How to build a Model Railway

(when your not quite sure what your doing) - Email me


Episode 3 - DCC Interlude

I thought I would take time out to investigate some DCC systems as the Dynamis whilst good for a play wasn’t going to give me automatic control and computer access. The criteria I was looking for was:

All the standard DCC facilities, two manual throttles, out of the box power to run 5 trains simultaneously and computer control supported. I looked at 5 systems that made this grade (there maybe more).

The systems and approximate prices (with any addons to meet my criteria) were:

Digitrax - £450

Gaugemaster - £360

Lenz - £500

NCE - £510

ECos - £530

The cheapest is obviously the Gaugemaster but I had to discount this because it is not obvious from the manual that it will support the connection of train detection devices such as IRDOTs or s88 modules (but I could be wrong). Of the four left there is not much price wise between them; not surprisingly the one with the most functionality was the most expensive; the ECos. But reading through the specs and manuals quickly determined why it was expensive it has more functionality – Notably a very pretty colour screen with speed indication for both throttles. This is very nice but the extra I really noticed was that not only did it allow connection of feedback controllers to detect trains (which the others can do) but it already had software within the control station to use them to automatically run the trains; all the others would require train controller software on a PC to do this. Further it would allow another manufacturers DCC to be plugged into the base station to run part of a layout (My Dynamis may still be useful after all). ECos was beginning to look like a no brainer for my needs.

Note for computer geeks - the icing on the cake for me (as a computer geek) was that the ECos station is basically a computer running a Linux OS (oh joy!) and the specification for its PC interface is available so if you don’t want to buy expensive train control software for your PC you can program it yourself.

Mind you if your not of a mind to connect to a computer and you just want the DCC basics go for a Dynamis - its only £90 and it does the job!



Painting and Ballasting

Decided it made sense to paint the tracks and sleepers before starting to ballast as it seemed logical, so on went humbrol rust colour on the track sides and Sleeper grime on the sleepers - very tedious but the track does immediately look a lot more realistic.

Now for a small experiment with ballasting - chose to do a small section at the edge of the baseboard at the end of the station. I used the scenic spray method - ie scatter the ballast and then brush it about until it settled in the right places then using Model Scenics cement spray all over the ballast (making sure to wipe the rails tops clean) - The section took three sprayings before it was all set solid. But definately better than dribbling the cement from a syringe.

However using this particular area as the experiment proved to be a very bad idea because on re-assembly of the baseboards the two sections had settled and were now virtually the same height which meant one set of rails was now higher than the other. Raising the rails on the non ballasted baseboard edge to be the same as height as the others (which I had raised previously - see episode 2) was a non starter because it would leave a hump for the trains to go over - so I had to strip away the ballast I had just layed in order to lower the rails - what a pain! And anyway the thought struck me that it would be better to ballast this bit and the rest of the track that was to be between the platforms after the platforms were fitted not before; why did I not think of this before!

  Anyway to cut along story short did some more ballasting keeping away from the point at the moment and it looks quite good - however just to check it would still run trains I wired in the Dynamis and gave it a try.


Just to make sure I ran everything I have - some track cleaning was required and lots of bits of ballast that were, sticking up or otherwise fouling the rolling stock, had to be removed with tweezers.




Having taken several deep breaths I finaly steeled myself to ballast the points - this consisted of covering the moving parts and using the spray method to ballast the rest; then I manually painted the bits between the moving parts with PVA glue and carefully placed bits of ballast in the gaps - just enough so there was not too much of a contrast between these bits and the rest. A test of the points thankfully proved that I had not gummed anything up.

It was at this point that I realised (obvious really) that I didn't need to switch the two points separately that allowed the cross over between the mainlines (that would have saved a bit of wiring) - idiot!






I now started to think about platforms as I didn't want to ballast the rails between the platforms until after I had put them on the model - There is a slight curve to the line so I couldn't use any commercial product so I cut them to shape out of spare bits of thick MDF I had lurking around; the idea being to glue strips of plasticard brickwork along the sides and then individual paving along the edge (I have a box of little plastic squares which are about the right size). My immediate problem was that the sides of the MDF were not quite straight so gluing the plasticard on was a bit uneven and didn't hold very well which meant quite a lot of reglueing (on balance PVA was not a good idea) and there wasn't a particulalry flat surface for the paving to go along the edge. At this point I was getting a bit frustrated...

It was fortunate that at this point a bought the June 10 copy of Model Rail which had an article about making you own platforms using the simple idea of buying wooden strips (12mm x 4mm) from the local DIY store and using these as the edging which can be screwed to the baseboard using wooden blocks and easily bend to a even but slight curve - the platform tops can then be cut out of 4mm thick MDF - excellent idea why didn't I think of that! Will try it at the weekend.

See below my platform building efforts; the curve was a pig to shape the MDF to as was shaping the cork strip that goes on top of it (I am not building curved platforms again!).




Another DCC Interlude

Having thought that the ECOS system might be the one for me I went on a Ecos system training day with the clever people at DCC Supplies to check it out. Very impressed so I ordered one; quite keen to exploit the automatic train running features and of course some computer control.

  Episode 4