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Burton-on-Trent South - Upper Level Tracklaying

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Lower Level - Turnout Control Panel


Having been playing trains (aka testing the layout ...) it has become obvious that I'm in desperate need of a control panel to operate the turnouts, and to readily see the routing of each turnout. A number of times I've 'trailed' a turnout, only for this to cause a short (as you would expect).


To this end I've spent quite some time planning on building a mimic panel for the completed lower level. In my usual quest for cost savings, the plan was always to use a DIY approach with standard components. 


After a lot of trial and error (I must have tried half-a-dozen arrangements) I finalised on a design using small veroboards for the push buttons & LEDs as below:


This allows for both crossovers and single turnouts, in LH and RH configurations. The whole thing is made doubly complicated by the fact that I found my MegaPoints Controller doesn't always configure the LEDs the same way round! I suppose it rather depends on the orientation of the servo ... Anyway, hence the 'normal' and 'reversed' requirements. I've made a list of which turnout needs which 'arrangement'. And no, you can't 'just reverse the cable'; I tried that! MegaPoints uses a 3-way cable for the 2 LEDs, and if you reverse the cable both LEDs fail to light. No surprise really, they are diodes after all.


Each veroboard is then connected to the MegaPoints controller boards by short plug-n-play cables using Dupont type connectors at both ends.


A typical single turnout veroboard looks like this:



The LEDs are mounted ~2mm off the veroboard, such that the collar on the LED matches the height of the button assembly, to allow the unit to be screwed solidly to the underside of the mimic panel.


The mimic panel for the lower level had to be split into 2 parts, due to the print size limitations on my A4 printer. No bad thing really.

The mimic layout took quite a while to design as it had to be schematically correct, be compact as possible, align with the buttons and LEDs, and allow for the space requirements of the underside veroboards (no 'overlapping').


The final (errr, current ...) designs are like this:

Part -1:






Each part of the mimic is 8½" by 7" - imperial dimensions resulting from the 0.1inch grid of veroboards.


The mimic panels will be screwed onto the panel assembly box, with the MegaPoints Controller boards strategically located on the base of the box in locations where they will not (hopefully ...) interfer with the veroboards. This will keep the overall height of the panel to 50mm (2-inches), which should look acceptable.


The panel assembly is planned as follows:



You can now see the outline of the veroboards (orange), avoiding the MegaPoints Controller boards (green). I just hope there is enough space for all the wiring to/from the veroboards. Only time will tell.


The panel is simple 5mm plywood construction, with 3.6mm plywood for the top (to give visibility to the LEDs & allow the button to protrude). 15x15mm section stripwood (actually from an old table I deconstructed) are used in the corners for strengthening.


I still need to decide on the panels 'connectors' type and location to/from the layout for power and MegaPoints network.



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Mimic Panel Veroboards


After a bit of practice, I came to the conclusion that soldering LEDs with a clear gap underneath wasn't very easy. Then I had a brainwave :laugh_mini:. Instead of soldering the LEDs to the veroboard, why not use a socket instead? As it happens I had some bits in my spares box (used for making 8-pin DCC sockets) and these fitted my LEDs perfectly.


This meant the push-button was a bit 'low', so I just packed it up a bit with some styrene offcuts.


The result is much neater, and easier to make. As a further advantage, socketing the LEDs means that I don't need to make both 'normal' and 'reverse' variants. I can just turn the LEDs round in their sockets and turn the cable around to suit. Excellent.





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  • 3 weeks later...

Mimic Panel


This is taking me much longer than I expected ... I have assembled the veroboards I prepared earlier onto the underside of the panel and installed the MegaPoints boards. Here is what the second one looks like (I didn't photograph the first one :sad_mini2:).




Just adding the jumper cables is taking forever, not helped by the fact that I'm making each cable up as I go along (money saving ...) from the various components. With 33 point ends, that's a total of 66 cables required with each end needing a plug to be fitted. No wonder this is taking ages.


Once the cables are installed it looks a bit of a mess. However, all cables are numbered by turnout, so it quite easy to debug.




