Tetsudou Musume Container Collection vol.3

As part of my ongoing efforts to get my children more interested in my little hobby, I got my daughter this set of Tetsudou Musume Containers Collection 3 (I had previously got her the Tetsudo Musume Figures).  Of course, my son's interests are more towards engines (although much more towards Xbox), but my daughter does enjoy the anime style and is learning to draw this way.
Of course, for 'dad', these containers are a cool and unique example of model railroading in Japan!  I have to admit, I think they're pretty cute as well!  I also have to say, the 'kid' in me really likes the TomyTec 'collection' boxes.  I've also done their building collection in addition to a car collection, and its a lot of fun to open up these boxes to see what surprises await!
The printing on these containers is satisfactory...close up views of the color images reveal the 'pixelization' process of the printing method used.  They are just plastic shells...no bottoms and extremely light.  I debate whether or not I should also get some TomyTec flat cars and set up a little train of these....maybe someday!
Of course, putting these on flat cars means I need to get my layout up to shape!  My current project is wiring to some of the new extension areas....I am hoping that this weekend will be the weekend I can put some trains back on the layout after spending a long time in their boxes! So off to work!


Downtown Graffiti and Railway Cut

As we all know, every major urban area with a railway will usually have two things....a below grade route for the trains and graffiti!  As part of my effort to move my trains further back from the edge of the layout (by simply attaching 4" or so boards to the edges) I've been able to add some features that weren't in my original plans, and make formally boring areas of the layout a little more interesting.
The graffiti decals are primarily from a seller on eBay, and overall I think they look quite good.  I still need to do a bit more weathering on the walls to hide the decal edges.
The bridge in the upper photo is a Tomytec bridge which will be appropriately weathered and...uhh...likely 'tagged' as the kids say these days.


Cathedral Update

I mentioned earlier my decision to move my cathedral and I got a lot of good suggestions and encouragement!  I'm glad that I noticed this and I really like how the new placement is turning out.
Note that of my different ideas at the time, I went with none of them, and instead put the cathedral in at an angle to the rest of the city blocks.  I think this looks the best of all the other possible combination!  Still need to detail and weather  my styrene sidewalks, connect the wiring for the church lights, add street lighting and other stuff, but overall I'm pretty pleased with how this turned out!
Along the backside of the cathedral property where the tracks run, I bought some of the Greenmax walls that I think will look really good when they've been painted and weathered.  I also got the Greenmax tram station kit for the tram line terminus adjacent to the church.


Ballasting Progress

Time for working on the layout has been rare in the past couple of weeks, but I have been using whatever stolen moments I can find to work on ballasting the new track extensions.

The grade that leads up to the 'Hack Bridge' overpass is starting to take shape.  Shown with my BR64 is the Atlas flex track moving up the Woodland Scenics 3% grade risers.  As you can still, much scenic work is left to be done.
The lower area just to the left of this grade is the new work on converting my 'freight yard' to Minitrix track (was previously Kato).

Another area that has been taking a lot of time to get ballasted correctly is the 'main line' extension that passes underneath the viaduct and runs around the entire new section where my new passenger terminal will be.
This little area is using Kato turnouts and Atlas flex track.  The little house you see in the photo will eventually be replaced by a quaint 'older style' depot.  I am thinking something like this would look really nice.
As for the aforementioned freight yard, I'm trying to maximize storage space in this yard and have chosen to use curved turnouts.  The original material was going to be the Minitrix curved turnouts, but having read on the Japanese Rail Modellers forum than the Minitrix curved turnouts may not be compatible with many Japanese produced trains, I am having serious doubts about this.  Curved turnouts seems risky enough!  I ordered a Tomix curved turnout to see if that can be used as an alternative.  I still need to figure this out.
That's it for now!  Happy Modeling!


Locomotive Roster: BLS Class 420; Minitrix 12781

Its been a while since I've talked about any of my locomotives so - while the layout is still a mess - I thought I would try and catch up.   This Minitrix BLS Class 420 is my second BLS locomotive, but like my first one, I love the color scheme and the lines of both of these a lot.  The color scheme is striking to me...the use of that funky neon green against the silver/metal body, with the bold, dark blue stripe has such an awesome modern look to it.

