Locomotive Sound Evolution

For several years now I’ve installed or purchased locomotives with onboard sound, since I feel it adds another level of enjoyment to the hobby. I had long been a user of Soundtraxx Tsunami decoders, until I purchased a Rapido Trains Inc GMD-1 with ESU Loksound.

The ESU sound is like nothing else I have heard. Finally, distinctive prime mover sounds and bell and horn features that sound like the actual components, not something created in a computer. Add in the amazing motor control and the small size of the decoders and I was quickly sold on ESU.

So, now I fac ethe task of removing all the Soundtraxx decoders from the fleet, and replacing them with boards from Loksound. So far, I’ve got 6 models done, with many to follow. For now I’m keeping the ESU equipped units running together and the Tsunami equipped units seperate, to save me the trouble of speed matching everything.

So here’s RS18 #630 undergoing a decoder change out on the bench. I’ve also converting the units to LED lighting.


Operational Paper Work

Now that I have the layout up and running, I need a way to prevent operators from crashing each other. The prototype BC Rail used a system called MBS (manual block) which I may adapt for my use in the future. For now, I’ve decided to go with the CP Rail system of OCS Clearance forms.Here’s what I’ve come up with:


And for the RTC I took a white board and some pin striping and made a basic layout of all dispatched areas of the layout (crappy cell phone pic)


The trackage representing the Fort St John Sub will be controlled by the Chetwynd yardmaster, since the modeled length of track from Chetwynd to staging is short. The other evening we had a gathering of regular operators to run through the basics of OCS, since my layout is the first and currently only in our group to have RTC control. There were a few confused faces in the room but I’m confident once we start to use the system in an operational setting most of the group will pick up on it.

I’m still working on the number of trains to run during an op session, currently I have 9 trains staged and ready to go. The trains that can/will run are as follows:

Pinesul Switcher: Runs from Chetwynd south to Pinesul to switch out Petrosul Industries (sulphur traffic). Returns to Chetwynd when finished at Pinesul. Power usually 2 units of any class. Pinesul Switcher may also work any needed industries/trackage on the layout. Example: I currently have the switcher at Dawson Creek with 2 loads of ballast to dump at Groundbirch. After dumping the ballast, the switcher will run south to Chetwynd, lift empties for Pinesul (and spot the ballast hoppers at Chetwynd) and run North to Pinesul.

Dawson Creek Switcher: Runs north from Chetwynd to Dawson Creek, and return. Power 2 to 3 4 axle units (RS-18/M420/C425 units).

Chetwynd-North Vancouver freight. – Runs south from Chetwynd to N Van, may switch Kennedy as required.

PV Peace Vancouver – Runs south from Fort St John to N Van, may switch Kennedy as required.

VP Vancouver Peace – Runs north from N Van to FSJ, may switch Kennedy as required.

N Van Chetwynd Freight – Runs north from N Van to Chetwynd.


One addition to the operating scheme I am adding is freights running north and south out of Fort St John may lift and spot cars at Chetwynd. Example a north bound VP will enter the yard at Chetwynd, set out any cars billed for Chetwynd or Dawson Creek, then run north to FJS (staging) On the flip side, a southbound PV may lift outbound traffic at Chetwynd then carry on south. Since the staging yard and grade at FSJ limit train length to 15 cars, the addition of cars at Chetwynd should create the proper length of trains running south.

A good example is the southbound PV. PV enters the yard at Chetwynd from FJS staging,with 15 cars. The crew will lift 10 outbound cars that came off of the Dawson Creek Sub, creating a 25 car southbound freight. 25 cars is the ideal/max length that my two passing sidings can handle on the railroad.

The reverse happens with the VP. VP enters the yard at Chetwynd heading north, sets out 10 cars (or so) destined for Dawson Creek/Chetwynd, and continues north to FSJ staging with the remaining 15 cars.

Since I use both sides of my Micro Mark car cards, train make up changes on every freight running out of Prince George staging. Some freight smight have traffic for Chetwynd and/or Dawson, or a mix of traffic for Chetwynd, Dawson, or FSJ. The randomness of the car cards creates the need for setting out or lifitng traffic at Chetwynd, which will make the yard a busy place!

The only way to tell if this whole scheme will work is to run it a few times, and next op session (if we have enough people) I plan on using OCS and the set out scheme together. One thing we discovered during a small session last week was the layout can run fine without a Chetwynd yard assignment. However, with more operators, a yardmaster is required to direct the flow of traffic around the yard.

First Operating Session

October 13 2015 marked the very first official operating session on the layout. Friends AJ, Dave, Jack, Ken and Doug from our regular operating group put the layout through its paces for a few hours. I’m pleased to say everything worked close to plan, and there were a few learnings taken from the session.

I’ve purchased some FRS radios and have printed out a basic OCS clearance form template to be used in the next session, once I clean out a spot in the furnace room for the dispatcher to sit!

AJ runs a north bound freight at Pinesul while Jack waits in the siding with the local.


Doug pulls into Kennedy where he’ll lift a couple of cars on the south end


Ken does a pretty good job of filling the yard at Chetwynd with cars. By the end of the session he managed to sort everything out!



