New 3x10 N gauge layout suggestions/ideas/advice

Adam Senior Oct 25, 2021

  1. Adam Senior

    Adam Senior TrainBoard Member

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    Well hello — I've been lurking on the forums for the last couple of weeks in anticipation of moving into my new home, with enough space for me to re-ignite my hobby.

    Back when I was a little fella — I used to model with my dad in the loft (attic) — I had several N gauge layouts in the past while also helping with the landscaping/scenery on my dad's HO scale layout.

    Fast forward to now. I've finally got the space to build a layout all of my very own. I am excited about all of the things that come with the building process. But before I jump into anything crazy — I really wanted to share my thoughts with you all — to work on developing a layout that I can enjoy for years to come.

    I chose N gauge again, as I really want to aim as much as possible to some realism, longer trains.

    I enjoy shunting and general layout operation. My goal/idea is to base my layout around the railroads that I see today in Virginia/Alexandria — VRE/CSX cargo. I have the idea of creating a fantasy location — some type of smaller town within a hilly/blue ridge mountain type space. Somewhere for the VRE to collect passengers. One operating industrial line for pickup. Then the usual passing express/as my collection grows.

    I want to operate with a fiddle yard — hidden behind the scenry. (noting that I can access this if I move my table)

    I am working in a 3ft x 10ft space. I have the table built and I am ready to start working out my track/testing/exploring.

    [​IMG]
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    I am really excited about the scenery and artistic side of this also — to which, I want to aim for something pretty realistic. I want a good balance of trains in the open hills/mountains — with a small town/industry/station.

    I have a vision — with the main focus of a single viaduct leading into the town.

    [​IMG]

    Now — you guys/gals. What are your thoughts/suggestions? — I like the idea of a single track coming in from the right. Possibly two leaving the town back into the fiddle yard?

    I'll be using Kato points/turnouts with switches and DCC.

    As this hobby is always a moving target and everyone has an idea of their perfect layout. I am hoping that I can ensure to at least have the base work of a layout in place. Something that I can work on for the years to come!

    Thanks for reading through that. Happy to answer any questions.

    Looking forward to hearing some thoughts. ALL ABOARD!

    Regards,
    Adam.
     
  2. BigJake

    BigJake TrainBoard Member

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    WELCOME ABOARD!

    It's hard to tell, but it looks like you are using a Unitrack #6 switch to feed the first set of double tracks, with what looks like some fudging that may not be reliable to connect to the doubletrack sections. Note that standard double-track spacing can be a little tight when placing/removing railcars adjacent to an occupied track (not much room for fingers to grasp the sides of the cars).

    Building a yard with standard Unitrack double-track spacing requires #4 switches. However these typically require some finesse to make reliable (see videos on Fifer Hobby website).

    Also the yard tracks will be longer, with more capacity if you start with a left hand switch (as you have done), but then use right hand switches for the remainder of the ladder for the yard. This avoids the turnout plus curve piece for each additional track.

    If you want to stage and run trains in opposite directions, it would be best to double-end your hidden yard, so trains can leave it in either direction, as well as enter and leave the staging without backing up onto or off of the visible trackage.

    As for layout suggestions, what type of scene do you like? From the sketch, it seems like a mountain valley, with more scenery and less track. Do you like watching trains run, or do you enjoy challenging switching moves, etc, perhaps needing run-around tracks to hit facing-point sidings. Trailing point sidings require the locomotive to simply back the cars onto the siding, and appears to be what your sketch implies, with counter-clockwise train direction.

    However, your trackwork shows two opposite-facing sidings, for which one would need a run-around track nearby, unless it is served by clockwise trains coming out of staging.

    What era do you like? Modern era tends to longer railcars and locos than earlier eras (except big steam locos). Longer equipment looks worse on short radius curves, but that can be strategically disguised with view blocks. It also looks like you may have strategically employed longer radius curves at the front of the layout, and shorter ones into the staging, which is a great idea.
     
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  3. Adam Senior

    Adam Senior TrainBoard Member

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    Hey BigJake — thank you for the response. Much appreciated.

