Monday, 12 June 2017

Urban Transport - With a difference!

Back in May half-term we had a holiday in Italy, and made a couple of day trips into the nearby city - Venice. Everyone knows Venice is an unusual city in having canals instead of roads, and you probably picture the stereotypical image of the traditional Gondolas in a serene setting. Of course the truth is a busy and sometimes congested city - which as someone interested in transport generally, I found quite fascinating.

IMG_3209

Here's the Grand Canal - the main thoroughfare of the city - right outside the station (far right behind the bridge). I can't see a Gondola, but there are at least 10 water-taxi's visible, and three Vaporetto's - these are the water busses, the public transport system of this city. The one outside the station to the right is just departing from the bus-stop, the yellow and grey shelter on a pontoon. I'll come back to the yellow craft in the centre later.

IMG_3191

Here's a typical Vaporetto that would operate on the Grand Canal and to nearby islands. The Vaporetto's are the Underground system of Venice, albeit with a better view, providing a frequent service through the city and the "suburbs" around the wider lagoon for residents, and tourists too. This one holds over 200 passengers, the large gate behind the driver's cabin allowing commuters to board and leave the craft quickly at the stops, which have near-level entry platforms (floating) and modern electronic ticket systems. Routes are numbered and colour coded, with a London-Underground style schematised route map, making travel around the city easy.

IMG_3181

Here are a couple of smaller Vaporettos passing in Murano, an adjacent island, which operate the less busy routes and use narrower canals. I think they are more attractive boats though they are still highly functional, with the wide gates and standing areas. Meanwhile much larger boats operate the commuter routes around the lagoon, up to triple-deck vessels carrying 900+ people as we used to get into the city.

IMG_3184

The water taxi's are all to the same, elegant design. The driver (is that the right term?) is up front where passengers can board, there is then a comfortable cabin and behind that an open deck. Here I spotted a boatyard with one out of the water, while the one in the foreground is entering the strops used by the crane to hoist them out.

IMG_3050

At last, a quiet canal with a Gondola! But what's that noise? The bin-lorry doing the rounds, but of course this is a different sort of garbage truck. I find the working boats more interesting than the touristy Gondolas. Note the driver-operated crane for the wheelie-bin, which has bottom doors to ease emptying into the barge. Beyond is a delivery barge, the Venetian equivalent of a Transit van, mostly seen carrying drinks and food (in refrigerated versions) to the cafe's and hotels, though I did see one delivering a new kitchen and another with a sofa on it...

IMG_3202

Here's another delivery barge (with it's own crane) being passed by a police boat - of course in this town the police must use boats too! It has a blue flashing light and siren horns on the bow, with a powerful headlight. I wonder if they have a radar gun?

IMG_3094

Another police boat, this time Carabinieri. I'm confused by the multiple Italian police forces, but this one is either more important or better funded than the Polizia Locale, as the boat looks more sleek...

IMG_3036

The police aren't the only emergency service that use the canals, here's an Ambulance (there was one in the picture at the top of the post too). It's fully equipped with medical staff, sirens, and a radar, and certainly seem able to travel at quite a pace.

Oh, and where do you go if you run out of fuel?

IMG_3183

Monday, 22 May 2017

Latching Fiddle Yard Mechanism - A Prototype

The Sussex Downs 009 group are building a new layout, and discussion at the last meeting came to how we'd build the fiddle yards. The design calls for two turn-tables each with 4 tracks, that are able to quickly change between trains and turn them without handling. This is far from a new idea, the traditional design uses a sliding bolt (as seen on doors and gates) to provide both mechanical alignment and electrical contact to each track. A simple idea that works well enough, but in the smaller scales, the need for precise alignment conflicts with the need for the bolt to slide and engage easily, which can mean they can be stiff or fiddly to use.

I saw an idea posted on a forum some time back that used a pivoted lever with a notch that engaged on metal edges aligned with and underneath the tracks, all that was needed was to depress the lever to release the engagement and move the deck until the next one engaged. The problem was it was bulky and required a lot of space below the deck, which the club layout design didn't allow. I felt the concept was sound though, and after some thought I came up with way that a similar idea could work in much less space, and be constructed with minimal need for accuracy and without special tools or skills.

Ideas are all well and good, but the only way to be sure it works in practice is to try it out. So I raided the garage for leftover bits of wood and PVC foam-board, and with literally no expense spared incurred, built a mock-up over a couple of spare hours at the weekend. The size was dictated by the materials to hand - the deck is about 18" long and 9" wide, long enough to demonstrate it - while construction is somewhat crude. I've added other ideas too like the handle/gate. Now, let me show you the idea...

