only room in the house with air conditioning. Of course, it was fully finished. It was a sealed room – ideal for a model railroad. My work schedules, which included significant overseas travel, limited the amount of construction but despite that the layout was steadily built.
As an NMRA member and a member of the Layout Design Special Interest Group (LDSIG), I utilised the consulting services to assist in the design of the layout. We hosted several operating sessions and I even managed to earn my Master Model Railroad award (MMR), during the 2013-18 period.  
So, when I had several weeks in the USA at the 2019 conventions it inspired me to build a new layout incorporating all the good points of my previous experiences and layouts, plus utilise some of the inspirations I had picked up over the years.
Of course, I sat down and analysed whether I should change or continue to develop the current layout. The reasons for not building a new layout were:
·      Current layout was operating well.
·      There were still areas to super detail.
·      A new layout would take a long time (years) to get to the current status.
·      Cost: 
·      How to dismantle and what to do with the trash.
·      Could I store all the components I needed to keep.
·      I would not have a layout for many, many months
·      Etc, etc.
Balancing the above were the challenges I saw:
·      I could build as good an operating layout.
·      The new layout would have neater wiring.
·      I could replace hidden track.
·      I could plan for signalling from day one.
·      Wiring would be in drop down panels at the front of the layout making maintenance easier.
·      I could change track and use “Fasttrack switches and more prototypical Atlas flex track.

Here are some of the photos before demolition.





Entrance to Summit

Feather River section

Overview of half layout


Of course, the challenge and opportunity won, and I proceeded to dismantle the current layout. Several trips to the local recycling facility and the train room was bare – except for the multiple boxes and cabinets housing my lifetime of collecting and building.

You need a Mercedes to carry this rubbish

Some of the hard work at the Tip





I created a list of “Druthers” that I would do with this new layout. The one area I was challenged was the brand of track and switches to use. In the past I had used Atlas Code 55 track and switches but had tended to focus on Peco code 55 track and switches. The Peco track and switches  had always been reliable and my colleagues mostly encouraged me to stay with Peco. I had built “Fastracks” switches and liked their smooth operation. But did I have the time to build 80+ switches? Impulsively I ordered an initial pack of Fastracks switches and enough material to build 15 switches. I was still questioning that decision versus a full Peco one but here are my Druthers for the new layout:
·      Walk in design – no lift bridge or duck under.
·      Limited hidden track.
·      No hidden staging.
·      Wiring buses for all power.
·      Wiring to the front of layout in drop down panels.
·      “Neat” wiring. Use terminal blocks etc.
·      Major use of T-Taps and Suitcase connectors.
·      LED strip lighting in channels for both levels.
·      Multi-level for part but no  helix.
·      Servos and DPDT slide switches for all switches. Tortoise for key switches.
·      Blocks for signalling with BD20 detectors. May use IR detectors but prepare for alternatives. I notice Atlas has that option in their new signalling system.
·      Maximum grade 1.5%.
·      Level base for towns and industrial sidings.
·      Switching leads for towns to switch off main.
·      Major deck at 1.1Meters for better viewing of guests (I am tall, but guests and operators are often much shorter)
·      Possible assembly of track on a bench in modules up to 2.4 meters in length.
·      Use Cat 5 cable for Tortoise and SPDT switch leads to simplify wiring and make it neater.
Here is the scary sight of one trip to the "tip".

One of the elements I did not plan was the demolition. I did want to preserve most of my previous work. The scenery could go but the trees should be saved if possible. Boy, there were nearly 1,000 trees!!!.  All the buildings plus people and dioramas should be saved. Alas many did not come out well and were lost. The quantity of scenery, plaster, foam and plywood filled several containers and trips to the tip.

Eventually the layout room was empty except for the storage containers, plywood, frames and other goods previously stored under the layout. Some of the previous frames could be re-engineered and used again. The re-engineering involved changing the width, and in many cases, adding a drop down panel at the front of the frame. This “drop down” panel is to house the wiring and key controls.
Below are some initial photos of the lower deck frame and drop down panels for front of layout wiring.
Start of new benchwork and Valence

New frame with front section that will hold controls and wires

First drop down door installed.



The new layout was to be multi-level. The lower level was to be on a frame suspended from the walls plus a peninsular. The peninsular will have a double turn to elevate the track to a shelf upper level. 
I decided on a height of 116cm for the lower level rising to yyy at the upper level of the shelf layout.
There would be double track all the way and at the lower level and upper level there would be a return loop, ensuring continuous running.
Bus wiring for 5V DC, 12V DC and 16V AC
One of the “druthers” was to build neat bus wiring. Below is the bus wiring for all the power circuits (12V DC, 5 V DC, 16V AC).
Bus wiring terminal and one power source.

The bus runs around the entire layout so it can be accessed via terminal connectors where required.


