Test Track Project


What was the Test Track?

The test track was a compact N-scale computerized model railroad. The major components of the test track were the layout, a drawer full of electronics, and software running on a laptop computer. Detailed information about the test track can be found by following the links on the left side of this page.

Test Track System - September 6, 2005

The test track was not only a valuable development tool, but it provided a tantalizing preview of the new coffee table. The same type of virtual control panel will be used, albeit more complex in its track plan and controls. The coffee table layout will be about three times the size of the test track, and there will be about three times as much electronics, but the technology will be the same. To reduce costs, much of what you see in the above photo will be reused in the coffee table.

Note: The test track no longer exists; it was dismantled in July 2006. The development effort is now focused on Coffee Table #3. The test track Web pages provide more of a historical record of intent, rather than an accurate description of what was accomplished with the test track. Some planned activities were skipped, and others—not documented on this Web site—were added.

Why Build a Test Track?

The purpose of the test track was to provide a facility for developing and testing all of the hardware and software features that will eventually be included in a full-size coffee table train layout. In some cases, several potential solutions for a particular problem were configured on the test track with the intent of eventually selecting the best alternative. For example:

  • Turnout Motors

    A variety of turnout motors were used in the test track. Each turnout motor was evaluated for ease of use, reliability, cost, software requirements, electrical characteristics, etc.

  • Sensors

    Sensors are primarily used to determine train location. Types of sensors include magnetic reed switches, photocells, infrared detectors, and current detectors. Not all of these were installed in the test track.

  • Track Radius

    Small radius curves are necessary in a coffee table train layout. The minimum radius curve for the test track was 6.5 inches. This is obviously too small for some rolling stock, but it should be acceptable for many trains. Determining minimum acceptable track radius for a coffee table layout was one of the important objectives of the test track.

    Note: I tried a minimum radius of 4.75 inches, but that turned out to be a disaster.

  • Couplers

    Both Arnold and Micro-Trains couplers were used on the test track to determine the appropriate type to use in the train table. Because the coffee table layout will require small radius curves, coupler type may be an important issue.

  • Remote Operations

    The test track was configured for local operation using an attached laptop computer. However, one of the test track objectives was to consider implementing some sort of remote operation, running the trains from a distant location over the Internet. A freight car mounted “TrainCam” would provide the remote operator with a train engineer's view of the layout. If I can figure out how to make it work, remote operation may be tried with the new coffee table.

What Became of the Test Track?

An unfortunate side effect of building the new coffee table was the destruction of the test track. The laptop computer, electronic modules, power supplies, scenic items (including the police car and fire engine), the TrainCam, and much of the internal wiring will be reused in the new coffee table. However, the trackage and the box that housed the test track electronics were scrapped.

Demise of the Test Track

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