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I hope this doesn't come across as a rant.

Where I'm coming from: I like running trains. In American parlance, I like operations.
I also like automated running - not all the time; sometimes I like to control the trains and sometimes I like to see them running automatically.
The challenge of programming them is something I enjoy - after 14 years of continued development, my home-brew system reached considerable sophistication.
Upon retirement in 2003, I returned to the hobby, having had a set in childhood, and developed my layout and my computer programs over the ensuing years.

I'm not what some disparagingly call a collector.
I am most definitely NOT a modeller. I have enormous respect for those who are. Personally I'm not interested. Possibly I should be banned from "Model Rail Forum". Don't know.
Vis-a-vis the manufacturers, I am a customer - a customer whose needs are not being met. Their products are not fit for purpose.

The key issue is unreliable running.
And the key reason for this is the need for, and frequency of, cleaning track and wheels.
And the key reason for that is the persistence with the wrong technology.

So far, we've had, from the nineteenth century onwards:
- push-along locos
- push-along trains
- push-along trains with track systems
- clockwork locos
- electric locos
- two-rail electric locos
- DCC

In an endeavour to patch up the existing problems there have been numerous workarounds:
- electrofrog points and crossovers with associated relays
- dcc auto-reversers
- stay-alive capacitors
- CMX Clean Machines
etc.
Expensive. Troublesome. And still - unreliable.

My first car gave trouble of one sort or another on a regular basis. This was commonplace in the 1960's. Nowadays I get my ten-year-old car serviced once a year, occasionally replace consumables, and apart from that I just turn it on and it goes. Commonplace nowadays. The normal expectation now with consumer goods of all kinds (televisions, refrigerators, microwaves, etc. etc) is that they just work - year after year.

It is a perfectly reasonable consumer expectation that a train set should be put together and just work - for extended periods. This expectation is not being met.

Over the years I experienced a growing frustration with the cleaning ritual. I've read all the recommendations on the forums - they help, but do not eliminate the problem, which remains - unsatisfactory reliability. I like intensive running sessions, multiple trains, lasting for hours. Constantly, after short periods, there would appear some stuttering, and once again the cleaning ritual. Things came to a head a few months ago when I had to thoroughly clean the layout twice in one week.

Some might say - do this, do that, you're doing it wrong...
NO. Don't fix the user. Fix the product.

The problem doesn't need a new approach or a new workaround. The problem needs to be eliminated.

Like with clockwork, the shortcomings of electricity fed from the rails are proving unsatisfactory to a growing band of users, with a new technology beginning to surface - Onboard rechargeable batteries with radio control. In the larger scales, it is already feasible to equip locos with this. Unfortunately in my preferred scale 4mm, it is less practical with today's equipment - no doubt as technology improves, it will become more suitable - unfortunately not likely within my life expectancy.

Manufacturers - you need to look at this. The first good product will corner the market.
 

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Mike, I agree with you, it is that wheel rail interface that causes all the problems, remove it and there is no need for work arounds.

Check out BlueRail for sophistication, their board just plugs into a DCC ready locos socket. download the free App and away you go. It even automatically switches between track and battery power during operation.

I have tested a couple of their boards and await their new smaller board suitable for UK outline steam locos. I use the simpler Deltang products and have over 30 locos converted. As they work very well it is unlikely that I will replace them with a more featured system unless that system has a feature I must have.

ps - I clean my track about twice a year.
 

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In depth idiot
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For my money, the optimum solution is rechargeable cells automatically recharging off the rails where power is available (plain track lengths powered on a layout, all the pointwork dead rail so no switching required) and some form of radio transmission of the control information. That way the locos are always ready to go, there's no need for any handling to perform recharges, the battery size can be very small because only limited endurance is required, the layout wiring is dramatically reduced because the plain track power for recharging can carry control signal and power to the point motors as well, i.e. the rails are the wiring. (There have to be rails for the trains to run on, may as well make a second use of them to provide all the wiring necessary to run point motors.)

This needs a programme by a designer for a fully integrated system of loco and point control, a power supply on the plain track rails to both run the point motors and for mobile battery charging, and pointwork design with rail connectors that transfer the power to integrated wiring connected to the point motor and control circuit leaving the pointwork rails dead. Simple enough in concept, but I haven't read of any business pursuing this approach as yet.
 

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I would certainly agree with 34C above, it seems an eminently sensible approach to me!
As I pointed out in the "locomotive performance" topic, I have a continental diesel shunter that comes fitted with a capacitor to aid running over "sticky" sections of track, surely fitting full NiMh rechargeable batteries capable of powering the train through complex (but electrically dead) pointwork would be the next step?
I'm aware that you fully "dead rail" folk use 'mobile' signals to actually control the trains, do each individual loco have to be fitted with a receiver?
If so, I can't see this as being that different to using say, my DCC Roco Z21 and a tablet! Just an alternative, that's all.
Sorry about my ignorance but I am trying to learn this technology, I do hate wiring so this system may have some benefits for me.
As 34C alludes, currently - how are points activated, please?
Cheers,
John.
 