1_Overview_

An over-view with the deck turned to the front track. On the deck are three pieces of PCB to which tracks would be attached, and through them the top of a brass tube/pin protrudes and is soldered. The handle we’ll come to later. To the left is the release mechanism – push the wooden lever to the left to unlock the deck to turn. The lever was an afterthought "improvement" - initially I just pushed the wing-nut (which could have been a nice wooden knob) to the right, but the lever is nicer to use. I guess that's the point of the mock-up!

2_LockingMechanism_Top

Under the deck you can see a brass “latch” (triangular with a notch at the top) attached to a pivoted lever, the free end of which is moved by the release knob (bolt) - and now the lever too (fitted after I took this photo). The support for the deck is shaped for a particular reason.

3_Underside

From underneath you can see the three location pins (brass tubes) protruding down through the deck, and the latch arm locking mechanism which pivots on the lower wooden block, the other end slides on the upper wooden block.

4_LockingMech_Below

The latch arm close up, the bottom is the pivot, the top rotates as per the arrows, and is pushed by the bottom of the wooden lever. The high-tech tension device (rubber band in this mock-up, but a spring would be better!) pulls on back the latch arm. The bass latch can be seen with a wire from it, and against one of the slopes a location pin can be seen from the deck. As the deck is rotated this slides up the brass latch by pushing against the lever until it drops into the vee shaped notch, holding it securely and making electrical contact between the brass latch and the PCB above.

5_SideView

The location pins only protrude about 5 mm below the deck so clear the frame of the board – the foamboard is 5 mm thick - and at the top, protrude just far enough to be soldered to the PCB, and not foul locos passing over them. The rest of the mechanism is contained within the frame. This makes it reasonably straightforward to build this mechanism, and contain it within a conventional design and depth of baseboard.

7_HandleFoldedToRotate

Back to the handle. In the up position the tracks are clear, but when pushed right over the bottom of the handle uprights contact the supporting board below stopping excess movement. With the handle folded down the deck is free to rotate beyond the last track – i.e. can turn right around - as seen here.

Operation is simple: simply push the lever  to disengage the pin and rotate the deck, once the lever is released the deck latches at the next track that it aligns with. As the brass pins are round, and the notch is vee shaped (with rounded entry), alignment is actually very precise - as the pin reliably self-centres in the vee. No effort is required by the user to achieve this, the deck is simply rotated until the pin clicks into place. Electrical contact is also made connecting the aligned PCB (i.e. table track) to the fixed track.

This system would be just as useful on a traverser or sector plate as a turn-table, and had I thought of it a couple of years back, I'd have used it on my "exhibition" fiddle yard for Awngate instead of the micro-switches. Some of the construction details could be improved from my quick mock-up, but overall I'm happy to say the concept works well.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Decoding the Wiring Enigma

I don't do a wiring diagram, but I do plan out the wiring before I start. The key is the track plan, with track feeds marked, and a "code" given to each feed, point, and indeed each wire. The wires are connected from switches to track and point motors, via terminal blocks, following the codes to label each wire.

Hexworthy has just four points, I've labelled A to D. Each has a feed to it's frog (in this case, the wire dropper from the PECO points) which is switched by the point motor, and I've labelled them Af, Bf, etc. There are 5 switched track sections labelled 1-5, I put the feed into the rear rail (as the wire is less visible) and only gap that rail, so fewer "common return" feeds (labelled R) are required. Because of the live frog points breaks are required in both rails of both joins between the red and green sections.

HexworthyWiring

The switch wiring schedule is pretty straightforward, the table above shows the wire codes for the input and output of each switch. "T" is the controller track output, and "P" is the point motor power from the capacitor discharge unit (CDU). Note that the sections may be fed from the adjacent track, so for example section 5 is only live if section 4 is switched on and point C is set to the siding, as well as switch 5 being on.

Wiring to and from the switches is via screw terminal blocks that make the wiring easier to follow, make joining wires easier, and providing a point to de-bug if needed. There are terminal blocks for the incoming power supplies (from a 6-pin DIN socket), the connections to the panel, and as shown previously - one for each point motor which includes the frog switching as well as the motor connections. From the track plan it can be seen which rails are being switched, so the inputs come from the section, return, or previous frog feed - this saves extra wires to the rails. Example terminal block connections are shown above, the colours indicate the wire colour used.

IMG_2990

This is the result with all the wiring in place - surprisingly complex for such a simple track plan! At the top of the picture the control panel is lifted out to access the switches at the rear, below it the terminal block feeding the switches can be seen. On the right are the connections to the power socket, note that the return wires are linked over two terminals to make room for multiple connections. Below and left can be seen two of the point motor connections. All terminals are labelled with the wire code denoting the connection to switch, point motor, or track, so wiring up is simply joining the dots.

IMG_2991

The other end of the board is a little less busy. All that remains is to tidy the cables, bundling together with tie wraps or a twist of wire, and securing where necessary.

