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Applications – Increasing Your Railroad Experience

Using the Computer Model Railroad Interface (C/MRI) is a great way to capture the power of the computer to enhance your enjoyment of this great hobby of model railroading. The versatility of the C/MRI is outstanding. Once you start applying the techniques you'll be amazed at the benefits achieved. Expanding on a few of the more typical application areas we have the following examples:

Optimized Detector s (OD and DCCOD)

Installing the JLC provided detector cards is a great way to start building toward a more complete computer interface. You can use the detectors to indicate occupancy status of hidden track , to drive LEDs on your track diagram as trains progress, to change track color on graphics-based track diagrams as well as automatically control ling polarity in reverse blocks. With detectors installed, it's a natural step to use the C/MRI for signaling.

The OD is the original-design optimized detector and it can be used for all applications, including DCC. The DCCOD is the latest design in the optimized detector family specifically created for DCC equipped layouts. The DCCOD uses a pulse-type current-sensing transformer input. This provides complete separation of the track wiring from all the signal logic wiring enabling operation on any DCC system independent of how it is wired. The DCCOD is also the recommended first choice detector for use on Railcommand, CTC-80 and CTC-16 equipped railroads. The original design OD should be used for all straight DC railroads while the DCCOD is ideal for all railroads using pulse-type command control systems like DCC.

Signaling Systems

The C/MRI is by far the most popular method of hooking up truly functional signals on a model railroad. All prototypical signaling systems, whether Automatic Block Signals (ABS), Absolute/Permissive Block (APB), or Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) are extremely logic intensive. This makes the available-for-free powers of the computer an ideal implementation choice. Also, you can't beat the C/MRI approach for simplicity.

There are no separate signal logic cards or signal driver cards, no relays and no multi-contact panel switches nor multi-contact requirements for your switch machines. Each signal, occupation detector and switchmotor simply plugs directly into the nearest C/MRI node. All the complex interlocking functions are handled for you by software where changes and updates are easily implemented.

Lever Type CTC Machines

Many modelers use the C/MRI interfaced to their lever type CTC machines. In fact, with very few exceptions, most every CTC machine employed throughout the model railroad community makes use of the C/MRI. Furthermore, with the C/MRI's distributed serial option, the only connection between the CTC panel and the railroad and the computer is that single 4-wire cable and this is true independent of the size of the CTC panel and the railroad.

Because it is often the larger more famous railroads that get published, many readers equate CTC operation , and the associated CTC machines, as applicable to only the larger layouts. However, rest assured that the C/MRI offers the same advantages to the small er layout s and if you look for them , you can find many smaller-type C/MRI equipped CTC machines.

Graphics-Based Interactive Displays

Other C/MRI users make extensive use of color graphics displayed on their computer's monitor and with mouse and keyboard inputs emulate the most modern dispatcher centers. Simply click on a turnout to change its alignment or click on a signal to change its aspect and to clear a train along its route. Others use the power of the internet tied into the C/MRI for remote dispatching from locations many miles from the railroad itself.

Reducing Layout Wiring

One of the main advantages of the C/MRI's distributed serial option is reduced layout wiring. A single 4-wire RS485 cable is the only connection required between the railroad and the computer. It's the only connection required between the Dispatcher's CTC panel and the railroad. Using multiple C/MRI nodes, all local wiring from every railroad device simply connects directly to the I/O pins on the nearest node. The only wiring required between nodes is that single 4-wire cable.

A side benefit of the computerized approach is that diagnostic software can quickly help locate electrical problems. It's also a great way to check out your complete system before that important operating session, convention open house or VIP visit.
Taking advantage of the C/MRI's power to implement the Software Diode Matrix is a great way to simplify turnout control. This approach is extremely beneficial for staging yards, classification yards, terminal areas and major junctions.

Interface to Digital Command Control (DCC)

Many users already have the C/MRI tied into their DCC system. DCC is designed to provide optimized train control and the C/MRI is designed to provide extremely flexible and cost effective control of wayside signals whether they be simplified or fully-fledged ABS, APB or CTC systems along with prototypical turnout control, prototypical grade crossing control, layout and room lighting control, automated staging, interfacing with a dispatcher CTC panel or its application to using the most modern graphics-based train dispatching.

Additionally, if you desire, incorporating the C/MRI is a great way to automate the operation of some of your trains while you operate others. Fundamentally, combining DCC with the C/MRI provides the best of both worlds to enhance your railroading enjoyment.

Supplementing Solo Operation with Automation

*Supplied courtesy of Model Railroader

Using C/MRI software combined with occupancy detection you can use the computer to run some trains while you run one yourself, to add realism and fun when you operate alone. For example, you might run a way freight, or play the role of yardmaster, while the computer ran through trains automatically.

Computer Cab Control (CCC)

As an alternate to using the C/MRI with DCC, or any other form of command control, you can add CCC to your C/MRI application so that the computer automatically connect blocks to your cab one step ahead of your train and disconnect blocks behind your train. Clear blocks can be automatically assigned to another train. This way you can operate multiple trains on your railroad without any regard to throwing manual block toggles or rotary switches and you do not need to install decoders, or receivers, in any of your locomotives.

For those desiring to combine multiple-train DCC operation with multiple train DC operation, you can do so by implementing the CCC option of the C/MRI and connecting one of the seven cab positions to DCC. This way you can operate six conventional DC trains simultaneously with any number of DCC trains. Clubs can find this dual capability an especially attractive feature for using the C/MRI.

