Sunday, January 30, 2011

More Timetable Action

This week started off with the continued development of timetable No. 1 for Cassino. I think over time I will make up a number of timetables with different motive power and train consist options for different eras. In timetable No. 1 besides the mandatory trains, there are quite a few conditional ones. The complete timetable now has 45 train movements in a 24 hour fast clock period. It should take 3 hours to run the complete timetable. Some of the trains are just runs from Cassino Yard to the Cassino Meat Works siding and back which is located just outside the yards limits across a busy roadway. This trains runs in the morning and afternoon. There is also a propelling move from Cassino to the Bonalbo ballast siding in the opposite direction - which is how this actually occured. Another train also runs from Grafton Yard to Rocla Sleeper Siding to load sleepers and returns back to Grafton Yard after running around the trains a few hours later. There are quite a few passing opportunities at every crossing loop in the timetable. So when I get to test the timetable it will be extremely interesting to see what sort of bedlam develops. I might have to pay the crew danger money as I'm sure some hairy situations will arise. For the conditional trains in the timetable, depending upon the number of operating crew available for each session, this will determine how we decide what conditional trains will run (throwing a dice, tossing a coin, etc.). So while 45 trains might sound alot, some are extremely short trains on short runs from one loop to the next loop or siding (and then put away) intermixed with containers, steelies and fruit expresses that are at the limit of crossing loop dimensions.

I spent some time yesterday again trying to create a few trains in the yards with the correct wagon make up for their timetable description. I have come to the conclusion that I have way too many of some types of wagons and too few of others. I might have to dispose of some excess wagons to create a small nest egg to buy others that are needed. I have also come to the conclusion that I do not have enough decent motive power. Another dozen locos would do a treat - so I can't wait until the 48's from Tom's and the 81's from Austrains hit the rails. But a few more 44's, 80's and Jumbos would not be an issue either. However, two of my jumbos seem to have the cow catcher too low and scrapping on the track at a few places around the layout. While I also hope to get an Auscision XPT or two and a couple of 59's from Eureka, these will have to be for timetable No. 2 and timetable No. 3. Timetable No. 2 might be for some steam trains, while number 3 might be for post 1991 traffic when the loco hauled passenger services were be replaced with XPT's. I think I might have to provide extra detail in or with the timetable so that I record what actual wagons are in each trains consist especially if I run multiple timetables and some wagons are in and some are out and some trains are in and some are out depending upon the timetable being run.

As I was moving trains from Acacia Ridge to Grafton yesterday I was also fixing a few dips in the track with some packing. I had planned to cast two tunnel mouths in plaster today from my self-made moulds, but never got around to it. I washed the car, played the Wii with the kids twice and helped Kyle with setup and run his Thomas Tomy train set which took up the family room. I guess I was still doing something train related!

Tuesday this week was Tuesday Nighter's at Mike's. We had a pretty full complement attend. On Friday morning I was checking my email and saw that Geoff had called an impromtu Friday night modelling session for Darren, Peter and myself. Oh Yeah! I did not go to work on friday so I was able to spend an hour in the shed late in the arvo and quickly created two small control panels for Rappville Loop and Rocla Siding. These two loops were originally designed for wire in tube control of points. My lever mechanisms did not always work successfully. So I have now bitten the bullet and decided to supercede these as CTC signalling has now been installed south of Cassino. On Friday night I took the modelling opportunity to solder the wires on the control panels. They were screwed to the facias on Saturday afternoon. The 4 push buttons on these panels will control the points at each end of the loop. The push buttons will be connected to free slots on my existing NCE Mini Panel which will be coded up to issue commands on the track bus to throw the 4 point motors (2 at Rocla, and 2 at Rappville) via a new Digitrax DS64 accessory controller that I need to purchase.

Also on Friday night at the modelling session I put the finishing touches (sides and roof) on 3 coil steel containers that I had in varing states of assembly. I now have to put the top detail to allow lifting of the containers off the wagons and that may be actioned this week. I have about 5 N scale containers and about 8 HO scale containers to complete. At this session, Darren was putting together a Casula PC2 station building kit. Peter was putting the finishing touches on his Oil depot setup. Here Peter had some nice detail kits from the local hobby shop that I must avail myself of, when I build my two oil depots on Cassino. These are for Old Cassino and Lismore and are both Shell depots. Anyone bringing out some Shell tankers? Geoff was distressing and staining the sleepers for his last two scratchbuilt points for his layout. A very productive evening and the beer was cold, and the company good. When is the next one Geoff? Or when is the orientation session at Darren's? - Hint Hint!
Today I also affixed the last two signal panels (for the staff machines) to the facias at Fairy HIll. There was one of each side of the baseboard. So again just a bit more progress, only another 20 years to go!