You can see I've cut a slot in the foam-core, that's a hand-hole. I was finding it difficult to find places to grip when moving the layout around!

IMG_2989

Up top the markings for the feed wires can be seen - and if you look closely, the wires can be seen soldered to the rails. I feed the wire through a hole in the board and form the end into a "7" shape, tin the end, and hold it against the rail web while pressing a soldering iron against it until the solder flows - hopefully giving a neat and secure join.

The loco is on a test run. I'm pleased to report it all worked first time! The careful planning has paid off.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Panel Games

Before wiring can commence I needed to finish the control panel, which had been mounted into the front fascia of the baseboard. The schematic is laid out on the computer - I use Word, which has simple drawing tools that allows objects to be drawn to a measured size so the printed size is known. The drawing is duplicated, one has the switches drawn in place - ensuring there is space between them, and marking the centres. This print-out is stuck on the aluminium panel, and the centres of the switches punched.

IMG_2940

I then took the panel into work and used a pillar drill for the switch holes, and not forgetting the screw holes in each corner. These took a bit of cleaning up with various files.

IMG_2941

On the back of the panel I also drilled a small hole part-way through above each hole, this is to locate the tab on the keyed washer that stops the switch from rotating. The second print-out (without the switches drawn on) is cut to fit, including switch holes, as is a piece of clear plastic. I used a piece of packaging, but anything clear, stiff, and about 10 thou thick will do. The switches are mounted through the three layers.

IMG_2942

With the panel screwed in place the result is a neat, easy to follow panel for surprisingly little effort. Recessing the panel means the edge of the plastic and paper layers aren't seen or vulnerable. I've added coloured rubber grips to the section switches to match the diagram, while point motor switches are left silver.

IMG_2992

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Fitting Point Motors

I gave some thought as to which point motors to use. Slow-acting motors have become popular, and we're using Tortoise motors on the latest club layout, which seem well designed and made. However they are very deep, and even the 3.5" depth of the Hexworthy base-board is insufficient, so they don't suit shelf layouts. They are also pricey, and I've heard mixed reviews of cheaper versions, even though I only need four I find it tricky to justify £10-20 per point. The thing is, I don't really see the need for slow acting motors - whenever I've seen a real point move it's with a "clang" that takes less than a second. OK, so solenoids go faster and with a "Thunk", is that worse than a 2-3 second "whrrrrrr"? It's never bothered me...

Servos have started to become popular in recent years. They are cheap, but need a mounting arrangement, and a circuit to drive them - while there are various options for this (including from PECO) they do push the cost up and they aren't simple. I've also heard reports of them "jittering" or moving due to voltage spikes or noise from motors.

Solenoids are relatively cheap, reliable, and simple. My choice are SEEP motors, they are easy to fit under the baseboard with no extra fittings, and have the necessary built in switch for frog polarity switching. Those on Awngate were salvaged from a previous layout and so are probably over 20 years old, I admit they're not used intensively but I've only ever had one failure - and that was repaired. I already have the Capacitor Discharge Unit (CDU) in my power-pack to drive them, and a simple passing contact switch or push button is all that's needed to operate them.

The one problem I have had is that the motor requires enough movement to switch the switch properly, but on Awngate with a 6mm baseboard the movement of the 009 point tie-bar was barely enough, requiring some careful set-up. It struck me that the motor can travel further than the tie bar as the pin invariably flexes a little, so if the motor was further from the point the excess movement could be increased, and the need to site the motor perfectly would be reduced.

IMG_2811

Firstly a ruler was set along the tie-bar and a pin pushed through the foam an inch or two from either end. Underneath the board the pin holes were joined with a pencil line marking the line of the tie-bar, the point motor should align with this to work effectively. Next the hole for the actuator pin was opened up from below with a scalpel, wider at the underside than above, ensuring the pin cannot foul on the foam-core (which is double-thickness, so 10mm deep here) even if the motor travels further than the point tie-bar. The hole was later painted black. Note the wire in the centre of the picture, which is the dropper from the point crossing vee/frog.

IMG_2810

Previously I've glued the SEEP point motor base directly to the underside of the baseboard. I figured it would make them easier to change in the event of a failure if they were screwed in place, so I made some mounts from 9 mm ply. The big hole clears the actuator pin and the motor is attached with a couple of small screws, a couple of pencil lines mark the centre-lines. You'll note the motor is now about 19 mm below the point.

IMG_2928

From above the points were wedged to the centre position with a couple of strips of plastic behind each blade, I think they were about 30 thou but it was whatever fitted. The blu-tak holds the wedges while I invert the baseboard.

IMG_2927

The motors were held centrally by a piece of plastic cut to fit between the coils, and a hole for the pin. The pin was pushed into the tie-bar hole and the ply stuck in place (PVA is fine), aligning the centre-lines as it sets. After the glue is dry the plastic pieces are removed, the excess pin is marked, the screws were removed to release the motor, and the pin cut down. They're tough steel so a slitting disc in a mini-drill is best for the job.

