Dr Sp L 60

As much as possible (and practical) I have adopted the look and feel of the prototype control desk as used in Germany for decades. They are called "Drucktaste Spurplanstellwerk" and there were two main manufacturers, Siemens and Lorenz. Siemens used rectangular shapes tiles, and Lorenz used square tiles. Since I had already been using a square matrix to lay my track diagram out, I decided to emulate the Lorenz version. This type of control desk is known as the SpDrL60.


(Updated) updated user interface

A friend, Boyd, has made himself a control desk that uses the push button approach to set tracks for trains to enter and leave his Swiss stations. The control desk is a set of push buttons which are connected to sensor inputs, allowing software to do all the grunt work of allocating and interlocking routes.

I configured my software according to how his buttons have been allocated, and in doing so, I decided to spruce up the user interface of my layout control software. (Updated again October 2018.)

Here is the result:

I looked up how such control desks look in Europe and settled on emulating the Sp Dr L 60 desk as used in Germany for many decades, as much as is possible and practical. I changed the old style check boxes into controls that use the appropriate background colors. Turnout positions are shown in yellow.

In the image above, the thick black lines represent trains. One route (indicated in white) has been set from the track he calls 33 Ost 4 to 24 MGB helix. The route was set by pressing the button on the desk at track 33 and while holding that, pressing the button at track 24. Since the track route was clear, all the turnout commands were sent out and the track marked as reserved for the train to depart.

I generate the matrix of squares that are used for the desk each time the software loads so that they simulate the different levels of fading and wear as seen in the prototype. Buttons and counters can be aligned with the grid of tiles that make up the desk.

The trains on Boyd's layout are run manually by humans and he expects the operators to set the signals appropriately before driving trains about, so what my software does in his case, is monitor occupancy and take that into account when setting routes when requested by the dual button actuations.

Part of the sprucing up of the user interface included the ability to add images anywhere as well as adding axle counters

Since my layout is also actually run by the software, I am able to display the timetable names of the trains that occupy tracks etc. in the style used in Germany by the Sp Dr L 60. A name in red indicates that the train is present and when in white it indicates that the tracks are reserved for that train, which is yet to arrive. In the example below, the train with timetable name "Baden" has been set on a route from the hidden station up to Wilsnack Hbf. where it will arrive at Platform 5 - and its name is shown in white there. Another train, with timetable name "GZ Trafo" is running out of the hidden station track 8 and will travel all around the layout and arrive in track 8 again.

When "GZ Trafo" passes the brown axle counter, the exact number of axles in the train will be added to the counter!

Control software and user interface design is © Copyright Dale Schultz 2018


Intellibox turnout speeds and special option 13

XTrnt response codes
I turned on the logging I have in my software and noticed that I was getting a lot of responses from my Intellibox warning me that the turnout buffer was 75% full, and also numerous rejections of turnout commands when the buffer was completely full. When this happens, my software throws the failed commands back into its own command queue so that it eventually gets accepted, so once the Intellibox buffer fills up, I get many rejections until the buffer is no longer full.


Loco going backwards only

I was running my Märklin 3511 „Schöne Württembergerin“ (which has done just over 600 scale km) and it was running beautifully as ever.

I reversed the train a bit and then I wanted to make it go forwards again, but instead,
it only went backwards! No amount of changing direction would make it go forwards. Even when its lights function was switched on, and could thus show that the locomotive was meant to be moving forwards, it went backwards instead.


LocoNet on Intellibox I

For some time I have had some concern about my digital controller failing. The hardware dates from around 1996. It is the first version of the Intellibox from Uhlenbrock. My concern is that if it fails, the new devices no longer support the command protocol that my software uses, so I would either have to source another Intellibox, or rewrite all the interface code.

Uhlenbrock devices now support LocoNet (from DigiTrax). Indeed even the Intellibox I supports a LocoNet interface from version 1.55 onwards. The Intellibox II uses Loconet exclusively.

So I decided to take a look at Loconet to see how much work it would be to redo the interface.


Ultrasonic humidifier as factory smoke generator

I was in a doctor's office when I noticed a small desktop humidifier that is typically used for burning scented oils. I realized that it would make a perfect smoke generator for a smoke stack on a train layout. I found that these units are not very expensive and one need not place any scented oils in them. They produce a small amount of water vapor that is visible but is insufficient to wet anything nearby.

I set about converting one so that I could switch it on and off from the layout software and also install it in such a way that I could easily add (distilled) water as needed. I am pleased with the result:


Repairing a signal

Correct Vr1 display
I have a main signal combined with a distance signal at  the entrance to my main station. I noticed one day that one of the LEDs of the distance signal was not working. When the distance signal is set to Vr1, it should display two green lights:

Faulty Vr1 aspect

But I was only getting one green light, like this: