Monday 18 March 2024

Thoughts on Staging yard electronics


Staging yards turnout control, and some extras



Auscision Models livery CLP9 "Peter Wilks" at Junee in February.  

Way back in August 2017, I wrote a layout design primer on “X” factor layouts, and described that my design of the Wagga layout would be an X factor.


Whilst painting the walls, and laying down the false flooring on my train room, I have been giving some additional thoughts to the staging yards.  In the comment section of that original blog post, James McInerney suggested that the number of staging tracks I had proposed was too small in number.  He is right.  The NCE Switch 8 that I have only gave me enough for 9 staging tracks, which as James suggests, is not enough

In addition, I was never comfortable with having to install a lot of wiring, and slow motion stall turnout motors under the staging yard benchwork, as adjustment later would be at best tricky, at worst impossible. 

I had contemplated constructing the benchwork so the staging yards could be extracted, but I could never settle on a feasible benchwork arrangement. 


Another option was to mount the switch motors above the benchwork, and use levers to transmit the throw action to the tiebars   possible, but would need some testing.  Or go with twin coil motors – peco makes an adapter base for their motors, and making a diode matrix for route selection is something I have done before.  Peco side mounted turnout motors are smaller again.  A further option was to use a servo motor driver – Peco has one for 4 servos, although there are Arduino servo driver circuits that can be built.

Any of the above options could work, although I was never convinced they were the right way to go.  All needed  a lot of wiring to return to a central location

So it was a relevation to discover a product that was compact, DCC controlled, modular, and designed to mount above the benchwork


Enter the DCC Concepts SS point control

Metro Hobbies had a recent sale, and I bought a 12 pack from Metro Hobbies for $399, a $100 saving.  The pack contains six DCC addressable control modules, each module will switch 2 turnouts.  The turnout motors are extremely compact, and rely on a stepper motor to turn a screw shaft containing the attachment for the linkage.    In addition there are extender wiring harnesses, sets of mounting screws, and a selection of pre-bent wire linkages

The DCC Concepts, Cobalt SS 12 pack box.

The Control module supports 2 DCC controlled turnouts.  There are six of these in the box


I found a suitable board, and mounted two turnouts, 2 point motors, and one controller.  Annoyingly, the DCC concepts wire linkages were all designed for vertical holes on the tiebar (peco), and not the horizontal tiebar hole in my Atlas turnouts.  So I bent my own linkage with brass wire.

To power it I used my portable Powercab test bench.  The alligator clips made connection to the power easily.

Two Atlas customline #6 turnouts installed on the board.  Each turnout connected to a point motor, which is then connected to the control module - one uses the extender cable.  DCC power via the alligator clips from the NCE Power Cab.  What I haven't wired is the frog polarity wiring - switched also from the control module.  (click on the picture to enlarge the image)

Following the DCC Concepts instructions,

1)     Assign an address to one side of the control module.

2)     reset the point motor

3)     Using the Powercab accessory operation, check the throw.  You will need to activate the accessory address multiple times, whilst you adjust the throw distance using the adjustment control on the control module.

4)       Once the throw distance, matches the turnout tiebar movement, attach the linkage, double check the throw, and then screw the point motor down.  I only used 2 screws, leave the other 2 holes in case you need to later adjust the position of the motor.

5)     Program the other side, and repeat the above.

I had assigned 0001 and 0002 as the DCC accessory numbers for the specific turnouts.  Later, I will use a dymo label  to record the accessory numbers more professionally

The NCE hand controller has specific buttons for selecting accessories, or a macro.  The screen on this controller image is asking for the Macro number.  

The NCE Macros.

Controlling Accessories with your DCC system can be tedious, and my preference is to avoid it if possible.  The NCE system that I have, has an <Select ACCY>  button, but you still need to enter the ID of the accessory, press <Enter>, then “1” (for Normal), or “2” (for reverse).  Some of software available for the mobile phone throttles makes this process less of a chore.  In any case, to align 4 hidden staging yard turnouts one by one, to find the appropriate stub ended track is not going to end well.  This is where the Macro comes in.  A macro allows a number of turnouts to be switched simultaneously – and if a macro is assigned to each of the staging tracks, than just activating one macro, all the necessary turnouts can be aligned.