Sunday, January 23, 2011


This week after posting a message on the NCE-DCC yahoo forum, I was finally able to get my USB to Serial Adaptor to install on my kids Netbook. While I have got this working, I still have not bothered to take the next step and actually plugged the cable into the NCE Power Pro 5 Amp system and fire up Decoder Pro and control a train and read some CV's. Before I actually get around to reading some CV's from a decoder on my programming track, I had better install a programming track on the layout. I have not needed one before now. I have always had one attached to my NCE PowerCab in Grafton Yard, but none on the main layout. It just so happens that I have two sidings in Lismore Yard, which are located directly above my Command Station, so it will be easy to install some isolators and run the track connections via a Double Pole Double Throw switch. If I get so motivated I could do this either Tuesday or Wednesday.

This week I have also continued work on my timetable for Cassino. I was doing some Google'ing trying to find some tools that would assist in creating my timetable. I was not able to find many, so I just added some extra features to my EXCEL spreadsheet that allows me to highlight when I have two or more trains are supposed to be within the same section. That way I can add a few minutes to one at a crossing loop and Voila! the timetable is created. One thing I was able to find was a spreadsheet on another Yahoo group that printed the line graphs that we are used to seeing as the timetable is usually depicted as. So once my membership of that group was approved, I download the spreadsheet and studied it. Ah! I see said the blind man. I was always unable to develop a line graph in EXCEL until now. It was all down to the chart type and what the input data was. Brilliant.

I could change the existing graph with my data for more crossing locations and my times for the trains and the timetable graph developed. This was a slow painful method, so I tried to copy my data into the spreadsheet for the graph and everything disappeared from the graph. I was stumped. As I usually say - Google is your friend. I was able to work out that blank cells could not have spaces in them, they had to be Null. So once this was changed, I could get all my train paths showing up. Once I had a visual graph, it was easy to then add a few conditional trains for ballasts and sleeper trains. I could then also add a morning and afternoon mountain goat train from Cassino to Border Loop. I just need a could of stock trains and an oil train I think this timetable will be complete. I may create a number of different timetable with different trains running, with crosses in different places.

In order to read the timetable you need to know a few things, all loops are represented as Milage points starting at 0 and ending at 170.  Grafton Yard is 0, Cassino is 40, Border Loop is 90 and Acacia Ridge is 120.  The branch is represented as Cassino at 130, and Murwillumbah at 170.  As I refine the timetable, I will overlay text names for all the crossing loops.  Some of the colours are shocking but I will these up at lunchtime at work tomorrow as I can use EXCEL 2003 much better that the 2007 version I can at home.

I have tried and uploaded a .JPG copy of a PDF of the timetable graph below.  I'm not sure how well it will display when you click on it. But here goes.  If anyone wants a copy of the PDF just leave your email address in my Comments or email me at ca55ino at and I can send you one.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Timetable Creation

This week, we were sent home from the city and advised not to come back while the flood was in full force. Thankfully, I am nowhere near any river, creek or other type of waterway and thus I was not affected.  I do not know any relatives or work collegues who were involved in this terrible natural disaster. The total devastation and horror is just unimaginable. However, the response from the rest of the maroon army has been overwelming.

On Friday night this week, I started work on a new timetable for my layout. This was triggered by my reading of the September Issue of our Club Magazine - The Semaphore, where one of our members concludes his three part update on his layout and an overview of his timetable running. His layout, is also in a shed, I think 9m x 5m and is also a multiple deck construction, however his is based on US prototype.  We can't all be perfect!

I created my timetable in EXCEL. I started off by listing the crossing loops across the page, with columns for Arrival and Departure. By default, all loops took 5 minutes to undertake safeworking practices - so departure was arrival time plus 5 minutes. I also included space at the left of each row for the train type (conditional/manditory), and direction (Up/down), and also if it was a branch line or main line train. I then added a column for time at which the train started at its source. I then also created a column for its destination arrival time from the timetable. I then used formulas for each crossing loop to calculate based on start time, direction, and type of train, the timetable for each crossing loop arrival time, with departure time 5 minutes after arrival for safeworking etc.

