PC & Smartphone/Tablet Control of DCS & TMCC/Legacy Trains

Over the past several weeks, I've been working with Dave Hikel to beta test a new PC-based train control system that he and his company, Hikel O Gauge Trains, has developed. While I'm not at  liberty to share the details of how the system was developed or exactly what are its component parts, I can provide the forum with some aspects of its installation on my own layout.

 

My layout is strictly command control and I have both DCS and TMCC/Legacy installed. During the beta test, I also had a TMCC command base installed and was able to run trains, simultaneously, using a Windows DCS Remote, a Legacy Cab-2, a TMCC Cab-1, an external computer (a Mac!), my wife's iPad, and my iPhone.

 

The system, at present uses a web browser for external PC, smartphone and tablet control. Future versions of the system, with different capabilities, are being planned to utilize an iPhone or Android app, instead of the PC and a browser, for smartphone and tablet control. The following discussion relates only to the current system, not to future systems that will utilize an app.

 

The following screen shot is from the PC upon which the system is running.

 

PC Screen

 

This screen shows the track plan for the middle level of my layout, the engine list of all of my PS2/PS3 and TMCC/Legacy engines, and the engine control screen for a selected engine.

 

Clicking on a switch track will throw the switch to he orientation opposite of what it's currently set, and the track plan will show the changed orientation.

 

Clicking on the controls of the Engine Control panel will start up, operate and shut down a selected engine. Clicking in the box with the picture of the active engine will show a list from which an engine may be selected, as is shown in the screen shot below.

 

Select Engine

 

Clicking on an engine in the list makes it the active engine in the Engine Control panel.

 

The following four screen shots appear on the smartphone or tablet that is connected over a wireless network (or even the Internet) to the application running on the PC. Multiple smartphones or tablets, each running a different engine or operating different switch tracks or accessories, may be operating simultaneously. This type of operation was demo'ed at last October's York show at the MTH booth by Dave Hikel, and will be once again at this April's York show, as well.

 

The following screen shot of a smartphone, tablet or external PC shows my layout's lower level track plan. Again, switch tracks may be operated from this view by tapping (or, on a PC, by clicking) on the switch track on the track plan.The icons along the left edge of tne screen allow selecting different screen views, as well as enlarging or shrinking the view of the screen.

 

Track Plan Screen

 

The following smartphone/tablet/external PC screen shows the engine list from which an active engine may be selected.

 

Engine Select Screen

 

The following screen shot is the smartphone/tablet/external PC view of the Engine Control screen, including throttle, direction indicator and button, horn button, bell button, startup and shutdown buttons, PFA button, as well as the engine's soft keys.

 

Engine Control Screen

 

The last smartphone/tablet/external PC screen shot is a view of my layout's upper level track plan which also includes buttons for all of my layout's accessories, as well as a button to reset all switch tracks to their default positions.

 

Accessories Screen

 

As mentioned above, the system allows operation of all of my engines (PS2, PS3, TMCC, and Legacy), accessories and switch tracks from the PC running the program; the DCS, Cab-1 and Cab-2 remotes; a smartphone or tablet; and an external PC; simultaneously.

 

The only thing I've not yet done is to set up track occupancy awareness, so that the system knows which track blocks are occupied.

 

For more information as regards the system, attend the York DCS Users Group Meeting or visit the MTH booth at April York!  

Barry

 

DCS Ambassador & author of "The DCS Companion 3rd Edition"

Train-Ca-Teers - All For O and O For All!

 

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Original Post

Really pleased to see this!  I have been advocating this type of system for some time.  This is how we will attract more people, especially young people, to our hobby!  Good work Barry and Dave!  And, glad to see the system is working on Macs. Is this using Fusion/Parallels?

 

Harold

 

Originally Posted by Barry Broskowitz:

That's RR&co 

Oh, really? Since when does Train Controller work for DCS and TMCC?

 

yes really the interface you show us at the back is Railroad & co Train Controller from Freiwald Software. Your friend may have made an interface that work with RR&Co but you or your friend don't develop the RR&co interface 

 

here a pic of what you post in front of my $ 600   RR& Co  

 

rrandco

 

RR&CO already work with TMCC, if Mike Woldf was more open RR&CO , JMRI, CTI and others will work with DCS too. 

tmcc

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Harold,

And, glad to see the system is working on Macs. Is this using Fusion/Parallels?

