Langstead – Episode 12: Rails

There’s been a lot of talk about Salford Chapel and as a result I haven’t posted on my Main Layout for a while so it’s time for a couple of updates… 
A Minor Derailment 
I’m not going to lie. You’re going to get derailments on your model railway… Mimicking real life? Well you’d hope not, but let’s not forget we’re dealing with moving parts a 76th of the size of their real life counterparts. It’s bound to happen every now and then. I’ve even been at exhibitions where I’ve seen it occur, so don’t worry it – it happens in the pros… You’ll quickly find out that there are either certain types of rolling stock or certain areas of track that potentially cause frequent problems. There are usually some common causes. 
Above is an example of a the common Hornby Point (R8072/3). Common because the curve on it fits the 2nd radius oval standard set by Hornby and thus slots easily into most layouts. (Here you can see them littering my layout). The problem with these are they aren’t really designed for trains to run over the curved alignment at (what I’d consider to be) mainline speed. 
You’d be better off using this, the Hornby Express Point. Named aptly for more appropriate line switching at higher speeds. For realism they look and work a lot better, but for the space conscious modeller, myself included, they take up more room and do not fit so nicely into the design of your layout. 
Why do the standard points cause derailments you might ask? Well, certain rolling stock have a tendency to jump the guide/check rails and/or frogs – but I will come to this shortly.
99% derailment issues will happen over points but there’s usually other factors involved…
Rolling Stock Wheel Base: 
Remember these? Well I have a set of three, and in certain scenarios they are a real problem child going over the aforementioned points. Being pulled – they’re not a problem – and I think this is because the loco or next wagon is providing some guidance. However when shunted/pushed the lead wheels tend to slip up and over the frog (this is the ‘V’ shape made by the adjoining rails). 
Different wagons are fine over the same stretch of track in the same conditions. It just so happens that the wheel base of these wagons are such that they are derailing in this scenario. Not a lot you can do in terms of altering the wheel base but there is a solution which I’ll get to shortly.
Bogie Type:     
The Parcel Van pictured above has only 2 wheels at each end. In this example the axel is fixed, and this van causes me no problems what so ever. I do however have a version of a similar sized van where the axel is allowed to pivot. Just like a 4 wheel bogie setup on a coach or loco. 
This is just asking for trouble.
These unusual 2 wheel bogies slip over points regardless of push/pull formation and regardless of direction. I’m not sure if such vans exist in real life? It doesn’t appear to be a very good idea. Hornby seemed to have reverted to fixing the axels on later models.
My suggestion if you have any offending vans would be to run them at the rear of your train. I’ve also noticed they actually prefer running at speed when being pulled. More tension in the coupling and a more precise guidance perhaps. They certainly don’t work very well being pushed at speed that’s for sure. 

