QUAKER VALLEY Railroad - CTC Panel   Updated May 2011

This is an archived page describing the progress on the Quaker Valley Railroad in early 2011.  Information on older and newer versions of the panel can be found at http://www.quaker-valley.com/CTC/CTC_Index.html

An interactive sample of the JMRI panels is available at http://www.quaker-valley.com/CTC/JMRI Demo xml.html

The Quaker Valley Railroad has been developing a CTC Panel using the Panel Pro feature in Decoder Pro since 2003.  In the summer of 2006, I attended the NMRA Philadelphia Convention and sat in on all of the JMRI clinics.  I met some of the key people behind the development and learned a lot, especially about the then newest features of Panel Pro in version 1.7.5.  I also gave a clinic describing how I was using JMRI Panel Pro with my NCE system to develop a virtual CTC panel.  I even have acquired a clunky old touch screen monitor which allows me to change the lever position by touching them on the screen.  This can mean no more mouse or trackball for the Dispatcher.  One of the new flat panel touch screens would be even nicer!

By the end of 2007, I had added three more AD4HC accessory decoders to the Quaker Valley, automating 11 turnouts or turnout pairs.  You can see how I mounted the CVP accessory decoder cards at http://www.quaker-valley.com/CTC/AD4.html  This completed the conversion of all main line turnouts to DCC control.  This permitted me to complete the CTC panel with all turnout levers active and block detection on the single track QV line under control of the NCE DCC command station.

In late 2009, I added some new hardware from RR-Cirkits, creating a stand alone Loconet allowing me to complete block detection of the Conrail mainline. It also will allow addition of signaling track side. Hardware includes a Locobuffer USB, TC64 Tower Controller, BOD8 block detectors and 4ASD signal drivers.  This setup does not require a separate command station and integrates with my NCE system using JMRI Panel Pro.  So I am in the process of updating the JMRI Panel Pro created CTC panel. The January 2010 screen looked like this:

The upper CTC panel shows the Dispatcher has aligned a westbound train which is through Twin Rocks and just took the signal at Moss Creek.  It will take the siding around a train on the main at Shinnton and is cleared into Costello.  There is a train waiting to come off of the yard lead at Costello.  Using the JMRI Logix, the signal lights on the panel drop as the westbound progresses through each control point.  Detection is being added to the lower panel as shown by the TOL indicators. Only 3 or 4 detectors left to install. All of the turnout levers work, so the Dispatcher has abandoned the old DC control panel with push buttons and rotary switches and controls everything from a dual monitor PC setup. The CTC panel occupies one entire monitor. The other has the JMRI menus and a developing layout editor screen showing field signal indications.

I always wanted to develop the panel to use the turnout and signal levers and code button just like the real ones.  I thought it would require scripting, but found a way around it in 2006.  Since then the newer versions of JMRI have multi position sensors, and it has worked well to add the signal levers to the single track Quaker Valley line in the top panel.  The signal levers shown now work pretty much like the prototype..  I have redrawn the background graphics using the 15 wide by two high USS panel included with Panel Pro.  I have moved things around a bit in the past two years to align better with the levers below.  I also have renumbered some of the turnouts on the lower panel.  It is nice to develop things on a screen and if it is not right, easily change it.  I suspect many will develop their model railroad CTC controls this way before constructing a full size CTC panel.

The code button at the bottom of each position is momentary and controls the turnout and signals. You can flip the turnout levers back and forth without setting the turnouts.  Only when the code button is pressed does the turnout and signal follow.  And because of the way the JMRI route function can work, they will only follow if the interlocking is unoccupied and the block ahead is unoccupied and the block ahead is not assigned to a train coming the other way.  No more throwing turnouts under moving trains.

2011 Panel

With the latest version of the panel shown above, I have added sound to the code buttons and some toggle switches. I also added a bell when the trains OS (go on sheet) at each of the QVRR control points and when a B&O train shows up from Punxsatawney or Cumberland and when trains are powered up in the Conrail Staging. Using a faster laptop, I am encouraged to add more and more animation and sound to the panel.

I also added the traffic control lights on the upper panel and to some blocks on the lower Conrail panel. I had placed that logic in the panel in 2008, but saw a more prototypical way to display them in Dick Bronson's 2009 clinics and on the Rule 281 Series DVD from CTC Parts. These traffic control lights are used to "reserve" a track for a train that is not yet there and stop assignment of that same track to another opposing train. The DVD convinced me to make these lights blue as per a PRR panel on the prototype. Real simple to edit and change in Panel Pro.

I continue to update parts of the CTC panel as I have been learning how to better use the new Logix, grouped sensors and the multi sensor icon introduced in JMRI version 1.9.1. I am now running a 2.9.4 version of Panel Pro, but will upgrade to a 2.11.x version sometime in 2011. So how does this all work in Panel Pro? 

