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Signal System - custom build or buy off the shelf?

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  • Member since
    August, 2013
  • 118 posts
Signal System - custom build or buy off the shelf?
Posted by big daydreamer on Wednesday, December 23, 2015 1:52 PM

I am in the process of deciding how I will set up my signalling system. My layout is not that big, and I want to take advantage of that to have a well detailed and realistic system. I will be following CROR signal rules, use block detection and I plan to build my own signals to save money.

Her is a picture of what my layout will look like. Yellow lines mark endpoints for blocks and signal locations. Numbered boxes mark track with block detection.

So my main options are:

  1. Build a custom system with microcontrollers at the 3 main track swith locations, and the microcontrollers will operate the signals in their area. It operates independant of the DCC system.
  2. Build a custom system with a central controller (maybe an Arduino) and route all detectors and signals to the central controller. It operates independant of the DCC system. This one seems easy but inefficient becasue wires have to travel all across the laoyout.
  3. Connect detectors and signals to the DCC bus and use JMRI as a central controller. This option also seems easy, but I dont want to have to start buying accessory decoders for everything (much cost compared to the microcontrollers and Arduinos available).

What do you guys think? I am currently leaning towards option 1.

  • Member since
    January, 2009
  • 3,602 posts
Posted by RR_Mel on Wednesday, December 23, 2015 2:21 PM

 

I went simple and built my entire signal system.  I didn’t go with anything fancy like a computerized system. I used Rob Pasiley’s circuits and modified them for my layout.
 
The signals operate very good but I have had problems with current type detection and really don’t like having to use axles with resistors to get the current detectors to work in my rolling stock.  I’m in the process of converting over to optical beams for detection, that way any thing blocking the beam will activate the signal controller even with power off to the track.
 
Hiding the optical LEDs takes time and patience but the end product works much better for what I want on my layout.  I hide the LEDs in bushes, tree trunks, rocks and buildings.  A properly installed optical detector works flawlessly and rarely need adjusting.  I have two light paths over 10’ long that never fail.
 
I did a post on my blog on my original signal system and when I finish the optical detection I’ll update it.   
 
 
Mel
 
Modeling the early to mid 1950s SP in HO scale since 1951
 
My Model Railroad   
 
Bakersfield, California
 
I'm beginning to realize that aging is not for wimps.
jfb
  • Member since
    December, 2015
  • 124 posts
Posted by jfb on Wednesday, December 23, 2015 5:26 PM
guys I understand the money saving point so how about hitting a huge train swap meet and have a list on hand? I go to train swap meets from august until February and have found older signal bridges un opened for 5 bucks and added older analog Christmas light etc and then wired them up. from march on the show is real slow and is mostly left overs from fall and the door cost and parking fees then are unjustified plus then it gets warm and the basement holds heat reeeal well!
  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • From: North Dakota
  • 7,920 posts
Posted by BroadwayLion on Wednesday, December 23, 2015 5:33 PM

First, there are two kinds of sighals that a railroad uses together.

BLOCK SIGNALS are automatic and protect your train from running into the train in front of you.

HOME or INTERLOCKING signals are operated by the tower or dispatcher either by hand or by computer, but are NOT automatic.

In a normal intelocking arrangement you have levers (switches or whatever) for each turnout and signal.

The levers in the down or normal position alight the switches to their normal positions and display red signals throughtout the plant.

Before a train approaces, the plant is aligned to accommodate the train. Levers are moved to align the plant, and then the signal lever is reversed to display a green signal.

In mechanical or electric-mechanical plants there is a netwrok of locking bars to block a lever from being moved incorrectly, if the plant is computerized, the computer will take care of this for you.

LION built an interlocking machine

My levers are not interlocked, although I did install some dogs that prevent adjacent levers from being reversed...

And I shall install some tortoise machines inside of the plant to help lock some of the other levers, especially in the 242nd Street area where most of the switching is done.

