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admin 05.06.2014

Last weekend saw Jack and I take a trip to the Western Modern Railway Society‘s West Of London Model Railway Exhibition in South Ruislip. I don’t know whether this was true when I last went to an exhibition, but the technology was surprisingly unreliable.
This model of the Canadian Rockies was particularly impressive, as were the tricks the maker used to create good-looking trees and ground. One last point: The show was half layouts and half stands, where the stands combined tool shows, magazine sellers, and individuals making and selling trees or constructed kit locomotives. In summary, it was fascinating to go an exhibition by hobbyist model-makers, especially ones who have a small industry supporting them, taking mass produced objects (houses and trains) and completing their look for their own layout.
What I got most out of the visit was an idea of the various motivations of people in the community. But I was also wondering whether the state of model railway reflects the state of railways as a whole in Britain – no real post-war change. Perhaps Canadian model train enthusiasts quickly build long straight tracks and spend their entire time modelling forests instead? Often the control panel will still have a knob, but that knob is sending digital signals down the wires rather than varying the voltage. So with DCC you can run a train with the correct white headlights at the front, and red ones at the back, which stay on when the train stops. There are people with models of the modern scene, with colourful post-privatisation liveries, but they’re very much a minority. The only model of the Eurostar, and the best models of the French TGV are made by Kato of Japan.
I saw your blog post about the Manchester Model Railway Club’s recent exhibition, and that led me to this gallery of layouts there.
As Tim says having the ability to switch lights on and off is satisfying, and sound effects (certainly in model diesel locos) are just beginning to take off. And I haven’t got into the fine tuning of acceleration and braking curves of each loco to best match the characteristics of the motor in each loco, but its all possible. Incidentally, I model diesels, but with one layout set in 1986, and the other 2 in the mid 1970s and although not steam these are certainly historical.
For a serious look at DCC, sound and modern image (1955-2007) get your self up to Burton next year for the DEMU (Diesel & Electric Modellers United) Showcase.
Many DCC systems now have a computer interface available which allows exactly what you suggested, computer control of the whole layout, trains, points, signals lights, the lot.
A most exciting development, mainly in USA models, is full sound units fitted in thr locos. Oops, please excuse the typing, it’s late and I’m drinking a glass of red wine!

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I went to the Spalding Exhibition for the first time in Nov 2005 and was bowled over by the variety and interest so was possibly planning on going again this year on that basis, but once I found out it would also be my last chance to see Littlewood, it became an unbreakable date committment and so I booked time off work. Often full sized long trains in the US like coal trains with 100 or more cars have 3 or 4 engines in the front, one or two in the middle and possibly some more pushing from the end. Spent a morning at the Basildon model railway exhibition, here are a few pictures from the vast array of layouts on display. The technology is the same as it was–the trains are controlled with a voltage knob wired to the track, and the points are controlled by switches directly connected. Trains often needed assistance to get over a rough patch in the track, especially at slow speeds, and people were often doing small amounts of maintenance.
The adverts in the background would be in character, the trees and landscape were well decorated, and the whole layout would be accompanied by a narrative of what sort of industry was assumed to be nearby, the purpose of the particular junction, the time period, and so on. The whole layout was created in 10 weeks, but the maker generally made only one layout every 3 years. There was a small layout of Croydon Tramlink and a single layout which included diesel and electric era trains, but otherwise locomotives dominated. Some like the agency of controlling the train, some like modelling, some are selling, some have train collections they’d like to see on the tracks (but no space for a layout). Modern trains have powerful headlights, and DCC lets you control the lighting (head and tail) independently of the movement of the train. You have a very immediate connection with the movement of the locomotives, using a voltage knob.
As previous correspondents have noted Digital Command Control DCC, is the order of the day now for serious model railway constructors. The major focus these days is in on-loco sound and this is becoming very common in the British outline arena.
Whether it is a ficticious or actual location, if it is done bad, or the rolling stock doesn’t match the location or the era it wont look right. Good to see the comments about DCC control as it hasreally brought my interest back to life.
Steam or diesel sounds, bells, whistles, switch the cooling fans on and off, brake squeal, coupler noises – the works. Your photos were exquisite and indeed representative of the type of exhibition you visited. I live in the US and have a home layout under construction as well as belong to two modular N-Scale clubs. We had handheld radios talking to a dispatcher who sat in a separate room where he could not see the trains.

The scenery was incidental, and there a number of layouts had a large sidings to store all the locomotives, carriages and freight. There’s some really detailed modelling on display there (I especially like the pylon in the second layout shown).
Another feature that I like, indeed the one that made me convert from DC, is the ability to use the same handheld control unit to switch points and signals. Not that there is anything wrong with DC, or that DC means they are not serious, I mean that if anyone is considering the hobby, or upgrading then DCC is the way to go. It was great fun and, as I mention in this update, my surprise comes mainly from an expectation that I’d see people experimenting with new technologies to do different kinds of models.
Again, the beauty of DCC is that you can control with one knob 1, 2 or more engines in the same train. I did see two chaps operating trains on the same layout, communicating only through on-layout signals, just as regular train operators would. Perhaps this is simply because layouts with more points are more exciting, and futuristic, high speed trains don’t work like that. But it does make me wonder what other hobbies people would gather around, and what a model railway hobby would look like using modern technology and an internet sensibility.
On a large layout (or indeed a small one, but its more than my brain can cope with!!) you can set one train going at a certain speed, and use the controller to call up another train and drive that whilst the first one carries on happily.
Just change the menu and select the point you wish to change, just the same as selecting which loco to drive. The possibilities are endless when it comes to integrating this wth a computer and running software like Railroad & Co to control the entire layout.
Although, from the conversation here about DCC, it seems likely that people were doing that, and I was uninformed enough not to notice it was happening. Instead of having a large rectangular pit we had only a small one with several peninusulars coming off it that had their own return.
Before I went to university in 1980 we converted my dad’s Hornby Dublo three rail train set to the Zero-1 system which has most of the features described here. The entire layout was DCC with some of the turnouts (I think you call them points) controlled via DCC and others manually.

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