Automating analog layouts in Spain

Antonio Fiol Mar 6, 2019

  1. Antonio Fiol

    Antonio Fiol New Member

    Hello from Madrid and Palma de Mallorca.
    I took the hobby from a somewhat different perspective back in 2013, when my father and I started restoring a 1985 Ibertren N-scale layout (around 1,80m x 1m). I wanted to get a great deal of automation while keeping the original stuff as intact as possible (analog locos, no extra elements such as sensors, reed relays, etc. on the layout).
    After a lot of reading and a lot of testing and, let's face it, a fair amount of mistakes, we got something working in a pretty amazing way.
    We're all about seeing trains in movement, rather than operations. But having trains move in circles could not be more boring. We added some tracks to have more flexibility, making a huge concession on that initial "keep the original stuff" thing. But we only added elements that might have been present back then... just wired them differently, creating nice polarity loops along the way. And that's not a problem if you have enough power districts.
    My approach has been minimizing the cost of a single power district by creating custom PCBs that allow me to scale, and build a custom user interface that's really friendly to control many trains at once.
    I can currently have 4 or even more trains moving automatically (each of them setting up its own switches and all), stopping at their stations, avoiding collisions, adapting their speeds to what lies ahead, etc. and also handling daytime and weather, lighting, automatically.
    We set up this youtube channel and shared a few videos:
    All the code is on github . It is not completely ready yet for public consumption (it is not trivial to set up your own layout yet, but I'm making progress in that direction).
    Recently, we started building a larger model (4,5m x 1m; track length: 55m), with more and larger stations, way more hidden areas to improve the effect, way more elevation (now up to 4 "floors" with tracks and around 0,5m mountain height) and a nice mechanical design for the table so we can rotate it to work comfortably below the tracks.

    I am joining this forum since I saw some discussion on the electronics for DCC, and I am considering to improve my circuitry to fully support digital trains as well, running simultaneously along analog trains, but not in "compatibility" mode, but fully supporting all the bells and whistles.
    After I can digest the vast amount of information and conversation that was posted here, I will likely ask a few questions and hopefully contribute new designs.

    Do you think that full automation at some scale (not the relay-based, fixed-rules kind) is an interesting topic for this forum?
    How many trains do you usually run simultaneously on your layouts? How many would you like to run if you had a better way of controlling them?

    BNSF FAN TrainBoard Supporter

    Welcome to TrainBoard Antonio! Lots of good DCC information here. Will be interesting to see how your automation goal turns out.
  3. Hytec

    Hytec TrainBoard Member

    Hi Antonio, welcome. The graphic operation you have created is impressive.
  4. Antonio Fiol

    Antonio Fiol New Member

    Thanks @Hytec !
    It is based on a SVG drawing, well organized in layers and groups so it can reflect the status of each of the objects in the system (track presence, train location, switch position, light on/off, station "active" with a train stopping/-ed there).
    And actually this, which is IMO the best choice I made, from a user experience perspective, is the hardest part to adapt to other layouts, since it needs to be redrawn from scratch, and for that you need knowledge of all the conventions to make it work.
  5. fitz

    fitz Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    Welcome aboard, Antonio. It sounds like you have built an interesting layout.
  6. Onizukachan

    Onizukachan TrainBoard Supporter

    Sounds neat! Way back in the 80s I bought a book about automating a layout with a Commodore 64 and mechanical gates... looking back it was a terrible idea, but though I’m DCC, I still like the idea. Look forward to following your exploits.
  7. Antonio Fiol

    Antonio Fiol New Member

    I never had a Commodore 64, but now with a Raspberry Pi you can do great stuff. I think you can even have a Commodore 64 emulator, if you have the need to get that look and feel. ;-)

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