Portable Train Control System in a Antique looking Briefcase.

Massey Jan 18, 2021

  1. Massey

    Massey TrainBoard Member

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    Hey guys, I have hinted a little about this project on the N scale forums, and now that I have almost everything I need I am going to start the build thread on it.

    So the background on this is... I have a set of T-Trak modules that can make a small layout by themselves. But I have no way to control it, and I wanted to have a control station that was just as portable as the modules. While at Michael’s I found this wooden antique looking briefcase.

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    At first this was just going to hold the power supplies, DCC command station and a couple DC/DCC switches to change how my tracks are powered. I then got the idea to put a small screen in it, and a Raspberry Pi running JMRI. I have a couple 7 and 10” screens that would work for the job, then I remembered I bought a laptop screen and control card a few years ago for another project. I decided to see if the screen would fit in the case...

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    YUP! It fits! Ok now my project has taken on a whole new level of fun. This screen is large enough for everyone to see easily and would make everything work out better.

    so I dug up one of my Raspberry Pis from another project and tried to get it running with the screen. It took a bit to find the power supplies for the screen but I got one, and everything worked as I hoped.

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    It was getting late that night so I left the Pi running updates, and soon after we had a power failure . Thankfully it didn’t brick the Pi and it was able to finish the update the next day. I also was able to build some mounting blocks for the screen, and found some #2 wood screws to make the screen solid in the lid. That night I got paid as well and ordered a Digikeijs DR5000 to be the built in command station, and a few other trinkets needed to complete the job.

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    So this is where we stand today. So far the various delivery services have dropped off the voltage regulator for the Pi, the power supply in the pics is a 12v supply I bought when I started the Tram project, it came in a 2 pack. A small HDMI cable to allow me to put the pi wherever I want, and some speakers for ambient city/train sounds. I have the DC/DCC Switches from RPC Electronics. Soon to arrive will be some Anderson Power pole equipment for the track output, a PC style power jack, and the DR5000. DC throttles will have a input port somewhere using the Power Poles as well. I will most likely make a frame for the screen out of wood, and try to match the finish of the case.

    And here the adventures start,
     
  2. Massey

    Massey TrainBoard Member

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    The DR5000 has arrived, and I have been working on test fitting the various devices in the box. I found that the power supply has a USB power port built in so that removes my need for the voltage regulator for the Pi. More to come.

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  3. BigJake

    BigJake TrainBoard Member

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    Massey,

    Will this only be used while open? I'd be a little concerned about ventilation and over-heated components if you plan to use it while closed up, e.g. when just running trains with a remote throttle.
     
  4. Massey

    Massey TrainBoard Member

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    Yes my intention is to leave it open, or at least propped half open. I don’t know how much show use it will get, as my club already has a setup for shows, this is mainly for my home use.
     
  5. Massey

    Massey TrainBoard Member

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    So I was able to get some time to work on the control station. So not everything went to plan, but everything ended up turning out. So, the power supply for the DR5000 has a USB port in it, and I was planning on that powering the Raspberry Pi... well if the speakers are plugged into the Pi there isn’t enough power and everything shuts down... well woo woo woo... thankfully I was originally planning on using the buck converter to power the Pi, and I had it waiting. So far the only thing that gets warm is the Pi, everything else stays nice and cool.

    I found out that there is enough room that the command station can be flush with the top of the lower case and clear the screen when closed, same with the DC/DCC switches. So I am going to build a second deck where the command station, status lights, and switches are going to be mounted.

    I mounted the power supply, buck converter, video controller and Pi in the case tonight, tested everything with power applied and all that’s left is to make the output and power input plugs in the back of the case, build the upper shelf and mount the last of the goodies.

    here are a couple pics of tonight’s progress.

    Testing with most everything hooked up.
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    Everything hooked up and secured.
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  6. Massey

    Massey TrainBoard Member

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    So since I found where everything is going, I thought it was time to cut the holes for the wiring.