Sensors, signals and turnouts identified
Each position has three inputs from the Dispatcher.  These are the turnout lever, the signal lever and the code button.  There are three block detector inputs from the railroad and an internal sensor for the interlocking occupancy.  I use NCE BD20s which detect current in each block. These are connected to a NCE Auxiliary Input Unit (AIU) which is on the cab bus and makes the block occupancy info available to the command station and thus to Panel Pro.  If the turnout NT53 is closed (normal) and both NSx and NSy are occupied a Logix sets IS53 to active.  This might save me some infra red detectors.

My friend Ken McCorry uses an infrared detector at the points in each interlocking to hold this block occupied  when a car is over it. I have been experimenting with detection of my caboose fleet and will likely only detect them and not all freight cars. In 2007, I was experimenting with the Logix feature in JMRI to create a three second delay before the detector will clear. Since then the JMRI developers have made this even easier. I now have an internal sensor ISx to follow the real block detector NSx. ISx goes active instantly when the block is occupied but has a 5 second timer before it goes inactive. In this way the flickering due to dirty wheels is gone. The new Logix made it easy to update the panel and so now only the internal ISx sensors show on the Quaker Valley panel. (Except on the siding at Shinnton where I show both.) The newer BOD8 block detectors on the Loconet have a 2 second delay built into the hardware. I have added an additional delay to make them function with a five second delay. I find that keeps the detector on even for a single resistive axle equipped caboose (or cabin for you PRR fans)

There are two routes for the turnout.  One sets it Normal (Closed) and one sets it Reverse (or Thrown) to follow the turnout lever.  I have set up routes which only operate when the code button is pushed AND the center light IS545 is active AND the interlocking IS53 is inactive AND the lever IT53 is set.  Panel Pro allows multiple sensors, so I have made sure the block is unoccupied before these routes are used.  I simply show the turnout position as driven by Panel Pro in the two lights above the turnout lever.  I have some local control panel lights that display the turnout position, but none are sent to the computer.  I don't see the need for feedback from the turnout on the railroad.  Turnouts in positions  47, 53, 59, and 27 in the Quaker Valley panel above show turnouts in the Reverse position.

The signal lever has been much easier to setup with the advances in the JMRI release 1.9.1.  The multi position sensor icon for the lever follows the three sensors IS541,542 and 543.  The directions lights IS544, 545 and 546 are in a defined group so only one can be lit.  If the block IS53 is unoccupied, and the IS545 light is lit and the lever is set for east or west, a Logix will set the appropriate direction light IS544 or 546.  When a train enter the block IS53, the direction light IS545 is set active, dropping the direction light and setting all signal to red. Another condition in the Signal logix allows the Dispatcher to manually set the block to red after it has been assigned.  I have used a blinking red lamp IS547 which overlays the center red lamp for a 15 second delay. The sensor is transparent when inactive showing the underlying lamp. So it shows the signal as it drops to red.

I have added a JMRI clock to the CTC panel .  After upgrading to version 2.6, I experimented with Ken Cameron's NCE clock contribution originally out in version 1.9.2.  It now is a fast clock married to the NCE command station. I even added a toggle switch to turn it on and freeze time if the Dispatcher desires.

This background was developed using MS Paint.  I started with the dual background panel provided in the resource folder of Panel Pro.  This now includes a better shade of green and the button punch outs as on the real US&S panels.  I stacked two separate CTC panels one over the other as I need more than the 15 positions available on a single panel.  In fact levers 31 and 33 in the upper right corner control access to staging tracks on the double track Conrail mainline.  I reused the track artwork in the black areas from my older panel.  I even kept the Quaker logo in place.  I added a US&S plate, starting with a scan of a real plate from a photo.  I cleaned up the lettering and then added it to my panel.  This has been contributed to JMRI and is part of the current release and also in the group files area. Since it made sense, I have also moved it off the background and made it a repositionable icon.
US&S Builders Plate  The other image I contributed to the JMRI project is a "knockout" replacement button like so Knockout image to be used where only one lever position and light is needed as in positions 8 and 12 of the QV panel above.

The upper section of the panel represents the modeled portion of my Quaker Valley line which runs north and south between Buffalo NY, through Costello and ending in Lynnsburg, a town in the hills of Western Pennsylvania between Altoona and Johnstown.  The lower panel section shows Conrail's secondary track between these two towns.  I have abbreviated the staging yard tracks on either side of the modeled lines.  In reality, the yards at McKeesport and Altoona are two ends of the same Westbound staging yard.  Johnstown and Harrisburg are the Eastbound staging yard.

