Questions from a newbie...

Discussion in 'Getting Started' started by UncleJim, Dec 1, 2006.

  1. UncleJim

    UncleJim New Member

    I'm very new at model railroading so please bear with me. I was visiting my parents this past Thanksgiving holiday in Wisconsin and my mom asked me to help her set up a couple train sets she recently acquired from a garage sale. I've never set up a train set before, neither have my parents. I thought to myself that it shouldn't be too difficult so I went down into the basement and saw that my parents had already completed the bench work (plywood attached to 2X4 legs). I found a layout in one of the manuals and and we laid the track (basically and oval with a figure 8 inside).

    After getting everything set up we put one train on it and ran it a bit. All went well. Since my mom had two trains, we decided to put the second train on the track and were able to run both trains together... that is until one of the trains caught up to the other... or when they both met at a crossing :oops: . That's when we knew we had to make some changes. Our layout didn't have any switches, so running two trains at the same time wasn't working out. Since then, I've been reading alot and trying to learn more about model railroading. This is what I'm starting to realize. By installing some switches in the lauout, we can run two trains on the same track and avoid collisions. But the person running the trains would need to be on their toes so that they throw the switches at the right time. Am I right? But the thing I don't like is the human factor here... I mean we're all prone to error and one lapse in judgement and here comes another train wreck.

    So just recently I started reading about "Insulated Train Blocks", "BLock Signals", and "Semaphores". All these terms are brand new to me but it seems like this is what I need to learn next to accomplish what I want, and that is to run two trains simultaneously without them colliding. Am I on the right track? (no pun intended :) ).

    For me, the learning curve is quite steep right now, but I find it all very interesting and I enjoy the technical side of this hobby equally as much as the artistic side. I am really glad I found this forum and I hope you all don't mind some of my very basic questions.
  2. Triplex

    Triplex Active Member

    Insulated blocks will allow you to control two trains independently. Signals are what the real railroads use to prevent collisions, etc... They're entirely non-essential for a model.
  3. UncleJim

    UncleJim New Member

    I see... so by utilizing insulated blocks and contactors (?) I can automate the switching process... and let the trains do the switching for me?
  4. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Not exactly.

    There are all kinds of (expensive) ways to automate the trains, mostly involving digital controls and possibly an interface with a computer. It is also possible to do it with analog equipment using sensors and relays and so on, but that is not a light undertaking either.

    The "traditional" way to control two trains on one layout is to divide the track into electrically isolated "blocks", and through a series of electrical switches, send power to the train from its own dedicated controller.

    The "new" way - which has been around for a decade or more now - is "DCC" - Digital Command Control, which is basically a computer network. Power is on all the time, and the eninges only respond to commands that are meant specifically for them.

    DCC will allow you to have signals and so on that operate the way the real thing does, and possibly even to make the trains obey the signals, but most layouts do not do this, as it can be complicated not to mention expensive.

    What scale are you working with? HO? O?

  5. baldwinjl

    baldwinjl Member

    Insulating blocks basically means that each block can be controlled by a separate controller, and you use electrical switches to choose which controller is hooked to which block. There are ways this can be automated, but it is not really practical in a real sense.

    If you want to be able to actually control the trains rather than the track you can use a DCC (Digital Command Control) system. In this system commands to the locomotives are sent through the track along with the power. Each locomotive has a unique address, and only responds to commands sent to it. The downside here is that the expense is somewhat higher than for block control (though depending on the situation not as much as it appears). The upside is that the wiring (once you understand how things work) is generally easier, and the control or the trains is much more intuitive.

  6. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    Jim: How simple or complex do you want to make the operations? The simplest method is to have 2 separate loops - one oval, one figure 8 inside it -- and run one train on each. This will eliminate collisions and let you control each train separately.
    The next involves having a siding with switches at each end and storing one train on a siding and letting the other run. OK, you actually have 2 sidings -- one inside, the other the main line -- and an on/off switch for each siding.
    After this, you get into having blocks all around the layout and on/off switches or power pack selectors for each of them.

    One thing to avoid: a reverse loop. If you can run around the track and come back on a piece of track going in the opposite direction, you have a reverse loop and there are electrical complications. One example is if you join a figure 8 along the sides to get an oval with two crossover tracks in it. It looks basic, but the wiring is fiendish until you have a bit more experience.
  7. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    If you want to have two trains running and be able to turn them on and forget them while they run, you need to do 2 separate loops with 2 throttles. You can run 2 trains with insulated blocks, but anytime you are running 2 or more trains on the same track, the operator needs to pay close attention to them to avoid wrecks.
  8. nkp174

    nkp174 Active Member

    UncleJim, have you visited a local hobby shop? If you don't know where there is one, check the phone book or post a question on here. At hobbyshops, you can commonly purchase a book such as 101 trackplans. That'll give you some ideas about how to layout track, and Model Railroader magazine commonly has many tips as well. Most of us here would also love to help advise you on model railroading. It is a hobby that can be so simple that a 5yr old can enjoy, or so in depth that you can fill a basement with tools and build a giant 30'x30' empire with all scratch built trains, track, scenery, and structures.

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