Do you want to build this. Apparently not since you want to emulate GCOR rules. But of course GCOR rules allow for many different kinds of signals, signals systems, and aspects, so you have a lot of lattitude in what you will display and how you will do it. After old GRS plants are still in use on railroads using GCOR rules.

 

LION observes NYCT rules, and loosely at that. : )

 

ROAR

The Route of the Broadway Lion The Largest Subway Layout in North Dakota.

Here there be cats.                                LIONS with CAMERAS

jfb
  • Member since
    December, 2015
  • 124 posts
Posted by jfb on Wednesday, December 23, 2015 5:34 PM

one more thing i did not say also was that my signals are manually operated just like before modern times my layout is about 1955 to 1982 in cars and operations and now i am adding the block signals and was wondering due 991 model power signals with super thin wiring take well to wire extensions and can you also bind the wires on it together mrc says there the same but true experience is what i go by and mrc might not have gotten all of the files of model power in the merger.

  • Member since
    February, 2002
  • From: Westchester NY
  • 1,742 posts
Posted by retsignalmtr on Thursday, December 24, 2015 7:02 AM

I use current detection for my signal system, specificly NCE's BD-20. $11.50. No adjusting or aligning needed. My signal system is all relay. Relays are $1.50 from allelectronics.com, 16 pin I/C sockets are $0.20, P/C boards are $2.50 from R/S. Signals are Atlas G type automatics (single head) and home signals (double head). The circuitry are based on NYCTA's signal system where I worked. I also have a half dozen N gauge T-Trak modules with working signals that get spaced out around a large T-Trak layout.

Signals are placed only where they can be seen and distance apart is based on the length of the longest train I run. Signals are controlled by more than one block so the signal will not turn yellow before the last car passes it, and there will always be a red signal behind each train. I'm not an electronics wiz which is why I went all relay and they're easy to troubleshoot and repair.

 

  • Member since
    August, 2003
  • From: Collinwood, Ohio, USA
  • 7,545 posts
Posted by gmpullman on Friday, December 25, 2015 4:32 AM

All of my signal installations are "animated" using the Logicrail Signal Animator.

https://www.logicrailtech.com/

Most use the infrared detectors and work well in full room lighting or dimmed night time lighting. I still have a few with photocells and they're OK but take a little trimming of an adjustment pot. On the main I have "eastbound-westbound" override switches so the signal can not display clear when there is an opposing train.

In the above photo you can just see the IR TX and recieve LEDs between the ties. I need to fix up the ballast here Whistling

I enjoy watching a clear signal drop to red as the train passes and once the last car clears a timer counts off 20 seconds for medium aspect, then another 20 seconds to clear. I even wired one to show a "diverging medium" with a flashing middle yellow when I have a diverging route lined off the main, then it drops to red when the engines pass the signal.

You can use the built-in switches in a Tortoise to override the signal to make a restricting aspect for a switch lined against you, then when the switch is lined, the signal times out and you get your medium (and then clear if you want to wait a little longer). They work with B&O/N&W CPLs, PRR position lights or searchlights or Type G, GRS signals.

Trying to configure an actual block signal system, for my use anyway, would be awfully impractical. Many of the signals would have to be in areas impossible to see and the detection circuits are a wiring project I don't want to tackle.

Here's three SA-1s wired for two on the main and one for a diverging route. Simple hookup, reliable signal aspects, FUN to watch!

The LogicRail system makes a pretty realistic visual simulation of automatic signals in my opinion and they are reasonably priced.

Just my experience... Ed

  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • From: North Dakota
  • 7,920 posts
Posted by BroadwayLion on Saturday, December 26, 2015 10:19 AM

 

In my first efforts I used standard 3mm LEDs from All Electronics,
I have since migrated to using colored LEDs from Christmas light sets.
The colors are more vivid, but are also far too bright.
I have controlled the colors by putting lens shades on the signals
as below. They are made from plastic coffee stirrers cut at an angle,
the LED insered in the tube, and the tube inserted in the signal mast.

 

The Route of the Broadway Lion The Largest Subway Layout in North Dakota.

Here there be cats.                                LIONS with CAMERAS

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