Sunday, February 27, 2011

Great Expectations ... Whoops ... Better luck next time

Last night I had the first true timetable run of Cassino. It would be an understatement to say that we had some interesting events. The plan was to stage all the trains at their place of origin, and have the trains depart on time and run through a fast clock 24 hour period using the NCE built in fast clock. We had myself relegated to the North Coast Controller stuck inside the helix between Cassino and Fairy Hill Loop. I had the train graph, the timetable, a magnetic mimic diagram, and a copy of each individual train's timetable with various instructions, like take the loop, await cross with #7 at Cassino, etc.

Photo of me in the hole - as North Coast Control, with Fairy Hill Loop and Geoff in the background (Photo by Shelton D'Cruz)

The Train graph and the timetable
More train graphs and my CB to communicate with the crew

Barry volunteered as the yard master for both Acacia Ridge Yard and Grafton Yard. He sits down next to there with a numbered list of all departure and arrivals out of or into each yard. He has a list of what loco and train is in each track. Drivers who sign on were supposed to turn up and say they were there for train #5 or #12 etc. and he would tell then what track it was on and loco number. Each driver had his copy of the individual train timetable with that train's instructions. But as we know things never run to plan.

Barry in the distance doing Yard Mastering.  Photo taken from inside the hole - out through levels in the helix

Permission for a train to leave a loop was granted by North Coast Control. We had about 4 or 5 NCE radio Procabs and the rest were plug in Procabs. I prefer the Procabs over the CAB04's so drivers could see the fast clock time compared with their timetable and track their progress or lack of it. When a driver was given permission to leave a loop, he had to pull a staff from the staff machines and upon arrival at the other end of the section sink the staff to someone else could use the section.

6 of the Crew - Darren, Brendan, PK, Geoff, Peter and Shelton
More Crew - Rob with Peter half hidden

Some trains were making good progress, others were not. With 54 trains to be operated, there was something like 1000 radio calls to North Coast control to be made. Boy it gets busy at Control. To make matters worse, there was the odd derailment, uncoupling, and train stealing. Train stealing I hear you say. Yes Train Stealing. One of my operators, Geoff, was supposed to take #3 from track number 5 at Grafton yard, but ended up with NL1 - the Brisbane Limited which was in track number 3. An easy mistake a passenger train for a cement train. So now Geoff will be known as a train stealer. We had to stop the clock and reverse his train back to Graton Yard and let him drive his cement train back to where it was discovered he had stolen the wrong train.

The Stealer himself - returning the NL1 Brisbane Limited consist before taking the correct cement consist

Later on in the session, Brendan was taking a double headed 422 train with about 7 oil pots in it out of Grafton Yard destined for Old Cassino and Lismore Shell oil sidings. These wagons have sat in these two sidings since the track for these areas was laid about 2 or 3 years ago. They had never been run before. So on their first run out of Grafton, they made it to the first tunnel, just past Baker's Farm and then "Thud"! They hit the roof of the tunnel and could not go any further - Doh! Great planning by me!

Re-inactment by me - you can see the low roof inside the tunnel

Later when NL1 was due to run, it made it to Cassino all right, but the driver took the train to Old Cassino and towards Lismore before North Coast Control worked out he was heading the wrong way. North Coast Control thought that when the driver called in saying he was at Old Cassino he actually meant Cassino as he did not call in at Cassino. But No. He actually meant Old Cassino and he was heading down the branch.

Later on the staff machines failed between Old Cassino and Cassino, Old Cassino and Lismore and Old Cassino and North Fork. There might be a pattern here somewhere but I will check that out during the week.

My timetables were printed front and back for the Up and Down trains. This will change to just one side, as some of the drivers were thinking they had to then take their trains back again, even though it might have been 18 (fast clock) hours later, when there was a truck load of other trains to run in between. I will leave the timetables at a central point and drivers will take a timetable, run that train, when complete - return that to the bottom of the pile and take another. We had drivers standing around not doing anything and trains missed their departure time, as I was busy doing other things. Drivers just need to sign themselves on and report to where ever the trains needs to depart from.

One thing I did learn is that those Powerline 81's and most of the Powerline 48's and probably whatever Lima locos (the 422's, and the one 44 I have left) will probably all get tossed, unless I can get them running a whole lot better. They run quite well at a reasonable speed, but low speed they are crap compared to all wheel pickups of the Austrains, Trainorama and Eureka motive power. Another thing is that I think I will have too many trains at Murwillumbah at the same time, as all arrivals are basically sequential and all departures are also sequential, as all the tracks are full, trains can't run around and shunt. So this will be attended to.