Additionally, the BLS is a Swiss railway I've only barely begun to understand, but it has a really fascinating history and one that seems to me to be quite unique (its history sounds very...American, if you will, compared to most of the railway histories in Europe - reminds me a lot of the competiton between the Great Northern and the Northern Pacific here on the Pacific Coast of the US).  The brief history on Wikipedia of this unique line is pretty fascinating reading.
This locomotive from Minitrix is also quite fascinating!  The detail work and crispness of the painting is up to the typically high standards that I've come to expect from Minitrix.  The 'silver paint' has a very convincing look for the 'steel' of the locomotive body...something that is often quite difficult to replicate on these plastic shells!

Although I have not had much time to run it given the ongoing layout renovations in the past year, the motor is whisper quiet with smooth acceleration and deceleration. 

While it is quite easy to bemoan the high cost of Minitrix compared to say, Kato, there are differences which should be pointed out in all fairness.  First, as I mentioned above, the low noise factor indicates some level of modern engineering expertise that I don't expect can come cheaply to any firm.  Second, a look at the underside of this locomotive reveals the metal gears and other metal parts, which represent a level of quality (one assumes) that is much more expensive to produce than with plastic gearing and parts.  Does this mean this locomotive will have a longer life expectancy?  Let's hope so given that the costs of these are so high compared to a similar Japanese locomotive!  And as is typical with European N scale locomotives, you have the option of using overheard catenary to pick up electricity, which is also a feature which adds to the cost (note the red switch in the below photo).
Like most modern production from European manufacturers, the smart NEM 651 socket feature is provided and is easily accessible with the removal of the shell.   I've said this before, but this is hands down the best system for adding DCC out there, and it would be great for all modelers if other firms adopted this method (Atlas? Kato?).  A nice overview of the simple process of converting one of these locomotives to DCC can found at N-Gauge Blog.  The decoder installed in this locomotive is the Trix 66838.  This is not my first choice as they tend to be more expensive than Lenz or ESU decoders, but this was all that was available at the time of purchase!

So...here's the bad news.  Despite the ease of adding a decoder I ran into some issues when I first attempted to read the decoder,; that is....an error.   Even attempting to communicate to the decoder using the default address of "3" resulted in no response from the locomotive.  I took it back to Walter at Euro Rail Hobbies and he couldn't get it to work at his shop either.  Leaving it in his reliable hands for several weeks, he later returned it to me in good working order, but had to make some soldering repairs to the circuit board where (apparently if I recall correctly) it was not properly soldered.

Unfortunately, this issue with Minitrix circuit boards, specifically regarding the contacts of their NEM 651 sockets is not an isolated case, as I've read of several other owners having similar quality issues on some of the European Railway message boards.  Let's hope Minitrix gets this quality issue sorted out quickly (if they haven't already) - its really not at all acceptable given the prices they charge not too mention the damage this does to the brand's reputation.  

The good news is that I got this locomotive through a dealer who can also service these locomotives and the fact that Minitrix does have a 2 year warranty on its products.

It works fine now and I'm looking forward to seeing it stretch its wheels out on my new viaduct in the near future as the messy parts of my layout expansion get completed!


Hack Bridges ("Hack Brücken")

Quick post on some bridge options that are new to me, and may be something interesting to other folks.   A company called Hack Brueken (Brueken - or Brücken - means 'bridges' in German...Thank you Google Translate!) creates pre-assembled metal bridges in an interesting array of styles and lengths (and in multiple scales).  I came across these bridges on eBay and from the description seemed like a something worth checking out for my overpass on the 'red line'.  I have to say, I am very pleased!

Despite being made of metal, they are very lightweight, and definitely feel more solid than any plastic kit you would purchase and assemble (well, maybe not you, but for me..... yeah, some of these plastic kits require far more dexterity and patience and skill with tweezers than I have, but that's another story....).  While very close inspection does not show a lot of detail (e.g. no rivets), I find the general scale of the girders and beams to look a bit more 'realistic' than the usually much thicker 'plastic varieties'.  I think each has its place, and the idea for me is to have a little bit of diversity on the layout for different lines, so it works for me to have both.  Below is the Kato double-track bridge compared to a Hack single track bridge I'm using on my 'expansion':
I like the arched through-truss bridge so much, I ordered a shorter deck-truss bridge as well, although I'm a little undecided about where it will go. 
Full disclosure is that I know very little about bridge types, so if my 'through-truss' and 'deck truss' descriptions are wrong, I got the explanations from ye olde Wikipedia.

So if you're looking for a bridge that is a bit different than the normally available ones, I'd recommend checking out "Hack"...either on eBay or on their website (I shouldn't have to say this, but I have no relationship with this company, just passing on some neat stuff I found).