IMG_2944

While the motors were out I soldered wire tails to the contacts - much easier on the bench. I've added these the same to all the motors, long enough to reach a 6-way terminal block connector, which you will note is sited so that the wire dropper from the point frog connects straight in. The grey wire is the switched (frog) output, the white pair are for the stock rails, the green pair are the switched motor feeds to the solenoids, and the black is the return from the solenoids.

In theory I'll be able to change a motor with 8 screws - two holding it, and 6 wires - provided it has the same length pin and wires pre-attached, so I may prepare a spare for exhibitions. Now though I need to finish the wiring and check they all work.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Historic Futuristic Travel

Looking for an interesting day out with the kids over the Easter break I spotted an offer with Hovertravel for cheap day returns to the Isle of Wight. Now I think Hovercraft are a pretty fascinating form of transport - technically, they are flying rather than sailing - and there isn't anywhere else you can ride one as a scheduled passenger service.

IMG_2821

Hovertravel run a service connecting Southsea (with a big car-park) to Ryde in just 10 minutes, which is used by a lot of commuters in both directions. How about that for a journey to work? They are, I think, quite majestic as they roar across the see, swoosh over sand, shingle, and concrete, and relax onto the ground with a sigh of the engines. Quick, and quite civilised, if a little noisy!

IMG_2815

It seems a futuristic way to travel except that they've been around since the late 1950's and don't seem to have caught on more widely, the cross-channel service stopped in 2000 and the craft we travelled on is around 30 years old. Hovertravel see a future though, having invested in new Hovercraft built in Southampton, but sadly the new arrival seems to be sitting in disgrace, with transmission trouble.

IMG_2850

I do hope it's sorted and secures a future for Hovercraft, but while the new model looks more sleek, I think I prefer the old one - it has more windows, and what use is travelling so fast if you can't see that you are?

The Isle of Wight has figured out integrated transport. Outside the hover terminal is the railway station - which continues down the pier to connect with the newer but slower catamaran service - and the bus station. We chose the train, which runs a frequent and reasonably priced service down to Shanklin over electrified lines. That sounds modern and efficient, but visitors may be surprised by the train they find...

IMG_2846

Yes, that's an underground train. In fact it's a 1938 London Underground train - which, if you think about it, makes it older than most of the carriages seen on preserved railways across the UK. And yet this is part of Britain's national rail network, operated by SouthWest Trains! By some quirks of history a small fleet of these trains have been found ideal to run this short line, making for an interesting journey with the varnished wood and springy seats inside. Mind you the seats need to be soft as the ride at 40+mph is quite alarming, bouncing and swaying quite violently. As the guard (yes, they still have them) commented, it's as good as any fairground ride.

IMG_2822

So, a day out to the Isle of Wight. We went back in time and travelled into the future.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Two shows in one day

I was rather spoilt for choice today, with several shows within striking distance, but I couldn't visit all of them. I did work out that I could make time for two if they were in the same direction, so I started with a long trip up to the M25 to the 7mm NG Association Surrey Group show in Merstham.

IMG_2874

It was nice to see Cranbrook Town again after a good few years, it has real character that has survived several changes of ownership and is now owned by Paul Davies.

IMG_2889

Totherend (Roger Jones) was new to me, with a quirky layout and working standard-gauge wagon transporters it offers something a little different. Nice locos too.

IMG_2861

Morton Stanley was recently featured in Railway Modeller, and shows how an interesting layout in this scale need not take up great space or expense. It may be the last time I see it though, as builders Chris Ford and Nigel Hill have it up for sale - if you are interested!

These, along with most of the 11 layouts were O-16.5. More photos from the event can be found here. There was also the 7mm NGA sales stand and a few specialist traders, plus some familiar faces to catch up with.

A short while later I was at the Crawley MRS exhibition - confusingly, in Horsham. This is one of the larger club shows and has a good number of layouts and traders, and was of more interest to my son. And I always find something I need at the Squires stand. Now I do find many of the traditional club layouts (big ovals with a station) a bit, well, lacking in interest to be honest, but there were some layouts that caught my eye.

IMG_2896

Narrow Gauge is always of interest and Theobald’s yard (Orpington and District Model Railway Society) mixes 7mm SG with 16.5mm gauge with some remarkable track-work and quirky trains.

IMG_2908

The World's End is a well-known OO layout with some superb buildings and scenic work. OK, the trains just trundle through, though they are prototypical, but it is the modelling that makes the layout worth studying.

IMG_2914

More modelling worth studying was found on Newhurst, a 7mm SG layout. Oh, the trains were nice too, but the scenery made it stand out.

More photos from Horsham here.