block control and signaling

Block Control

The layout is wired for conventional DC block control, consisting of 24 blocks. This allows two trains to operate simultaneously, in any direction, and meet or pass each other. Control panels are located around the layout with schematics of the track diagram and block separations indicated. 3-position center-off switches are used. Turn switch left to assign block to Cab A, center position turns block off, turn switch right to assign block to Cab B.

control panel
Block control panel

Control Stands

control stands
Control stands

There are two identical rolling control stands, made of stacked storage crates glued together. Cab A is on the left, cab B on the right. The bottom one has a couple of bricks in it for stability (so it won't tip when you pull it around), and casters. The middle one has one side cut out to make a cavity for a clipboard. The top one has a stack of styrofoam in it which almost fills it to the top, so the top has a lip to keep the controller in. Each has a tether to the layout. Since the layout is E-shaped, both are tethered to the point of the middle section, so each can roll anywhere on the layout; as you follow the train around and work a specific section.


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The layout is fully signalized and automated using 40 block signals. The signal aspects, however, are nothing like prototype practice. Signal indications have nothing to do with whether a block is occupied by a train or not! They only serve to tell you if the upcoming block is set for your cab.

There are signals at the beginning of each block. A green signal indicates the block beyond is set to the same cab as the block you are currently in - so you can proceed past the signal without doing anything. A red signal indicates the block beyond is either set to the other cab or neutral (not powered at all).

The goal of the system is to allow you to operate a train without removing your eyes from it. You keep one hand on the throttle knob and just observe the signals as you travel. This seems to have a more realistic feel than constantly pressing buttons on a controller. If you come upon a red signal you must stop. You cannot run through it, as there is no power available for you beyond it. You have to claim the block by turning the appropriate panel switch before proceeding into it.

For one operator, this is very simple. Before you start, you go to all the panels and set all the blocks in your intended route to your cab. Then you should encounter green signals all the way.

For two operators, Set all blocks to neutral to begin - this should result in all red signals. Now Cab A claims the block they occupy, and the one being approached - resulting in two green blocks. Cab B does the same. If you approach a block set to the other cab, you have a red signal facing you. Return each switch to neutral upon leaving a block.

Of course, another method is to just set the yard to Cab B, and everything else to Cab A. This allows one person to do yard sorting independent of mainline running.

Home • Revised Dec 26 2016