    I kinda jumped the gun on ordering the double track :D — though I do like the idea of keeping it very uniform and keeping the yard as narrow as possible with 6 tracks. I wasn't aware of the different until your comment about #4 — #6 switches. But after some reading, especially since this will be hidden, I think the reliability factor of #6 switches will be the best option. I don't want to have issues back there if I can help it.

    For the double end of each yard — I do like this idea — but for some reason I can't get this idea of a single track viaduct/bridge as my main wow/scenery item out of my head. Though, for longevity and functionality — I do think utilizing a double track, in-out approach would be a better idea.

    For the scene — I'm aiming for a small village town in the Virginian mountains. So I can take some inspiration from where I live in Alexandria VA. I don't want to get to Urban as a town/city space will eat up space — plus I think it's harder to model :D

    For operation — I like the idea of having a main passenger terminus. I already have the VRE Kato to run people away from my little town to the big city. Plus I have a CSX with refrigerator cars ready to pick up product from the town. So, I like the idea of having a side yard for the train to stop at for loading. Then, have the ability for some shunting.

    My trackwork was a initial setup to test my DCC unit and track — so, I think keeping that area where the siding is as a mountain area — while keeping most of my bigger yard/industry to the left side of the layout.

    For the era — I am going with modern, I already started purchasing items a while back as I couldn't hold my excitement :D — I want to keep it as area specific as possible. But I do want to chose box cars, diesels that i like the look of.
    [​IMG]

    I did utilize longer radius curves at the front with the hopes of minimizing tighter radius turns. I was battling with going 4ft deep — but the manageability, especially when it comes to modeling/scenery just didn't make sense — as my tiny little arms would struggle.

    I guess I need to explore some track design options. In all honesty — I was hoping for some wizards on here to throw some ideas at me ;)

    Regards,

    Adam.
     
  4. BigJake

    BigJake TrainBoard Member

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    I would suggest you model up your space in a layout design SW package. I use XtrackCAD, which is free, and has a library of the Unitrack sectional pieces (as well as other sectional track varieties, flex track or hand-laid track tools, structure model libraries, etc.). There are other RR Layout Design SW packages, some of which are free too. I'm sure some others will chime in with their favorites.

    These packages will keep you from fudging track together that really isn't meant to go that way, but can still make minor (and still reliable) adjustments to fit (using the "connect" tool).

    FYI, Kato has a double track version of their through-truss bridge, the same length as their single-track through-truss bridge.

    Ultimately, single or double-tracking the loop is a personal decision. There are advantages and disadvantages of modelling either one. Double-tracking allows running two trains fairly independently of each other, so switching local industries with a local freight is easier while a through freight (or passenger train) orbits on the other track. But some would find that less challenging (and therefore less interesting) than dodging each other on a single track loop. Or the addition of a passing siding through the local area can provide many of the benefits of a double track plan, with single track simplicity. If you like to see trains passing each other in opposite directions (with neither having to stop "in the hole"), double tracking the loop is the best way to go. On the other hand, the details of trains avoiding each other on a single track (with passing sidings) is itself an attractive aspect of railroading to practice. That's what the "emergency stop" button on most DCC system throttles is for!

    If you don't already have it, John Armstrong's "Track Planning for Realistic Operation" book is a highly recommended resource for model railroaders, especially before they start laying track!

    One other suggestion: if you have space under the upper wall cabinets, you might mount a horizontal, full-length mirror at an angle, so you can see the tracks/trains behind the mountain while operating out front, and still allowing soaring mountains to hide them otherwise. I would soon forget what was on which track back there without looking. If you are into electronics, a hidden camera and video display could do the same.

    If you want to use DCC, I strongly suggest a free SW package called JMRI (JAVA Model Railroad Interface) that works with most DCC systems to greatly simplify and organize locomotive decoder programming, but can also allow you to create on-screen panels of your layout and switch locations/statuses. It also supports lots of layout operations, including switch throwing, occupancy detection, trackside signals, automation, etc., not to mention running trains. Your DCC system will need a USB or similar interface to your computer running JMRI (Windows, Apple, and Linux supported). JMRI can also serve WiFi throttles or smartphone/tablet throttle apps to control your trains.