What isn't so easy, and something that hadn't occurred to me (or appeared on the MegaPoints videos) it that the sockets on the Processor and Expansion boards are in groups of 4 without any gaps. The Servo boards have a little gap between sockets. On the Processor and Expansion boards, this makes plugging in the cables rather difficult, and needs a fair bit of force / bending to get the 4th socket of each group installed. Now they are all in, I can leave them as I have sockets at the ends of all cables as well.


I have got the 'box' assembled (5mm & 3.6mm plywood), so just need to finish off the wiring, do all the debugging (I knew I get some of the LEDs back-to-front, and this is proving to be the case), and put it all into the box. Hopefully, it will look okay when finished.




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Mimic Panel - Schematics


Another problem that has delayed my mimic panel construction was self-inflicted. Someone, err Me, didn't translate the layout into a schematic properly:rtfm:.  I've done schematics before on 1:1 scale railways many times, but managed to get a layout that fits in a single room wrong!


Here are the corrected schematics:


Part 1:



Part 2:



While I was making the 'corrections' I took the opportunity to add a bit of colour to the schematics to help with Track recognition. I think they do look a lot better for it.


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Lower Level - Mimic Panel


Finally, after much work, and re-work, I have completed the mimic panel for the lower level. See below:



It really is a nice little self-contained unit, with only 2 connections wires; one for power (2-core) and one for the MegaPoints network (3-core). Polarity of the power doesn't matter (thankfully) but the network cable has to be the right was round. Hence the 'sample' cable stuck above the socket for my guidance!



The whole thing works very well, and really didn't cost that much to build either, as I constructed it from scratch using off-the-shelf components (except for the MegaPoints boards of course).


The only problem I've noticed is that the LEDs are rather bright, much brighter than those that came from MegaPoints themselves. I'll have to see if I can introduce a suitable additional resistor into the LED cables (there is no space on the small veroboard units) by, hopefully, putting the resistor right at the plug. If anyone has a better / easier way to add the resistor I'd be please to hear as I will have to do this on ~30 cables.


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Hi Ian,


I do like your mimic panel, very neat work. The wiring polarity reminder is a great yet very simple idea, might have to borrow that for my old school DC connections!




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15 hours ago, Signaller69 said:

Hi Ian,


I do like your mimic panel, very neat work. The wiring polarity reminder is a great yet very simple idea, might have to borrow that for my old school DC connections!






Thanks for the complement. Seems that all the best ideas are the simplest, but are often hard to realise. It certainly wasn't planned, but I did desperately need a reminder to ensure the cable was the right-way-round, and also that it was the 'network' socket and not 'power'. I'd made that, costly, mistake previously!


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20 minutes ago, ess1uk said:

Now following with interest 

Thanks. I hope I can continue to provide you with some 'interest' in the future :aggressive:


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  • 3 weeks later...

Mainline Class 03


Much to my surprise, I found that a Class 03 (class 04 actually) D2384 was based at Burton on Trent MPD from 1964 to 1967, and I'm applying Rule-1 to allow it to be present in my timeframe of the early to mid 1970's.


At a recent toy fair in Doncaster, I picked up a secondhand Mainline Class 03 with the intention of converting the couplings to Kadee and to DCC. The coupling conversion went well and can be found at https://www.rmweb.co.uk/community/index.php?/topic/143110-fitting-kadee-coupling-to-Bachmann-class-04/&do=findComment&comment=3560546 


The DCC conversion was also reasonably straight-forward, helped no end by a 'guide' written by Bromsgrove Models, although I went with a simply Hornby DCC chip and not the Lenz one they suggested. The Lenz cost more than the model!





Where things went wrong was in the test running. It didn't :mad_mini:. Fault tracing located the cuplrit, a bent chassis frame. A guess it must have been 'dropped' at some point in its life :notme::






I knew that if I tried to bend the frame back to remove the dent, in all likelihood it would end with a cracked frame and a loco 'in flight' towards the bin. So, I resorted to grinding the inside of the frame to remove enough metal to provide sufficient clearance to the motors gearing mechanism. Putting a spacer between the 2-halves of the split-frame-chassis would have worked, but then the body would not fit. The body is a 'snug' fit on the frames. After a lot of grinding, the loco worked. It's not the best runner in the World, but it does go. But there again, I didn't pay much for it in the first place so I'm quite pleased with the outcome :clapping_mini:.


