Cascade Subdivision - N - Mark Lestico - page 7

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JMRI Train Detection and Signaling


I have maintained my penchant for keeping things technologically simple on this railroad since the beginning. That being said, it was probably just a matter of time before I would get "bitten by the bug" to signal the layout. This new journey began about six months ago around March of 2010 after an Op-Session debriefing over a few beers and Pizza. It was obvious that some form of Train Detection would be of tremendous value to the Dispatcher and I began to explore the world of the Java Model Railroad Interface or JMRI ( During a vacation in April 2010, I learned how to create a computerized Dispatchers Panel using JMRI's Panel Pro. Armed with this new knowledge, my good friend Frank Kenny ( was installing detection and I created the Dispatcher's Panel for his CPRX Railroad. He showed me how to connect the Detection Boards to the panel I created and I watched trains traverse the schematic on the screen. With Frank's encouragement, I was convinced I could do this on my layout as well and I took the plunge by purchasing the neccesary hardware to begin the process.

Support Group

If you are interested in Detection & Signalling I would strongly suggest you have a "Support Group" of folks who are already familiar with the process. This is especially true if you are mixing brands of hardware. There is no one body of knowledge on this subject nor are there books or literature that are published in one place to guide you through the process of getting everything operational. My Support Group consists of Frank Kenny, Ray Eiser and Jeff Abbott. Ray & Jeffs efforts can be viewed at: ( and ( Frank Kenny was instrumental in guiding me to the decision to go forward with the project. Jeff Abbott is a source of great encouragement as he has already gone through this process. Ray Eiser is "The Brains" behind the integration of all the components. Ray's grasp of micro electronics is astounding and without him I would still be reading Digitrax manuals, Scratching my head and typing queries on Yahoo Group support sites.

Making the hard choices on what signals to use

When it came time to figure out which signals I wanted to use on the layout, I looked at all of the offerings currently available in N-Scale. I quickly found that I would either need to rob a bank, win the lottery or find some acceptable alternative for the visible signal assemblies. Given the large number of signal masts required (The Cascade Subdivision would require 52 of these) I needed an inexpensive and relatively simple to install soloution. I also wanted to model the contemporary class-1 Color Light Signals with the "Darth Vader" type hoods.

Side note: Much to the chagrin of die hard SP fans The Union Pacific has been replacing the old Southern Pacific Searchlight Signals in preparation for PTC (Positive Train Control) installation on the I-5 corridor. Prior to October 2008, PTC systems were being voluntarily installed by various carriers. However, the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA) (signed by the President on October 16, 2008, as Public Law 110-432) has mandated the widespread installation of PTC systems by December 2015.

I took a hard look at the Digitrax SMBK circuit boards ( that somewhat resemble the Color Light Signals I was after. They have a very bright looking LED array. (According to Ray, this effect is created by a rapid 'pulsing' of these LED's which creates this effect.) I really liked this effect as the signals were very easy to see over a long distance just like the real ones. My crews would have no problems figuring out what aspect they were, even under the "Darth Vader" style hoods. I also liked the fact that these SMBK's were solidly built to withstand the punishment that often comes with operational layouts. hands are constantly passing near while throwing turnouts, uncoupling cars, etc. They also include the proper resistors, are a self contained one piece unit and are a simple installation by simply plugging them into a modular ribbon cable system. The best part was that they were only $8 each! I then stumbled across the Scale Models Division "dress up kits" that make these circuit boards look more like what I was after. Their SMD-N-120 brass kit had individual hoods for each light. I contacted Serge Lebel, owner of Scale Models Division, and asked if he would be willing to produce a modified version of these kits with the Darth Vader style hoods. He jumped at the challenge and produced a prototype which was sent to me for testing. ( I assembled it on an SMBK and was instantly sold. The brass kits cost $5.50 for each signal bringing the total for each signal assembly to $13.50. I promptly ordered enough for all of the signals I needed and was off to the races.

Image:Copy of IMG 0686.jpg This photo illustrates how the kit looks once installed. Close enough for me.

Making CVP Products Easy DCC System work with the Digitrax Loconet

Having decided on what signals to use it was an obvious jump to decide that the Digitrax Loconet components would be used to control them. Thus began the learning curve of combining the two systems. CVP Easy DCC would control all of the trains on the layout and the Digitrax Loconet System would be used to control all of the Detection & Signalling systems. A lot of research was done by Ray and myself via the internet to develop a compatible system. After considerable effort and many dead-ends, it became evident that there was too much mis-information published and the system would need to be developed from scratch. Trial & error was the rule of the day during this time.

Ray Eiser's Schematic for the Cascade Sub's "Booster Net"

Ray's in depth research and devotion to this project resulted in this schematic that enabled me to assemble a working detection & Signalling system. He researched Digitrax manuals, CVP manuals, RR Cirkits USB Locobuffer manuals & wiring diagrams of these components & others to come up with a working plan. I simply assembled the components according to his instructions and when I got stuck, I asked for his "adult supervision". With multi-meter in hand, he would figure things out in a matter of minutes and off we'd go to the next phase.