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The Bluerail board uses an onboard battery instead of a capacitor to take care of the dead sections on the layout. As the control system is radio direct from the 'throttle' to the receiver in the locomotive the loco is still getting the command signal. With the receiver auto switchingbetween track and battery power you can have a hybrid system as 34C has suggested. They just have not implemented an onboard auto charging yet. I think Protocab are developing on track charging plus an induction charger.
Yes, each loco has its own onboard receiver and these can be about the same size as a DCC decoder. The difference between BPRC and DCC is there is no power to the loco via the rails and the control signal comes directly via radio, elimination all those wheel/rail contact issues.

For points you have the same choices as other control systems, you can control them via radio if you wish, Deltang have a multiplex system that can control 45 accessories. Technically way over my head though. Or use manual control or simple switches and point motors. My layout is simple hand of god but if I was building a big layout where I could not reach the points I would probably just have peco point motors and nice tactile point levers.
 

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Peter Lucas
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I completely agree that a hybrid system is the way of the future. A radio control receiver in the loco powered by an onboard battery which is recharged automatically when the loco is running over plain track. The advantages are:
  1. Under the layout, only a fixed 12v bus is needed to connect to the plain track between points. This can also be used to power accessories like point motors.
  2. With the battery backup in the loco, it doesn't matter if your track has dirty areas on it. Just needs cleaning once or twice a year.
  3. The complex wiring of points is eliminated. They have no wiring and don't need cleaning.
  4. All locos on the layout can be automatically switched on and off when power is applied/removed from the track. Imagine having to switch on/off 100 locos manually.
  5. Unlike DCC, radio control is properly two way. Hence your controller could show the battery state of each loco, for example.
  6. The battery can be much smaller capacity since its only job is to keep things running over points.
  7. The points can also be operated by radio control or Bluetooth if you wish.
However, there is an obstacle. For a hybrid system to work all your locos must be converted to radio control. That's expensive but also creates a problem. It's easy to convert a tender engine with the battery and receiver going into the tender. But what about small tank engines? How can you convert your layout to hybrid radio control if you can't run your tank engines?

Regards
Peter Lucas
MyLocoSound
 

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Moonraker, I agree a hybrid system will be the most flexible and for those of us who want pure battery power we just fit a bigger battery.

Your point 5 about 2-way communication needs clarification. The Deltang system is single way as it is based on model plane/boat/car protocols. The controller transmits the settings of several data channels 49 times a second, I don't know why 49 but it appears to be an industry standard. There is also LVC (low voltage cutoff) built in which can handle a wide range of battery types and configurations, both automatically or you can tweak them manually. When the cutoff operates the loco slows to a stop. I agree that A two way system gives more options but have not found using the simpler Deltang system causes me inconvenience. The Deltang receivers are actually transceivers so they could be programmed for 2-way, just get coding!

My smallest converted loco is an Hornby 'smokey joe' 0-4-0. The little 70mAh battery has a run time of about 30 minutes which is OK for the cameo role it has shuffling a few wagons around. Hybridise it and it would go on forever.

Onboard charging is not strictly necessary for a hybrid system. I calculated that with such a system one of my mainlines with all points dead would still be 75% live. with a onboard battery giving between 2.5 to 5 hours power deadrail that translates to 10 hours and 20 hours hybrid. For me 10 hours operation is about 30 sessions or say a battery change every 15 weeks!.

Another alternative is to have the onboard charging where you stable the locos, just like the real thing refuelling. When a suitable induction charge system is released you can remove the loco pickup system if you wantand get improved efficiency and hauling power.
 

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I don't know about computer control but I imagine at this stage of development the manufacturers are concentrating on more mainstream stuff. Apparently you can script the Blurail board, whatever that means.
 

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The idea sounds appealing, but dumb question coming up: if track is used for recharging then loco wheels and pickups must still play a role and have to be maintained anyway? Btw is the idea that the loco charges its battery as it is running over the track, or that it is left stationary until charged? I must admit I like the idea of some sort of 'induction' charging, in other words completely contactless - if such a thing exists. There were rumours of something like that some time ago but maybe it's just science fiction - 'broadcast power' was something I think I heard mentioned.

Oh and I suspect on complicated layouts handling more than one loco at a time could be tricky. What about runaways, impending disasters etc. In real life a lot of control is I believe based on track sections (or something like that). Presumably, though, this is being taken into consideration.

Will watch with interest - I've got loads of track to clean at the moment. Tbh my biggest problem is probably caused by using uneven loose-laid track and non-too-clever chassis design as on my Hornby 0-6-0 that stops at points, not because of power problems but because the wheels on the centre axle (which has a lot of play in it) foul on the frog (or thereabouts) - but then again, if the points were really level........ I mention it because if newcomers to the hobby start with loose-laid track before going on to build their layouts they will still have the frustration of getting some locos through points.
 

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You are right about on track recharging needing pickups etc. As I have pure battery those issues don't concern me.

My Deltang units have an emergency stop button that stops all locos controlled by that transmitter. I believe other systems have similar features.

