The Randall Museum in San Francisco hosts a fairly large HO-scale model train layout. Initially created by the Golden Gate Model Railroad Club started in 1961, the layout was donated to the Museum in 2015. Since then I have started automatizing trains running on the layout. I am also the de-facto layout maintainer. This blog describes various updates on the project. Links: description of the layout, description of the automation software.

2018-09-09 - Richmond Panel & Yard

Category Randall

One more thing that happened this week-end is starting to look at the Richmond Yard, the track connecting it to the mainline, and the associated yard panel. As usual on this layout, the major issue is a crucial lack of labelling. I’ve started by applying notes with blue painter tape, and I’ll figure out better labels once everything is understood:

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2018-09-09 - New Train on the Line

Category Randall

With Jim, we’re trying a new train in the Mainline to replace the Doodlebug. This looks like it should provide some interest to our public:

Leading engine is Santa Fe 804, and this model has some interesting sound. Since it’s running in alternance with the Amtrak Passenger train, I suggested we use these two interesting freight cars. Jim added a nice caboose to complete this train.

It runs in a back-and-forth shuttle mode on track #2 between the Stockton Station and Sonora. I run it at a conservative speed 16 (on 28) going forward and then speed 12 coming back.

2018-09-08 - RTAC Update

Category Randall

RTAC is the software running on the Android tablets. I’ve made some modifications these past two weeks and I just finished enough to deploy the first changes at the museum:

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2018-09-01 - Self-healing Derailment

Category Randall

Here’s an interesting way to not do train automation:

I had been at the museum to examine the RDC in the morning. The passenger train had two coach cars. Jim came by during the afternoon and suddenly ask me if I removed one of the coach cars since the train had now a single car. No I didn’t. How was that even possible?

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2018-08-31 - Passenger Automation Change

Category Randall

Today we’re running something a bit different:

The Doodlebug is back to replace the RDC which is currently dismantled on the bench.

The Amtrak GE unit is back with two coach cars. Jim spend quite some time checking the cars were carefully weighted and made sure they would stay on the track.

2018-08-22 - Something Unexpected

Category Randall

This was rather unexpected:

The passenger automation currently runs with two UP engines. Then once the passenger train goes back to the station, the RDC goes out. Although they use the same track, they shouldn’t be on the same block at once.

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2018-08-11 - Today’s Saturday Running

Category Randall

For a change of scenery, today’s Saturday running has the TGV Atlantique in Multiple Units:

The TGV going over a wooden trestle bridge is a contrast that I enjoy every single time:

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2018-07-18 - Automation and Electrical Power Control

Category Randall

Four days ago, a derailment of the Amtrak train occurred. This was left unattended for a while. The end result is that both trucks on one of the Amfleet coaches melted. I didn’t even have a remote idea this was possible. I did not get a chance to see the damage first hand nor how it occured. One possibility I can consider is that there was a short and it lasted long enough to somehow produce heat and melt the trucks.

Photos: J. Evans.

That left me speechless. Not for long though.

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2018-07-01 - RC Filters and DCC signal quality

Category Randall

From the always excellent Gurries’ web site:

One thing I have experienced a few times at Randall are unresponsive engines. Luckily it is not a very frequent thing and each time I have seen it only on very specific engines. My first TGV unit using a custom LokSound V3.5 had the issue -- when running it after a while on very busy Saturday ops days, it would sometimes cease to reply. I “fixed” the issue by switching to another decoder, a newer LokSound V4.

However I have seen the same issue with other operators’ engines. Very very specific ones, and luckily not that many. I can think of a handful of cases.

A while ago that made me think whether using “snubbers” (RC filters) would be a possible choice, and if yes, where should they be located. Thus the link to Gurries’ web site above.

Unfortunately, when I read his “ideal bus wiring”, it seems to me that the Randall’s wiring is hitting all the wrong spots.

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2018-06-20 - Randall Repairs: Turnouts T370-T371

Category Randall


Turnout T370 + T371 (between bridge and signal bridge on Summit).


Cold joint at junction between B360 and T370.

Summary Fix

Bond wire around B370 and T370 rail (engineer side).

Description of Issue

Reports of trains stopping on turnouts T370 / T371, between bridge and signal on Summit.

Tried running two engines (GP9 5913, F40PH 506 from automation) and easily encountered the issue.

Measured voltage when engine stops: there was none.

Pushing the rails or the frogs (even so slightly with the voltmeter) immediately fixed the issue.

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