I may have given you a false impression.

 

The Mac to which I referred was functioning as a tablet and was using a browser to access the software running on the PC.

Barry

 

DCS Ambassador & author of "The DCS Companion 3rd Edition"

Train-Ca-Teers - All For O and O For All!

 

yes really the interface you show us at the back is Railroad & co Train Controller from Freiwald Software.

Yes, that's correct.

 

However, Train Controller cannot operate DCS or TMCC engines. It only operates DCC engines.

 

What Hikel O Gauge has developed is hardware and software that allows Train Controller to access TIUs and Lionel command bases, and to convert DCC commands to DCS and TMCC commands.

Barry

 

DCS Ambassador & author of "The DCS Companion 3rd Edition"

Train-Ca-Teers - All For O and O For All!

 

Originally Posted by Barry Broskowitz:

Yes, that's correct.

 

However, Train Controller cannot operate DCS or TMCC engines. It only operates DCC engines.

 

What Hikel O Gauge has developed is hardware and software that allows Train Controller to access TIUs and Lionel command bases, and to convert DCC commands to DCS and TMCC commands.

 

You should do it for CTI also, CTI cost only $ 49 instead of the $ 600 Freiwald ask for his software. Since I learn how to program CTI  I don't use RR&co anymore. 

There will, perhaps, be other implementations that may be packaged down  the road. However, Train Controller is the control software that is being used at present.

Barry

 

DCS Ambassador & author of "The DCS Companion 3rd Edition"

Train-Ca-Teers - All For O and O For All!

 

Hi all,

 

Barry, glad you're enjoying the new system.

 

Just for clarity, here's a little more info about how our system works.  Our software functions as a translator between your chosen layout automation software and DCS.  Barry is running RR&Co., which is the leading layout automation software on the market.  As PC-Quebec noted, RR&Co. isn't cheap, but it also head and shoulders above all other systems for layout automation.  That's why we chose RR&Co. for the NorthWest Trunk Lines.  For folks on a budget who are willing to tackle a less refined user interface our software will also integrate with JMRI.  JMRI is free open source software that provides basic locomotive control, including from mobile devices, and a graphic interface for switches and accessories.  JMRI has a large user base in DCC, but few people use it for layout control.  Most use JMRI for programming their locomotive and accessory decoders to help overcome the archaic binary programming necessary in DCC.  Any software package that can interface with an NCE DCC system should function with our software and thus DCS.  At this time, however, we have only tested with RR&Co., JMRI, and RocRail.

Bet Uncle Mikey  Wolf is fuming with steam coming out his ears!!  Ready to let the legal beagels out.

 

Thanks,

Sam

Free lancing the fictitious Iowa division of Pittsburgh & West Virginia RR

 

BE WITH THOSE THAT BRING OUT THE BEST IN YOU,

          NOT THE STRESS IN YOU.

          unknown

Originally Posted by rrman:

Bet Uncle Mikey  Wolf is fuming with steam coming out his ears!!  Ready to let the legal beagels out.

On the contrary Sam.  Mike is fully aware of and supporting our efforts.  We demoed the system on the MTH display layout at the last York and will have it there again next month.  Hopefully, no one will abscond with the normal MTH display layout this time and we'll be able to demo control of switches and automated train control.  Our software will be released under license from MTH with a user agreement similar to the DCS loader software.

Hi Dave,

I remember you demonstrating this when I was out in your area.  However must have missed point that MTH was aware of your development, so figured this was for my eyes only, and if I breathed a word of this, you would wack me over the head with a piece of track .

Nice that MTh will licence it and probably add a cavet that they will NOT support this software.

 

Thanks,

Sam

Free lancing the fictitious Iowa division of Pittsburgh & West Virginia RR

 

BE WITH THOSE THAT BRING OUT THE BEST IN YOU,

          NOT THE STRESS IN YOU.

          unknown

Barry, Thanks for posting this interesting topic!