One other thing I added in 2007 is a startup reset of the levers and turnouts to the normal position.  When the panel first opens, it looks something like the panel shown on the left.

Notice that all of the turnouts and levers are unknown.  The NCE block detectors settle in at first, and this shows a train on the wye track at the west end staging.  My reset button is hidden in the bow tie of the quaker logo. See the red dot? 

Touching it sets off two routes.  The first sets all of the internal levers, turnouts and sensors to their normal position.  The second sets the turnouts on the accessory decoders around the layout.  I have this one staggered to bounce around the railroad, allowing the capacitors to recharge for the next machine. While these are running, I play a relay code sound file.

It is not necessary on the newest turnouts where I have used slow motion machines.  But these are too quiet,  I'll have to add some relay clacking sound to those levers.

Oh, and the Alarm icon shown below Laurel Run on the Conrail line. That is tied into a magnetic proximity switch on the aisle bridge which permits operators and guest access to the layout room. When the aisle gate is opened, the alarm light flashes and the signals on the railroad drop on either side. When the gate is closed, railroad traffic can flow again. This proximity switch is tied into one of the BOD8 detector boards. In order to further protect the trains, power is actually cut to the aisle bridge and approach tracks when the gate is open. This is done with micro switches and not tied into Panel Pro.

In order to fully develop signaling on the Quaker Valley, I started to add signals to the CTC panel. That was a situation that is very unprototypical. And I needed a better way to watch the signal response to the railroad and to the CTC panel as I developed the Routes and Logix to control it all. I turned to the Layout Editor and spent about 15 hours developing the layout figure shown:

Layout Editor panel

Since that time, I have added and refined the SSL (Simple Signal Logic) behind the signals shown. The turnouts are animated in the layout editor and the signals work. In edit mode, the layout editor allows you to open the signal logic and correct it. I have JMRI showing occupied track in red or maroon. Unoccupied tracks are show in black. The layout editor panel shows all of the internal signals I used to complete the Simple Signal Logic. These intermediate signals are internal and now only show when in edit mode. I have added the signal held Logix to many of the lower panel (Conrail) signals and just recently added a CTC-ABS switch to make the signals pop back up when running for open house guests. When in CTC position, the CTC panel takes charge and holds (Red) signals over what is essentially an ABS signal logic.

Progress on signaling was slow in 2010, but the east bound signal at Laurel Run has been installed on the railroad and is a working PRR position style single head mast. I have assembled a working prototype of the two headed PRR position signal which will display clear, approach and stop aspects on the upper head and light the lower head for restricting moves. Two of these will be installed on a signal bridge at the west bound Laurel Run location. The restricting aspect will control entry into the Lynnsburg yard.

I had been using an AIU Auxiliary Input Unit and 14 BD20 block detectors from NCE since 2003.  All mainline turnouts were converted to using a mix  of accessory decoders including CVP AD4HC, Switch-It and Snap-It.  In late 2009, I added some new hardware from RR-Cirkits, creating a stand alone Loconet allowing me to complete block detection of the Conrail mainline. It also will allow addition of signaling track side. Hardware includes a Locobuffer USB, TC64 Tower Controller, BOD8 block detectors and 4ASD signal drivers.  This setup does not require a separate command station and integrates with my NCE system using JMRI Panel Pro.  So I am in the process of updating the JMRI Panel Pro created CTC panel.  The image below was borrowed from Dick Bronson and the RR-Cirkits website.  It has been modified to show the relation of the various connections used to make all of this come to life on the Quaker Valley.  On the layout the DCC bus is split into 5 power districts each protected by a fast acting breaker.  I use DIN plugs on the cab bus, using twisted wire for the data lines.  I am in the process of adding the second booster to separate the accessory bus from the DCC track bus.  This should avoid the noise issues that have reprogrammed the accessory decoders on more than one instance.  The BD20 actually have 1 or 2 loops through their core, where the BOD8 does not require but a single pass straight through.

Quaker Valley JMRI Connections

Sweet!  And JMRI is always getting better.  Seems the JMRI guys add things just as I need them.  Or before I know I need them. The JMRI developers have now gone well beyond my original wish list. Integrating the NCE and LocoNet hardware into one functioning system allows me to replicate the prototype US&S CTC machines of the 1960s and 1970s. I've been experimenting with the layout editor and it does make it easy to develop signaling as I am adding signal hardware to the railroad in 2010 and 2011. And Decoder Pro / Panel Pro is still freeware.  Thank you Bob Jacobsen, Dick Bronson and the rest of the JMRI crew!

Learn more about the JMRI project, Decoder Pro and Panel Pro at http://www.jmri.org

Revised 12/21/2011

Bob Bucklew
Quaker Valley Software

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