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gavino200

Block detection and automation systems available?

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gavino200

I've decided to include block detection on my new layout. I'm going to use this thread to gather the information that I research as I try to decide what system to use. If any of you have experience with block detection systems your contributions would be very much appreciated. 

 

Previously my DCC system was Digitrax. It worked quite well but the downside (for me) is that their wiring is relatively complex and their support material is somewhat unintuitive. 

 

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Digitrax

 

Block detection

A BDL168 unit can control 16 blocks

Cost approx $115

 

BD4 unit can control 4 blocks but needs to be used with a second digitrax unit.

Cost approx $20

 

BXP88 newer block detection product

Details to follow

 

Signal and point control

A SE8C unit controls 32 signals or 8 points/turnouts

Cost $100

 

Connection with computer via LocoNet and a PR4 computer interface

 

Pro

For me I already had a Digitrax Control system

Prices aren't bad I think.

Widely used in the US

Work with "Trainsponding" a proprietary Digitrax communication system

 

Cons

Large ugly and cumbersome. 

Difficult to mount, no casing. 

Don't seem to innovate very often

Doesn't work with RailCom (I think)

Complex wiring and unintuitive manuals (for me) 

 

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Digikeijs

 

DR4088LN - loconet version - doesn't have railcom. Pure detector unit

Detects 16 blocks

Simple two wire imput

LocoNet connector

Price $60

 

DR5088RC - Has LocoNet

Similar to DR4088LN but has RailCom

Detects 16 Blocks

USB 2 - connects directly to computer

App is very user friendly

 

 

 

Pros

Simple casing and wire connections

Sees to come with a user friendly app 

Compact and cheap

 

Cons

So far I can't see any.

 

Other Digikeijs components

Command Center DR5000 Digicentral - $200

DR5097 - LocoNet hub

DR5033 - Booster

DR 4024 - Power switch - and servo controller

DR 4050 - Layout lighting control - 4 cycles

DR 4018 - turnout controller

 

 

 

 

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Roco

 

Z21 detector - R-bus version

 

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ESU

 

ECoS Detector

Looks similar to the Digikeijs

16 blocks

Nice software but not as nice as Digikeijs

 

 

Other ESU compnents

ECoS Command Station - two liftout throttles and a center screeen

Lok Programmer

ESU Decoder tester

 

 

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NCE

This system is described in a post below by Kiran. He used their SB5 and AIU01 units and some BD20 Block detectors  with Switch-cat turnouts.

Kiran wrote script on JMRI to run 4 trains around a test layout and have them use a single platform alternately. 

 

Kiran found the NCE system easy to use and set up. He also vouches for excellent technical support. 

 

The system doesn't have Railcom, and lacks some advanced features but is suitable for beginners, per Kiran. 

 

A con is that this system uses the main bus for all communication and may slow the response time for train control.

 

A video provided by Kiran. Nice layout. 

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1fkqXca3is2Fvtltf60MVRidBcw_E4sL4/view

 

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Lenz

 

 

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LCC/RR-CirKits

 

This system is also described in a post below by Kiran. He moved to this system from a simpler NCE system. The main advantage for him is that the LCC "nodes" work without having to control the layout through a computer. LCC can through a switch based on what happens inside a block. This avoids slow-down of the system.

 

Kiran has a tech background and states that there's a steep learning curve with this system, but that the LCC community is a friendly space to ask even basic questions. Language used tends to be very technical rather than train/consumer based. 

 

 

MRVU9/BOD8

Used with "CT coils" (no clue)

Open circuit board with no casing (like digitrax)

Connected by ribbon wire to "nodes"  (these look like arduinos)

which in turn are connected by eithernet cable to a RR unit (RR Clic Kits) which connects 

the system to a computer

 

Pros

Compatible with being controlled by a rasberry pi running JMRI

Seems to be compatible with a Digitrax Control Center

 

Cons

Open, large, messy circuits

Seems suitable for tech oriented individuals

 

 

It seems difficult to trouble shoot. I watched a video by an obvious serious tech geek who set up the

system described loosely above. He had a malfunction on starting it up, and stated that it took him a week online

with other techies to trace the problem. This seems like a system for those who enjoy a good tech 

challenge. 