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    Then I glued the pieces for the upper shelf in place and clamped till they dry. Next up is fitting the shelf and cutting the necessary holes in it for the whole thing to work happy like. Stay tuned.

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  7. Massey

    Massey TrainBoard Member

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    So I thought of a great way to determine which DC/DCC switch is for which channel. I changed the green LEDs to red and yellow.


    Here is a stock switch next to the red one.
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    And here are the switches, both finished.
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    These have a center off which will also kill power to that track. When that happens there is no lights at all.
     
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  8. Massey

    Massey TrainBoard Member

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    Ok, I got the interior of the case all finished up. I’m finishing the shelf, and should have that done here soon... er... tomorrow, as I have 2 more parts coming for the sound system. Speaking of sound, I lost sound on the video controller card. The card is an NT68676.2 and last night when I was testing everything, I didn’t have the speaker jack plugged in all the way, and the spring for the tip caused the plug to pop out a bit. That caused a loud bit of feedback and I had it plugged back in in just a few seconds. But no more sound out of the board after that. I can’t see anything burnt, but still nothing. Oh well, the headphone jack on the Pi still works, it just doesn’t sound as good.

    Anyway here is a shot of the finished interior, and in a few, or maybe tomorrow I will have the shelf done and everything good to go!
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    Oh in case anyone is wondering, the wooden “keys” at the back on the Power Pole block are there to lock it in place. The wood was too thick for the tabs to lock it in so I keyed it in place. It’s very secure.
     
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2021
  9. Massey

    Massey TrainBoard Member

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    That’s it for tonight. I have to be at work stupid early before everybody else because my coworker tested positive for you-know-what, and they are treating me like I did too... I failed that test btw, but still. So I got everything done that I could tonight. I only have 3 things left for a totally finished job... er 4... but the last thing doesn’t involve building anything.

    I should be getting the last parts tomorrow, and they are a 3.5mm headphone jack to tie into the speaker port of the pi. Since the Pi is on the lower deck, it’s too hard to try and plug in and out all the time. A USB power port run off the power supply to give me power for charging my phone, or powering the speakers. And then I have to create an input port for the DC side of things. I’m not sure how I really want to do this part, but I am most likely going to use Kato standard plugs tapped into the DC/DCC switches and call it a day. Simple and easy, and since I won’t be using them much they can just tuck under the shelf.

    Here is the underside of the shelf. I designed it so everything unplugs so it can be removed for maintenance and upgrades easily. It houses all the train control components.

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    Here is the “finished” product showing our favorite website.
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    And here it is all locked up.
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    The last piece of this puzzle is going to be getting the DR5000 all set up and running with the JMRI. I have JMRI already installed and ready to go, I just have not configured it yet. I will set up a programming track and see if it will read locos. Then set up a loop of modules and run a train!
     
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  10. Massey

    Massey TrainBoard Member

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    Ok I got the last of the major pieces done and in place. The only thing left is the DC wiring, which will be a simple Kato jack tucked inside the unit that I pull out when I need. I have to get JMRI configured with the DR5000 as well. Any advise on the best way to do that with a Raspberry Pi running Raspberry OS would be great. I’m thinking Ethernet as I wouldn’t need any drivers...

    Enjoy!
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  11. Sumner

    Sumner TrainBoard Member

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    Nice work on the project.

    I've had a couple Pi's, used one on the sailboat for a chartplotter. They are great and I'm using one now with DCC++ running JMRI. The JMRI on it could be connected to any other CS.

    Now getting the Pi up was so easy using Steve Todd's image....

    https://mstevetodd.com/jmri-raspberrypi-access-point

    .... move the image to a micro SD card plug it into the Pi and turn it on. It boots and JMRI comes up on the screen. Couldn't get any easier than that. One doesn't need to know anything about a Raspberry Pi to make it work. If someone has a spare monitor, keyboard and mouse they can have a dedicated train room computer running JMRI for about $50.

