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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Computer Control - Train Tracking

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Under construction

Key to long term, legitimate computer control is some method of Train Tracking. By train tracking I mean being able to sense for a certainty exactly which locomotive is at a given point at a given time. There are at least three general approaches floating around that could be a solution for this problem. They are:

  1. Ultrasonic sound, as represented by a product called RPS.
  2. Bar codes affixed to the bottom of the locomotive.
  3. RFID - small radio frequency id chips

My chosen automation software (CTI Electronics) uses a 'register' called a Beacon. There is a beacon for each location (block) on the railroad. The software 'passes' the number of the Locomotive from beacon to beacon as it moves around the layout. One knows where a particular train is by the contents of these registers.

And yes, loading or initializing beacons is a PITA. I've asked Tim the maestro behind CTI for an RFID capability and am willing to invest and test as required to make it work. Stay tuned, Tim is a great listener!

You all might find the current status of the RPS system long touted as the Model Railroad GPS system. So I don't misquote, you can read about it at

Personally I think the RFID system has a much better chance of success, especially if we limit our expectations.

At the very minimum, we need the ability to read a spot on the mainline, know for a certainty what locomotive is at that point, then check the contents of our beacons either loading or validating the contents.

Understanding beacon programming and management is key to the successful use of CTI in multi-train operations. (Least that is the way I see it.)

So far as CTI goes, I don't care if Tim wants to resell the stuff and support only what he can sell with enhancements to TrainBrain, or specify one or two suppliers. Mox nix to me! I just want RFID, the chips are small, inexpensive, have a reliable radius of 3-5 inches, work on standard USB what more could we want? Keep the chips under $5-10 bucks a locomotive with CTI support and my visa # is standing by! A 100 bucks for a station reader works too!

My vision of exactly how it could work:
The RFID reader need only do one thing, "Report the contents of the last RFID
chip read when polled." (RFIDreaderA)

I would have a sensor (IR/Photo SensorRFIDa) placed at the same spot as the RFID
reader so that I know when a loco arrives at the sensor.

I see the code something like this:

When SensorRFIDa = true do
If Beacon[1] <> RFIDreaderA then
Beacon[1] = RFIDreaderA

That simple code, with an operating RFID system would ensure my beacons self load when a loco comes by, or verifies the correct loco is known to my layout. Two critical pieces from my way of thinking.

More As I learn it



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