I finished building the “basic railway” just before the end of May - four months after I finished the fiddle yard. By “basic railway” I mean the baseboard with its track, points, point motors and all the wiring done - enough to operate the model in the same way as it will be operated when it is finished.
I want the layout to work well, this is a high priority to me and I know I have pushed plenty of boundaries - the 1:20 gradients and some very “industrial” curve radii especially. So I have spent the last few weeks testing the track every way I can think of.
The fiddle yard got quite a decent soak test back in April when it went to the smaller of the two Chelmsford shows, the show at the St Augustine church in North Springfield. Possibly the first time a layout has been exhibited before it has been built! I spent half the time shuttling small diesels around, and the rest taking them off the layout to turn it upside down so visitors could see how I made it. During the day, one magnet fell off the underneath of the turntable well, but everything else hung together and in particular the brand-new linear power supplies survived the day - if anything was going to fail I felt it would be one of these.
The wiring was all proven earlier (see Wiring) so testing the layout has been for the track and stock. I began with the point motor mechanisms. I had tried these out one at a time during installation but needless to say one of the “easy” tortoise installs did not throw the point blades properly. A bend in the operating wire sorted this out, but not until I had broken one of the point blades off the tie bar. Re-soldered.
I then took every 00 and HO gauge loco I possess, checked and set the wheel back-to-backs, and tried to run it over the entire layout. Running included both directions through every turnout. This ruled out two locos straight away- neither the Dapol class 52 Western (full bogie detail fitted) nor the Hornby B17 (cylinder drain cocks fitted) can cope with the 18-inch curves. However the layout was never intended for these, so it is a fairly academic loss and I could return both locos to their factory condition and expect to run them.
The biggest surprise was the Hornby (ex-Lima) class 156 Super Sprinter. The underframe bottoms out onto the track at the tops of the gradients, and there is so little movement in the bogie pivots one axle lifts off the track at the bottom of the gradients. Conversely, the re-tooled all-Hornby class 153 single unit runs perfectly.
My Hornby Sentinel 0-4-0 stalls every time at scale speeds on one of my hand-built points. The wheelbase aligns perfectly with the distance between the crossing gap and a rail break. This is difficult to resolve mechanically. I suppose I could shorten the fixed rail and make a new, longer point blade but this will probably make a new problem. I am thinking, I shall equip this loco with a stay-alive capacitor when I go to DCC.
My Model Rail/Dapol Sentinel steam loco climbed off the track on one pair of point blades but ran perfectly everywhere else. The back-to-backs were correct, but the flanges of the wheels of this model seem to be a tiny bit thicker than the usual for Bachmann and Hornby. The problem was the gauge of the point blades, resolved by bending one of them into shape.
I tried out my wagons by hand to make sure they run through all the turnouts - no problems. The behaviour of a pair of Kadee couplers at the top of a gradient, even with a short-wheelbase loco and wagon is interesting to watch! However, the Hornby 2-BIL EMU held together with Kadees stays coupled up together, so I think I am safe for every other permutation.
The layout has strips of white LEDs below its front edge (to light up the shelving below the layout), and running these for a day was the first real load on the connected power supply. The heatsink on the voltage regulator got hot enough to make the fiddle yard plywood warm to the touch, so the plywood got a ventilation hole drilled above the power supply heat sink to try to encourage some air flow.
The loco test running has put fifty or so operations onto each point motor. There are possible problems with the changeover switches on two of the nine Tortoise point motors, which is not at all what I expect to see from a £16 motor. The motors are freely running to their end stops both ways, but for a while one route of each of two motors was not putting current on the frog. This “seems to have put itself right” at the moment but if need be my first workaround will be to try the unused set of contacts on the motors. If this fails, I’m looking at a frog juicer or a magnet on a reed switch to drive the frogs. The biggest annoyance of a frog juicer will be pulling out so much of the completed wiring.
The relay board and its Bluetooth module got tested out at the same time - good. So I am happy. Fundamentally, the layout works with all of the intended trains. I was so pleased with it bought a Heljan class 128 parcels unit - an excellent runner and it somehow looks the part on the layout.
The next stage for the model is to sort out a backscene and the lighting so I can build the landscape to align with the background not the other way round.