    I know this seems like a lot to consider, but take it slow, one step at a time, and ENJOY YOUR TRAINS!
     
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  5. Mudkip Orange

    Mudkip Orange TrainBoard Member

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    That curved viaduct into town looks like a perfect spot for the Kato 20-823 deck girder bridge with the extended piers.

    1A21F8F0-727A-4880-A6B4-F06FEACB0023.jpeg 242D21B7-1A45-4335-BC5B-1D3D0324863B.jpeg

    Instead of having a grade crossing at the western end of the viaduct, you could bring the highway under the end of the viaduct right before it ties back into a concrete abutment. Give it a low enough clearance to warrant yellow sign - 13’6”, say.
     
  6. Adam Senior

    Adam Senior TrainBoard Member

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    Thanks for both of the ideas — I really liked the idea of the curved viaduct — However I managed to get my hands on a Red Tomix Curved Chord Truss Bridge. I think that with some weathering/rush on it — the thing is going to look amazing.

    I've spent some time messing around with layout options. I was pretty set on having a single track/in and out — but after testing — I feel like having the ability of two loops will be nice for when I want to have things just going in the background. So I can have two trains moving/Passing. Especially on the bridge.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    I have my fiddle yard pretty much set up. I ordered a double cross-over — And I'm trying to figure out where to incorporate that.

    My next goal is to figure out the logistics of the station/industry portion of my layout. I have the bridge/scenic part of my layout set pretty much. So now I need to figure out what I'd like.

    I've been contemplating having 3 tracks run out of the other side of my layout. Two for the mainline — then a 3rd for the industry. Still, lots to play around with — and for an impulsive/needs it right away type person. Picking this hobby up has been a wonderful slow down for me — take my time! Don't rush!.

    I'm going to a model railway show on Sunday so hoping to get some inspiration/ideas from that.

    I'll keep you all posted.

    Regards,

    Adam. ChooCHoO!
     
  7. BigJake

    BigJake TrainBoard Member

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    Very nice!

    But, a word about bridge engineering... Truss bridges are designed to support the intended load without help from piers below (unless at the ends of the truss.) It is especially unlikely that the piers' positions would not match relative to the symmetrical truss structure above. In fact, piers under trusses in the real world can cause issues if/when something shifts (ends or piers), and the piers start adding stress to the truss. The only places you will find piers and trusses together are where shorter truss(es) span the distance(s) between piers.

    Additionally, for a long, double track, through truss bridge like that, you can bet the support structure at each end of it will be substantial, so I'd get rid of the piers and model substantial man-made supports (reinforced concrete, masonry, etc.) under each end of the truss.
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2021
  8. BigJake

    BigJake TrainBoard Member

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    A common feature of river banks is that they are substantially steeper on the outside of the river bend. This has to do with centrifugal force acting on the water, throwing it towards the outside of the bend. Conversely, the banks on the inside of the curve are shallower due to slower water flow, and often has a gradual beach at the water's edge, unless the river is really flowing fast overall (and thus downhill).

    I think you will appreciate a double-track that accommodates a "through train (passenger or freight)" that 'orbits' unattended, while you control the "local" train that makes stops on your layout. Without running multiple trains, the advantages of DCC (other than sound and light effects) are greatly diminished.
     
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  9. Adam Senior

    Adam Senior TrainBoard Member

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    Really appreciate your input Big Jake! Thank you!
     
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  10. in2tech

    in2tech TrainBoard Member

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    Same as me usually, I want it now and done. This time around I actually had to make myself SLOW down :) This is going to be another good one to watch the progress. Can't wait for updates, but take your time :)
     
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  11. BigJake

    BigJake TrainBoard Member

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    Tomix doubletrack spacing (37mm c-c) on the (beautiful!) bridge is wider than the Kato doubletrack spacing (33mm c-c). I would plan on more distance to adapt between the different separations than you have between the bridge and Kato doubletrack transition curve.

    Have you thought about how you want to handle the second bridge over the river (leading into the tunnel to the back of the layout)? Unitrack double track viaduct curves only have one selection of radii (15"/16.375"), unlike the ground level double track curves. Single track viaducts are not super-elevated, and have more choices in radii (and would be able to adapt to the Tomix track separation more gradually, especially since you can lead into them with single track ground level curves. Since so much of the curve is hidden anyway, super-elevation is also less visible. In N scale (slower real train speeds), super-elevation has no operational value.

    This is a situation where track planning software, with a complete library of Unitrack pieces (and Tomix pieces perhaps?) to try out is especially valuable.

    In most double-track situations, passing sidings are not often used, but crossovers are used between them instead, to allow one of the double tracks to act as a temporary passing siding for the other. Thus the front track is superfluous, especially since there is no room to place any station or industry there. That could allow you to slide the doubletrack closer to the front, and more room for station/industrial sidings behind it. While double crossovers are fairly rare in 1:1 railroads (too expensive), they are life (and room) saving in allowing either track to access the other as a siding in minimal space on a model railroad. Kato single crossovers are shorter (9.75") than the double crossovers (12.2"), so if you want one at each end, it may save more space to use a single crossover at each end. The single crossovers also have concrete ties (with wood ties in the switches) to match the concrete tie double-track pieces. The double crossover is only available with dark (black) wood ties.

    I would probably set the layout up to use the outer track for one or more "orbiting" train(s), representing traffic that is just passing through (the wider, outer curves make long passenger cars and fast trains look better anyway.) I would put a left-hand crossover at the far end of the front of the layout, and a right-hand crossover at the near end. This configuration also allows each of the crossovers to butt up against the curves at the ends of the front straights, without creating an S-curve with the inner curve of the doubletrack. Then I would place any switches serving local industrial/passenger sidings between the two single crossovers, on the inner track.

    Such an arrangement also allows the outer of the front double tracks to function (between orbiting trains passing through) as a "run-around" track for the loco to service facing point sidings (where the loco has to get to the back of a cut of cars, to push them forward onto a siding). This allows trains from either direction to service any local sidings with relative ease. Notice that what are facing point and trailing point sidings change into trailing point and facing point sidings, respectively, if the train servicing them runs the opposite direction around the layout.

    As far as 3 tracks vs 2 running around the far end and behind the mountain, here are my thoughts (as always, feel free to dismiss them out of hand): Tunnels are expensive in the real world. A three-track tunnel (or three single track tunnels side by side) is pretty rare outside of urban areas. On the other hand, if the "entrance" is hidden by simply passing the tracks around behind a mountain ridge, then it does not matter. My general preference would be for doubletracks entering and exiting the visible portion of the layout. But that's my preference, and this is your railroad!
     
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  12. Mudkip Orange

    Mudkip Orange TrainBoard Member

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    XTrakCad has a full Tomix library. The long 560mm bridge isn't in there, so I just use two 280mm double track trusses as a fill-in.

    The Kato 20-045 "snap track conversion track" is in fact a Tomix adapter... here's two on my poker table, going from Kato down to Tomix then back up to Kato.

    kato-tomix-adapt.png
     
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  13. BigJake

    BigJake TrainBoard Member

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    Just to clarify, the Kato conversion track converts between (connects) Kato and Tomix (and other) single tracks/roadbeds. It does not adapt to the differing separation between double tracks.

    I also use XTrackCAD, and like it a lot. And the price is very reasonable ($0)! It lacks the 19" curved deck girder bridge, but the ground level 19R15 curve stands in for it just fine. The smaller radius complement for a double track, curved bridge is modeled (Kato has no equivalent ground level piece for that).
     
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  14. Mark Ricci

    Mark Ricci TrainBoard Member

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    Andy, what a OUTSTANDING number of responses you have provided relating to the variety of aspects discussed in this thread. Your posts including double track are right on target and guess I got lucky there cuz that is the exact approach I used too but had no clue that was accepted practice. Wish I posted same question before I started layout last October and got some feedback from you!!!

