Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Progress Report 58

Well, the weather so far in April has been very kind, almost like Summer. Opportunities have been taken to: build some rolling stock for the new 32mm gauge mine tramway; complete my revised freight management computer program; re-organise the Copper Mine sidings and divert the mainline to ease the two tight curves at this location; convert a track-powered loco to battery powered radio control; add works plates and number plates to locos; and, of course, run some trains.

32mm gauge rolling stock

I envisage that the 32mm gauge Peckforton Mine Tramway (PMT) will ultimately have two small internal combustion powered locomotives, around half a dozen skip wagons, a couple of small open passenger cars (for workmen) and a barrel wagon.

So far, I have completed the barrel wagon from a £10 kit bought on eBay (see How I constructed a barrel wagon) though it still needs painting and weathering.

 I have three Binnie Hudson skip kits awaiting construction and will buy another three when these have been completed. When they appear on eBay once more, I will purchase two open passenger cars from the same source as the barrel wagon.

Freight management computer program

Several years ago I developed a computerised freight management system using a relational database program (4D version 5) which was given away on the cover disk of a computer magazine. This served me well for several years but worked only on Windows XP - the only way I could transfer it to later versions was to buy an upgrade - but at over £500, it seemed somewhat excessive.

Recently, I stumbled across LiveCode, which is an open source computer programming environment based on Apple's now defunct program - HyperCard. Having thoroughly enjoyed programming with HyperTalk many (many) years ago, I felt this high level programming language would be ideal for coding a revised and updated version of my freight management program. After some experimentation and what turned out to be a fairly shallow (re)learning curve, I have now produced a revised and improved version of my original program (see My revised freight management program).

Checking the efficacy of the program seemed like a good excuse reason for a freight-focused operating session:
The Down pickup goods departs Bulkeley

The Down pickup goods approaching Beeston Castle
The Up pickup goods departing Bickerton

The Up pickup goods between Bulkeley and Peckforton
The Up Afternoon mixed approaching Peckforton
The Up afternoon mixed departing Beeston Castle
The Up afternoon mixed arrives at Beeston Market

Track improvements around the Copper Mine

The arrangement of the sidings at the Copper Mine is something which I had been intending to change for quite a while. Under the previous layout, the loco needed to make use of the mainline to run around its two trains of tipper wagons (one rake of empty wagons and another rake of loaded wagons).

 This photo shows more clearly the layout of the sidings and the adjacent main line.

Considering that, in reality, the copper mines would have been nowhere near the mainline, this arrangement was not only inconvenient, it made me feel uncomfortable. I had considered re-siting the copper mine, but this would have involved a considerable rebuild and so I opted for a less radical approach. A new board was added on the opposite side of the sidings from the mainline ......

.... and a new siding was laid on this. At the same time the two links to the mainline were removed and the pointwork redeployed.

Another revision which I completed at the same time was to eliminate two R1 curves on the mainline.

When I laid the track originally, I wanted the mainline to meander through the hedge - however, I over exaggerated the meanderings somewhat by including two R1 reverse curves. This has caused a few problems over the years with some couplings pulling stock off the track. One loco (Barclay 2-4-0, No. 2 Beeston) recently had problems rounding one of the curves, suggesting the gauge on this piece of track had somehow closed.

Now seemed the right time for a rebuild. A new diversion was constructed to cut the corner, though the old alignment was retained as a branchline to the Copper Mine.

This has not only eased the curves on the mainline, it has provided the Copper Mine sidings with its own trackwork for shunting without having to encroach on the mainline.

I will encourage hedging plants to grow up in the void between the two boards, thus providing a scenic break.

Locomotive battery conversion

When I originally decided to investigate battery powered radio control, I started by constructing a couple of locos specifically to operate on battery power (see How I constructed a railbus and How I constructed a diesel loco from a kit). For a while, I wanted to run battery locos alongside track-powered locos to ensure that battery power would be feasible. Last year, I completely abandoned track power in favour of battery power (see A review of the railway's motive power - pending) - and sold off all my DCC control equipment.

