About Model Railroad Control

Digital Model Railroad Control
Model Train with a DCC decoder for digital control

Digital model railroad control is at the crossroad of two different interests of mine. On the one hand, I have something with model trains. That combined with the potential of controlling them using self-developed programs made me decide to pick up this hobby again.

Model trains… The typical joke is that the father buys them ‘for the kids’ but only daddy will play with them. These days the models have become so sophisticated that the manufacturers have stopped marketing them as toys for kids. So daddy can simply buy them for himself.

When I played with such trains as a kid, I controlled the trains with a simple transformer. It regulated the speed by changing the power and the direction by the polarity. I had to change the switches manually or could add a motor to control them with simple push buttons. Multiple trains on the same track ran with the same speed and direction.

Together with better quality of the models, also the train control has improved a lot. These days the control is fully digital (DCC). Using a throttle one can control the speed of multiple trains independently and more realistically. The throttle can also control digital accessories like switches and decoupler tracks.

Advanced software like JRMI and Rocrail running on Windows, macOS and Linux already exist for configuring and controlling complex layouts. Apps on iPhone, iPad and Android devices offer also different controlling options. They even offer realistic cockpits for different locomotive models.

What I’d like to do is create my software to control a train on a simple layout. We start with a set of primitive commands for the locomotive, direction of a switches and decouple wagons. At the same time, I’ll need to collect feedback on where the locomotive and various wagons are on the track. After that I can build more advanced logic on top of these primitive commands.

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