    Curious regarding xTrackCAD... One thing about SCARM is how it handles or lack thereof unless I'm missing something in SCARM, the 60R and 60L segments (1 side bed is angled cut at end) included with the #4 turnouts. Haven't played with xTrackCAD. How does it deal with the merging cut roadbed to the opposite side?
     
  15. BigJake

    BigJake TrainBoard Member

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    Yard design, whether for staging or other purposes, is part art and part science. Lots of choices...

    For a staging yard, a lot depends on the length of trains you want to run. You need tracks in the staging yard to handle that length, if possible. Otherwise you will have to divide the train up into pieces in the staging yard, and connect them as you pull the train out of the yard. But if you also want to run shorter trains (< half the length of the layout), you can split part of the yard with back-back ladders in the middle, giving you twice as many shorter tracks in as much yard width. These split tracks require an empty track to work with, but can support trains leaving the yard from both directions, after a jog.

    Have you thought about putting a video camera back there, and a monitor where you can see it?

    Stock #4 Unitrack switches are not as reliable out of the box as the #6's, but there are videos (see Fifer Hobby) on how to make them more reliable with just a little work with a small metal file. Also, the single crossovers have #4 switches, but they've been made very reliable from the factory. Double crossovers use #8 switches, and are reliable out of the box.
     
  16. BigJake

    BigJake TrainBoard Member

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    Aw, shucks... thank you! I'm just glad to be able to help.

    I don't recall that Track Planning for Realistic Operation by John Armstrong (3rd ed., Model Railroader published) dove into double tracks so much, but it really goes into the way railroads work and use their trains & tracks. I cannot recommend that book highly enough for sound operating practices and how they are supported (or not) by specific trackage patterns.

    Not that you necessarily want the perfect track design, since working around shortcomings is half the fun, and adds the spice of variety. And even if you have all the elements of a really operation-oriented track plan, you can always add more challenge by occasionally taking some trackage "out of service for maintenance" to add interest and keep things fresh. Track maintenance and improvement programs have always been a part of railroading, and there's no reason we can't model that too.

    As for XtrackCAD and the special tapered roadbed pieces that come with #4 switches, XTC includes models of the L and R tapered pieces (both are included with either L or R #4 switches), but they are represented separately in the Bill of Materials it produces for your layout. This is not a big deal for me, since I dump the BOM into a spreadsheet where I have my inventory of existing unitrack pieces, and it calculates what I'm missing and need to acquire for the given layout. I use that spreadsheet to manage pieces that come only in sets (#4 turnouts, the short little straight piece assortments, 90 degree crossings, etc.) and calculate how many of those little sets I need to provide the sufficient number of such pieces. Of course it also calculates how many packages I need to acquire (e.g. at 2 or 4 pieces per package), not just the number of pieces. Then I go add in current prices per package from a couple of vendors, and it cranks out the lists to order from each vendor based on price. I still have to verify they have the quantities I need in stock, and adjust that when I place the orders. I hope this addresses your question; if not please clarify.

    I can (and do, since I'm now retired) spend hours in XTrackCAD working with trackage ideas for interesting sections of trackage I get from here, and model railroading publications. I look at track plans I see here and elsewhere (not all done in Unitrack) and see how I could make something like that with Unitrack, or incorporate a little area like that into a bigger layout I might be working on. There is no magic key except to just play with XTrackCAD until you are familiar with how it works and what it can (and cannot) do. This is no different with any other track planning software packages.
     
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2021
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  17. Mark Ricci

    Mark Ricci TrainBoard Member

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    Thanks for the book info. Quite honestly, I'd probably would have left the hobby without the help you and some of the other guys here have provided so feel at least I can do is publicly recognize the contributions you all make to the hobby.

    Since its only a 2x4 layout 3 spurs plus inner loop, didn't think about temp "closures" but definitely a great idea! Sort of doing something similar to "out of service for maintenance" to keep interest, I randomly select rolling stock and order and then move in - out spurs decoupling or coupling depending on the selection. Kinda also allows finding strange issues eg when gondola is attached to GP7, it derails backwards going 1 route of D X-over however the same gondola behind F3, no problem. The direction of the car (flip horizontally makes no difference and my other gondola behaves the same way. If I put one of PS1 boxcars after the GP7 and then either gondola, no derailment... Interesting for a newbie like myself. Definitely wish had more spurs though....Maybe a separate switching layout is in the future?

