The Pain of Automation!

I remember why I didn't have any automation on my old layout. It's hard. It's a pain and takes a lot of concentration and planning. It's like work.

So...here's the story....as I may have mentioned, the New Quinntopia will have an elevated, two track 'metro' line that will 'wind' its way through the city. There will be one station (there should be enough large buildings in the city so that you don't get the sense this is merely a 'loop').  I want the metro trains  - each going opposite directions - to automatically stop for the station, wait a few minutes to passengers to load/unload, and then accelerate away from the station.  I would also like a couple of signals to handle minimal signally duty.

Easy, right? Well, part of my problem is my interest in using newer / different technology from Europe. So after doing some initial browsing of potential solutions to how I could accomplish the above solution, I ignored all the logical and practical solutions I read (Lenz ABC, Computer Control, etc... for various reasons) and decided to try and use the signalling system from Viessmann.

So I've acquired two Viessmann 5224 Signal Control Modules and two 5228 Train Control Relays to go with them to control signals, which I've connected to small loop of track with appropriate 'gaps' and contact points to activate these relays (thus the photo at top!). But these are not enough (apparently, as I'm learning).

Its funny how wiring diagrams always make things look sooooo simple!
I also need a "DCC Brake Generator".  Viessman does not make one. In another one of those infernal conspiracies from our German friends, most of the design and resources are for that Marklin brand. So another DCC Brake Generator needs to be sourced. What's available is not cheap (everything seems to be $100 or more) and not well received and/or out of production (Roco used to make one, but was expensive and did not have good reviews). So I spent another day off 'hobby time' researching potential solutions.

Here's what I think might work.

A DCC Bitswitch Basic Brake On DC Signal Generator and a DCC Bitswitch Timed Stop Bitswitch.

These are 'on order' and apparently will take some time to get to me as they are in the process of manufacturing.  Which means rather that figuring out the precise electrical and wiring arrangement I need for my two track elevated line, I'll have to wait and work on other projects.  Which will likely be the station and the elevated structure itself, which still has plenty of work needed.  I'm looking forward to providing an update on my attempt to get some automation 'the hard way' (in retrospect, the Lenz ABC system is probably the easier and more standard way to go, but I'm too deeply invested in my own dumb solution to turn back now!) so stay tuned!

NOTE: Why I chose not to use the Lenz ABC method: they require decoders from Lenz and others that can detect the right asymmetric signal (whatever that means! People put up diagrams of an 'asymmetric symbol' which I suppose they think is helpful, but is meaningless to me!), but since I have decoders from various producers, I didn't want to start removing/reinstalling decoders if I could avoid it.


  1. I love the idea of automating the passenger trains. It keeps the rails busy, while you can operate other trains and any freight. I am doing this on my small layout. I am running DC, so Azatrax was a good solution for me.

    1. Hi Michelle! Yeah, I actually discovered that automation with DCC is a bit more of a challenge than with DC! Its possible of course, but the general sense I get is that you need to use your PC or have an expensive 'central station' or 'command station'.

    2. I'm just getting started with the hobby but I'm really excited about the thought of automating routes on my layout. I just got JMRI setup on a Raspberry Pi and it's performing really well! Definitely a cheaper option than a full blown PC.

  2. Hi Jerry,

    Let me start with saying: whichever way a model railroader decides to have fun is fun ;-)

    However, let me stop you right there: you are making a big mistake by going for a "half" automation system, using breaking systems and local modules. This will cost you lost of time (configuration hassle), money (modules are super expensive) and stress. Even worse: in the end you loose every kind of flexibility: all your decoders need to be compatible with whichever system you chose.
    I beg you: stay the hell away from this kind of solution ;-)

    Basically there are 3 ways:
    - Manual control
    - Half-automatation "with local intelligence"
    - Automation with a central intelligence: a PC (or a really upscale command station)

    Real automation is not that hard. It does not prevent you from running trains manually. It's easier to setup. It's cheaper. It doesn't bind you to specific locomotive decoders and fancy functions such as breaking methods.
    The intelligence lies in the software you picked, speaking to your layout via your command station. All that is needed on your layout are on/off occupancy detectors.

    Please, consider this before going any further. I'll be happy to help if this is not clear enough!


    1. Oh and one last thing: wiring! With your solution, you're going to get crazy. Just have a look at your DCC Bitswitch wiring diagram.
      If you think this is what automation should be, allow me to beg to differ ;-).
      One wire, on one side of the track, for each detection section of your layout, back to a detection module. That's the ONLY wire you should ever need to install.

      Signals are another story. But there are much easier solutions around as well!

    2. Ahh Pierre - the voice of reason! :-) Part of my hope with this post is that I would attract some good comments from the community - and I thank you for your information! You are starting to convince me that using a PC (and I have some older PC's that might be useful for this) may be the right way to go. Unfortunately, the components I think I need are on order (no turning back now!) but I think I may discover just how wise your words are!

      The one thing that you should know is that this line - the elevated lines - are separate from all other lines on the layout. Part of my thinking was that this little two track loop will give me a small test bed to try out automation techniques - so part of the experience here is to learn, not just 'get it done' (if that makes sense. Obviously, when I get to the 'main lines' - with turnouts and multiple tracks, my ideas for automation will need to be very different.