 

Video in post below for anyone who's interested.

 

There's a link in a post below to an entire tread by Kiran about LCC

 

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ISE (Iowa Scaled Engineering)

 

CKT-BD1 Block detection unit

Single channel DCC block detector

Open design - can be modified

Adjustable sensitivity

Suitable for connecting with arduinos and other C/MRI systems

$16

 

Also sell multi block detector units

 

Works together with a Modular Signal System Crossover Module - (or 'node')

 

Seem similar to LCC

 

 

 

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Azatrax

 

This small company has a number of block detection, signalling, automation systems

I only have experience with their automatic IR reversing loop system

Good prices. The products are quite complex but the website is excellent and provides 

instructions with diagrams. 

Will add specifics later. 

 

 

 

 

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Software systems

iTrain - looks decent

Train Controller

JMRI - Free but I don't like it at all

Edited by gavino200
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Kiha66

Sounds like a neat project! 

 

Depending on what you're trying to achieve with the detection, LCC is also an option if you're planning on using it for signaling or dispatching.  If I was making choices for my home layout I'd probably use the RR-circuits products with LCC for detection to control signals and allow a functional dispatching panel.  

 

My local club is/was trying to add this to the layout, but unfortunately too many "I know what's best" and "I have an idea that'll improve the system" has meant that no progress has been made for the past year or two.  I've somewhat given up working on it till the powers that be are finally willing to sit down from planning and let people actually complete it.  My 2 cents based on trials at the local club are to choose a system that's well supported, and has documentation and other users that you can ask for help if you need it.  We choose poorly and one club member is trying to design his own components, which may be slightly cheaper that the digitrax or RR circuits offerings but has left us with still no working system and much frustration.  I look forward to seeing what you come up with! 

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chadbag

LCC is interesting.  I'm kind of watching it out of the corner of my eye for my app when I start to get into automation and stuff in my app (more than just a fancy throttle)/

 

I'd like to see a lot more support for it from various before I invest in it.

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gavino200
21 minutes ago, Kiha66 said:

Sounds like a neat project! 

 

Depending on what you're trying to achieve with the detection, LCC is also an option if you're planning on using it for signaling or dispatching.  If I was making choices for my home layout I'd probably use the RR-circuits products with LCC for detection to control signals and allow a functional dispatching panel.  

 

My local club is/was trying to add this to the layout, but unfortunately too many "I know what's best" and "I have an idea that'll improve the system" has meant that no progress has been made for the past year or two.  I've somewhat given up working on it till the powers that be are finally willing to sit down from planning and let people actually complete it.  My 2 cents based on trials at the local club are to choose a system that's well supported, and has documentation and other users that you can ask for help if you need it.  We choose poorly and one club member is trying to design his own components, which may be slightly cheaper that the digitrax or RR circuits offerings but has left us with still no working system and much frustration.  I look forward to seeing what you come up with! 

 

Thanks. I'll check out those manufacturers. 

 

I'm really only beginning to understand the potential of automated or semi-automated layouts. I watched a YouTube video that showed having trains driving around following their own individual logic, controlled by a laptop and I thought it was cool. But the guy mentioned that if a train derails in the center and divides in two, it will stop when it loops round rather than crashing into it's disconnected tail. I love that idea. I love to drive trains, but I also like to sit and read with them running in the background. So both of these features appeal to me. The video pushed my decision over the tipping point. 

 

I also want to have lights changing as the trains go by. I'll probably make them prototypical for some country, but that's not super important. I just want them to look cool. 

 

I don't really know what dispatching is, but I think that's the operations game that some people play at clubs. For some reason that doesn't appeal to me in the slightest. 

 

Really, I still need to research to find more cool thing that this can do. I think I'll have to understand it more so I can design my track to be suitable - lots of laybys and parking spots to give the computer options. I might make a thread "all the things you can do with block detection/automation" as I investigate this. 

 

I think I know understand what it is that Martijn is up to with his layout. It was a mystery to me before. 

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EdF

For the BDL168, accu lites has a breakout board that makes wiring it much easier.  I use one for my PM42.

 

Oh they also have it for the SE8C, and single or multizone for the BDL168.

