In the summer of 2015, club member Peter Shelton took on the task of implementing JMRI (Java Model Railroad Interface) on our exhibition layout. JMRI is an extensive, open source software system developed by hobbyists for the automation and operation of model railways. It's free, easily downloaded and installed, and takes up about 5gb of space. There are two distinct components to it - Decoder Pro and Panel Pro. A component inside Panel Pro is Operations Pro and it's this that's used for generating and updating switch lists.
JMRI interfaces with most DCC systems. In our case, the command system is a Digitrax 'Super Chief' and we use Digitrax's PR3 for the interface between computer/wireless network and the railway itself.
In our case, the initial reasons for using JMRI are to:
- Use smart phones and/or tablets as throttles
- Provide, on tablets, an electronic switch list (sometimes erroneously called a manifest) rather than use the cards as described on our 'Freight' Operations page,
- Program DCC decoders, for both prototypical speed control of locomotives and making up consists.
Regular throttles (e.g. Digitrax, NCE, Lenz, etc.) and iOS/Android smart phones and tablets can all be used at the same time.
In future, we intend to also:
- Control groups of turnouts so a pre-set route can be set for a train,
- Control the lighting on the layout
- Run a Fast Clock
- Control signals
- Implement a Centralized Traffic Control panel
The primary objective for our JMRI project is to use a smart phone or tablet rather than a traditional throttle to run trains AND display and manage switch lists 'on the fly'. But it is also required that engineers who do not have or want to use a smart phone or tablet can still operate a train using a traditional throttle and a printed a switch list.
We use JMRI on our exhibition layout along with traditional throttles. The downside of using JMRI to generate switch lists is the need to have a printer so that hard-copies of the switch lists can be generated for the engineers who are not using a tablet.
JMRI software runs on almost any computer. We currently use a borrowed laptop to run both software and the network configuration. It is connected to Digitrax system on the Exhibition layout using a DigiTrax PR3 and Loconet cable.
An off-the-shelf router broadcasts a local wireless network for the system. Smart devices or tablets are connected to this network using a specific application. For Apple devices such as iPhones, iPads, or iPods, WiThrottle Lite is available for free from the Apple App Store. The full function WiThrottle costs about $15 and is what all iPad owners in the club use. For Android smart phones and tablets the full function EngineDriver is free at the Android PlayStore.
Automated Switch Lists
- Program decoders for both club and member locomotives.
- Reduce the system footprint by installing the software onto a credit card size processor such as Rasberry Pi.
- Build a roster of club and member locomotives which will include photographs and the value of every CV (Configurable Variable)in each locomotive.
- Customize the buttons and labels on the wireless throttle Apps. We can already control the lights and sounds from the smart phones and tablets.
- Automated block detection, warrants, turnouts and lighting.
- Explore integration with the developing LCC (Layout Command Control) system.
JMRI has been used to run our Exhibition layout since September 2015 and has proven to be both reliable and robust. Visitors are invited to operate trains during the show and will find they can quickly and easily adapt to the smart phone and tablet throttles.
Check our Events page to find a show near you and come and try the system for yourself. We can lend you a smart phone and some of our members may lend you their iPad, but if you want to bring your own make sure you download the specific app beforehand. We'll get you connected and running trains in no time at all. Once loaded on your tablet or phone the system can be used on your own layout.