Power Changes - Upgrading to Digitrax PS 2012

After years of denial and confusion - and a perplexing set of priorities - I decided to retire my trusty old Marklin/Trix power transformer that came with my first starter set (believe it or not, still perfectly fine at powering my entire layout!) and upgraded to the Digitrax PS 2012.

This was actually not a simple decision. For one, this power transformer costs around $150.00, so its a decent investment when an existing power supply seems to be working 'just fine'.  Or is it?  My original Marklin power transformer does work fine and has never had any problem powering 4 simultaneously running trains with lit passenger cars on sidings, etc... But, its average power outage is around 17 volts.

So I've been doing some reading... and I particularly recommend Ken Shores Sumida Crossing blog and this post in particular  on the 'standards' of DCC power supply.  Now, I've been fully aware for a long time that N Scale locomotives are basically built with the 12V DC power requirement in mind.  I'm also aware that I've been nearly 50% higher than that for some time!  "But" I would tell myself "this is the power unit that Marklin/Minitrix supplied with an N Scale train set, so it must be okay, right?"  Well, I suppose, but still, it just seemed wrong.

Of course, in addition to this confusion, my Roco Multizentrale set up says it needs a power supply that will provide between 16-18 volts AC or 18-24 DC.  Wow, again, more than should be needed or safe for N Scale in that standard! What's going on?

I really don't know, but I should be the first one to know that when you're dealing with electricity and electronics, its better to be safe than sorry.  So I decided that for the price of a locomotive, why not buy some insurance that I wasn't cooking my precious little locomotives as they raced around Quinntopia?

Installation was pretty easy.  Although - and this was weird, the switch on the back was set for 230v (not 115 that I need here in the US of A), so I had to flip that over to 115v.    It was easy to change, but I was confused on why it appeared to be set for a voltage that normally would not be the default setting for Digitrax products - and I even wondered if perhaps I was confused on what the labels on the switch actually meant.  Anyway, I went with my gut and flipped the switch so that 115 was showing and 230 was not, which turned out to be the right setting for me).

The one glitch when using this power supply (or most others) with the Roco Multizentrale is that the Roco unit requires one of those prong-like adapters rather than a screw terminal connection.
So I convinced myself that I could always undo whatever I did at this point, I snipped off one of those plugs from another older transformer and used a European terminal connector to bring it all together.
And - with a bit of a prayer - I wired everything together, flipped the switches and...it worked! No cloud of smoke rising form my Multizentrale! Hooray! And I now get a much more tolerable 13 volts (or so) of power to my track!

So far...everything seems to be working just as it was before.  I'm curious to see what this reduced voltage will do to the 'max speed' of some of my locos, but with some limited running, I haven't seen any difference.  And despite their extremely generous requirements for the Multizentrale, my Roco Multimaus system doesn't seem to have any problems either!


Layout Update!

A  brief update on what's happening on the layout in the past several weeks.

Progress has really come along on the track-covering that started back in January as my effort to fix (hide) my track loop near the new passenger terminal.
Although its been a four month project, I've spent my time trying to get some gritty looking walls for the 'tunnel interiors', laying down the grass, and even added a few lights in the tunnel.  I really like the look of graffiti on the walls in this area and will plan on adding more!  
My DB BR03 gets a chance to turn its side-rods as it pulls a rake of coal cars through the tunnel! I really like how the walls and graffiti work with the grass in this shot!
I've also been doing a little 'playing with trains', and have moved a few trains into the new terminal area, and I have to say, its looking prettly cool.  I need a few more people and details on the platforms, but this part of the layout feels done enough that I can move onto other areas!
Another view of the passenger terminal, with the city backdrop behind it.  I plan on having some sort of illumination for all the buildings in the background when I'm all done, right now I've got other priorities.
But I've had a real 'writer's block' (or whatever you want to call it for us modellers) as it comes to the design of my fancy, modern new passenger terminal.  I was originally feeling good about the below idea, and was proceeding with it, but I just lost enthusiasm for the project.  I realized the issue was the design just wasn't inspiring me, so it wasn't something that I was motivated to work on.  The good news, is that I did find some inspiration and have been feverishly working on putting it together in the past two days, and I hope to be able to share my results in a week or so!