We were down about 3 hours in the timetable after the first 9 hours of fast clock time operating. We were so far behind time that we reset the fast clock back 3 hours after we had some supper and restarted proceedings. In summary we only got to half way through the timetable at about 10:30pm at night when we called it quits. We had a couple of clock suspensions to rescue a few trains that were derailed in tunnels and the like.

So radio Procabs are certainly the way to go. I need someone to take on the jobs of North Coast Control so I can be out and about to fix any issues as they occur a lot quicker than occured last night. There were quite a few shorts by locos and wagons going over the Peco large radius points, so I will have to borrow the wife's nail polish to fix this. Something I have not wanted to do, but I do need to now. Quite a few wagons have been bad ordered. I think many are too light and wobbled too much on their bogies. A few points were split and caused a few derailments, so my manual point control will get a tune up in the coming weeks. Once I've refreshed my supply of beer and softdrinks in the Shed fridge, we might have another one of these around the Easter/ANZAC Day weekend that hopefully runs a lot smoother. It might also be during the day as well.

Today I wired jumpers to 2 sidings at Murwillumbah that were not powered on Saturday Night and adjusted the coupler heights on two wagons with KD washers.  I also found the bogie screw at Rocla Siding for the first wagon of my Cement train, that was sitting at Murwillumbah Cement siding when it was noticed the screw was missing and the wagon went into the dirt - that is a run of about 64m - Not a bad feat - I don't believe it.

I also found that the container train that was sitting at Lismore and heading towards Murwillumbah, was actually the train that was meant to go to Acacia Ridge.  The branch line train was fitted with 45' and 60' foot wagons, while the mainline version had 80'ers.  The branch line version was also slightly shorter in length. So that was another slight mix up.  During the night there was also a couple of trains in Grafton Yard and Acacia Ridge Yard that were facing the wrong way.  Both yards operate via the clock-wise principle when entering the loops.  These ones were facing thewrong way.  I know I forgot to advise the Yard Master that fact - but I will issue him with a bung anyway.

I'm told everyone had a good time, there was certainly lots of laughing going on, even though I was stressed to the eye balls as the North Coast Control. So lets hope for better luck next time.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Decoders, Staff Machines, Sidings and Prep for next Saturday

This week I spent two nights installing (hard wiring) two D13SRJ decoders into two Austrains 80 Class locos for a member of our Club. I also replaced the bulbs with LEDs. Upon a test drive they ran very well.

Saturday I thought I'd pull my finger out and finally install the staff machines for the last two crossing loops on the Branch Line. These were for Old Cassino to Lismore (which included an intermediate staff machine at Lismore's Shell Oil Siding), and the Lismore to Murwillumbah section. I might need these if I have my timetable running session next Saturday night.

This is a photo of the two staff machines at Lismore

In the photo above the the left switch controls the section back to Old Cassino while the right hand switch controls the section to Murwillumbah.  Next to that is the NCE UTP panel to enable plug in operation of Procabs and cab04s.  To the right of that is what we use to hold our Procabs - this was a mobile phone holder that Supercheap sold for $5.  Our Club bought 50 of them a couple of years ago now.  About 12 ended up on my layout.  I have also used some kebab skewers in all of my cab holder to enable operators to uncouple wagons - if required.
After Staff machine installation was complete, I decided to install three sets of points that had been sitting in Acacia Ridge Yard on Track 5 for quite some time. From these I laid out 3 new dead end sidings. These are for storing trains that do not belong in a particular running session. I'm just too lazy to take them off the layout.  I need to just shunt a few trains out of the way. I only got three sidings laid as I ran out of track joiners. I'll have to pick some up next Saturday morning and I might be able to get another siding laid before next Saturday night's running session. I probably need another 3 or 4 tracks to store more trains on, but good things come to those that wait.
The three points installed in Acacia Ridge Yard

Looking back along the sidings - a Grain train, concrete sleeper train and an XPT.  The four tracks to the right of these are numbers 1 to 4, right to left and are my balloon loops for storage of trains in the running session.

The other day I send out the invites for next Saturday's drinking - sorry running session. I have got two people locked and loaded, just waiting to hear how many of the other 5 are available.

Today I cleaned the track by running a few trains on the main and the branch. It must have been well over 12 months since I last ran a train from Old Cassino north on the branch. I have done a shunt within the Lismore yards, but no trains have run north of Old Cassino all the way to Murwillumah until today, for a long long time. I have had junk strewn over the track at Lismore and around the spiral between Lismore and Murwillumbah. This got cleaned up. I also moved the two TV sets out of the way. While planning the session, it dawned on me that the Controller needs access to a fast clock to see how trains are going compared with the timetable. So my only way of doing this is to give the Controller his own procab so that he can just watch the clock. All the other operators will see the clock of their procabs.  I still have to make a desktop for the controller to work on.  I might have time next Saturday morning.

This is the first train preparing to head south from Murwillumbah for a very long time.  It is clearing excess rollingstock not needed for the timetable run.  The cab light is on in the number 2 cab end.  This allows the driver to fill in his paperwork before departure south.  The staff machine shows green - thus the second person has not pulled a staff yet.

The first full train north to Murwillumbah heading through Lismore.  This trains starts its run in Murwillumbah yard in the timetable next Saturday.

Late this afternoon I was finalising where all the trains were to be positioned in the various yards for the timetable session.  I was running a double header through Kyogle heading north when it created a short.  It made one of the locos non-responsive - a total failure.  I had to take it to the programming track and kick start it.  I got it going again, but that will create a bit of havoc during the session if that was to occur.  Also one of my 44 Class locos seems to now not want to run backwards.  I will have to look at this during the week.  I hope I have not had a stripped gear or something in the motor.

So how do others run their timetable sessions? Post an update to your blogs and post a comment on my blog when you done it. I'm interested in seeing what we can improve, or just how others run their timetable sessions, or timetable sessions that you attend at other layouts.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Odd Jobs - all add up for more progress

This week I spent Monday Night in the shed and programmed the Mini Panel with the commands to throw the points at each end of the Rappville Crossing Loop.  These are accessory numbers 213 and 214.  I think its magic that when you push a button on the control panel, the Mini Panel tells the DS64 what point to throw in what direction.

Tuesday was a trip to Geoff's for Tuesday Nighters.  Another very good night talking, eating biscuits, drinking coffee, and watching Geoff run his 49 Class branchliner up and down the few sidings he has on one side of the layout with about a half dozen super detailed 4-wheel wagons - very nice indeed.

On Friday I again had an early mark to pick the kids up from school as to make myself presentable for a family party on Saturday night.  So I eventually got down to the shed mid afternoon.  I decided to start assigning locos for my trains for the first timetable running night, although it appears that my list was missing some trains. I'll have to print a new list this week.  I also had to try and make up a Gold Coast Motor Rail consist.  Most of my coaches for that train are not yet assembled as they are in various stages of assembly and definitely not painted or fitted with couplers.  So my current version for this train is only three carriages - Oh well!

In an effort to increase the roster of available motive power, I got some of the poorer runners out as well as a 45 and 442 and did some tuning.  I changed the starting voltage (CV2) on a number of locos - 5 x 48's, a Lima 44, a Lima 422, and the AR-kits 45 and Austrains 442.  I now have these guys starting to move at speed step 1.  I still need to go back and change the finer details of these decoders with kick strength and other features so the locos will move at a slower speed when in speed step 1.  I can then potentially lower the current CV2 figure even more compared to the value that I have just it set.  But this is the first step in getting all of my locos to move at SS1.

I then ran one my jumbos which had low pilots from Acacia Ridge to Rocla. I had attacked both my 442's with a bastard file on Monday night. It seems the <1mm that I removed from the pilots has done the trick.  That coupled with removing a few rather steep gradient changes in the track seems to have worked well.

On Friday night I went back down to the shed and did some more work.  I replaced a troublesome point at Kyogle and while I had the track up, I drilled holes in the baseboard for the manual point actuation method that I am using.  I then replaced the track and installed three manual point throws for the points in the northern end of Kyogle yard.

While doing this work at one end of Kyogle, I was starting to think about how I would actuate the points at the other end of the yard.  There are 5 point in this area.  I think I will install 5 electric point motors at the far end of Kyogle that is not easily reached from the main part of kyogle and will save whomever is shunting in this location from walking around a peninsular to reach the points at the far end of the crossing loop. I might use the new Peco motors that fit on top of the board beside the point, but they are rather expensive.

After the manual point actuators where installed and tested, I installed a bit of Styrofoam (more Terra Forming) in Nammoona Ballast Siding.  I installed a large sheet of polystyrene around the back of the Nammoona Loop on which I will paint some trees, ballast piles, a cattle race, etc. these will all be in very low 3D relief.