Another goal was to install LED lighting to all levels. Below is the lighting across one section of the new benchwork.
LED strip lighting before valence added

The upper level proved a challenge. Some of the questions were:
·      How to get power and wires from the base to the upper benchwork
·      How to hide the upper deck wires.
·      How to install the LED strip lights.
Initial brackets for upper level
·      How to bring wiring to the front of the upper deck and install controls for servos and lighting.

Some of the answers happened after researching the needs.
The backdrop on the lower level would be out from the wall to hide the brackets. Therefore I could hide the wire leads behind that.
LED strip lighting could be stretched between the brackets. On top of the brackets I installed 12mm plywood to the width of the shelf. I used a router to cut slots in the plywood to accept the LED strips, and installed the LED strips before the baseboard.

Wiring at the front of the upper deck would be hidden in “Cable ducks” screwed to the shelf. This would be the same depth as the fascia installed on the upper deck.

The peninsular was the area where the track would rise between the two levels. I did not want a hidden helix so managed to develop a two turn loop across the 4 meter long peninsular. See photos below.

Peninsular with LED lighting
Hopefully progress will continue and I will have an update and more photos of acual trains and track soon. 
If you have any questions please email me.




Thursday, 28 June 2018

Mainline and Lift Up Bridge Update - June 28, 2018

Well, I had a small break before going into hospital for a skin graft that will see me out of action (in the train room) for all of July. Hopefully I will be out of action in August as well as I plan to be at the NMRA convention in Kansas City, and then spend time with my son and family in New Jersey. So I got stuck into the new mainline and the lift up bridge to test all the research I had done.
So here are some photos of progress and some lessons learnt building the lift up bridge. Plus my experience laying tracks.
I proceeded to lay track from the current mainline at the far end of the layout. The yard switch ladder was wired for DCC at the bench and joined as one unit (5 switches) by soldering the metal joiners. All the frogs and stock rails are wired. Some will go to "HexJuicers" (automatic polarity reversers from Tam Valley) and some will go to DPDT ground switches where there is room for them. The DPDT switches will be the switch stands and levers.
The track is held down with grey caulk, spread evenly with a putty knife.
New yard entrance and mainline.
 Here is another view of the yard and mainline being glued down. I have a 2M long by 9mm wide heavy aluminium bar that I can lay inside the straight track to ensure it is glued down straight. Once happy - and an eye test along the rail is worth doing as well, I use a narrow roller to press down the track. Often this is sufficient but sometimes pins and weights help to ensure nothing moves.
Laying track. Concrete sleepers for mainline
 In order to get the 7 tracks through the north west corner I had to cantilever the base over the yards below by about 100mm at the widest part. This cantilever is only 3mm plywood but due to the base plywood it is glued to, plus the 20x20mm angle as shown around the edge it is very stable.
Corner curves
Here is the return loop entering the branch line. I continued the 20x20mm plastic angle around the edge of the entire new section. To hide the wiring and under track "spaghetti" I used 3mm MDF as a "concrete wall". This was about 50mm wide (high). I held it in place with clamps where necessary and used "no more gaps" filler to hold and seal it in place and seal any gaps between the wall and baseboard. Then I primed the MDF with cheap paint, and eventually it will be a "concrete" wall when I decide whether to use commercial sheets or scratch build the "wall".
Return loop for Branch line
A small section of the previous city was able to be saved and is roughly in place to see whether the layout works. The city park definitely works and I think I will need an road bridge from the city across the tracks near where the Dremel is in this photo.
Testing city structure locations

Laying track across the bridge joint: 

Now the part where I did a lot of research. Firstly it is important that the tracks are 100% attached to the bridge and abutment and do not move over time.  I watched dozens of "You Tube" videos on the subject. There are several ways of assuring the tracks are firmly in place and here are my comment on each:

  1. Hold the track down with extra caulk and use super glue as well. I watched videos on a top quality swing bridge where the builder did this, but still wanted more stability.
  2. Use "set track" on each side of the bridge. This may work but not where the tracks are not straight. Also the track would look different to the Peco code 55 concrete sleepers that I use on my mainline. Set track certainly doesn't bend like flex track.
  3. Have a removable section of track. This works for modular layouts but would be too much effort every time you wanted to raise the bridge.
  4. Insert screws under each track on either side of the gap and solder to the rails. This is a good idea and one I almost used.
  5. Drill holes in the sleepers near the joint for spikes to provide extra anchoring. Yes, maybe.
  6. Replace the last sleeper (tie) before the joint on either side with a copper tie. Then solder the rails to the copper tie after insulating the tie. This is the method I chose and here are the photos to show the result so far. The copper ties are copper plated board available from all electronics shops.