2012 N Scale Preview

Now for something completely different! I'm not sure if this is a 2012 "preview" or a catalog "review" - sort of both (and you'll catch me confusing the two in this video!).   The basic idea behind this was to provide an overview of some of the most interesting new items announced for 2012 in the recent releases from the European manufacturers.  The bad part is that sorting through all the catalogs will no doubt miss some major news, and I expect I'll further display some of my ignorance of European railways as well!  The good news is that its not as long as some of my recent videos! :-)

I also realize that this video is probably about two months late given that many of these catalogs were released in February, but perhaps there is still some material that is new to some of you that is of value.

If you're wondering why I don't cover anything from Japan, the answer is simple...their new releases are not only much more frequently announced than the European manufacturers, but there is also excellent coverage on the JNSForum.

Similarly, the UK (which I have not really spent any time on in this blog or my video) has some excellent coverage on some of the UK forums such as the N Gauge Forum or New Railway Modellers.

As for North American, well, there appears to be plenty of information, and not really in the scope of this blog!

I would love to talk about N Guage from other countries...Touchrail in Taiwan is hard to get any information from, I have no idea of anything in South America or other parts of Asia.  


Background Building Scratchbuild

I needed a break from the long, tedious, and increasingly complex 'main terminal' project, and I've been thinking about some different ideas to create cheap, quick, and reasonably realistic background buildings.  So I spent about a week and came up with the "Banal Apartments" building and the "908 building".

The Banal was my first idea, and its really an iteration on the same techniques I used on my 'modern flatiron' scratch-build last Fall.  The idea is simple: Print a window frame pattern onto clear transparency sheets (I have a laser printer fortunately, but I expect this would work with an ink-jet as well), adhere the transparency to a sheet of clear acrylic (shown with the blue protective film below) and then add various strips of styrene in different sizes to give the effect of a building.
 Once the transparency is on the acrylic (of course, you need to make sure your printed window frames match up to your styrene sections), the styrene is glued onto the acrylic.  Easy.  I'm starting to believe that paper or thin card stock could easily (and more cheaply) replace the styrene.
There are no 'floors' behind the exterior, and some windows were blacked out with paint while others were left transparent.  The entire interior is lit by several separate lengths of self-adhesive SMD LED lighting strips.  You can see the back 'wall' for the entire building on the right in the below photo.
Basically, the finished exterior of the "Banal"!
I'm trying to overcome my natural bias against using paper or cardstock as I've seen so many interesting results from other modellers.  While the signage and window details below are printed on transparency and decals, the actual exterior walls on the ground floor is just color printed paper ( okay, impossible to tell in the below photo, but you can see it better in the top photo). 
The "908" building is actually based on a building I drive by on my way to work.  I'm guessing its a 1960's/1970's condo building with floor to ceiling, tinted windows, and a rather plan concrete exterior.  What I find intriguing about the prototype was that despite the buildings rather stark appearance, the different window coverings and lights used in each unit made it an interesting building to model.

I used acrylic sheets again for this building, but no transparency for windows.  I did use some widow tinting material to get that dark, smoky look.  The below photo shows the careful alignment of the exterior 'concrete' floor pieces, which are not only a part of the prototype, they cover yet more foam core 'floors' that separate each floor and act as mounting places for the LED bulbs (not lighting strips in this building, which gives it a different effect).
The ground floor for this building was straight modernism.  The building gets its '908' name for no other reason than those numbers looked good to go on the bare concrete walls!  When complete, I may add some bushes to the front of the concrete areas for extra character.
 The photo below likely will not be the final position of these two buildings, but its a good place to temporarily position them until I get more progress on this area of the city.
As always...thanks for visiting my blog!


Locomotive Roster: JR East E3-1000; Kato 10-222

For this review we head to the east...the JR East and the E3-1000 Tsubasa from Kato!  The  Series E3-1000 is actually what is a called a mini-Shinkansen.  I originally assumed that this was because it was using the Japanese 3'6" narrow gauge.  This turns out not to be the case but it does reflect the fact that the lines these trains operate on were converted to standard gauge (4'8.5") but are still however restricted to the original 'narrow gauge' loading gauge restrictions.   Essentially what I think that means is that the radii are a lot tighter on these lines than they normally would be for a standard gauge train, so the Shinkansens car length, width, etc... are a bit smaller than their traditional standard gauge brethren.
This would not necessarily have been my next Japanese trains set (it was a gift from my wife and son) so I am particularly blessed in getting a really cool train I would not normally have chosen that - frankly - looks way cooler in person and running than it did from my limited exposure to the photos I've seen!
Its styling is extremely...elegant. Very minimalist and sleek.  In fact, it sort of reminds of the Italian ETR 500, or even the new Alsthom AGV (sort of).  And WOW does it have some massively bright lights! You won't miss this train coming!