    Which Pi do you have? His image now only works with the newer Pi 4 as far as I know since the operating system changed going to that. I still have the image file for the older Pi's that I could probably get to you if it would help.

    Maybe you already have the Pi going with JMRI and are only concerned with the DR5000? If so hopefully the above might tempt someone else into looking in the Pi solution to a computer running JMRI.

    Sumner
     
  12. Massey

    Massey TrainBoard Member

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    I’m using the Pi 3 B+ model, and I have used the JMRI image on it before. I didn’t like it as it was difficult to keep the Pi updated. I instead went with the standard Linux JMRI installation and that works quite well. When I hooked it up to my Digitrax DCS210 I used a Locobuffer 2 as the go between, and it worked just fine. This time I am using the DR5000 and the Pi didn’t pick up a comm port when it was plugged in via usb. I am going to run the windows setup on the DR5000 and see if I can see.
     
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  13. Sumner

    Sumner TrainBoard Member

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    Are you using a USB to serial converter or does the DR5000 sidestep that and it is USB to USB? I always had to use the convert for my applications on the boat.

    Sumner
     
  14. Massey

    Massey TrainBoard Member

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    Ok so I hooked the DR5000 up to my windows pc and did a firmware update. Now the Pi picks it up, and so does JMRI. I will set up some tracks this weekend and give the system the full test with trains. I have it set up in JMRI as a Digitrax device with a Locobuffer USB as the interface. Last night it didn’t matter how I set it up, PR3/4 or Locobuffer it wouldn’t work. And in the notes that went with the firmware update it fixed a bug that would cause the unit to not be recognized on some computers through USB.
     
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  15. Massey

    Massey TrainBoard Member

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    OK so a mixed bag of results from my testing today... The DR5000 works as a command station to run trains, but I was unable to program a locomotive with it via the Pi (couldn't even read the decoder) or from a Windows PC. The windows PC allowed the reading of the decoder but it got all muffed up when I tried to write to it. I was also unable to set up the WiFi settings, my computer just went ding ding ding... and then when I tried to close the app it would crash. Not fun... So I am running trains on it right now, it connected to my UR92 just fine, and both my UT4D and DT500D work just fine, but the Pi and JMRI on the Pi to control or program it, not so much. Well maybe the Pi will do a throttle, but I have not tried it yet.
     
  16. Sumner

    Sumner TrainBoard Member

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  17. Massey

    Massey TrainBoard Member

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    That was my exact settings for the USB connection. No joy. I made another thread about the issues I am having, instead of putting it all here on the build thread.
     
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  18. Massey

    Massey TrainBoard Member

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    Well this project derailed, and got back on track, all in one weekend. So the DR5000 was not playing nice. My DT500D was acting funny on it... going to idle or powering off while controlling trains, which usually required me to plug into the UR92 and reacquire the locos too. It would also put the throttle in a strange mode that wouldn’t let me do anything, I had to pull the battery to fix that... so there is that issue, along with it didn’t want to program trains, or interface with JMRI on the Pi. Yea, I was not having a good time with it... I wanted to run trains this weekend, not fiddle fart around with the unit... I spent a few weekends already doing that, this was train running weekend for me!

    so my solution was simple, I removed the DR5000 from the box, redesigned a few things inside, rebuilt the shelf and in the end I now have a Digitrax DCS210 in the box allowing me full control, with JMRI on the Pi and everything works perfectly. I wonder if anyone would get creeped out if my wallpaper was a HAL eye and I had a sound bite from him saying “I’m completely operational, and all my circuits are functioning perfectly” (from 2010)...

    I also got the analog systems hooked up and operating perfectly as well. The mode switches work great, and so does the track indicator lights from RPC electronics. They are orange in DCC mode and change between red and green when in DC mode. Here are a couple of pics of the newly finished unit.

    Here is the new layout inside with the shelf off.
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    Here is the finished unit in operation.
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