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My Little Railroad Buddy

Model Railroad Automation - First Thoughts

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Model Railroad Automation is a free .NET based Loconet automation software program. Unlike JMRI which is developed by a broad range of contributors, RRAuto appears to be developed by a one-man enterprise, software developer Perecli Manole. Editing with RRAuto feels like using visual basic or another visual based development tool. I used RRAuto to set up a panel that would operate turnouts and provide track indications.

RRAuto has four editing modes (Tracks, Blocks, Routes, & Signals). There is also an operations mode, where editing is no longer available. Switching between modes is as easy as clicking on the correct icon, or selecting it from a menu. There is an object browser and a properties window available during both editing and operations modes, but editing can only take place while in an editing mode.

Objects are placed on a grid by right clicking within the grid and selecting the type of object to place. Once an object is placed, it can be selected and it's properties edited via the properties window, while it's methods(or behaviors) can be set via the object browser. For instance to place a right hand turnout and have it control turnout #9, I would:
  • Enter Edit Track Mode (if I hadn't already).
  • Right click on the grid and select
    • Place/Replace Track->Right Hand Turnout

      This will place a track segment on the grid as well as a corresponding segment in the object browser.
  • Double click on that track segment in the object browser - to program it's behaviors
  • Right Click Straight or Diverging (these are the switch states)
    • Select Add 'Set Switch' Packet

      This will create a Switch change packet and place it into the object browser.
  • Select the new Switch change packet and changes its properties in the properties window. In this case,
    • Set Switch to 9
    • Set State to Closed or Thrown
The process works pretty smoothly once you figure out that the switch states, Straight and Diverging are not available in the property window of the select track object, but instead in the object browser.

Track segments can be rotated after placing them. Moving track segments has to be done by typing in new coordinates in the properties window for that segment. There are track segment objects for:
  • Straight
  • Curve 1 - a wide curve
  • Curve 2 - a narrow curve
  • Crossing
  • Terminator
  • Turnout Left
  • Turnout Right
  • Single Slip
  • Double Slip
  • Three Way
There is no object for a crossover and I have not been able to figure out how to place two turnouts in a crossover configuration and get them to operate and be displayed like a crossover. (Only one side of the crossover will display as thrown or closed.)

Once a turnout has been set up, using it in operations mode is a little annoying in that you have to right click on the turnout the select Set Turnout->Straight or Diverging. I much prefer the JMRI method of a single click toggles the turnout.

Setting up track occupancy is pretty slick. First I set up sensors using the object browser, these correspond to the DCC addresses of the individual track sensors I have installed, (In my case a BDL168, a BD4 and a DS64)

I entered the Edit Blocks mode and blocks to correspond with my relevant sensors. After that, I reentered Edit Tracks mode and selected each track segment that was a portion of the block and sets its Block property in the Properties window to the correct block. The program will connect tracks that are part of the same blocks, and in operation mode, those blocks will light up when occupied.

No Help

The program (v2.0.0.125) does not have a help file so you may want to download the previous version which does. The files are not compatible, but its kind of nice to ope it up and look for help. There is also no throttle, but the previous version did have a throttle.

Overall, I found Model Railroad Automation very easy to use and I like many of the things about the presentation more than JMRI. It is more limited than JMRI, but its a nice program to explore, especially since all I'm out is about 5 hours learning how to use it and fiddling with it.

I was able to build a fully operational panel in about 5 hours. RRAuto has a solid foundation and I'm going to keep using this program and continue to watch for updates. :thumbs_up:

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  1. Perry's Avatar
    As the developer of RRAuto I would like to add some insight into some of the points mentioned in this review:

    1.The version reviewed here was a beta version of the new RRAuto v2.0 which briefly did not have a throttle. This is not the case with any of the final releases including the current latest release.

    2.Regarding the missing crossover object. This is purely an esthetic issue and does not impinge on actually creating the scenario described with the existing objects.

    3.Regarding the annoyance with context menu turnout switching -- this was necessary due to the larger set of commands available for a switchboard grid location than available in JMRI. The reality is that in real world operations it is more common that routes are used to switch batches of turnouts rather than switching them individually. However there is an easier and probably preferred way to control objects and that is through voice control. String a few words together and you’re done without having to touch anything. See the speech grammar documentation in the toolbar.

    4.The text help was removed because it was obsolete. With the new RRAuto v2.0 the help now points to a series of video tutorials that I am in the process of making which I think will get users going much faster than a written manual. Two tutorials are currently available with more to come. Other documentation available is the grammar and scripting documentation which is full and complete.

    5.There are some fairly important features missing from this review which strangely were the most significant development effort and what I think makes this app unique. The ability for total control through voice commands, as far as I know, has not been done before in this genre and should probably be looked at. The other back bone feature not mentioned is scripting with event binding and sequencing. Without scripting you really have no automation. Since the app’s name is Railroad Automation one must look at this feature to fully appreciate the scope of this control software.
    Updated July 20th, 2010 at 09:25 AM by Perry
  2. gregamer's Avatar
    Thanks for commenting Perry. And most importantly, thanks for your efforts developing this software.

    Sorry I missed the voice commands and scripting. I haven't got that far into model railroad computer operations. But that certainly sounds like an interesting prospect.

    Although I think the review hints at it, I'll explicitly say this is a nice work of software. I was able to accomplish in five hours what took me several months to do with JMRI. I think the interface is intuitive and the operations have been flawless.

    I'd like to encourage Lcoonet users to try Model Railroad Automation


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