The first trains put in the timetable were the 4 named passenger trains on the north coast. The Brisbane Limited and the Gold Coast Motor Rail. Between these trains were the following trains on the branch, a cement, a banana freight, a pick up goods and a container to and from Grafton and Murwillumbah. This was supplemented by a steel train, a fruit express, the Park Road paper train and two container trains.
I had previously worked out the running time between each crossing loop. So these times were worked into each formula. After inserting the basic starting times for each train, and getting their stopping patterns in the spreadsheet, I then used formulas to display the times between each crossing loop and for the up and down trains for each section and then sorted these formulas. In another sheet I consolidated the times when each section was in occupied.  I then used conditional formatting to highlight times when there were two or more trains scheduled to be in the same section. I then went back to the original time table and adjusted either the start time of the train, or made that train dwell longer at the previous crossing loop. I then sorted the data again, and checked for clashes. A very time consuming and repetative process but I now have a basic timetable that I will look at implementing at the next running session. What I don't know is how many people I might need to run it, or if it will actually work. I guess the fun in in the trying.

I got down to the shed this afternoon for a couple of hours and started making up these trains from the various wagons on the layout.  While I did have these trains basic trains made up, the current trains are completely different from the originals ones and some are much longer.  I also started to run the first three trains that are required to start at Acacia Ridge Yard to that yard, checking the running times.  While some were a bit tight, others were too large.  So I think I might have to do some adjustments to the running times between some loops.

I will now make up a number of conditional trains that hopefully will fit between the currently running trains for additional variety. These trains will include the Mountain goat - but run by a 620/720 rail motor, and a few ballast trains and possibly a stock train and a concrete and wooden sleeper train or two with a few rail wagons on the end. I'm just not sure how much spare capcaity there is in the timetable. If it looks like there is none, I might have to change down my time factor and re-adjust the running times between crossing loops and see if that gives me more capacity.

Currently it takes me 3 hours and 45 minutes to travel from Acacia Ridge Yard to Grafton Yard for a passenger train and 3 hours 55 minutes in the reverse direction as it is uphill! This includes the long station stop at Cassino. For a goods train it is 3 hours 55 minutes down hill and 3 hours 25 minutes up hill. I think this train is the only one that does not make a cross anywhere. It must be just lucky.

After just playing with some calculations in EXCEL, it appears that one of my sections (Cassino to Rappville) has a train on it for 10 hours 30 minutes out of the whole 24 hours in the timetable. This is interesting when I thought it might have been the section from Cassino to Fairy Hill as it is the longest section, but there is fewer trains running on this section, as the branch lines trains don't travel over it.

See you next week.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Week in Review

With the New Year's Holiday on the monday of early this week, I decided to attack that pesky tunnel and the off centre track at one of the Running Creek Tunnel locations. I got a bit of stick from a few people about that tunnel.  Well it was not such a hard job to fix. That carriage from the photo in last weeks update now goes through quite easily, as do a number of other wide and high wagons like the XPT coaches.

I then decided to put the five trays of trains that I took to the Club the previous Wednesday back onto the layout. I have no idea if they went back to where they came from but near enough is good enough. What I did not do yet is fix the coupler heights on the two 48's. They were maybe just fractionally high, so I'm thinking the train that the 48's were towing at the Club last Wednesday week (not my train) also had low couplers and that contributed to the mismatch issue.

So I think I will replace the centre mounted shanks with underset shanks to adjust the coupler just that little bit more. What I did also do on Monday was adjust the starting voltage CV2 on about 10 locos so that they now start moving on speed step 1. Once I get the hang of Decoder Pro I will do a more in depth job by adjusting the pulse strength frequency to see if I can get them to move off at a slower rate.

Saturday was Club Meeting day. So I made a trip over to the other side of town via Austral Modelcraft to pick up a few NCE decoders for the Club shop.  A few trains were circulating on the layouts.  While out the back of the Clubrooms the construction crew were cutting up steel to make security grills over our large windows in the Shed extension.  When I left, one grill was welded up, and the second was being tacked together.  The steel had been cut for the third grill and the burrs were being ground off.  Still more steel needs to be cut up, and I think they are short one length to make the last 5 bars on the last grill.  I gave a small helping hand by holding the steel lengths as they was been cut off for the second and third grills.  The inside crew on the previous Wednesday had started to affix sheets of ply to the walls of the shed.  Conversations has now turned to what colour to paint the walls, and it seems that the winner is Blue - like a background sky colour.

Today I floated down stream to the shed and tried to get DecoderPro working on my netbook via my newly acquired USB to Serial converter from Jaycar as recommended by Marcus Ammann's website.  No such luck.  I cannot get the drivers to install correctly to enable the converter to be picked up on a USB port.  So I will take it work tomorrow and let a guru look into it for me.

Tuesday this coming week is Tuesday Nighters at Peter's Place. If my memory serves me correctly, Peter was doing some rework around his port area, so this will indeed be very interesting to see. We will also see what everyone got off Santa.