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  • 2 weeks later...



By which I mean those tracks between the Upper (at a nominal 0mm) and Lower (at a nominal -350mm) baseboards. Getting this to work has been something of a challenge. I eventually realised that for this to work the Upper level could not be 'flat', it has to have some slope(s) built into it for the tracks to go 'underneath themselves' at some point.


Drawing the layout of the ramps necessitated knowing the exact location of the Ramp Tracks in relation to the vertical baseboard support structure. This I drew up in Xara DesignerPro as below:



At each vertical support the ramp baseboards are to be split to allow segmented construction and removal as required. Each join will be supported on a small steel shelf angle (pressed steel type) obtained on-the-cheap from B&Q a while back.


With all the 'offsets' from the vertical baseboard support now known I could draw the layout up properly as below. The two views are from opposite ends of the room:




Finally, from the coordinate information in layout drawing and the known locations of the vertical baseboard supports I was able to calculate the height of the ramp tracks above the Lower Level baseboards. That involved quite a complicated Excel Spreadsheet that I made 'fully automatic' in that it will recalculate everything based on the basic input data (makes it simple to change if I want to alter any input data).


In the end I managed to get gradients of 1 in 39 for Connection 1 (3-tracks) and 1 in 46 for Connection 2 (2-tracks). Not bad, and should be suitable for the diesel fleet of locomotives.



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  • 1 month later...

Ramps - The Prototype


It seemed a good idea to at least 'try' to build a few parts of the ramp to see how the bits went together and if my proposed joining method would work.

The joining piece, that will be attached to a support/shelf bracket, is at the bottom of the photo. The 'cut out' is to fit around the shape of the pressed steel shelf bracket.






What this did prove was that the jointing method was 'fiddly' to make (to get it perfectly aligned), but would work, and that the alternative construction method for the main ramp sections (essentially an 'H' section of 5mm plywood) was preferable to 12mm plywood with 5mm cheeks (heavy & potentially expensive). It also helped that I had a large sheet of 5mm plywood in the garage :good_mini:.


It also proved that my minimal powertools (a circular saw and a jigsaw) would not be sufficient for 'series production' :nea_mini:. However, while at my local B&Q for other reasons I came across an Evolution Fury 6; a sort of combined chop-saw and table-saw in a single unit. After looking through a few online reviews :read: I decided to get one, while they were still available (out-of-stock or low-stock in my area).


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Ramps - The Design


The simplified drawing below shows the various parts of the ramps; the 2-track (green) and the 3-track (blue). The parts not show are those connecting the ramps to the lower level baseboards (3-track to Baseboard A, and 2-track to Baseboard H). I haven't yet decided on 'how' to make this connection. Ideas include:

  • Cutting the lower level baseboard and 'bending it up' to form  the ramp
  • Building an 'embankment' in plywood on the lower level baseboard

Any other / better ideas welcomed, but they have to accommodate a joint (bolted) to the ramp at the extremity of the baseboard to allow disassembly.


[Letters A to J are the lower level Baseboard designations].




Now, with the requisite dimensions and suitable tools (Fury 6 - see previous posting), I can get on with making the easier straight elements of the ramps.

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Ramps - Some Parts


Armed with a stash of 5mm plywood and the Fury 6 (table / chop saw) I set to cutting the base and sides of what were to become the 'H' sections of the ramps. I really was glad to have a table saw at this point :dance_mini:. Repeatably cutting numerous 3mm wide lengths of plywood is no fun with only a circular saw and a length of timber as a straight edge. The cutting was over in a matter of minutes :yahoo_mini:, and resulted in sawdust all over the garage floor :mosking:. Note to self; must get a vacuum to suck up the dust during cutting ...




