Bluetooth Model Train Control

OK train people, I haven’t written much about model trains recently, but this Kickstarter project is very interesting. Basically, this small board which would be added into the model locomotive would enable you to control your trains via a Bluetooth device such as an Apple or Android phone.

BlueTooth Control

As much as other hobbies have advanced over the years, model trains have gotten a bit stuck. Or maybe we should say “derailed”? Anyway, the trains are still, for the most part, controlled via power and signals over the track. This is often called driving the track instead of driving the train. While DCC helps with that, it still relies on the track for the power and the computer signal to reach the train. The goal everyone would like to get to would be for the track to be support only, as they are in real life, with power and controls coming from the locomotive itself.

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An Example of DCC, Raspberry PI and NTrak

I was browsing the web looking for examples of NTrak modules, the standard for small N scale modular model railroads, when I came across the website of the Piedmont ‘N Southern club out of upstate South Carolina. While there is a lot of good NTrak information there, what got me really interested in their site was the detailing of their setup.  They have some pretty extensive documentation with pictures of the DCC equipment they use including Digitrax, JMRI, and yes, even JMRI running on a Raspberry PI.

Raspberry Pi running JMRI WiThrottle and serving as a WiFi Access Point
Raspberry Pi running JMRI WiThrottle and serving as a WiFi Access Point

To quote the website, they use the “RaspberryPi as an access point and JMRI computer. To simplify the use of JMRI and WiThrottle, we have a tiny RaspberryPi computer which runs JMRI, and also acts as a WiFi access point. So our members can simply turn on main power, and the RPi will startup and load JMRI. Within 2 minutes, members can connect and start running trains from their devices. The RPi has no screen or keyboard, so it can stay nicely out of the way in the electronics box.”

Interesting stuff, and I definitely need to go see it all in operation some time soon.

Z Scale Brought to Life with Arduino

MAKE Magazine, a mainstay of the maker and hacker communities, has posted an article on their blog site by Jeff Faust on how he built a small Z scale layout for use at a party. The excellent thing about this little railroad is how he automated it, including motion detection of the observers, using Arduino. Hey, and he did a fine job on the scenery and entire display too.

Z Scale With Arduino

I Sensor a Disturbance

IR SensorWell, Terry Terrance has done it again. After watching a video he posted recently and reading his description of the circuits he used to create a Back ‘n Forth Shuttle, I had to rush out and buy some photoelectric sensors. The idea, of course, is to position these at ends of tracks to sense when a train gets to the end of its run. Combine that with the relays mentioned in an earlier post and either the Raspberry Pi or some other controller, and I should be able to completely automate a small shelf switching layout. Such as my EuroNook.

What I need to do now is get building. The programming really shouldn’t be very hard – just sense the train when it crosses the sensor, set the switches to whatever desired position, and then send the appropriate power to the tracks to make the loco move. My problem is that I am much more comfortable with that programming and electrical part of the build than with the actual creation of the little layout. I am sure it would be exactly the opposite for a lot of folks, but putting knife and glue and paint to wood and such is a whole lot harder for me than programming.

If only all of life was as easy as just hooking up a few sensors and then reacting to what they tell you. If “train” then “buy”. If “cat” then “pat”. If “wife” then “apologize”. See how simple?

TI LaunchPad, Relays and Rail In Action

More fun with the Texas Instrument’s Launchpad! But sorry, but not mine. This belongs to Model Rail Radio contributor and great RR guy Terry Terrance. Terry has been working late tonight to put together a diorama for he Streetsville Junction NMRA Regional this weekend. He has a TI LaunchPad controlling the back ‘n forth shuttle of an On30 loco across the diorama. Pretty simple, but it could be expanded to arbitrary complexity to include automatic routing, etc. Terry saus he made one error in the narration – the relays are SPDT not SPST. The two SPDT relays are wired as a DPDT and are thrown simultaneously by the LaunchPad. Here’s a video of it in action.


I am hoping to build something like this soon, and I will update this blog as I make some progress. Basically I would like to automate the EuroNook that I started building in an earlier post. Whether I will use the LaunchPad to control it or maybe the Raspberry Pi has yet to be seen. Actually I was thinking that if I design the interfacing correctly I could swap the control mechanism between totally manual, LaunchPad, Arduino, Raspberry Pi, or maybe even JMRI just depending on what I hook up.