What did Computrains build?


Our Home Layout

After our initial analogue layout we trialled and tested DCC. Eventually we designed the above ‘OO gauge’ layout 24ft x 14ft. This is supposed to represent a fictitious railway around a bay with a harbour. Access to the sea is under the railway bridge and leaving the beach to port, (I found out that was to the left)! The bridge is removable, allowing easy access to the centre operating well.

The layout operates on three levels; on the lowest level, a 20 lane Fiddle Yard is on a pull-out tray (11ft x 3ft) which slides out from under the station. An elevated section allows access to the bridge and continues around the layout. The main deck has the station, harbour and engine shed area

With over 40% of the track hidden (shaded areas on diagram above), there are a number of infra-red cameras keeping tabs on rail traffic underground. Track design has kept hidden points to a minimum.

The track is all PECO code 75, with PECO solenoid point motors and double micro-switches taking care of frog polarity and feedback to the display panel. DCC equipment is all by Digitrax. The computer software is Railroad & Co. Sound decoders are ESU loksound (with original manufacturers’ sound files re-blown by Olivia’s Trains in Sheffield).

Scenery is ongoing. As progress is made photos will be added.

Our Exhibition Layout

Our local club members suggested that we build a portable layout to take to our club’s summer exhibition, held in Pickering, home of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.

They said a portable, interactive, demonstration stand explaining how we added computer control may prove interesting. So, as others were working on the scenery, we started to build our 13ft x 4ft exhibition layout.

This is deliberately complex for such a small layout, giving us the opportunity to show the computer software controlling many trains without incident and keeping to a timetable! There is no scenery; the focus is on the wiring, the electronics and the computer screens. The rolling stock is based on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.

The Next Project

Computrains’ next challenge is to build an N gauge exhibition layout incorporating DCC, sound and computer control. With N gauge gaining in popularity, it is appropriate for us to show that computer control is applicable across all scales and gauges.

The main challenge is not the computer aspects but the fitting of sound decoders and speakers into such small spaces! We are indebted to Douglas Stewart of Wickness Models for his help and advice, together with him supplying many of the locos used on the layout.

Work continues and we hope to have this portable layout ready for the Pickering Model Railway Exhibition on 23-24 August 2015

This layout is available for your exhibition.


Why computer control?


DCC has already transformed our hobby. The catch phrase was ‘drive the trains and not the track’. Multiple locos could be on any given track at the same time, doing their own thing! In addition, when first introduced, perhaps the most exciting new part of DCC was the addition of sound. Now much more is available; opening carriage doors and sliding roofs on container wagons, all controlled from your handset.

With DCC’s different (and simplified) approach to wiring the layout, many modellers have been encouraged to build complex layouts without having to worry too much about DPDT switches and the like. Driving many locos at the same time is exciting but not without its own problems. Realistically, how many locos can you control at any one time? Personally, I find two to be the limit (and that is with a controller that allows me to see at all times what each loco is doing)!

These complex layouts need many people controlling the trains (very sociable and many clubs operate their layouts this way) but, if operating on your own or with a limited number of operatives, extra help is needed. Enter the computer.

We were amazed and confused when we first started to think about adding the computer to our DCC layout. We struggled to find easy-to-understand instructions. So we decided to share our experiences and set up this website. There are many ways (and systems available) to consider but here we give you one possible solution and a basis for you to build on as you develop YOUR layout.

We have found that computer control can be very sophisticated or quite simple depending on your needs.  The computer can run everything – you sit back and watch, or the computer can run a number of trains on part of the layout and leave you to operate your locos on another section.  The more powerful programs even allow you to run your locos wherever you want and they schedule their locos around you.  They can even be set to intervene and take over your loco if there is an impending disaster!  The choice is yours as you set up your system.  Remember, it can always be turned off.  Just because you have a computer system, it doesn’t have to be used.  Normal service is available at the flick of the ‘off’ switch!


Our demonstration layout


We have a demonstration unit that we can take to shows.

With double track main lines, 6 platforms, 8 sidings, 38 point motors, (22 points and 8 double slips) and a reversing loop, our plan was to make an interesting layout.

We can share our experiences, show a computer operated working layour, answer visitors’ questions and give them suggestions on how to add their own computer control.

We can show what computers can bring to our hobby by having multiple trains run continually on a complex layout, requiring the computer software to sort routes, change points, adjust train speeds and avoid incidents while adhering to a timetable!

There is no scenery; we’ve focused on the electronics and wiring. However, our rolling stock is based on that associated with the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.


Where to go for help?


We had help and inspiration from many sources. Below we have listed only some of them. We found that it was best to get as many experienced views and ideas as possible, then experiment by trying those that appeared to suit us.

We don’t believe there is a right way; certainly no definitive answer. Different options will suit different people, layouts and operating systems available.

Many thanks to:

  • Scarborough & District Railway Modellers
  • Two Tone Green on RMweb.co.uk
  • Neil and Dan at Olivia’s Trains
  • Ian Harper at Peasholm Models
  • Geoff at Scarborough’s The Train Shop
  • Ted Smale at Sunningwell Command Control
  • David Townend at McKinley Railway
  • Douglas Stewart at Wickness Models
  • Wiring for DCC
  • Digitrax user group
  • Railroad & Co user group
  • Tony’s Trains