How to automate your layout signals

29 August 2021
Tired of passing signals at danger, endless switches on your control panel or complicated operations? We present an ideal solution to control Dapol's semaphore signals.

On the ‘big’ railway, signalling is critical and no trains run without it. However, many model railways lack signalling, as it isn’t crucial to operation. This is a shame because signalling adds an extra dimension, both from visual and operational perspectives. Of course, what us model railway builders have always wanted is a plug and play system that makes signal installation and operation as simple as possible. Thanks to Dapol, we have just that in ready-to-use guise, with its servo-operated signal range. 

Some will want to operate their signals using prototypical practice with signal frames and bell codes to give the full signalling experience. However, many of us would like the signals, as much as possible, to look after themselves. This is where a device by Train-Tech comes in with its range of electronics that have been developed specifically to work with the Dapol range.  

The two work hand-in-hand so you can automate your signals. Before starting work, ensure that you disconnect power from the layout by disconnecting your power supply.


Before installing your signals, test them in isolation to ensure they work and to familiarise yourself with their operation. Follow the instructions provided by Dapol. We used my DC railway controller for power, but a 9V battery will suffice.
How to automate your layout signals


Drill a 15mm hole in your baseboard where you would like your signal to be placed. Our drill bit was only 0.5in in size, but we was able to open the hole up slightly using a rasp.
How to automate your layout signals


Site the train sensor at least 12in ahead of the signal it is to operate. If you are using Hornby track, simply push the two fingers into place where the power clips are designed to fit.
How to automate your layout signals


It is essential that the train sensor fingers are in good contact with the track. Use a multimeter on the resistance setting to check for continuity.
How to automate your layout signals


Choose a spot under the baseboard to site the signal controller. We selected a position midway between the signal and sensor so that we wouldn’t have to extend any leads. Use a bradawl to start the screw holes in the baseboard.
How to automate your layout signals


Use 3mm self-tapping wood screws to hold the signal controller in place using the top holes in the corners of the unit. Tighten only enough to hold the unit in place.
How to automate your layout signals


Connect the black and red power leads from the Dapol power base to the two signal power terminals on the signal controller.
How to automate your layout signals


Connect wires from the power In terminals on the signal controller to the track or DCC bus. Solder the wires to the underside of the track.
How to automate your layout signals


Drill a 1mm hole next to the track sensor. Push a piece of solid core wire up from below and plug it into the central layout link socket.
How to automate your layout signals


Place the other end of the wire from the layout link socket to the track sensor input TS1 of the signal controller.
How to automate your layout signals


Plug one of the Dapol control link wires into the Dapol power base.
How to automate your layout signals


Snip off the switch from the other end of the Dapol control link wire and separate and strip the ends.
How to automate your layout signals


Connect the ends of the three control link wires into the corresponding terminals on the signal controller. The three wires are colour coded orange, yellow and brown. Don't mix them up.
How to automate your layout signals


Insert the signal into the previously prepared hole and rotate until it is aligned with the track. Now screw the nut into position and tighten it (finger tight). Do not use tools as you will damage the threads.
How to automate your layout signals


Line up the power base with the bottom of the signal using the yellow stripes as a guide. Using gentle pressure, push upwards until you hear a click to indicate that the unit is held in position.
How to automate your layout signals


Tidy up the wiring using cable tie mounts and cable ties. The former are self-adhesive, but the stickiness soon goes off and we prefer to stick them down using an impact adhesive.
How to automate your layout signals


Double check the wiring and when happy, apply power. The LEDs in the signal arms and the red LED in the track sensor should light up. Run a vehicle up to the sensor and you should find that the signal comes off (clears).
How to automate your layout signals


By default, the signal arm will return to danger 10 seconds after a train has passed. However, you could also locate a second track sensor after the signal to perform this function, adding a wire to link the two sensors together.
How to automate your layout signals

The Dapol/Train-Tech combination works very well and your signalling can be automated with little effort. There are lots of other options using this combination too, including control using a variety of switches and buttons types, DCC control using a static decoder and pairing signals to work together. The ST10 track sensor also has lots of other functionality to help automate your railway. You will not be short of options using this system.

If you're in need of more wiring advice, our top tips guide to wiring here should help. Or if you're looking into semaphores and now sure where to start, our beginner's guide here should be your first port of call.

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If you'd like more wiring advice, the below articles should help give you some guidance. 

How to build a two-aspect colour light signal

How to fit and program a DCC point motor

How to fit a DCC uncoupler

Still searching for trackplan inspiration? Our guide gives you simple trackplan suggestions to help you get started. 

If you’d like some more advice, take a look at the BRM Techniques page for all our latest guides and advice articles.