 

Dave, first congrats on this large undertaking.  You explained that your solution works as a translator to DCS, is this done on a PC that links to the TIU, or is this embedded software on some form of hard ware (microprocessors or FPGA)?

 

Thanks again.

Rich

Hi Rich,

 

Our translation software, NetCoupler, runs on a PC or Mac.

 

RR&Co. Train Controller is PC only, but RocRail and JMRI are Mac compatible, so it is possible to run an all Mac configuration.  However, such a configuration would have limited capabilities compared to what Barry is running because JMRI and RocRail are less capable than Train Controller.

Very interesting & exciting....

 

I'm building and wiring my layout as we speak. What kind of additional complexity will I need to have to include this kind of a system (sensors, track blocks, e.t.c.)

 

I'd love to skip all the control panel building and control everything with an iOS device or Mac.

Will you come out to my place an hook it all up for me Dave? it will save you all the time of reading my e-mail ramblings!

Seriously, tell us how you implement this system into a traditional wiring plan.

- RICH 

 Rich Trowbridge

Trenton & Western Railroad

GTWHS Member #484

Rich,

What kind of additional complexity will I need to have to include this kind of a system (sensors, track blocks, e.t.c.)

Dave can provide more detail, however, the only consideration during layout construction of which I'm aware would be to leave one outside rail electrically isolated in each block if you want to implement block occupancy awareness.

 

Otherwise, I needed to do nothing special to add-on the various components of Dave's system to my existing layout.

Barry

 

DCS Ambassador & author of "The DCS Companion 3rd Edition"

Train-Ca-Teers - All For O and O For All!

 

Hi Rich,

 

It's actually a lot easier and less costly to deploy layout automation in 3-rail than it is in 2-rail because we can use an insulated outside rail for occupancy detection.  It's easiest to build the detection in as you lay your track.  The Train Controller User Manual gives a pretty thorough description of different sensor strategies on pages 160-165.

 

The strategy that gives the computer the best information for maximum reliability is to use three insulated segments for each "block."  To be clear, we are NOT talking about electric power blocks for powering your trains or toggling sidings.  Instead, we are talking about "blocks" in the same sense as the real railroads.  A "block" is a length of track, usually between switches, that can only be occupied by one train at a time.  In most cases the occupancy block will be as long, or longer than the trains you run in that part of your layout.  Out of the mainline that might be your longest passenger train, while is the yard it could be just the locomotive.  Regardless, the idea is that your train will fit entirely within the center insulated detection section of the block.  At either end you install another short insulated section that will let the computer know it needs to stop the train short of fouling the switch.  There are other ways to pull off detection with only one or two insulated sections per block, but they are less reliable.  We built the NWTL with three insulated sections per block and it has proved quite reliable.

 

However you configure your insulated tracks for detection, all the insulated sections are connect with a single wire to a detection board, such as an NCE Auxiliary Input Unit (AIU).

 

 

Each NCE AIU handles detection for up to 14 insulated sections.  One wire then goes out from the NCE AIU to the common outside rail to complete the detection ciruit.  Whenever the metal axles of a car or locomotive connect an insulated section to the common outside rail an LED on the NCE AIU turns on and a digital signal is generated. The NCE AIU's are daisy changed back to an NCE command station which accepts the digital occupancy signals and relays them to the PC.  It's pretty easy to wire because you can put the NCE AIU's close to you track sections.  You then run a standard 6-conductor telephone cable between the NCE AIU's.  On the MTH York display layout my brother, Ted, and I set up detection for eight blocks and ran all the wires in about two hours.  I had done most of the data entry work for Train Controller ahead of time, so we had the entire setup running with my laptop, iPads, and mobile phones Wednesday afternoon the day before the show.

Dave

 

Regaurding  the block detection. I have isolated all of my outside rails and currently use them for detection with my Custom Signals system. Switch position is also monitored.

 

Have you tried to do both your system with the custom signals/ Atlas systems? will it work or do I need to isloate the led in via relays or diode matrix setups?

 

I also run a few ipotical isolators on ladder tracks to.

