Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Along the Neighbours' Fence

...or "Some Recent Activity on the Garden Railway".

The previous post showed a train taking its first tentative steps on the new section of trackbed. This section has the boundary fence on one side, and the raspberry beds, then the greenhouse, then the drying green on the other. It also finds itself, due to the lie of the land, about 2ft above the ground. All of this conspires to make this section unsuitable for full integration with the garden as has been done elsewere, and the plan is to build it like a traditional model railway on a baseboard, with rudimentary scenery, and (if practical) limited weather protection.

The temporary track has now been extended along the full length of the new section, almost to the greenhouse. The next stage of the plan is real track, some scenery, and the weather protection!

The first train to reach the greenhouse.
The Dapol track cleaner should be a real time-saver for a garden railway, providing a built-in vacuum cleaner, railhead cleaning fluid applicator, railhead scrubber and railhead polisher. It sounds like a dream come true, but I haven't yet for various reasons managed to get the best out of it. It is however useful for clearing the cobwebs from the tunnel at the start of an operating session!

The cobweb-removing train emerges from the tunnel with a fine catch of webs.
As I have mentioned before, the crossover from single track back to double beyond the tunnel is laid on a thin base and can be removed as a complete module. This allows the turnouts, point motors, electronics and wiring to be taken indoors when not in use, for protection from the weather. Installation or removal only takes a few minutes, with eight rail joiners to be slid using fine-nosed pliers, and two electrical connectors to be mated or undone. The wiring is largely out of sight from the normal viewing direction, but stepping over into the narrow gap by the fence, it becomes clear that the railway company's electrical contractors, K.Watt & sons, of Voltstone, Ampshire are not very good at producing tidy wiring! A bit of lacing cord and some camoflage paint should improve things, however.

On the removable crossover module. From this side the wiring is unobtrusive...
... but from the fence, it looks a mess!
Right from the start of the railway project, there has been a strip of level concrete above the viaduct for a station platform. About a year ago, a platform was built, with embosssed plasticard facings and an infill of concrete-based floor screeding. It seemed a good idea at the time, but unfortunately the screeding did not stand up to the weather, and soon looked a mess. So it was removed, and since then there has been no platform. The new one uses the original facings, but has a new plastic top. Now it just needs station buildings and a signal box!

A ballast train passes the new station platform. The shelter is borrowed.
The final picture provides a privileged view of the control room. On the left of the shelf is the NCE equipment, (a 5A power supply / control module, an overload trip, and a USB interface). Connected to this via the USB interface is an old netbook computer, scrapped because its display stopped working, and an old 15" display from one of our early home computers. Running on the netbook is a free programme called JMRI. Hidden behind the netbook is a wi-fi access point / router made redundant by BT when they upgraded this area's brooadband to use fibre-optics, and the box high on the wall is a controller build by my father about 50 years ago, with all electronics removed except the transformer, thereby providing a 16V AC supply for accessories that need it. I hate throwing things away if they can be re-used!

Not shown in the picture is the actual control panels used by the engine drivers or signalman. These can be any Apple iphone, ipad, or ipod touch or any Android* smartphone, running either the free or the under-£10 version of applications called WiThrottle or Engine Driver*, and communicating with the netbook through a wi-fi local network. This means that operators can wander wirelessly anywhere in the area of the railway.

*note: I haven't yet tried it with "Engine Driver" and an Andoid device.

The Control Centre.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Is it May Already?

I have just logged on and was horrified to find that my last post was a Christmas greeting! What has happened to the first four months of the year? Well, I suppose the three-week holiday and several long weekends away haven't helped. Then there's the training for last week's run (raised £2k for Parkinson's UK). Lots of gardening (we're opening to the public on 8th June under the local hospice's open garden scheme). Pretty poor excuses really. Oh - and I've been working on the garden railway!

Jobs done or in progress this year are:
  • Routine maintenance
  • Extension round the corner from the railway boundary to the neighbour's boundary
  • Complete automation of removable crossover module
  • Re-ballast, wire, signal and automate the viaduct
  • Get the railway wi-fi control network working reliably
  • Install a power bus and connect to track at reasonable intervals.
Maintenance. The worst things the winter has done other than the obvious dirt and corrosion are to remove some of my earlier experiments in ballasting, and to significantly widen the gap at some of the rail joints. This gap-widening is rather strange, and mainly occurs near the apex of some of the sweeping curves in the picture below. I can only assume that the trackbed is"stretching". It doesn't yet cause derailments, so I haven't done anythng about it, but will soon need to as the gaps are still increasing (so it's not thermal contraction of the rail).

A Spring test-train sweeps around the reverse curves.
The railway track-bed has now reached a point where although descending at 1 in 50, the ground is descending faster and the track is about 2 feet off the ground. This, the need for a bend, and the fact that too much straight concrete viaduct gets boring, led to the decision that the next section of trackbed would be timber. This also gives some potential for tradional layout scenery, though weather proofing or protection could be interesting. The picture below shows the general construction of the first 12 feet of new trackbase, and the transition from concrete. Since the picture, a further 12 feet have been added.

A new section of wooden baseboard (paint still wet), and the transition from concrete.
 When I'm working in the garden, I am often visited by Mac the Cat, who likes company.

Hello. Need any help?

This ballast needs a good scratch.

Mmm, I like this nice smooth cat-path.
In the foreground of the ballast-scratching picture can be seen the viaduct, complete with its new ballast job, and with the points automated and a signal fitted. I haven't yet got round to proper painting and weathering.

While we were in the garden over Easter, I noticed some unusual motive power for the Waterloo - South Western main line. This was a result of the closure of Reading for major rework.

A diverted First Great Western HST heads for London Waterloo.
Given the opportunity to play with a brand new sound-fitted Britannia, what could I do but accept? The sound is fairly realistic, but has a few flaws and is not as good in my ears as the Bachmann class 37.

Hornby Britannia 70040 "Clive of India", fresh out of the box.
And finally....  I laid some temporary track on the new section of baseboard "round the corner". And who was first along it, propelling the rail-head treatment vehicle? Why, it was Thomas of course!

Thomas covers new ground with the track-cleaner.