Edited by EdF
Se8c
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gavino200
1 hour ago, EdF said:

For the BDL168, accu lites has a breakout board that makes wiring it much easier.  I use one for my PM42.

 

Oh they also have it for the SE8C, and single or multizone for the BDL168.

 

Thanks EdF. That's very good to know. I think the Digitrax wiring is a bit user unfriendly to say the least. I used a breakout board for my PM42 and it made things much easier. 

Edited by gavino200

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gavino200

This was the YouTube video I watched that tipped the scale toward block detection for me. It's a nice little explanation demo.

 

 

 

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Martijn Meerts

Remember that if you go computer control, you can handle multiple interfaces at the same time. That allows you to for example go with an interface that you can comfortably control trains with (manual control), and then another dedicated system for occupancy detection. For larger layouts that might be the best way to go anyway, since you want your occupancy detection to work fast and reliable in order for your trains to stop where they should consistently.

 

Look at for example the LDT HSI-88 (serial or USB connection) or uCon S88 master (Network connection). Both of those hook up directly to the computer rather then to an existing interface. The S88 protocol is quite nice and fast, and the S88-N version allows you to use simple UTP cables to connect the modules to each other. A disadvantage could be that you can't program addresses in them, they're numbered serial. The first module connected will be 1, the next one 2, etc. So if you need to add a new module somewhere in the middle of the chain, you need to adjust the addresses in the train control software. For a static layout, that shouldn't be an issue though.

 

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inobu

Digitrax

ESU

Digikeijs

 

In that order.

 

Digitrax first because its full feature option and proven functionality.

ESU is upcoming, more intuitive but still lags behind in product lines. 

I am migrating to ESU because having one vendor is less problematic with product migration.

I recommend either system but its based on what the clients objective is.

Digitrax is leading ESU but ESU is making more progress than Digitrax.  

 

This is ESU Detection system. Its no different that Digitrax as it does the same thing. 

and the wiring scheme is basically the same.

ESU's software is in the ECoS system.

 

detection.thumb.jpg.c15889e1bd6f61653a858ebf3b32afd3.jpg

 

JMRI's user interface is a bit crude but it allows you to create what ever you want. There is a learning curve

but what you are able to achieve outweighs the UI concerns.

What ever graphical display you want you can achieve. 

This is a simple lighting panel

This is a complete CTC Panel that controls 53 some odd switches. You can make

JMRI look like anything you want. 

 

 

 

Best option today is to get a BXP88 and setup a complete test bed so you can see for yourself how it works.

The only reason the wiring looks cluttered is you haven't wired one.

 

Its not until you see an Extensor indicis yourself that you can reason out what the Extensor digitorum does.

 

 

bxp88.jpg

 

Inobu

 

 

 

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gavino200
18 hours ago, chadbag said:

LCC is interesting.  I'm kind of watching it out of the corner of my eye for my app when I start to get into automation and stuff in my app (more than just a fancy throttle)/

 

I'd like to see a lot more support for it from various before I invest in it.

 

@chadbag who do you buy your Dijikeijs products through? Is there a good setter in the US? Or do you buy direct from Europe? I spent a while looking at their systems last night and I was very impressed. 

Edited by gavino200

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gavino200

If anyone would like to add anything or dispute anything in the top post please post and I'll amend the information based on your input. It would be nice to do some crowd sourcing. Maybe we could demystify this process a bit and make it more comfortable for people to move toward. 

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inobu
1 hour ago, gavino200 said:

 

Have you found this to be the best price source? After shipping? How was your experience dealing with this vendor?

 

This is the US importer.  Look at the stock numbers. He's got 29 DR5000 retailers don't stock the unit numbers he has .

 

Inobu

 

 

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gavino200

@chadbag. do you use these Ironplanet guys? Or do you still buy form Europe?

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chadbag
2 hours ago, gavino200 said:

@chadbag. do you use these Ironplanet guys? Or do you still buy form Europe?

 

I've bought from both.   If you go to digikeijs.us you end up buying from the Iron Planet guys.  They are the official DIgikeijs US reps.

 

I bought my command center from Modellbahn Lippe.  And one of my switch controllers.  Maybe a couple other things.  I have 2 5088 detection modules *the railcom ones) and a booster.  I don't remember where I got it all/   I bought the rest form Iron Planet that didn't come from Lippe.