Coupling Mismatch:
This is a new problem. All Hornby models of old had the same sized coupling components. Nice big chunky hooks  and bars with plenty of give.
Newer models though (and those of different brands) are fitted with these daintier versions. Smaller hooks and smaller catchment areas. The result means a closer coupling and better realism. Using these new couplings together, no problem. There’s a slight flex in the joint for running on curves and they work perfectly. Problems start to arise when you use the old and new type together. The larger hooks tend not to fit in the smaller catchment area, and the smaller hooks often unlatch from older couplings. 9 out of 10 times though, you’ll get it working, however be aware that occasionally whilst being shunted (and not surprisingly over points) the couplings may knock each other in ways that will derail your wagons. 
So now we know some derailment causes what can you do about them? 
Well, I’ve already outlined a few pointers. Stay away from the weird 2 wheel bogie vans, try to couple like for like wagons and be aware that some stock will cause you problems. I’m not going to say, ‘Don’t buy X and Y they always derail’, because chances are elsewhere on your layout they’ll work fine. It always seems to happen in those really specific places. 
Now, if those places are the standard Hornby (Or Peco by the way) point – here’s a potential fix. 
It just so happened that a new loco I got for Christmas was frequently derailing at these set of points. This was bemusing because up until now these points hadn’t caused me any problems. Unfortunately this will almost certainly happen to you. One fullproof set of points for all your rolling stock will inexplicably be a problem for that certain one train, coach or wagon!
(For the following explanation imagine loco running from right to left on the curved allignment). 
On closer examination I noticed that the wheels of the train appeared to be coming astray just after the frog on the outer rail. It was only until I observed the other side of the train on the inner rail did I realise that the check rail just wasn’t doing its job properly. 
To solve this I improvised extending the check rail by introducing some unused sleepers either side. 
Success! The sleeper, now acting as a further check rail, pulls the wheels back on course. I’ve since read up on the internet about hornby point derailment cases and learnt that older hornby points (of which I had) were known to have smaller check rails. Newer ones have been improved but if you’re experiencing derailment issues why not try this!
I applied the same method to other problem points and this even solved the issue created by the odd wheel base wagons! 
Completing The Roadway
Elsewhere on my layout this is what I’ve been up to…
You may remember from previous episodes that I left a gap in ballast laying to leave room for a level crossing. Well now it is time to plug that gap.
Most good model shops will stock thin cuttable plastic (normally in white). These come in a variety of flavours ranging from piping to girding and from stairways to thin strips. 
They also do fairly large sheets, and this offering from Evergreen I’ve have cut to shape the curvature of the track and stuck down with superglue. 
If you’ve not opted for one of the many pre-made level crossings out there and you are planning a level crossing on a straight section of track, this will be a pretty simple procedure of marking, measuring and cutting. I, however, have made things difficult for myself by locating the crossing on a curved section of track. This was initially done to save sections of straight track for points as space was at a premium. 
After a few failed attempts of cutting the plastic by simply winging it I came up with a solution…
Take a spare piece of track that matches the curve radius you are trying to mark out. Turn it upside down and then you can mark where the rail touches the plastic. This will in turn create three pieces: One piece to fit outside of either rail and one piece to fit inside (this will need to be trimmed so the wheels do not touch it). Put these in place and keep making sure a variety of rolling stock will run over it with no faults. Once you’re happy you can stick it down as I have above. I’ve then started to stick roadway and pavement down.
I opted to paint the centre pieces rather than cut out further fiddly pieces of roadway. 
The finished article both without… (The gap in the pavement by the way is to leave room for the power supply wire).
And with train.
See those grubby looking wagons in that picture? I’ll get on to some weathering techniques next time!… Stay tuned…

Salford Chapel – Episode 1: A Side Project

As you may be aware I’ve been toying with the notion of a side project, based upon the inspiration of some of Epping Railway Circle’s end to end (or shelf – this will become an important word later on) layouts, like this one…
So far my current layout has developed from concept…
To construction…
To something that really is starting to look rather good.
If you track back to Episode 2, you’ll remember I set myself the task, amongst others, that my layout should be easy to set up and set down. This was, at the beginning, achieved successfully. However as I’ve done more, and added scenery and buildings that can be plopped down the set up and set down time gets a little longer each time. In reality there is never going to be a fast and easy solution to setting up and setting down any model railway that isn’t a permanent fixture. Especially as in my case I’m quite particular in making sure all the trains go back into their correct boxes (must’ve inherited this trait from my Dad) and all the buildings are stacked such that they’re not going to damage each other in storage. 
Now, this isn’t as big a problem as I’m making it sound. I actually quite enjoy the fact it takes a bit of time to get everything set just so. Equally as sad I also enjoy making sure everything is packed away in it’s appropriate place too, right down to putting the boards back in the cupboard; it makes me feel like I’ve successfully achieved some of my targets of this project.

What I will say is, that because setting up and setting down is a now a more lengthy process I feel more obliged to get the layout out when I know I can dedicate a weekend, or a run of days off to its use and continued construction. One day, this will not be a problem when I hopefully don’t have an as busy flat and have maybe some more space at my disposal. It would be really great to have something much smaller that doesn’t need a weekends dedication…

Don’t get me wrong, this is not an abandonment of my original project by any mile, quite the contrary, as I have some updates for you on that front from what I have worked on recently. This side project is also a chance to explore making a more of a model scene, rather than somewhere to enjoy running all the various trains I like. By this I mean there is more potential in a smaller shelf layout to explore things like setting, era and theme. After all, on an end to end layout it’s not possible to set a train going purely for the enjoynment of watching it run. The enjoyment in a shelf layout is different – there’s scope for operational planning, shuffling wagons about mimicking real life scenarios.
So here we go, rather than taking months to tell you where I’m up to on this project, most of the techniques I have already done so rather than taking months to explain where I’m up to, I will update you more swiftly…

Here’s the design. I agonised over this for quite a while, and maybe there is scope for a separate blog of how many versions of this plan I went through until I got to this one…

The dimension is 120 cm x 30 cm, why will become clear shortly.