All I had to cut then were some timber 'blocks' to screw the parts together. Back at the chop saw I cut rather a lot of 20mm slices in some 44x18mm section timber. Each ramp section was going to need ~10 to 12 blocks, times 10 ramp straight sections, is a lot. More sawdust ... lots of it ... :fie:


At the car boot last weekend I did spy a cheap (and new ...) simple vacuum consisting of a large tin with a motor & filter inside and a suction pipe. Me thinks I need to see if it is still available ...




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Ramps - Assembly


Having cut all the necessary bits of timber, these were carefully assembled with screws. No glue here, and it seems none is actually required either :agree:. The assembled ramp sections are perfectly strong enough and are very lightweight. Their alignment is particularly good, surprising even, given that I was using some 'secondhand' 5mm plywood was wasn't very flat in either direction!


Assembled element - top:



Assembled element - underside



Stacked elements:



That's not quite 'all' the straight elements, there are a few more to cut and assemble, but it's enough for me to 'test fit' them with some support brackets and join them together. That'll be the next job.


I also have to make the curved elements ... However, that will require a trip to the timber merchants as I don't think I'll have enough 5mm plywood for those.



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  • 4 weeks later...

Ramps - Installation Started


After a trip to the timber merchants for 'another' sheet of 5mm plywood, I've been able to complete the assembly of all the straight and curved elements of both ramps (3-track and 2-track). That makes a total of 6 curved and 11 straight elements.


A while back I posted about pondering how to commence the ramps from the existing lower level baseboards. In the end I settled for cutting the 12mm plywood of the baseboard and 'bending it upwards' to form the beginnings of a ramp. The one I've done is lower level Baseboard-A, where this connects to a 3-track ramp.


In the end, this turned out better than I had hoped, and the baseboard cross-members provided additional support from which to 'pack' under the ramp section. If this all seems a little completed or implausible, the following pictures should help.






I think that, with a little lick of paint, it will blend in very well to the existing baseboard.


The unpainted 'tongue' sticking out of the upper end of the new ramp section is for attaching to the first element of the ramp proper. As usual (for me anyway) this will be a bolted connection to allow disassembly for final painting and any future removal requirements (eg: track repairs?).


You can see how the first ramp section will fit in the next picture.




The gradient is ~2.5% (1 in 40). I installed a quick bit of track to see how my loco fleet coped with the gradient, and had no problems. I could even stop and re-start on the gradient with a substantial trailing load of 8 coaches. The one loco that did struggle was a Bachmann Class 44, which was odd since the Bachmann Class 25 had no problems. Maybe the Class 44 needs a little more weight adding? My guess it that because the weight of the Class 44 is over 8-axles (of which only 4 are powered), this reduced the axle weight on the powered axles.


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Ramps - up we go


After considerable preparation; assembling the ramp sections, cutting the ramp start baseboards, and a lot of planning, it was time to install the first parts of the the ramps. Because I'm supporting the ramps off the vertical supports of the baseboard support system, it made sense to install both ramps at the same time (one spirals up 'inside' the other - although they do cross a few times ...).


As expected, the first 2 sections of each ramp were hard to install. The ramps are only just raised above the lower level at this point (obvious really ...) and this meant that clearances for the support brackets were very tight. Thankfully the lower level baseboards are modular and were simply slid out (after unplugging the inter-baseboard electrical connections) to give better access. The only other problem was that the M6 bolts were too long and would have fouled the lower level baseboards, so several M6 bolts had to be shortened. It should (?) get easier after this.


The pictures below show the ramps installed over Baseboards I & J (there is a 'map' in an earlier posting ...). You can see the vertical M6 bolts at the ends of each ramp element bolting it down to the supports. The supports incorporate M6 tee-nuts for this connection and all the holes are sleeved with a metal tube to maintain alignment and reduce wear & tear. All the bolts are loose at the present, as the ramps will need to be removed for painting before tracklaying.


This photo shows the 2-track (inner) ramp connecting to the lower level baseboards, with the 3-track (outer) ramp on the right (sorry, bit out of focus).