At the start of this year, I still had three track-powered locos (two kitbuilt and one scratchbuilt) awaiting conversion. these three were the most difficult to convert, owing primarily to the lack of space available for the batteries. 

Deciding that clearing space of lead weights in the saddle tank of my kitbuilt Peckett loco (No. 1, Peckforton) would require substantial dismantlement and rebuild, I experimented with alternatives. I found that I could fit three 18650 li-ion batteries in the cab.

I am delighted that the line's first purpose-built loco is now back in service. I was also extremely impressed that the li-ion batteries have given me five hours and twenty minutes of continuous running on one charge (see How I converted a track powered loco to battery power).

Nameplates and number plates

With my Deltang Tx22 transmitter, I can allocate locomotives to any of twelve separate channels. Over the years, as I have constructed and converted locomotives to radio control, the channels have been allocated somewhat randomly. I decided that I needed a more logical approach to this allocation. My locos have been given numbers for some time (see Stock List), so why not use the railway's locomotive numbering system? To help me remember the loco numbers, I decided it was about time I ensured that all locos sported number plates.

A set of brass number plates was acquired from Roundhouse .......

.... and these were liberally daubed with Humbrol red acrylic which was then carefully scraped off with a piece of card.

 When the paint had dried, the plates were given a final polish with some very fine emery paper and were then applied to any locos which were presently unnumbered. I used my tried-and-tested approach (having learned from experience) of attaching the plates. A couple of small dots of superglue were applied to the body of the loco (rather than to the plate) where the plate would be positioned, and then the plate was then carefully dropped on to it. It was then adjusted with the point of a small screwdriver before the glue set.

In addition, works plates had been ordered from Narrow Planet for some of the locos. These were applied in the same way....

Now the Sharp Stewart ......

 ..... and both Manning Wardles sport works plates. I've decided that works plates definitely enhance the appearance of locos and intend to apply them to all my stock.

 Running sessions

The weather has been so mild during April that I have been able to snatch some short and, on a couple of occasions, some more prolonged operating sessions.
Loco No. 8 Wynford heading towards the Copper Mine with a train of empties while No. 2 is just leaving Beeston Castle

Loco No.2 Beeston, departing Beeston Market with a Down passenger
Loco No.6, Harthill, crossing the River Gowy with an Up pickup goods
Wynford passing the Mill Siding with a train of empties for the Copper Mine
Further down the line she passes beneath the A534 on the approach to Bulkeley
Loco No. 1 Peckforton, about to depart Peckforton with a Down passenger
Later in the day she is caught approaching Peckforton with another Down passenger
As a record of these sessions, I made some short videos


I am gaining a lot of satisfaction from running my railway. For me, going over to battery power has allowed me to run trains without the added hassle of having to clean the track - which was a laborious and thankless task. I have eschewed live steam power - partly on the grounds of cost but primarily because the greatest pleasure I derive from running my railway is being able to run trains at realistic speeds and operate fairly authentic freight services. Being able to shunt wagons at intervening stations in a way which, to my mind, represents how a light railway might have functioned in the inter-war period, gives me great pleasure.

Friday, April 10, 2015

My revised freight handling computer program

I first developed a freight handling program for my indoor 00 railway just over ten years ago. It was based on a relational database (4D) which I got free of charge on the cover disk of a computer magazine. When I ventured into the garden, I adapted this program for the increased number of stations and rolling stock (see Computerised freight operations). This served me well for a few years, but the freebie program would only work on Windows XP and I couldn't afford to buy the licence for the more recent version of the program. I kept running the program on my antiquated desktop computer but it was beginning to show its age.

Recently, I stumbled across Livecode. This is an open source programming environment based on HyperCard, which was developed by Apple many (many) years ago. I was great fan of Hypercard at the time and lamented its passing when Apple ceased to support it. I downloaded the free 'community' edition of the application and was delighted that, after some experimentation, I was able to dust off my dormant programming skills and started developing a LiveCode version of my freight management program. It is now finished - well that's to say, it's now working and earning its keep. I'm not sure it will ever be 'finished' as, like my railway, I will probably keep tweaking, amending and updating it.

As with the previous version, this one features two core databases - one which records all the locations on the railway:

 and one which records all the wagons on the railway.