The lights...well just getting them to work was a huge issue.  And that reminds me of the DCC decoder installation process.

 I go into a bit more detail in the video, but the bottom line is that this so-called "DCC-ready" train from Kato (using their proprietary EM-13 Motor Decoder and two FL 12 decoders for the lights on the cab cars - see this post at Sumida Crossing for a great overview) was anything but easy.  Here's why:

  • Not really intuitive where the decoders go.
  • Not intuitive which way the decoders get inserted.
  • When you do get the decoder inserted, it may not necessarily have good contact.
  • If you do get the decoder installed, and it manages to have good contact in all those places it should have contact, its not at all clear if Kato's decoders will want to function like every other decoder on the planet. 
I had a big problem getting the CV's adjusted so that my cab lights would actually function. For some strange reason, the FL12 decoder would not allow me to use 'Function 0" for the light control (F0 is the nearly universal function used to turn the main lights on / off, etc..) and I had to resort to using Function 5 to turn the lights on and off.  I'm befuddled by this and it makes no sense to my simple mind.

The good news in all of this is that you have friends who can help!  I have to say (and not for the first time) that the folks over at the Japanese N Scale forum are about the friendliest and most helpful folks on the planet.  Here's the specific thread where I presented my problems and got excellent (and fast!) responses from Inobu on the forum.  This is a great hobby!
So, it finally all worked out.  The train runs great (particularly after a bit of breaking in).  And while the decoder install was  hassle, I have to think its one of the 'rights of passage' in the 'brotherhood' of this hobby we all share.   Its also a nice way to 'connect' with others via this wonderful thing called the internet.
That's it for now!  Please feel free to comment as always!


Station Update Part 3

Work proceeds on the station although truthfully I ran out of inspiration on this since my last post and have been distracted by a couple of other projects, so not as much done as I would have liked, but here's what's new....

The 'second level' of the station is now mostly complete with lighting, painting and some basic details.  I used a neat little website to create some brick patterns which I then printed out on paper and then used as the basis for my walls.   The result is okay...for something that is virtually 'free', its quite nice.  I may not be totally pleased with the overall look in a few years I am guessing.  Anyway, the 'Paperbrick' sites is pretty cool and I recommend you chck it out if you are looking for some basic wall patterns on a budget!

Below is a what I imagine is some sort of 'sit-down' restaurant (with a nice big window overlooking the tracks!)....
I re-purposed one of the extra ground floor sections from my Kato "Boutique and Office Building" kit bash, and relatively unchanged from Kato's original design it functions as some sort of shop on the second level....
And on the other side of the second level, some generic office space was added.  This won't be visible for anyone not standing on the layout itself (which is to say, it should be visible to no one!) so I didn't try to hard to make much up here.
On the bottom or platform level, I've shown a few photos but no close-ups.  Starting again on the left side as you face the back of the station, there is a "Viva La Wurst" which is a real fast food place I visited in Hamburg.  I love the logo, and tried my best to reproduce it...well, from a bit further away than this photo it turned out pretty good....
Next to "Viva La Wurst" is a "Nero" coffee shop (all over London), which is next to a "Relay" news stand (big in France!).  The decal for the Relay news stand unfortunately saw some damage during the process so will have to be reapplied at some point.
And next to Relay is a "Pizza Haven" (if anyone can identify where this restaurant is from, I will be shocked!) and a made-up "Fluer Blume" flower shop....
The elevators are in!  No more stairs! Yeah!  Well, maybe you'll want to take the stairs as these are somewhat narrower than usual elevators or lifts.   An SMD LED on the roof of the lift adds a bit of light and color.
The next stage is trying to get it all to fit!  The photo below shows what the station looks like from space.  I am using "Post It" notes to determine the new floor space for the ground floor of the terminal building.  So the next step involves more cutting of styrene!  Oh fun!