MARCH 21 Yorkshire Pennines

Roland Wood has taken to automated control systems with his continuous run N gauge layout, which gives everyone a lot to learn about the potential of DCC.




Roland Wood

BRM September 2019

Layout Name: Yorkshire Pennines
Scale/Gauge: N gauge
Size: (including fiddle yards): 10'x5'
Era/Region: North Eastern - present day
Layout Type: Continuous run

Layout design: I wanted a ‘roundy-roundy’ layout that would fit in the only space available at home – the garage! After many internal debates, space constraints finally forced me down the N gauge route. It was no hardship really. Recently, N gauge products have been getting better and better, and the trackplan could now allow a complex layout in a relatively small space. As my brother and I were also going to use the layout for exhibiting; how to transport it from venue to venue (and ease of assembly at each venue) was a major factor in the baseboard design. In the end, I opted for a 10ft x 5ft oval, which would split into four sections – two semi-circles (of 30” radius) and two straights (5ft x 18”). Plywood covers were made so the sections could be stacked on top of each other for storage and transport.

As I wanted to continue to develop my understanding of RailRoad & Co’s (RR&Co) Train Controller software, I designed the trackplan to allow the possibilities of many trains running concurrently, with plenty of opportunities to change tracks. The fictional trackplan shows six lanes – four on the baseboard and two on the raised section. The fiddleyard is an integral part, at one end of the layout. Any clockwise train can get onto any clockwise fiddleyard lane or track, whatever the level, and the same for the other direction. At first, the layout was operated from the central operating well, using a laptop computer. At the layout’s very first exhibition, at SDRM’s Pickering Show in 2018, there was as much interest in the computer screen as there was in the layout! My brother and I decided to place three monitors on a board covering the well and then operate the layout from outside, side-by-side with the visitors. The software doesn’t need 3 screens, it just helps us when explaining things to the visitors. With two of us mixed in with the visitors and the computer running the trains, we manage to keep stock moving at all times while still engaging with the general public. We appreciate that is the reason why show organisers invite visiting layouts to their shows – to keep the public both entertained and enthused.

Control: On my earlier layouts, I used Digitrax DCC system and associated components. They proved reliable and easy to operate. Digitrax’s customer support is exemplary – both with easy-to-read manuals and online support directly from the manufacturer and its users forum. I particularly liked the way the command station [DCS 100] relays all messages to each component (boosters [DB150], stationary point decoders [DS46], track detectors [BDL168], etc.), via a dedicated communications bus, called LocoNet. Now, other manufacturers produce additional useful components that also use LocoNet to give feedback to the command station and help with the realistic running of the layout. eg Sig-naTrak colour light signal controllers [SIGM20].

I use RailRoad & Co.’s Train Controller computer software - version 9.0 B1. The track is Peco Streamline Code 55. There are 50 points, including 2 scissor crossings, (all powered by Tortoise slow-motion motors). Each baseboard is electrically self-contained. They each have their own power supply and are linked to each other by only one small cable – LocoNet. Only one board has the command station; the other three have boosters. The boosters repeat the signals sent by the command station to all their own board’s components. This also means each board has a 5 amp supply – more than adequate but, more importantly, setting up requires only a couple of wires to be connected and fault finding (always more difficult when away at an exhibition) is easier to diagnose. The whole layout can be assembled in 40 minutes.

Rolling Stock: The era is post-2000. My ‘get-out clause’ is that the upper-level tracks are supposed to be a preserved railway line and the lower level is East Coast main line. This allows me to run any preserved locos on the top level; those with current main-line certificates being able to come down to the lower level. It also allows me to get away with some shorter private hire trains. There’s a mix of freight and passenger trains. The main line runs through the fiddle yard. At nearly every exhibition I have been to, whether exhibiting or as a visitor, there is always a lot of interest in what is happening behind the scenes. So, I decided to make the fiddle yard part of the layout, it’s fully scenic, making the layout viewable for its full 360-degrees.

Scenery: As other Club members will tell you, scenery is not my strong point, although they have helped me develop my skills. I enrolled the help of some fellow members, as well as my sister-in-law, who has an ‘arty eye’ - her work on the limestone rock faces is remarkable.

Buildings: All YP’s buildings have been constructed from scratch by Bob Dawson. Bob is seen at many exhibitions; his work is exemplary and it has been a pleasure to work with him over the past few years. His grandson, Scott, has also helped me. I just gave them the photograph and ‘hey-presto’ a few weeks later, there’s the model. I’m sure you’ll see from the photos how realistic they look.