 

Jamie

 

If there is enough interest, wonder if webmaster Rich would open a new control forum or sub forum under PS2&3 devoted to this new exciting subject.  Would be the place to come to iron out details and get help without pestering MTH tech support.

 

Thanks,

Sam

Free lancing the fictitious Iowa division of Pittsburgh & West Virginia RR

 

BE WITH THOSE THAT BRING OUT THE BEST IN YOU,

          NOT THE STRESS IN YOU.

          unknown

Originally Posted by Dave Hikel:

Hi Rich,

 

It's actually a lot easier and less costly to deploy layout automation in 3-rail than it is in 2-rail because we can use an insulated outside rail for occupancy detection.  It's easiest to build the detection in as you lay your track.  The Train Controller User Manual gives a pretty thorough description of different sensor strategies on pages 160-165.

 

The strategy that gives the computer the best information for maximum reliability is to use three insulated segments for each "block."  To be clear, we are NOT talking about electric power blocks for powering your trains or toggling sidings.  Instead, we are talking about "blocks" in the same sense as the real railroads.  A "block" is a length of track, usually between switches, that can only be occupied by one train at a time.  In most cases the occupancy block will be as long, or longer than the trains you run in that part of your layout.  Out of the mainline that might be your longest passenger train, while is the yard it could be just the locomotive.  Regardless, the idea is that your train will fit entirely within the center insulated detection section of the block.  At either end you install another short insulated section that will let the computer know it needs to stop the train short of fouling the switch.  There are other ways to pull off detection with only one or two insulated sections per block, but they are less reliable.  We built the NWTL with three insulated sections per block and it has proved quite reliable.

 

However you configure your insulated tracks for detection, all the insulated sections are connect with a single wire to a detection board, such as an NCE Auxiliary Input Unit (AIU).

 

 

Each NCE AIU handles detection for up to 14 insulated sections.  One wire then goes out from the NCE AIU to the common outside rail to complete the detection ciruit.  Whenever the metal axles of a car or locomotive connect an insulated section to the common outside rail an LED on the NCE AIU turns on and a digital signal is generated. The NCE AIU's are daisy changed back to an NCE command station which accepts the digital occupancy signals and relays them to the PC.  It's pretty easy to wire because you can put the NCE AIU's close to you track sections.  You then run a standard 6-conductor telephone cable between the NCE AIU's.  On the MTH York display layout my brother, Ted, and I set up detection for eight blocks and ran all the wires in about two hours.  I had done most of the data entry work for Train Controller ahead of time, so we had the entire setup running with my laptop, iPads, and mobile phones Wednesday afternoon the day before the show.

Can the NCE AIU be driven off the BD20 DCC current sensor or an optical sensor?

 

The thought I had was that for 2-rail digital applications, the ends of the block could be detected via optical sensors while the whole block also has a BD20 current sensor. This would detect the train entering the block, but continue to detect while a short train was in the middle of the block and detect as the train passed out of the block.

Matt Jackson
"The best service you can provide for the hobby is to pass on what you have learned."

 Angels Gate Hi-Railers San Pedro, California

"Celebrating 20 years of moving freight and passengers from Point A to Point A!"
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Jamie,

 

Yes, we dual purpose the detection for CS/Atlas signals on the NWTL and it works fine with the NCE detection.  We use Atlas #6924 non-derailing boards to control Tortoise switch machines and provide switch position feedback for signals and the PC.

 

Sam,

 

I hope enough people enjoy our system to someday warrant a separate forum, but for now I'm just thankful for the forum we have.  Few people would be willing try such a system without the kind of community support you can find here.

 

BTW, don't call MTH tech support with your questions.  This integration software is our product at Hikel Layouts & Trains.  We're a service based business and we are able to provide one on one setup and tech support via Skype and LogMeIn.  As Barry can attest, we will work with you through the process of customizing the software for your layout and locomotive roster.  It's something of a new business model to offer remote service at this level but so far I think it is working well.  Of course, we charge for our time, and that's how we make our living.  Some folks will want to save the money and integrate the software and hardware on their own and they are welcome to do so.  We hope the level of one on one service we can provide will be sufficiently valuable that people will be willing to paid for our assistance.

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