It will feature:

  • A small terminus station, which could either be a rural location of forgotten inner city branch.
  • A number of sidings and head shunts. These will all comfortably accomodate a 2 car Pacer DMU or a tank loco + coach by design, meaning I can give this either a modern or historical setting, or preferably something neutralish so I can chop and change.
  • An out of sight ‘fiddle yard*’ (the red line) where trains will appear to vanish up the main line and into a tunnel.

*Fiddle yard is a term used by model railwayers to describe a set of sidings or track out of sight from the rest of the layout. They are usually un-landscaped and hidden in such a way to maintain the illusion of a setting for the rest of the model.

A trip to B & Q and I come back with this. It is, rather unsurprisingly, a 120cm x 30cm pine untreated shelf. (Shelf being a key word remember). This will act as my baseboard.

The track fits on it thussly…
You’ll be wondering why these dimensions?
My desk is exactly 120cm long, as is my coffee table (nearly). It’s also relatively small and inoffensive so storage is going to be no problem at all, but it’s going to be easy to move about and I can plonk it in more places when in use.

 
This time I wanted to explore the use of motorised points. Therefore I’ve raised the baseboard up by putting it on a ‘frame.’ And by ‘frame’ I mean two pieces of strip wood. I nailed the shelf to these.
Completed baseboard on frame.
I can confirm that pine will accept track pins with ease, as will it accept drilling: to come later…
I have however elected to lay down some cork on top of the baseboard which will hide the nails of the frame and also provide a uniform surface for everything else going on top.
Some modellers will find proper cork sheets. Me? I’m using floor tiles. They’re even slightly laminated which will later prove helpful when sticking things to it… They’re also rather brilliantly (roughly) 30cm x 30cm meaning I’m not going to have to cut a great deal!
PVA glue (100% as opposed to a mix with water) will do just fine here.
This time, whilst laying the track, I have drilled holes as I go for track power supplies and points. A good tip I picked up on the forums was to pre solder power supply lines to the fishplates, this will help you not melt the sleepers as I did in my other layout…
This partly worked… It would have worked better if I wasn’t using utterly rubbish solder but it did involve snapping off a bit of sleeper from some track which you’ll see in following photos.

Once this was all complete I added some point motors.

Now, I could take up a whole blog talking about point motors. They come in a variety of flavours and costs. Most modellers will opt for something that is fitted underneath the board, some even go the whole hog with wires and pulleys mimicking signalling systems of days gone by.
As this is my first go, I’ve opted for surface mounted point motors. Peco PL-11’s to be precise. They are really simple to fit – simply latch onto the side of your point and nail down. A small hole will be required for the wires to disappear under your board. (Hence the frame). Most modellers will opt for something more discrete but this is my first attempt after all.
Again you can go and get really cheap switches but I’ve elected to get the more expensive Hornby ones. This was in part because they give a much nicer, and more authentic, signal cabin lever experience but partly because they are much easier to wire.
I could go into much more detail, and maybe I will do a dedicated post about the point wiring  at some point, but essentially for PL-11: You connect the red and black wire to the switch. These dictate which way the point sets. You then connect all the green wires (these are your commons) to one side of your power supply. The other side of the power supply feeds power to the switches. In the above picture, this one is brown, but it quite hard to see.  Again, I will properly explain this all at some point. There are also good places to go to explain how to do it… Like here

Rather excitingly, all the points worked straight away! Very pleased with myself.

Wiring takes shape underneath.
Next up it’s time to start adding some ballast. Check out This Episode for a more detailed breakdown.
I’ve used a slightly different colour than before. I’ve also stuck down the platform and buildings here using some super glue.
After another trip to B & Q, I’ve obscured the fiddle yard using some strip wood. I’ve also taken the opportunity to build a bridge for some added scenic interest. (I’m going to talk more about the decisions I’ve made on the landscaping in future blogs).
Another view, the mainline disappearing into the ‘tunnel’ on the right. Cleverly hidden by the strip wood.

And that’s where we’re up to!