About the modeller: Ever since helping my brother build his home 00 gauge layout – Burniston Bay, I’ve been thinking about building a layout for myself. We’re both late returners to the hobby and joined our local club, Scarborough and District Railway Modellers, to get advice. A number of SDRM members had helped us with building parts of Burniston Bay. They couldn’t fail to notice the computer screens and were very impressed when they saw the software in action. Inevitably, the suggestion was made to build a layout, which could be used to demonstrate how computer control could be added to a layout. Another project was started!

During the research into which DCC system and computer software to use for Burniston Bay, we met David Townend (of McKinley Railway fame) and Two-tone Green (of RMweb). Both helped us wade through the myriad of manufacturers’ sales spiel and demonstrated the strengths of both Digitrax and RR&Co Train Controller. Now, a few years on, we’re still convinced we’d made the right choice. We’d had a struggle getting to grips with all of the DCC choices and software packages available to today’s modellers. We decided to create a website detailing how we added computer control to our layout. The aim is to help steer others trying to embark on a similar journey.

Space is a constant problem for many railway modellers. For my layout, I ended up in the garage, and regrettably, only a single one at that. I did take some time to reduce draughts and insulate the roof and floor. A night storage radiator was also fitted. The aim was to ensure the garage temperature didn’t vary too much and damp could be kept at bay. The garage’s physical space was the main reason why I opted for N Gauge. While many of my friends were moving up a scale; I was moving down! Admittedly, it takes a little longer to put rolling stock on the track but the major disadvantage to N Gauge is the fitting of decoders and speakers. Recent changes in decoder shape and speaker design has helped in getting them into what was already a very tight space. I am indebted to Paul Foulds, of CR Signals, for his help and expertise.

With the Moors at one end of the layout and the Dales at the other, there is plenty to ponder over even before you look at the rolling stock. The layout description reads “Yorkshire Pennines is set in the present era in a part of the country where the rugged Pennines meets the stunning Yorkshire Dales and Moors. It depicts a fictitious scene that could be close to the town of Yockenthwaite, on a part of the East Coast mainline, where a supposed preserved railway line has adjoining platforms.

"In this picturesque countryside, some charter trains run, as well as the expected freight and passenger services. The preserved railway line is a popular tourist attraction”. This layout exhibition introduction is designed to attract the reader’s attention but it allows me plenty of lee-way. The lower main-line and the higher preserved section can work as two separate layouts. However, interaction is possible, allowing those preserved locos with main-line licenses to run down onto the lower main-line section. This almost gives me carte-blanche over what locos I run. Anything present and it can go on the main-line; anything older - on the preserved line. It also makes me keep up-to-date, especially when exhibiting; I’m sure somebody would soon let me know if I allowed the wrong loco to run on the main-line!

With all the layout’s points and even more block detection sections, the intricate wiring is a far cry from the often quoted “DCC – it’s only 2 wires”. The components operating board no 1 (of 4). Note the grey LocoNet cables. I would certainly advise modellers to colour code their wiring and then religiously stick to it. And, remember to label everything under the baseboard. With luck, it’ll probably be quite a while before you have to trace a fault, but, I can hardly remember what was on TV last night, never mind what wire goes where many months, or even years, after the layout was built! Also, take the time to read up on all your possible choices before taking the plunge. Ask what others have done. See for yourself what works well.

Despite the name ‘computer control system’, you are in control. You can always turn the computer off and use the normal DCC throttles, in my case, Digitrax. A layout like this would keep many manual operators busy; passing locos from section to section; obeying signals and changing points. At the other end of the scale, the software can control all of the locos on the layout – usually, being able to run more locos concurrently than by manual operation. Or, you can set the computer to control part of the layout and you control the rest.

Some of you may have seen the layout at BRM’s Doncaster Show a couple of years ago. My grandson was operating the locos going in a clockwise direction while the computer controlled those going the opposite way. This not only kept locos running at all times (often a contentious point at exhibitions) but showed the flexibility of the software and the ease in which a six-year-old can master DCC! RR&Co Train Controller comes in 3 versions; bronze, silver and gold. I use the gold v9.0 B1. It can do so much that I’m always learning something new about the software and its abilities. It’ll keep me busy yet for a long time to come.

Quite a few SDRM Club members have been watching how I use the computer to add another dimension to the hobby and keep me entertained. One or two are now experimenting and I’m pleased to help out where I can. Visitors, that have seen us at exhibitions, have been in touch and we have often been asked to help them; sometimes setting up their initial system or helping with some part of the software. It’s a two-way street – every day you learn something new. That’s the joy of railway modelling – so much to learn and share. David Townend invited me to join him and his team in demonstrating DCC and Computer Control at NEC Warley Exhibition. That was both nerve-racking and satisfying. Helping, and learning from, fellow enthusiasts is very rewarding.




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