QUAKER VALLEY Railroad - Remote Dispatching using JMRI and the internet - Updated in February 2015

Quaker Valley CTC Panel

In October 2014,  I finally figured out how to have the Quaker Valley remotely dispatched.  It should have come to me sooner as I use Team Viewer to support our maintenance software users at work every day.  I found Team Viewer is free for non commercial use and was easy to install on my railroad room JMRI equipped PC.  My long time friend Larry Hanlon installed it on his PC in Bend Oregon.   Then it was a simple task to have Larry run the panels on my computer from his place 3000 miles away.

I sent Larry copies of my panel files and all icons and background pictures, mostly so he could get oriented to the panel layout.  During the October 2014 operating session, Larry just ran Team Viewer to operate the JMRI software on my PC over the internet. 

We found the audio channel worked well to make the radio traffic in my basement heard on his PC in Oregon.  I had acquired some devices called the Dingo-Tel years earlier.  They allow a FRS radio to be attached to a USB port on the PC and act like a headset to the radio.  Larry found if he muted his mike, he could hear our FRS radio transmissions in the basement.  When he unmuted his mike, we could hear him on our end.

We did find the relay and bell wav files played by JMRI found their way to the radio and that was distracting.  Since then I have created a revision of the xml panel files that have a sensor that disables the sound files.

My remote Dispatcher in Oregon

Here is a picture of Larry at his desk in Bend Oregon with my Conrail panel on the screen behind him.  I understand he got a meal and the tea during our session.  I really appreciate him working out these details with me.  Our session started at 7 pm in Pennsylvania which was 4 pm on a Saturday afternoon in Oregon.

We tried it again for an operating session at the end of January, but it did not work as well.  We still used Team Viewer, but Larry noticed considerable delays in operation of the CTC panel  levers and buttons, sometimes as much as ten seconds.  We also were hearing some consistent echo in the radio transmissions.  Often 3 or 4 echoes were as loud as the original.  Several things were different between the sessions and we are working to determine which were the bigger culprits.  Larry upgraded his Team Viewer and I did not.  Larry was using a different internet connection on his end.  And I had upgraded my JMRI from 3.8 to production version 3.10.  There is some indication that the JMRI web server may require more memory with 3.10 and later versions and with Team Viewer working on my 2 GB RAM PC we were swapping memory. 



The engineer will acquire his loco consist in staging, contact the Dispatcher for railroad and usually be told something like "you have railroad to Laurel, follow your signals."  If he has an Engine Driver phone or tablet, he can view the signals as shown on the engineers panel at left.  This restricted signal indication is shown because the train is being routed over the crossover and into the Lynnsburg yard. 

If the routing continued west, the engineer only need touch the CP LYNN name in the upper right corner to navigate to the next panel on the phone or tablet.  This is  a feature added to JMRI  in February 2013.  Always something new from the developers.  Thanks to Bob Jacobsen, Steve Todd and Pete Cressman for this fine work.

I have added these navigation arrows and/or text boxes to each of the engineers view.  In this way you can follow your train around the layout and always look ahead for the next signal.  Most recently I added the location label at the bottom of each engineers display.  I noticed my operators were having an issue identifying the signal where there train was physically located.  So this gives a navigational aid and the arrow and text at the top will lead you to the next signal in your direction.

Lynnsburg looking West

Here is the next signal location west of Laurel.  This view at Lynnsburg is looking west toward the station platform.  One day, physical signals will really be mounted on the highway bridge at this spot.  For now, the engineer can see them displayed on his smart phone.

Quaker Valley JMRI web server home page

In order to navigate to the various panels on the tablet, I have modified the JMRI generated "home page"  to display my signals page as shown at the left.  Operators can either select a starting point to watch signals or can select one of the local panels.  Once selected, you can navigate between them.

This feature was added to JMRI  in February 2013 and worked well in my testing and during several operating sessions in 2013.  I had an operating session in mid March 2013 and had two Quaker Valley operators with tablets and smart phones giving the JMRI web server a workout.

Late in 2013, the Engine Driver developers Steve Todd and Robin Becker added a feature I suggested.  The "auto web" view now appears when you rotate the Android device to landscape view, while the Engine Driver throttle shows in Portrait view.  This really makes it easy to operate using the virtual signals.  And the landscape view on a smart phone is big enough to see the signals.

Christmas 2014 brought two new Android smart phones.  These were acquired on sale at KMart for $20 and no phone plan is required.  They simply hook up to wifi, download Engine Driver, set the preferences and I have two new electronic throttles with engineer view signals.  I am hoping my article on the new panels appears in the Model Railroad Hobbyist online magazine later in 2015. 



Laurel East

The east ward signal shown at the other end of the Laurel plant is a single position light mast and is physically installed and fully functional with lit LEDs.  I have Dick Bronson's RR-Cirkits signal driver hardware and just need to find the time to build and wire the physical signals for some of these locations.  However it is nice to know that the signal logic is all in place and tested.

We have found that the guys with the iphone and smart phone throttles are able to browse each of these panel displays and greatly reduce the need for permissive radio traffic with the Dispatcher.

In order to make the Team Viewer connection work, I first start up the JMRI PC and connect it using wifi to my railroad room router.  This is where all of the phones and tablets connect and find the JMRI Withrottle,  This router has no internet access.  For this I use a D-Link wireless router with address for the PC.  After that connection is made, I plug the PC into my home Ethernet cable, establishing the path for Team Viewer and the rest of the world.  The house router provides an address at 192.168.1.xxx so there is no conflict.

We plan to use a cell phone call between the Dispatcher and the two yardmasters on the Quaker Valley.  These don't need to be kept open line.

And all this in JMRI is still free.  But donations to JMRI are always welcome.  Thanks again to the developers.

See the JMRI US&S CTC panel in use on the Quaker Valley.

Web page updated February 10, 2015

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