 

Langstead – Episode 11: Powerrrrrrrr

As the great Jeremy Clarkson once said, ‘Powwwweeerrrrrrr.’
Back in’t’day… there was only one way to power your model railway. A good old Analogue potentiometer took care of business. You can go faster. Or you can go slower. One train and one controller per track. Simple. 
More recently however the model railwaying world has been taken a storm by DCC (Digital Command Control). I’m not going to go into detail, because you can catch me chatting about DCC in Side Tracked 1 of this blog, but DCC allows for multiple trains per track, plus an array of extra such as lighting and sound via one control unit. Sounds great, but it is more expensive and you will have to convert your existing locos with special decoder chips.
One day I will invest in DCC and possibly convert some of my older stock but right now we’ll look at a couple of power issues on my good old Analogue layout.
Isolation:
First an issue with Isolation. DCC layouts can support multiple trains on the same track due to given every loco a code and powering that code accordingly. With an analogue layout, you don’t have this luxury and 9 out of 10 times the golden rule is: one train per track/loop and one train per power supply
You can of course, like I have, design your layout to have multiple loops to accommodate additional trains which can be isolated from the power supply and swapped as desired. This works perfectly well for certain point setups…
When Point C and Point D are set in favour of the Outer Loop you are isolating the outside rail of the Inner (Orange) track. Locos must receive power on both rails to work, therefore by setting C and D in this way you have definitely broken part of the circuit on the Inner (Orange) loop and your train doesn’t move. Conversely you can set C and D in favour of the Inner (Orange) loop and this Isolates the Outer Loop allowing for aforementioned train swapage. Forgive me if this is simple stuff but it helps explain the next part a bit better. 
My plan was to deploy a similar tactic for the Blue section of track, isolating a train here allowing A and B to be set to allow access to the centre siding from the Outer Loops. This is essential for maximising stock on the layout. As the following diagram will illustrate this plan was slightly flawed… 
Even with points A and B set in this way the Blue section of track is not isolated. Wherever you place a locomotive on the oval it will still pick up power from ‘Power Supply 1.’ You can check this by choosing a point on the oval and see if the red and green lines end up at the purple box (Power Supply 1). And they always do.
We therefore need to create a break in either* the Red or Green line in the Blue section of track which we want to isolate.
*Remember we only need to break one rail for the locomotive not to be part of the circuit. 
Thankfully – this is painfully simple. 
Carefully lifting up the track I was able to remove both fishplate connections just to the right of ‘Point B.’
This achieves a physical break in the track. Don’t worry though, as long as you are accurate with your nailing (back) down the track is still aligned and this doesn’t affect the running of your trains when you DON’T want to isolate this section.
When you do however, you’ll notice that in the Blue section of track the Red line (rail) is now disconnected from Power Supply 1. 
You can now safely put a train in this section whilst you move another out of the centre siding. 
A similar tactic was also employed just to the right of Point C (above). 
Some modellers will add additional isolation points and purposefully reconnect them via an on/off switch. This gives them the option to turn power on and off to sections of continuous track should they so desire.
This is something for me to consider in the future, but currently it is not required on a layout of this size.
Getting Power To The Track:
The second thing I’ve done that relates to Powweerrrrr isn’t so much an issue but more of a way of making the layout look neater. It does also help in set up/down.
Here was what I was using before…
This is the ‘Hornby Power Clip.’ You plug in your power supply to the points A/B (above) and it slots into the side of your track. This is fine for those starting out, but I find them unsightly, unreliable and restrictive of at which spots on your track they can be slotted into. 
This is how they looked on my layout. I found that once you had a wire plugged into this one (above) on the inner loop, it was encroaching and restricting the loading gauge of trains on the outter loop. Securing the wire from not getting caught up in the trains on both loops was also becoming a problem.

  

This (above) – killed two birds with one soldering iron. And some wire hooks.
Quite simply – I’ve soldered the wires straight onto the track. Then using wire hooks nailed the wire down to keep them away from trains. Eventually I will paint these black, and I think they will look like quite realistic lineside cabling! (Hopefully no OO scale people will come and steal it…).
I found it easiest to feed wires under track under fishplate joins. 
It may be worth removing a couple of the plastic sleepers where you intend to solder the wire to the track. I found it hard to avoid them melting…. The track is tough though and will accept the heat without buckling. Other modellers will solder the wire to a fishplate first, and then reconnect the fishplates to the track. This avoids being near any melting sleepers when soldering… But this sounded fiddley, so I didn’t bother. 
  
To complete the setup I ran the wires under the join and then along the side of the board. The controllers are then plugged in just out of sight on the right.
Next time I’m going to talk a little bit about adapting points to help reduce derailments. 

