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The Randall Museum in San Francisco hosts a large HO-scale model train layout. Created by the Golden Gate Model Railroad Club starting 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 Randall project and I maintain a separate blog for all my electronics not directly related to Randall.

2019-02-15 - Randall Repairs: Mainline Turnouts

Category Randall

Affected

All non-DCC manual Mainline Turnouts

Description

Turnout toggle T320 was shorting between its inputs and made the non-DCC turnout power supply shutdown.

Summary Fix

Temporarily disconnected Mountain Turnout panel.
The turnout toggle still needs to be replaced.

Description of Issue

A few hours after temporarily fixing T320 on 2019-02-13, the mainline turnouts stopped working while I was trying to switch in the Stockton Yard.

Slow-motion turnouts are powered by two regulated DC power supplies, one for DCC turnouts and one for non-DCC turnouts (there’s a 3rd AC power supply for twin-coil turnouts as used in the yards). Checking them showed that the non-DCC turnout power supply had shutdown. This happens would typically when there’s a short on the power bus and the power supply protects itself.

The power supply has a 10A fuse in serie on its output, so a quick test is to simply open the fuse, and indeed this allows the power supply to start again. Once the circuit was open, with a ohmmeter I checked the turnout power bus and it cleared showed a short.

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2019-02-13 - Randall Repairs: Turnout T320

Category Randall

Affected

Turnout T320 (crossover from B321 to B320).

Description

The point on the turnout on B321 was not throwing completely in Normal position, thus sometimes trying to diverge engines & shorting.

Summary Fix

Temporarily fixed by forcing turnout in Normal direction & disconnected control wires from Switch-8 to prevent activation. Needs more work.

Description of Issue

T320 is a crossover that brings trains from block B321 to B320 in our normal running direction.

After working flawlessly for 2 weeks, the automated trains started stopping and shorting on this turnout last week.

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2019-02-10 - Fairfield Industrial Yard

Category Randall

Right in the middle of the layout is a fairly large industrial city. When visitors walk in, it’s right in the middle visible above the Mountain Panels.

When I discovered the layout back in 2014, this part of the layout was not powered, and it is still not functional today. I had started looking at it back in 2015 and realized there would be quite some work involved in making it fully functional (as in “tedious but not impossible”). But does it need to be fully functional? Since the layout runs as an “automated exhibit” now 4 days a week, I just realized this area has some great potential for some simple but effective automation even within its current state, and that would add great value to the visitors.

This represents the industrial park of the Fairfield, California and includes a good portion of street running. I am not sure what year this represents. This was designed for switching. There’s a dedicated control panel in front of it (see below).

The track plan:

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2019-01-27 - NYC 4-6-4 Hudson pulling the Automated Freight

Category Randall

Courtesy of Tom Eikerenkotter and Jim Evans, the freight train is now pulled by a New York Central Hudson steam engine:


Train 5278 approaches the Sonora Station pulling a short freight.

As usual, computer automation controls the train movement, light, bell, and whistle. It starts when motion is detected in the room. This route works in “shuttle” mode. The train automatically moves to the small station and then reverses to the main station after a short stop:


A NYC J-1 Hudson (4-6-4) pulls our short freight train on the Automated Line on the HO Scale DCC Layout at Randall Museum, San Francisco.

New York Central “Hudson” 4-6-4 steam engines were originally built by ALCO for NYC in 1927-1931 to pull passenger trains. Our operation is unique, pulling a short freight train with an SP caboose! ;-)


2018-12-29 - Visual Guides & Labeling

Category Randall

One of the issues we were having lately was how to explain to the staff & operators where the trains are supposed to be stopped when they are idle at the station.

The automation computer only cares about the train being on the proper block, but there’s no strong indication of where the blocks start and end. There are no road-side markers, and the gaps in the track can be fairly hard to spot for the non initiated.

Jim came up with the excellent idea of placing little HO-sized cars where the trains stop. I further added some labels:

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2018-12-26 - Sonora / Branchline Update

Category Randall

The Branchline mets the Mainline at a point named “Angel Camp”. Although we have the Rapido RDC stationed here, I thought it looked a bit empty. There are interchange tracks and a 3-tracks yard. So I added this today:

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2018-12-21 - RDC Hide & Seek

Category Randall

The RDC stopped working today. Even when looking for it, we could not find it. It wasn’t at the station, it wasn’t stuck at the reversing block, and it was on no other part of the Branchline I could think of. After crawling under the layout and looking under the scenery and not finding it, I went back to the front of the layout and finally noticed this.

There’s a short tunnel at this place. On the other side is the canyon trestle bridge, and it’s nearly impossible to spot the engine in the tunnel from the other side’s angle. The amusing thing is that it fits nicely in this little short tunnel

The good part is that there was nothing visibly wrong with the Rapido engine and it started working just fine once I moved it somewhere else. Issue was just dirty track, as we had not cleaned that one in a little while, so I did scrub that a bit and then cleaned the engine wheels.


2018-12-15 - Automation Train Changes

Category Randall

The main automated route operates two trains in alternance. We used to have an Amtrak GE engine with one coach car, and a Santa Fe pulling that little freight train.

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2018-12-12 - Randall Repairs: Turnout T161

Category Randall

Affected

Turnout T161 (end of siding between Bridgeport & Sultan).

Description

Intermittent loss of power on frog. Eventually turnout motor stopped.

Summary Fix

Replaced Fulgurex motor by another one.

Description of Issue

We’ve had engines stop-and-go on turnout T161 for several months, especially steam engines, or short non-MU engines. The turnout was always in the normal position when this happened.

The turnout is hard of access as it’s more than 3 feet away from fascia, and the only other access is above the adjacent mainline which partially covers the turnout motor.

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2018-11-22 - More Automated Routes

Category Randall

Based on last week experimentation at Randall, here are a few more idea of automated routes, with a focus on what would be needed to make them happen. To be clear, none of this will happen any time soon, or even at all.

1- Trolley

Jim got this little trolley a while -- it is the Atlantic City from Bowser streetcar. We’re not using it yet and I can see two automation options:

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