 

I would just get from the Iron Planet guys -- especially when they run a sale -- they were running 20% for black Friday.  I got m initial stuff from Lippe before I was really aware of the Iron Planet guys (and before they "became DIgikeijs US -- they were still the importer but the relationship was not as obvious).

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chadbag
9 hours ago, inobu said:

 

 

detection.thumb.jpg.c15889e1bd6f61653a858ebf3b32afd3.jpg

 

 

 

I need to learn to be cleaner in my wiring...  This is an inspiration.

 

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gavino200
10 hours ago, inobu said:

 

 

This is ESU Detection system. Its no different that Digitrax as it does the same thing. 

and the wiring scheme is basically the same.

ESU's software is in the ECoS system.

 

detection.thumb.jpg.c15889e1bd6f61653a858ebf3b32afd3.jpg

 

 

 

What are those white connectors you're using there btw? Are those a press-and-release mechanism? So that you can easily remove the ECoSDetector unit?

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inobu
16 minutes ago, gavino200 said:

 

What are those white connectors you're using there btw? Are those a press-and-release mechanism? So that you can easily remove the ECoSDetector unit?

Yes,

 

I use them whenever I suspect I will need to check or move things around a lot. This is how I learn to wire a new device or product that I'm going

to support.

 

Once I get a good scheme I just use it over and over.

 

Inobu

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gavino200
2 minutes ago, inobu said:

Yes,

 

I use them whenever I suspect I will need to check or move things around a lot. This is how I learn to wire a new device or product that I'm going

to support.

 

Once I get a good scheme I just use it over and over.

 

Inobu

 

Nice. What are they called and where do you get them?

 

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Kiran
On 12/5/2020 at 10:18 AM, gavino200 said:

 

Have you found this to be the best price source? After shipping? How was your experience dealing with this vendor?

 

I ordered stuff from Iron Planet Hobbies and they were reliable. Prices are reasonable.

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Kiran

Automating my 70ft layout (under construction still) in my garage is the ultimate objective. I took the plunge and switched over to LCC for everything other than running trains. This includes block detection, throwing turnouts and signaling in the future. I also hope to do some interesting things like station announcements, etc. I did do an experiment with NCE block detection equipment, SB5 + AIU01 + a bunch of BD20 block detectors + Switch-Kat turnouts. I wrote a JMRI script to run 4 trains around a test layout and have all of them use a single platform alternately. Here is a video. I found the NCE system easy to use and setup and the folks on nce-dcc@groups.io are very helpful. But NCE is great for beginners and lacks many advanced features. No support for Railcom for instance.

 

One of the problems with all of this is that the DCC bus gets pretty crowded. JMRI for instance keep polling the AIU01 all the time. Depending on how big your layout is and how many accessories (block detectors, signals, etc), there is a possibility that your trains may not respond as quickly as they should. Perhaps not a big deal for home layouts. But LCC takes away all the accessories from the DCC bus thereby freeing up the DCC bus for running trains.

 

Also, once configured, LCC nodes can also work without having to control the layout through a computer. LCC can throw a turnout based on what happens inside a block for instance. Again, NCE systems can also potentially do this with the Mini Panel and I am sure other manufacturers have similar solutions.

 

There is a very steep learning curve with LCC though. RR-Cirkits is the only real vendor in this space and no command station supports it, yet. TCS is promissing LCC support but we will see when their command station is out in the market. I am not new to tech lingo having worked in the field for a while but even I can't make sense of some of the LCC terminology. But the LCC group is a friendly space to ask even basic questions. Setting up block detection is relatively straightforward with LCC. I am trying to figure out how to throw Kato and Peco turnouts and this is proving to be a challenge especially since I am blind and can't read wiring diagrams, and such. The LCC folks have a long way to go to make the system user friendly starting with using train related terminology (instead of things like producers and consumers) but if I am starting new with block detection and automation, I think I will stick to LCC. I only hope that the standards and protocols won't be abandoned and that I won't end up wiht a bunch of useless hardware :).

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gavino200

Thanks for the information, Kiran. I'll add it to the main post.

 

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