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Computer control using track sensors

1543 Views 2 Replies 3 Participants Last post by  neil_s_wood
I would like to go to the next stage in computer control but don't have any idea about what track sensors and feedback decoders I'm meant to be looking at can someone point me in the right direction hopefully the low cost direction would be good. the cs im using is the Elite and the computer software is rocrail
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The key to track section occupation and computer control is getting the information back into the computer. This requires data to flow from the track back to the controller which is not part of the original DCC spec. Off the top of my head, I can think of four different types of feedback path:-

1) The Lenz RS bus
2) LocoNet as used by Digitrax
3) The Maerklin / Trix S88 bus - this is also supported by the ESU ECoS
4) RailCom over DCC (this is very new and I'm not even sure that there is a track occupancy module available yet)

Each of these feedback paths requires an interface back to the PC. The train control program in the PC then requires a driver to talk to that interface so that it can collect the information.

If you don't need the computer to drive the trains just operate points, set signals, implement interlocks etc, then even more options are available since it is entirely feasible to have a completely separate system for train detection and point / signal control. The only source I know of (and it's only because I have not looked very far) are the "self build" systems offered to members of The Model Electronic Railway Group (MERG) (website - MERG). Visitors can see a sample of the kits available for this purpose in the "Kits and supplies" section. Of particular interest is the new "CBUS" proposal which has just been published for comment. Visitors to the site can also read about this - it's on the right of the home page.

I suspect that instead of narrowing down your choices I have given you a lot to think about. Depending on how comfortable you feel you essentially have three choices in decreasing order of difficulty:-
1) building your own from kits,
2) "mixing and matching" off the shelf components
3) choosing from a single source,

The first thing you probably need to decide is what you want to do today and how much you want to do in the future. That one question may help clarify a few things for you.

I need (want?) to introduce computer control on my system sometime in the future. I have decided that I don't need the computer to actively drive the trains, but help with setting routes would definitely be helpful, so I am tending towards the "self build" end of things.

Some DCC command stations allow you to set up Shuttle train control with just a couple of track occupancy modules. Neil Wood's blog tells you how he did this with his ECoS. You can get to it via this link.

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S-88's are the most common form of feedback module although reeds are popular with some. It really depends on what you are trying to do with computer control. You probably want to do some reading up to see what you need to do what you want to acheive with computer control.

My reasons for buying the ECoS were because it offered some limited aspects of computer control without the hassle of using a computer.
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