Example of the BDL168's Wiring Pinouts

In order to keep everything straight, I created these schematics in order to guide me when I was actually soldering things together. They also make great reference materials if you need to troubleshoot later. Notice there is a lot of room for expansion if I decide to add more detection sections later, thus maintaining flexibility for the future.

Image:BDL168 Wiring Springfield JPEG.JPG

Example of SE8c pinout worksheet

Here is a worksheet I designed using Microsoft EXCEL that simplifies the installation & programming of the signal heads / mast assemblies. Down the left side of this worksheet are the cable sockets on the SE8c board that the ribbon cables attach to. The Address columns show the "Switch" addresses and "Thrown" or "Closed" do determine the color of the signal head. The large boxes in the center are the description of the physical location of the signal head on the layout.

Image:SE8c Pinout Example.JPG

Picture of Oakridge's Circuit Boards

The Digitrax SE8c Signal driver board is located on the lower left and is not connected yet. The blank area above the SE8c board will be occupied with the wiring associated with signaling. The CVP Command Bus Amplifier or CBA is in the lower center and is connected to the Digitrax BDL168 Detection board at the lower right. This was the key piece of equipment neccesary to allow the CVP system to communicate with the Digitrax equipment via Loconet. It amplifies the CVP "Track Signal" voltage to the levels required to power the Loconet "Railsync Signal". There are other ways of accomplishing this, but using the CVP CBA was the easiest. To the upper right of the BDL168 is a terminal strip that manages the power & ground inputs to the BDL board. At the top of the plywood are two terminal strips that are used to connect the BDL to the layout. The wires above this terminal strip are the bus wires that lead to the various track detection blocks in the Oakridge Power District. In the upper right of the photo is CVP's Booster 5 that powers the Oakridge Power District.

Image:IMG 2866.JPG

Screenshot of the Dispatchers' new JMRI Panel

This is probably the 6th iteration of the JMRI panel and it is continually evolving. Ray Eiser & I are working on converting to a more modern Computer Automated Traffic System or CATS style panel ( that is more in tune with modern CTC block protocols. The panel shown is fully capable of driving a CTC system and is set up to do so. The CATS system just has the look of a more modern system and is easier to control by simply clicking on signal heads to clear blocks ahead.

Image:Panel pro JPEG.JPG

Screenshot of the CATS Dispatchers Panel

This screen more closely resembles the modern ATCS format that is seen today on Class-1 systems. CATS is basically an overlay of the JMRI panel and controls block authority by simply clicking on signal icons ahead of the train. Everything is interlocked so the Dispatcher cannot make a mistake by clearing two trains into the same block. Also CATS has other great features such as showing direction of travel, the Cab number of the train follows along as the train progresses, blocks automatically clear behind an advancing train and many other bells and whistles. This screenshot was taken during SoCalOps 2014 (Saturday May 31st.) In the photo on the right, Chief Dispatcher Mike Phillips points at the screen during a discussion with Ray Eiser on the far right while Seth Neumann takes care of business in the chair...

Image:Copy of IMG 0651.jpg Image:IMG 0644.jpg

As of January 2012 the installation of the entire signal & detection system is complete. All of the signals have been decorated and installed. De-Bugging the signal programming in the Eugene Yard area proved to be a huge challenge due to it's complexities. Nearly two years and hundreds of hours were invested in this project. The result is a fully functioning modern CTC system for the Cascade Subdivision that is controlled by the Dispatcher via JMRI / CATS computer program. Several Operating Sessions are now behind us using the system and it has the effect of reducing radio chatter and adding another layer of realism to the sessions. The signals look stunning and are an obvious visual improvement to the layout. I hope to get around to doing a video of the layout in it's current state soon & will be posting it to my Youtube Channel: (

Image:IMAG00241.jpg UP 8450 South exits Tunnel 20 and passes the Intermediate Signal at CP558. (Aspect is incorrect as this photo was 'staged' & detection not active)

Image:IMAG00242.jpg Signal Bridge at the North end of Klamath Falls CP430 (Photo taken before Targets / Hoods were installed)

Image:IMAG00243.jpg SD70ACe has an "Approach" signal at the South end of Klamath Falls at CP426 (These temporary signals have been replaced with a signal bridge similar to CP430 above.)

More to come later....

Cascade Subdivision - N - Mark Lestico - page 1 - Main Article

Cascade Subdivision - N - Mark Lestico - page 2 - Progress from Jan '07 to Nov '07

Cascade Subdivision - N - Mark Lestico - page 3 - Progress from Feb '08 to May '08

Cascade Subdivision - N - Mark Lestico - Page 4 - Progress from Jun '08 to Jul '08

Cascade Subdivision - N - Mark Lestico - page 5 - 2008 Convention Tour

Cascade Subdivision - N - Mark Lestico - page 6 - Op Session Photos 10 October 2009

Cascade Subdivision - N - Mark Lestico - page 7 - JMRI Train Detection & Signaling

Cascade Subdivision - N - Mark Lestico - page 8 - Op-Session Photos October 18th, 2012

Cascade Subdivision - N - Mark Lestico - page 9 - Web Links

Cascade Subdivision - N - Mark Lestico - page 10 - SoCalOps 2014 May 31st Op-Session

You Tube Video Tour of the Cascade Sub

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