The system limitations of the NCE Power cab are 16 macros, each of 8 accessories.  Not enough?  The NCE Power Pro system has 256 macros, each of 10 accessories. 


Testing of the route control using macros

For the purpose of testing, I assigned 3 end points.   And then programmed the macros using a truth table

Staging track 1.                Turnout 1 – Normal         Turnout 2-Normal

Staging track 2                  Turnout 1 – Reverse        Turnout 2 – don’t care

Staging track 3                  Turnout 1 – Normal         Turnout 2 - Reverse


In operation – press <macro>, enter the macro number (which is staging track ID) and hit <Enter>.  In my test above, one, or both turnout motors activated simultaneously, selecting the correct route.


It is like magic.  Theoretically, I could set up 128 stub ended staging tracks at each end of the layout, by using the macro function, although in practice, it is unlikely to be more than 16, which will be switched by 4 or 5 turnouts


There are a few you-tube tutorials on using the NCE system to control the DCC Concepts SS turnout.  This one by Barcoola is excellent

An  alternative to the DCC Concepts SS system 

Something that I wanted to avoid with the DCC Concepts SS motors, is a mass of wiring, and circuitry below a layout.    Whilst this undoubtably works, the complexity,  arduino components and programming could lead to a nightmare in diagnosis a few years down the track when the memory goes hazy.  


Repair of Westinghouse Brake gauge for display

Installing Yellow Tongue flooring on the walls was a deliberate choice.  The main reason was for strength in hanging the upper deck off the wall without needing to know where the wall studs were.  The bonus was to allow for simply screwing on my railway memorabilia directly onto the wall. 

Last month, I was transferring a box of brass gauges from the house, to the railway room, when I heard the unmistakable crunch of broken glass


Westinghouse air brake pressure gauge from a NSW48 class.  


After removal of the brass bezel, and the broken glass, both arms also showed damage - the Main Reservoir hand also lost part of the enamal, and writing 

The broken glass was used as a template to draw a circle on the 2mm thick clear PVC that I had

Using a dremal cutting disk, I cut around the line.  Note the protective paper on the clear PVC

After much filing, the PVC was fitted inside the brass bezel


I color matched the enamal to Floquil Signal Red, and the writing redone with Floquil Reefer White. The original paint was gloss, but after the "glass" was refitted, I doubt anyone could tell

Removal of the protective paper on the PVC, gives a crystal clear result.  How long will the PVC stay this clear is a mystery.

On the Train Room display wall, with all its friends.  

Train room progress. 

After finishing the painting of the ceilings, and the walls, the next major task was laying about 50 square metres of flooring.

Bunnings delivery of 20 boxes.  Each box contains 12 planks, and weighs an estimated 30kg.  This delivery was worth the bunnings $94 delivery fee.  The boxes were then relocated into the train room - a serious workout.

The first planks are laid like writing, from the top LHS of the room, and after that run, the next run is layered down a line, clipped into the the first.  The lines have to be straight, to avoid gaps in the planks.


The other end of the room.  These planks have an included rubber foam backing, so saves having to install an extra foam mat beforehand.  Much simplier than the 4 other false floors I have previously laid

One of the hassles of having a room full of junk, is moving it prior to painting, laying flooring etc.  The new floor is immediately useable

The kitchenette area.  The newly acquired bar fridge fits nicely under the "L" shape kitchen bench, hiding the hot water system.  Note that the plumbing has not progressed as all since October

Next stages after completing the flooring,  are the skirting, and gloss white painting of the window sills, doorways etc.    That just leaves the ensuite - waterproofing,tiling, and painting, and the plumbing.  Progress is slow, possibly as my builder has only been once since XMAS, so I am going at my own pace. 


You have to be comfortable with being able to diagnose faults, and fix your models, or your layout.  That confidence will pay dividends.  Before I stumbled across DCC Concepts SS turnout controllers, I had trepidation that I would have created a maintenance monster that would lead to the premature demise of an operational layout.  Now, by having each part self contained, and relatively easy to replace, I can get onto worrying about other aspects of the layout build.

 Until next time, build a model or two.