Wednesday is also pay day, so that means that I can pay off more of my debt to the Boss, before I re-borrow again (and a larger amount) to pay off my Austrains 81 Class, some Steel Coil wagons, and whatever eventually gets announced in the next few weeks by the other manufacturers. Add to that some Eureka Oil Pots, some Austrains PMX steel wagons and a couple of 73's! I'll also need an RSH or two for my loco sidings. There is also supposed to be some cattle wagons from Eureka around mid year. I need to win Lotto!  We also need to see that promised newsletter hit the Blog!  It just can't be that hard to update the Blog each week.  If I could I'd offer to help him, but being in another state it might be a bit hard.
I must also work out how to sell stuff on ebay as I have two complete 7 coach Lima XPT trains (plus some extra coaches) to divest myself of. That might allow me to put a deposit on one Auscision XPT! Anyone want some old Lima coaches?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Week Off Work and Relaxing

This week's update starts with a report on the Running Session on Monday Night. We had regulars Darren, PK, and Peter attend, and a newbie Rob and for some reason Geoff couldn't make it. Well the trains ran reasonably well. A few low couplers caused some issues but they have since been fixed. The batteries in my Radio CAB-04 cut out, so they had to be replaced mid session, they have lasted maybe over a year, so I can't complain. Darren had his radio system down at MRRC for check up so he had to run tethered - a very tedious way to run trains on my layout.  A few wagons have been identified as being too light, and as they caused a few derailments, they were removed from the trains. This was the first running session where we used the staff machines at every crossing loop. We had a few drivers leave without taking a staff, but by the end of the night, it was working like clockwork.

I have one issue with the track through the Running Creek tunnel that I tried to fix a few weeks back via the quick and easy method. Well I knew the track was not centred through the tunnel opening but I thought that it would be OK and the trains would fit through. Well obviously not as a couple of container wagons actually hit the tunnel sides. So I will have to fix that issue this week.

Bang!  Running Creek tunnel with one of two container wagons that hit the side of the tunnel mouth

Tuesday Afternoon I visited Shelton for just over an hour to discuss his layout design developments.

Wednesday morning was an early start, with me packing up 5 trays of trains that I was to take to the Club. I was going to run trains on the Club layout for a change. However, on the way to the Club I detoured via Jaycar to pick up a USB to Serial Cable so I can install JMRI on the kid's netbook for configuring a few locos on my NCE DCC system. I arrived at the Club at 10:00am, and after putting a few trains on the track, a few of us went to visit Horizon Hobbies and empty our pockets of some excess cash. I picked up a pack of SDS Models Victorian 20' Cattle Containers as a belated Christmas present for myself. Anyway after running at the Club, I have now identified two 48 class locos that have couplers slightly too high. I will try and add that to my list for Monday's things to do.

On Thursday this week, I added some lead to the centre sills of 9 wagons so they should now be back on the running roster.
The wagons showing the lead weight in the centre sill

Friday afternoon I went to Bunnings and picked up two planks of timber to make some shelving around the workbench in the shed. The first shelf was added on Friday arvo and since them I have added a few more above and below the original shelf. I was inspired by the work done by one of the American Bloggers that I follow.  I still have to clean up a few things before this space is anywhere near usable.  I will setup some test tracks here in the future.
The Workbench - I have added a sub shelf on the right hand side (behind the reference card) after this photo was taken

I also got around to finally adding the light inside Ron and Marg's B&B and in particular to the room where PK is busy celebrating New Year's Eve - or at least he can dream. This LED is powered from the track via one of my power circuits. I will eventually add curtains to all the windows, but PK's room's curtains will be left open.  I will also add a door into the room and some other furniture inside the room.
The Light Off!

The light on!

On Saturday I was able to convince the financial controller to pick up two el cheapo headphones with an attached microphone at Big W for under $9.00 each. I will be trying to wire these up to a 3 volt battery supply and see if I can get these working for use by the train drivers during a running session when communicating with the Train Control. Each driver will be allocated oneset of headphones and will have to plug in at each crossing loop - just as a prototype crew will ring train control to get instructions. I will trial a test setup and see how well they work. This morning I visited Jaycar again to pick up some 3.5mm stereo sockets for the headphone and microphone jacks to plug into. If I can get two working I will then try three. I will then gradually add more headphones and see how many I can get working.  At the moment I cannot get them to work.  Does anybody have a simple circuit to make a party line that will work with stereo headphones with a microphone?  I know I can get a number of old phones to work on a party line circuit, but I thought the headphones would be easier to carry around.

Happy New Year everyone.