Conversely this photo shows the 3-track (outer) ramp connecting to the lower level baseboards, with the 2-track (inner) ramp on the right.



The next ramp elements are curved though 90-degrees, so that's going to be the next challenge.




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  • 3 weeks later...

Ramps - Stage 1 Complete


At the end of the last posting I'd only installed 4 pieces of the ramps (Baseboards I & J), which will eventually link the lower level baseboards (basically the storage sidings) to the upper level baseboards (the scenic bits).


As a guide to the ramps, please refer to the layout plan below:



After quite a lot of woodwork, drilling, trimming to length, and bolting I've managed to install a total of 16 ramp elements. The only 2 that remain to be installed are Blue-C (3-tracks) and Green-H (2-tracks) in the layout plan above. These 2 elements link onto the upper level baseboards, and so cannot be installed until at least part of the upper level Baseboards are installed.

It all looks just how I imagined (and how the 3D rendering showed it would in an earlier posting) and went together remarkably easily. Yes, there was a lot of work involved, but the various parts went together without a lot of last-minute alteration / redesign.


The panorama photo below shows the ramps installed on (left to right) Baseboards B/C/D/E/F/G/H/I, taken from Baseboard J:



Here is view looking from Baseboard C across the ramps on Baseboards D & E, showing the gentle :thankyou: gradients achieved:



And, finally, here is the view from Baseboard A looking across the ramps on Baseboards J & I:



There are a few 'adjustments' still to be made; the curved ramps Green-A and Blue-H seem to 'sag' a little, and so I'll be investigating adding some additional stiffening. Plus the clearance under Green-A is, well, inadequate :blush:. A little bit of cutting will be required to give the necessary clearance.


Then, all the ramps will have to be removed for painting and installation of the track underlay foam, prior to re-installation and subsequent tracklaying and wiring. Plenty of fun ahead to keep me occupied :dance_mini:.


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Ramps - Painting


A quick lick of grey undercoat has been applied to the ramp elements. These are now ready for installation of the foam underlay. 



I did go back and modify one of the ramp supports. I had installed one of them as 2 separate brackets, whereas all the remainder are installed as a single bracket with a vertical spacer under one track to account for the difference in track levels. The 2 bracket method was found to restrict access to the ramp element bolts and so has been modified to a single bracket.


When it comes to tracklaying I have used the same 3 radii throughout the ramps and am therefore interested in the method for curving flexitrack set out in posting 


My alternative is to use the 'railway curves' I own instead. That's a bit in the future though.


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  • 2 weeks later...

A Little Diversion


While waiting for the paint to dry on the ramp elements, and waiting for the glue to dry on the subsequent track underlay, I had a little time on my hands. So, I decided to attack / modify / improve (?) some of my old Lima coaches that I had not yet 'updated'.


The subject in hand was 4 Lima Mk1 corridor composites. These were treated to:


New SE Finecast flush windows:



The existing window moulding was modified to match the SE Finecast windows:



The interior was painted to 'represent' 1st / 2nd class seating with wood panelled walls:



The bogies were converted to Kadee couplings (#156 type):



Considering these models cost less than £3 when I bought them, a little bit of modifying makes them look perfectly acceptable to my eyes.


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On 04/09/2019 at 20:22, ISW said:

When it comes to tracklaying I have used the same 3 radii throughout the ramps and am therefore interested in the method for curving flexitrack set out in posting 


My alternative is to use the 'railway curves' I own instead. That's a bit in the future though.



I looked at that and it seemed to be a bit hit and miss to me. Nothing was fixed and he kept on moving the centre of his "tool" so he couln't have been getting any sort of accurate radius, just generally curving the track. Flexitrack forms nice curves pretty naturally in my experience so I didn;t think his method really added anything.


In the little bit of track laying that I've done recently I just marked the centre line using a radius from a fixed point, then hand positioned/curved the track on that. It was good enough but I think when I do more I would try to mark the inner and outer edges of the sleepers.


Getting smooth joins in curved track is a more difficult and arguably more important issue than the curves themselves.


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  • ISW changed the title to Burton-on-Trent South - Upper Level Tracklaying

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