Contact and Coil | Nearly In Control



Sneak Peak: Outdoor Model Railroad Automation

Several years ago my parents decided they were going to build a Garden Railroad in their back yard. It’s been an ongoing hobby project since then, and it’s been growing substantially every year:

West Station on the Point to Point Line

This is “G Scale” (around 1:22.5 scale) outdoor model railroading. It’s really a combination of three things: model railroading, building miniatures, and gardening. This recent weekend was the local club’s open-house day, and I was invited along to see many of the layouts. Each layout kind of emphasizes its own focus: some are more focused on gardening, others on the miniatures, etc.

Anyone who does anything remotely related to computers knows that every relative you have thinks you know everything there is to know about computers, and you’re destined to spend the rest of your family holidays removing spyware and running ccleaner on their computers, not to mention reassuring them that it’s OK to reboot the computer to see if the problem goes away.

Being in industrial automation, though, you never get people asking you to automate something; it’s just a little bit too abstract for most people to grasp. However, when your parents get themselves a model train set, they may not know exactly what you do for a living, but they certainly know that if you can program conveyors, robots, and cranes, you should be able to figure out how to make their trains do what they want them to do. Automatically.

Of course, as a control systems guy, you can’t look at your parents’ 24V model train set and not think about how you’d hook up a PLC to it. Especially when they offer to finance the project.

I’m happy to report that we’re progressing well. The goal is to have it running in fully automatic mode before the end of the month. I’ll post some pictures, hopefully some videos, and some technical information about how it was accomplished. Stay tuned.


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