    Definitely clear on this now. Went ahead and installed XTrakCAD on a test pc, the added Kato library and explored a little bit with the #4s and some other track pieces. SCARM produces BOM via HTML page but not as thorough as xTrk. Last September, had imported SCARM output into Excel, created a package count and costs. Definitely could have used xTrkCAD but in the end, as you mentioned, its not much different in concept from others.

    Thanks again for all the help!
     
  18. BigJake

    BigJake TrainBoard Member

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    Pushing trains backward can expose issues with truck-mounted couplers, particularly in curve transitions present in crossovers (gentle s-curves). Longer shank, truck-mounted couplers (usually on cars that have long overhangs past the trucks) can exhibit a surprising amount of torque on a truck, especially when pushing. Next time it derails, pay close attention to which way it derails (which truck, to which side, etc.) to help diagnose the problems.

    Alas, there are some combinations of equipment that I just have to avoid, and use a spacer car between them to keep 'em on the rails.

    In 1:1 railroading, it is not uncommon for a short spur to lack the ability to support heavy locomotives, so the railroads have to plan for using other freight cars as a "long handle" to pick up or drop off railcars at those locations. Just another complicating aspect to make model railroading more interesting. And sometimes those conditions are transitory, being caused by age or weather (or both), and correctable by maintenance. Yet another twist on the "closed for maintenance" aspect of model railroad operations (this week, you have to use "long handles" for accessing that siding, until it is repaired.)

    *New product idea: A D&D-style multi-faceted die to roll in order to determine the conditions and other aspects of operations for an operating session.

    I wonder if JMRI has this built in? I know it can set up constrained random traffic orders for various destinations, but can it choose track/siding conditions in a similar manner? Sorry, just thinking random thoughts out loud...
     
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  19. Mark Ricci

    Mark Ricci TrainBoard Member

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    Thank you for the info. The backing into spurs has really become major focus with the granular control DCC wi throttles provide in addition to the fun we have been discussing with spur service closures and car rotation routines.

    Isn't that the way? What bad luck? LOL The 2 cars that really "wanted-needed" to be directly behind the GP7 have the double x-over issue.

    Interestingly, also have a couple of cars that backup fine in 1 direction, flip horizontally and a pin hangs or car derails so started marking with pencil the good "front". Discovered another problem when backing up where coupler pin on a car grabbing on one of the tie bar pivots on 1 #4 RT but not the other. All other cars fine. Have seen some cut pin a little shorter but prefer not to. All rolling stock is Atlas with a mix of master and trainman. Out of 12 cars, only 4 exhibit any of these issues discussed. Maybe replacing coupler and or trucks on problem cars next step?

    Will definitely investigate further with a much closer look.

    WOW, great idea. Maybe a D&D-style multi-faceted die Linux version to run on pi along side JMRI if stand alone product. Unfortunately, have not had much opportunity to explore JMRI outside the basics but these aspects of automation is a major reason for re-entering model railroading. Keep on thinking!!!
     
  20. BigJake

    BigJake TrainBoard Member

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    Micro Trains sells a gauge for coupler and air-hose height. Not a bad investment to help inspect all your couplers...

    Of course, if you are replacing unreliable truck-mounted couplers, the easiest way is to replace the trucks with new MT trucks with couplers. You can save money by replacing just the couplers, but the therapy bill may destroy any savings... Actually, they aren't that bad if you have a good head-mounted magnifier (opti-visor, et al) and a good, strong light to work under.

    I won't get into the truck- vs body-mounted coupler argument. That's a whole 'nother can of worms! If the railcar functions well with truck mounted couplers, I figure why tempt fate? But if you desire to back long cuts of cars uphill, you'll likely appreciate (or else wish) they were body-mounted-coupler equipped!
     

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