Langstead – Episode 3: Planning Permission

Planning Permission
 
Google has been working hard in the last few days to provide an answer to the question: ‘What shall I lay on my board first?’  
 
If you’re a little bit confused by this question, let me explain…
 
Before any track can be nailed down, we’ll need to consider what is going underneath. There are probably going to be two main colours on your board depending on what ‘scene’ you are trying to depict: Grey – for track ballast. Green – for grass and scenery. However, you may also be considering Black – for tarmac/pavement/road, Blue for coast/sea/dockyards and maybe Browns and Oranges for industrial plants/quarries/mud etc.
 
As I’m not trying to complicate things too much, I’m just going to go with Grey for ballast, and Green for general scenery. I will intend at a future date to probably add a road or a street or two, but let’s worry first about Grey and Green.
 
Before I make my final decision on what material to use let’s consider some of the options open to us. Remember – we have to get this stage right as we’ll be committing to nailing down track after this, which is sort of a point of no return. Once we’ve done this it’s going to be exceptionally difficult for us to change the base material.  So choose wisely, and do which method you feel most confident with!
 
Paint: Literally go straight onto the wood with a coat of Dulux, or Cuprinol. Whatever floats your boat.
 
Pros: Very easy. The most basic option open to us is to paint the entire board green or grey. Then once the track is nailed down we can add ballast or grass over the top depending on what colour we went with first. Alternatively we could mark out the green and grey areas first and paint those two colours accordingly. It’s going to be quick to achieve and isn’t going to be as messy as any of the alternative glue based options (bellow). I’m not sure how much paint costs, it could be expensive but I imagine if you shop around and just get as much as you need it’ll actually be pretty cheap.
Cons: It’s probably going to look pretty basic, however if you think it looks crap before you lay the track you could in theory change to one of the options further down. (Just let the paint dry first!).
 
Track Mat: Kind of like fuzzy wallpaper, you buy this stuff in roles and glue it straight to the board. Comes in a variety of sizes, colours and indeed fuzzyness.
 
 
Pros: It’s cheap and very easy to add one base colour. Glue board and lay like wall paper. Done. It’s going to look much better than paint, and just like paint we could glue down one colour, and add others over the top at a later date. 
Cons: Two colours will be slightly harder to achieve. Firstly it’ll be more expensive, and you’ll probably end up with loads of off cuts from both colours. You’ll also have to cut the mat to the shape of the track and at some point we’re going to have to join the colours together which could look rubbish if we don’t do it absolutely accurately. Again if the boards you have are bigger than the roles you buy, you’ll need to have an unsightly join line. Finally this method involves glue, and glue is always messy.  
 
Scatter: Glue goes down first, and then you sprinkle on a topping. These come in a variety of different flavours ranging from authentic looking gravel for ballast to fluffy looking shrubbery for green scenics.
 
Pros: Get it right, and it’s going to look brilliant and the best of all the options! Laying two colours will be far easier to pull off as you’ll be able to hide the join lines with varying degrees of scatter. 
Cons: Expensive. Very expensive. I’d recommend getting on ebay to see if you can buy bulk rather than going to model shops. Time consuming and difficult especially the ballast part.
 
Conclusion: Naturally I’m going to sit on the fence and go for the middle-of-the-road option – The Track Mat. It’s going to look better than paint, but it’s not going to be as hard and expensive as scatter. To avoid unsightly join lines and make the process even easier, I’m going to lay only ONE colour. I’ll then add the other by using scatter. (OK so I sort of chose two options from above!).
 
 
So what is the most dominant colour? I’ve gone back to my layout plan file (above) and drawn on (using that most professional of tools – Microsoft Paint) what I think is going where.
 
White – track ballast. So in these areas we’ll need some form of Grey preferably that looks like, well, ballast. 
Green – grass/fields/assorted shrubbery. Basically stuff that isn’t ‘railway.’ This may include roads and buildings and in the future.
Yellow – basically the areas that could be either. These could quite easily be green or scenic, but on the flip side there might be line side buildings, depots, signals, stations and miscellaneous railway furniture than in real life would still be within the confines of the ‘track bed’ area (which in our case is the colour ‘Grey’).
 
My vision of this layout includes the addition of lots of line side furniture more so than a ‘country scene’ so let us assume all the yellow areas are Grey as well.
 
So coming up next time – we lay us some Grey Track Mat. Join me then!