Computer block control (CBC)

*Supplied courtesy of Model Railroader

Using CBC is a neat way to achieve fully automated or display mode operation where the computer runs all the trains automatically or to augment regular manual operation by having the computer run some trains automatically while you and your crew run others. It's applicable for any layout not wishing to implement DCC.

By contrast, when automating a DCC layout you simply connect a second serial port into your DCC Command Station and then let the C/MRI software automatically control train operation.

With CBC you use a separate Computer-Controlled Throttle (CCT) for each block on your layout. The computer reads the settings of each hand held controller and correspondingly sets the speed and direction for each block where each train is operating. Each of the standard CCT cards handles four blocks. With CBC you eliminate all block power switching and obtain great control flexibility. Walk around controls can be a simple potentiometer and reverse switch. Software keeps track of which blocks are occupied by which trains and sets the speed and direction for each of the block throttles. Wherever you run a train on your railroad the train responds to your cab through the CBC software.

You can also use a CCT4 card to obtain automated operation on a CCC equipped railroad and with both CCC and CBC, no equipment modifications are required.

Staging Track Control

Using the C/MRI's built-in capability for implementing software diode matrix control it is a snap to handle trains going in and out of staging either manually or fully automatically. Manually, simply push a single button for the desired track and the C/MRI software aligns all the required turnouts for the requested route. It's also easy to prevent turnout throwing when the throat is occupied. For those desiring an increased level of automation, with the C/MRI all you need to do is define a staging track, or some users have it set up so that you only need to define a train number, and the proper staging track is automatically aligned. For trains going into staging you can, if desired, simply have the computer automatically assign the next available track. You can have the C/MRI drive cab signals to guide engineers as they run into hidden staging. If you wish, you can have the C/MRI automatically operate trains into and out of staging.

Computer interfaced fast time clocks and lighting

Multiple variable-speed clocks, whether analog or digital, can be interfaced with the C/MRI or you can generate your clock right within the C/MRI software.

If you only need one clock it can be displayed on your computer's monitor. Once your fast-clock is within your computer, it is a natural step to use the C/MRI for automatic control of your layout and room lighting.

Hump yard control

The C/MRI can automate your hump yard. For example, the operator can key in the last three digits of car numbers as they go over the hump and the computer automatically aligns turnouts for the car's destination and sets the retarders to the proper level based upon the car's rolling characteristics and the number of cars already in the designated track. By interfacing a bar-code scanner you can even eliminate the need to enter the car number.

Junction or Terminal Interlocking

Clearing a route through a junction or terminal area, while preventing a conflicting route from being cleared, requires a multitude of checks before turnouts can be aligned and signals properly set - all easily handled functions with a C/MRI.

Most importantly, the benefits provided by the C/MRI are justifiably applicable to smaller junction or terminal areas. In fact, even a dispatcher controlled passing siding turnout, the smallest of interlocking plants, can benefit from the application of the C/MRI.

Entrance -Exit (NX) Interlocking Plants

In addition to implementing lever-type interlocking plants, the C/MRI can be used to implement NX-type interlockings. Rather than using separate levers for each turnout and signal, these plants employ a single push-button at each entrance and exit track. Press a button where you want a train to enter and a second button where you want it to exit the plant. Reading the order of the button presses, the C/MRI checks for safe conditions and automatically sets up the best available requested route and clears the appropriate signals while keeping all conflicting signals at stop.

One such Entrance-Exit type interlocking plant, referred to as BK Tower, is implemented via the C/MRI on the new Sunset Valley Oregon System. Using this panel, and simply pressing a button at the desired entrance and exit points, the Tower Operator can easily set up multiple non-conflicting train movements through the plant.

Another smaller NX plant was set up at UP Junction where you can see the operator has cleared a train movement through the plant. Subsequently, as each track section becomes occupied the indication LEDs along the route will change from green to red.

Driving real-time engine/dispatcher simulators

*Supplied courtesy of Model Railroader

Rather than unrealistically punching computer keys you can use the C/MRI to tie your simulator into actual controls like in a real cab or dispatcher panel. The system can be tied into your railroad layout or operated as a stand alone simulator used for crew training or for just plain fun. With the computer as an intermediary between you and the locomotive, you can emulate true "train handling" capabilities as a function of actual train location as it traverses around your layout!

Real-time Freight Car Forwarding System

You can interface the computer with optical scanners to read bar-codes or stuck on the bottoms of freight cars, or use radio ID chips placed on freight cars, to achieve a real-time freight car forwarding system. Car/industry data can be stored on your hard drive along with simulated shipper needs and switchlists can be printed out as each train enters a classification yard. If desired you can even have your software print out a profit and loss statement at the end of each operating session. The realism could be so great that you might even be able to use the resulting data for your railroad to secure a government loan - however no guarantee of success is provided in this area.

Other Applications

The C/MRI can control speakers distributed around your layout to synchronize sound and/or other layout animations with train movement and time-of-day, as defined by the computer controlled fast-clocks. The C/MRI software can measure the time it takes for a train to pass through a given length of track and print out train speed in scale miles per hour. Or you can have the computer print out a "traffic ticket" if a grade crossing is block for too long a period. Fundamentally speaking, once you have implemented the C/MRI, additional applications are limited only by your imagination.