The crux of the system is the grid which determines the percentage likelihood of the wagon travelling to and from each location. The coal wagon shown above has a 20% likelihood it will travel from BM (Beeston Market) to, say, Peckforton (PK) but it will never travel from Bulkeley (BY) to anywhere else but Beeston Market (BM).

This closed van, by contrast, is likely to travel to and from a variety of locations on the line.

The drop-down list which is prominent on this record shows that the relative length of each wagon can also be recorded, as well as its current location on the system.

 The 'card' for each wagon can be printed out as hard copy and a summary listing all the wagons and their present locations can also be printed.

Update 18 / 04 / 2015
I have now added a further print-out to the wagon summary - the wagons can be printed out by location. I have found this print-out helps when checking that wagons are in their correct locations at the start of an operating session.

To generate traffic on the system, this screen is used. Clicking the 'Create Train' button will generate a semi-randomised train, based on the weightings for each wagon. In this example, several wagons are travelling from BM down the line to various other locations. For example, the Closed Van (CL06) is travelling from PK to BK (as we saw above, closed vans are more likely to travel to and from any location on the system). Refinements from the previous (XP) version now include the ability to decide how busy the system can be at that particular moment and also whether or not time is included for unloading the wagons. I was finding, on the previous version, that sometimes a wagon would be delivered to a particular location by, say, the Down pick-up goods, only to find it would immediately be required to return on the next Up train - which seemed to me somewhat unprototypical.

Clicking the 'Accept' train button instructs the database to move the relevant wagons to their new locations thereby keeping track of what is where.

The trains can be printed out in one of two formats. With the original program, the wagons could only be printed in the order in which the trains are generated - which is actually in order of priority; the most urgent wagons appearing at the top of the list and the least urgent at the bottom:

However, I was finding that this format was sometimes a bit confusing when I was out in the garden, trying to shunt the various wagons on to or off the train. It has been known for the train to arrive at a station only to find a required wagon was not picked up at the previous station. Some with which the controller (Fat or otherwise) would not be at all pleased. And so, I devised a clearer print-out for shunting purposes at each station.

This indicates which wagons need to be pick-up and dropped off at each location, making life a lot easier.

As the weather has been particularly clement the past few days, I have had the opportunity to try out the new system and so far, have been very pleased with the result.

A day's freight operations

Manning Wardle 0-6-0ST, Harthill, starts off proceedings by delivering the stock to their starting positions at the beginning of the session. Here she is approaching Beeston Castle.

 On the final leg, she is just leaving Bulkeley on her way down to the terminus at Bickerton.

Arriving at Bickerton

 She then returned up the line running light to Beeston Market.

 She then took on duties in charge of the Down pick-up goods. Here, she is just leaving Beeston Market station at the start of her journey.

Further down the line, she is just leaving Bulkeley on her way to the other terminus at Bickerton.

 After shunting at Bickerton, she starts back up the line.

Shunting at Bulkeley......

..... and then on towards Peckforton.

Approaching Peckforton......

...... where she engages in some more shunting .......

..... before dropping off a van at the Mill Siding.

And then on towards Beeston Castle.

Later in the day, Barclay 2-4-0T, Beeston, takes the afternoon mixed down the line. Here she is approaching Peckforton, crossing the River Gowy.

On the way back up the line, between Bickerton and Bulkeley.

Approaching Peckforton with a couple of timber wagons for the sawmill.

She is about to enter the main terminus at Beeston Market.

 At the end of the day, Harthill goes back down the line to collect the wagons from each location to return them to the storage sidings.

The labels remind me where the stock was located so it can be returned there at the start of the next session.

I have seen quite complicated stock management programs, but my principle in developing this one was to keep things simple. I find that having an element of weighted randomisation makes life interesting on the railway. I sometimes have trains running with an unexpected mix of rolling stock - and have to spend a while figuring out the best way to shunt the train at the intervening stations - do I drop off wagons on the way Down the line or wait until the train travels back Up when shunting into the trailing sidings is easier? And life would be so much easier if those wretched timetabled passenger trains didn't keep getting in the way!