Here is the first track laid across the gap with the copper ties in place. Note I drilled small holes on each end of the ties so I could insert pins to provide extra stability. The pins were inserted once the caulk had dried. Allow a day to be sure. Also use a fine drill (smaller diameter than the pins) to drill through the holes in the copper ties to, and slightly into the plywood so the pins go in straight and do not split the plywood.
Track on bridge before cutting
After all is dry and stable solder the rail to the copper ties.  The soldering job looks "ugly" now as I used excessive solder but once the track is ballasted and weathered you will barely notice it.
Hinged end of bridge
Next comes the scary part. How to cut the rails so the bridge can open? My research said to use a new sharp fine tooth razor saw. You could use a Dremel but it is difficult to get a vertical cut and the Dremel blades are slightly wider than a razor saw. The razor saw cuts easily. Use the gap in the bridge as a guide. Slip through the cork roadbed and cut the rail as shown with light but smooth fast strokes. I could have used a track gauge to hold the rails but the caulk and soldering seemed to hold them firmly. Use a new, sharp saw and it cuts like "butter".
Cutting track for lift up bridge
Now the test, and this box car rolled through the gap without a hitch.

After the cut
Now to raise the bridge and lower it etc to test. So far so good.

Lift up test
OK that is all. My plans are to decide on the type of signalling I will have on the new mainline. Do I block wire? Do I use infra red sensors?  Do I have block occupancy? Do I link switch positions to the signals? So far the choices are wait for the new Atlas Signal Control Boards being released next month as I have several Atlas signals. I am also researching the new NCE signal boards, Azatrax, Logic Rail Technologies and I am sure there are other methods and solutions that balance ease of use with appearance / animation.  I appreciate any input and suggestions.







Monday, 11 June 2018

Lift Up Bridge and roadbed

Here is a quick update on the new city terminal, container depot and storage tracks I am building as well as experiences building the lift up bridge.
When finished the layout will be one mainline which is mainly double track except for a section through the mountains and across Feather River. There will then be a major branch line from Gleeville to Beauville, with another branch to "Tree No More" the pulp mill. This branch line will extend to HJ yard and reverse back through another storage yard yet to be named.
On the new sections I used 12mm plywood as the roadbed and glued 3mm plywood sheet on top of that. The reason for the dual plywood was there are two areas where tracks pass under this new section and I wanted to get extra clearance. So in those areas (where the tracks are underneath) I split the 12mm plywood and just had the 3mm plywood covering those tracks. With the base and small overlap of the 3mm plywood there is sufficient strength and no sagging.
Once all the plywood was glued down and screwed to the risers below I sealed the base with cheap latex paint. Then we were ready to lay out the track and switches and draw lines ready to lay the cork roadbed. For the cork roadbed I bought 3mm sheets from Hobbyco in Sydney and proceeded to cut them into 20mm wide strips with bevelled edges. This was easy to do by using a metal straight edge clamped to the cork sheet and running the Exacto knife at an angle.
Laying out switches to draw centre lines 
I used caulk to glue the cork down and a roller to press the cork into the caulk. In some cases I held it in place with pins, especially on the bends.
After a day I sanded the edges of the cork to improve the bevel, and then using a long sanding block sanded the top of the cork. After this I painted the cork roadbed to help seal it. It is best to do this as later when ballasting the water and diluted glue used to hold the ballast can seep into the cork and lift it.


First cork roadbed laid
I test fitted some of the old city to see if it could be re-used. The park will fit well and the Leeville Central Station will probably work beyond that.



Mainline cork laid

cork laid, sanded and painted (sealed)

The next phase was to finish the lift up bridge and run the cork roadbed across it. Follow the following photos to see the construction and how I stabilised the bridge to ensure the tracks will always align. Here you can see the bridge is aligned with a plywood stop and small plywood blocks on each side. All of this was glued with waterproof PVA glue and screwed in place.
From this picture below you can see the base for a rail bridge and river or creek.

Lift up bridge in place.
I then installed two magnetic catches on the base of the bridge and wired them as shown. The red and black wires shown here go to the metal plates. Behind the magnet sections on the baseboard are soldered red and black leads to go to the bus wires and track beyond the bridge. When all this is connected power will not flow to the tracks on the bridge or the open side if the bridge is raised. Hence this should protect trains from falling onto the floor.

Magnetic catches helping to hold the bridge down and give electrical connectivity

 Here is the hinged end of the bridge with the bus wires installed. A 2nd set is currently not planned as trains will be stopped by the bridge if an operator is inattentive. Not ideal but I am guessing this would be a rare occasion, if ever.

Bus wire through bridge to rest of layout.
 Here is the first cork roadbed laid over the bridge. Note it is glued across the gap. It will be cut at the joint with a fine blade mitre saw so the bridge can be raised.
I have cut the cork and tested the bridge and alignment and so far happy. More news when we lay track and get the first train running.