It is kind of realistic if your loco keeps on running after derailment, it has happened to me a few times and you learn to be fast with shutting down the throttle.

One thing to note is a problem with one loco will not cause other locos to stop unless you command it.

edit - broadcast power is all around us, electric toothbrush, credit cards, dog ID tags etc etc. They all use broadcast radio waves to excite an aerial in the receiver which provides power to the electronics. The question is, can induction charging charge fast enough to be practicable.
 

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QUOTE (davecttr @ 14 Apr 2017, 19:46) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>can induction charging charge fast enough to be practicable.

My preference would be to eliminate track power altogether. Charge the loco battery overnight, much as people charge their smartphones now. Use induction (i.e. connection-free) charging as happens now with smartphones and electric toothbrushes - the charging unit could be disguised as a loco-washing plant or other lineside buildings with track fixed in the base. You drive the loco into the washing-plant which is designed to have the charging electronics near enough to the battery, with no need for user to touch the loco at all. In 4mm scale, with today's battery technology, this should give half an hour or more of running per charge. For longer sessions, have several locos ready-charged and substitute one for another. The speed of induction charging is not then an issue.
 

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The current demand should not be a problem as receivers are available which can supply up to 6 Amps, if you have a battery pack with enough Watts in it.

My 00 scale locos use between 100mA and 400mA depending on type of motor, the load the loco is pulling etc. Add 15mA for the receiver and 2mA for the voltage regulator plus whatever power the onboard sound amp and speakers draw and that is your total power need. I have not looked closely at it because I don't need or want sound.

The Bluerail board has sound built in or rather the sound is generated by the App and played on your smart device rather than the loco. You can also use Bluetooth amps and speakers. There was an interesting discussion somewhere about the unscaleability of sound and how it would be more effective to remove the sound onto nice big speakers. Apparently the technology is already out there it just needs someone to integrate a useable system. Imagine a sytem where the loco transmits its GPS position and the control app modifies the sound according to the locos scale distance from the listener. It will also know the position of the listener and modify accordingly. It might be very impressive.

Meanwhile I can continue to listen to the radio while playing trains.
 

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The Protocab system sounds promising. More and more locos are being fitted with high efficiency coreless motors which don't need a full 12 volts for realistic performance so batter life is becoming manageable.

My preference would be for a completely non insuated loco recharged by plugging it in to a connector, maybe a stereo jack in the tender water filler.

I ran battery power 00 in the garden for 20 odd years with Lima Diesels, and in its final iteration with model torque type motors and rechargable Batteries battery life is all afternoon and recharge time overnight.

My track is ballasted with concrete and shorts out when power is applied so track power is not an option.

I'm Hoping to resurrect it this summer with my own very low cost R/C from kids toys operating the motor via a diode cascade but I would definitely go Protocab if funds permitted.
 

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The Protocab system sounds promising. More and more locos are being fitted with high efficiency coreless motors which don't need a full 12 volts for realistic performance so battery life is becoming manageable.

My preference would be for a completely non insuated loco recharged by plugging it in to a connector, maybe a stereo jack in the tender water filler.

I ran battery power 00 in the garden for 20 odd years with Lima Diesels, and in its final iteration with model torque type motors and rechargable Batteries battery life is all afternoon and recharge time overnight.

My track is ballasted with concrete and shorts out when power is applied so track power is not an option.

I'm Hoping to resurrect it this summer with my own very low cost R/C from kids toys operating the motor via a diode cascade but I would definitely go Protocab if funds permitted.
 

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David

I mostly use 9V with my 00 scale locos via a voltage regulator and that is enough to give my Anglo Scottish expresses a scale speed of over 60mph, plenty fast enough with setrack No4 radius curves. I even have some locos using a 5V regulator as a lower speed is OK.

Those Lima locos are good value for money. Inside they are mostly empty space so plenty of room for batteries and the electrical trickery. I am just putting the finishing touches to a Class 47 conversion with the existing pancake motor. I fettled the drive according to


If you check the comments there is a link to a pdf file version.

I used a 4xAAA NiMh pack, Pololu voltage regulator to give a constant 9V to the Deltang Rx-60 receiver. This gives about 2.5 hours run time.

Hornby re-engineered the Lima chassis for their Railroad range and they now have a 5 pole can motor and enclosed gearing. Power draw is lower with about double the run time of the Lima.

The latest Protocab announcements foe 2017 look impressive but no prices yet!. I have not tried Protocab because I think the startup price is extremely high.
 

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The concept of battery power and practicality as found in Bluerail does I think herald a major change in model rail operation and I say bring it on. However what to do when you have invested heavily in DCC . With 13 locos and a history of installing chips and speakers in a variety of locos ranging from 14XXs to Warships , I am not sure I want to start all over again. So I guess I will hang on to my track rubber and IPA


There is a good site for comparison of dead rail systems at http://smallmr.com/wordpress/deadrail-system-comparison/
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
If a good system emerges which completely eliminates picking up power from the track, then it can be used in conjunction with DCC, over the same track. This would make it a little easier to adopt.
 
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