Saturday this week, was Club Meeting day.  So I get a leave pass during the day to travel to the other side of Brisbane before having to be back for a party laster that night.  I made my way to the Club via Austral Modelcraft as I had to pick up another decoder for the Club Shop.  I also picked up some more wire at Jaycar for the last point that I finally installed this afternoon.  I also earned myself a job in installing decoders into 2 Austrains 80 Class locos for a club member.  I will do that sometime this weekas he wanted to come over next weekend and pick them up.  Today I drilled holes in the baseboard and installed the last two Peco point motors at Rocla Sleeper Siding.  I also tested these and they worked just like magic, after I actually programmed the Mini Panel with an accessory number and direction, the push buttons on Rocla's control panel now work.  Funny that!

I have also been thinking about planning the next lot of work on the layout.  This will include the new point upon the northern entry to Cassino and I will be changing it's method of actuation.  Currently it is wire in tube method and the throw via my current actuator is not sufficient to move the point blade hard up against the stock rails and it causes issues.  I am thinking of using a Peco point motor and the existing mini panel but with a very long wire from my local panel at Cassino back to where the mini panel is at Acacia Ridge. The point actuator will just get its signal from the track bus so that is not an issue.  I also have plans for next weekend  to install the signal panels for the staff machines installation on the branch.  These will go in at Lismore Shell oil siding, Lismore and at Murwillumbah.  I am thinking about a running session at my place on the 26th February.  I will try and test the new timetable on this date.  I think I will need about 5 drivers, as well as someone working the Grafton Yard and Acacia Ridge Yard - moving trains up etc., as well as a dispatcher.  I will probably have to work trouble shooting.  I'm not sure I can get enough people to come over.  Before PK posts a comment - Yes it is correct that I do not have that many friends.

Until next week!

Sunday, February 6, 2011


Well I finally got around to making up two more tunnel mouths for the tunnels to be installed either side of my Nammoona Ballast Siding. For those that don't know Nammoona was also a place to load cattle on the north coast. I actually have absolutely no room at all to install the relevant infrastructure and scenery for this location, but we will see what we can do. Maybe some of the infrastructure will be just painted onto the backdrop. My plan is that the timetable will have both ballast and stock trains at Nammoona Ballast Siding as conditional movements - but not at the same time.
Nammoona Loop which has been infiltrated by a Grain Train

These are my two tunnel mouth moulds with some reo already cut

The plaster has been poured, reo installed and just waiting for everything to set

The northern end of Nammoona Loop where my Tunnel portal will go

Voila!  The portal installed - just needs to be glued in.

The southern end of Nammoona Loop before the installion of the portal

The southern end of Nammoona Loop after installation - again needs to be glued in

I skipped home early on Friday as I had a electrician coming to fix a light switch in the daughter's bedroom, and while he was there, I got him to install a light above the wheelie bins down the side of the house. This will also allow the Tuesday Nighters or a running night crew to see their way down the side of the house towards the shed. With the electrician out of the way, I decided to scoot out to Austral Modelcraft and pick up a digitrax DS64 to control the 4 point motors for Rappville Loop and Rocla Sleeper Siding. I also picked up another 5 NCE plug-in 8 pin decoders for the Club Shop, as the previous ones have apparently been sold.

While at Ray's I saw a cheap overhead gantry crane that might make it's way onto the layout at Rocla Siding. We will see. I have that much call on the modelling dollar at the moment, I think I will just create a list of things to buy when I win a few dollars in Lotto.

When I got home, I went digging and found out that I had 3 more working peco point motors for installation - that was a relief.  I needed about 15m of wire to connect up these point motors back to the DS64.

The DS64 fixed to the baseboard

I also needed another 20m of wire to connect up the two new control panels back to my NCE Mini Panel.  But my soldering iron is kaput (Hey Darren!) so I needed to buy another one of these on Saturday morning so I could solder up the wire. I'm not looking forward to installing the point motors at Rocla and Rappville, as I will have to rip up track and cut out parts of the base board.  Today I installed the point motor at the southern end of Rappville Loop - it was a very hot and sweaty job.  That leaves the Rocla Siding to do next week.
The simple panel for Rappville Loop.  No pictures drawn yet but simple to work out.

The Panel for Rocla Siding - just visible at the bottom of the picture.

Both panels have an on/off switch to isolate them from the Mini Panel inputs.  So to get what I have already installed operational I just need to give my DS64 an address as well as give addresses to the 4 point motors as well.  I then need to add the 4 Normal and 4 Reverse commands to the Mini Panel.