Just like the Death Star, the Layout’s Fully Operational

Allow me to dust this blog off for a moment! Sorry for not updating this site, I’ve been a little busy with life and layout. After many months of hard work, the layout is now fully operational. Trackwork is complete, the electrical is almost done save for some switch machines to be installed in staging. I’ve got a new Digitrax Chief command station coming since the Empire Builder I am currently using does not have enough locomotive slots for the needs of the layout.

I’m currently installing fascia on the upper and lower levels and will paint it green soon to hide a good portion of the benchwork. I’m not sure where I’ll start with scenery, perhaps the upper deck at Hulcross of Kennedy. I do plan to work on one scene at a time (maybe a 4 foot area) rather than the “shotgun method” of rough sceniking the entire layout, then going back to add more.

I’ve also completed the first and (hopefully) only siding extention on the railroad, the passing track at Kennedy was lengthened to allow a full size train to fit. I realized before the first op session that having only one passing siding on the upper deck was not going to work that well, so Kennedy got lengthened,

So, here’s some updated shots:

Kennedy dead ahead, with the siding of Groundbirch on the lower level right hand side of the image



Dawson Creek, with a freight ready to leave town for Chetwynd


The north end of Dawson Creek, with the station from the old layout set in place


And the staging yard at Prince George, with a few freights ready to head north.


One Year Later……

February 25 marked one year since I started the benchwork for my layout.

Helix frame started February 25 2014

helix frame built

Like most model railroaders, I didn’t spend an entire year building the layout. The majority of the summer was spent outdoors and on vacations, and it wasn’t until the winter months when I started to really build.

So current status of the layout is benchwork around 90% complete along with the track work. I’m wiring the upper level reverse loop (Prince George staging) and once completed, the bench work for Dawson Creek on the lower level will be constructed. I’ve found its much easier to wire the upper deck without any of the lower level bench work in the way!

I installed the final PSX circuit breaker the other day, so now the power panel wiring is complete:


The good news is once the upper level is finished and Dawson Creek is built, we can start operating sessions!


Another Milestone: Upper Level Benchwork Completed!

I reached another milestone in construction this morning, all of the bench work for the upper deck is complete! I’ve started to lay the cork roadbed for Tacheeda, which on the prototype was a small yard where coal trains off of the Tumbler Sub swapped power. On my layout Tacheeda will be the start of the staging tracks, but will also have a section of catenary for the electric GF6 locos that ran on the Tumbler Sub.  I was planning on having a back track at Tacheeda for power to lay over, however room is tighter than expected and with a reverse loop in the picture I’m not sure if I can work these tracks into the plan.

Here’s the North end of Tacheeda yard, which will consist of 8 tracks.


And a veiw of the yard from the other direction. Notice the grade coming into the yard. This is due to the height of the upper deck increasing to around 62 inches off of the floor. I had to raise both upper and lower decks slightly to allow for my work table to fit under the layout. The extra height at Tacheeda shouldn’t be a problem for operations, since the yard is basically staging for trains.


And around the corner we have the reverse loop that will represent Prince George staging. The loop goes into the furnace room to save me some space in the layout room (priorities people!) Loop is 4 tracks


And, over (ok actually below) on the Dawson Creek Sub, I’ve built a passing siding (Groundbirch) and roughed in the location of the Howe truss bridge at Kiskatinaw. The bridge is from Hunterline, and will likely take me about 20 years to build!



I’m going to run to the hobby shop this week for some more cork, and plan on doing some steady track work to get the upper deck functional, since its a lot easier to finish the track on the upper level before the last of the bench work for the lower is built.


A Short Update


Its been far too long since my last post, however once again I find myself to be too busy in the basement to write a blog post! The above image was taken in the Chetwynd yard and shows both diesel service tracks occupied. The GMD-1’s are from Rapido Trains (and are amazing models) which I plan on using from time to time on the Dawson Creek Sub, as on my layout I plan to use the CN interchange at Dawson Creek.

More progress on Chetwynd yard:


All the track work in the yard is complete except for 2 turnouts that will need to be installed. I did some “test running” (ok so I was having some fun) in the yard and found I need one more crossover for operations, so I will need to install those turnouts. The upper deck has seen the fascea installed and partially painted, as well as turnout control switches and LED indications installed.

On the Dawson Creek Sub, I’ve roughed in and laid track over the Pine River, and have laid track up to the siding location of Sundance. I’d throw a few pics up however the view is blocked by boxes right now as I work on this section of the layout:


This section of benchwork is the hidden staging yard that will represent Fort St John (located north of Chetwynd on the prototype). In the back you can see the start of the lower level bench work for the Dawson Creek Sub. The staging yard will consist of 3 tracks, the largest sized to hold 15 cars including a van and 3 units. The operational plan calls for a freight to leave staging, lift cars at Chetwynd and continue on to Prince George. The grade out of the staging is steep, so I hope a test run shortly will allow a train to actually leave this yard! Once I have all the track in and wired up, I’ll build the lower level bench work above this section.