Compact Unitrack

was going to post something “soon”, and soon came sooner than expected. I went to a model train show today, and having Kato’s new compact track on the brain after working on my Unitrack pages last night, couldn’t resist picking some up. I bought a CV1 “Compact Oval” set, along with two R150 switches and a small pack of 150mm (6”) curves. This builds an oval with a short-cut inner curve that fits snugly on one end of my coffee table, with plenty of room for the Kato power pack.

One Point Five Meters

One point five meters, or about five feet. That’s how much space I’m giving myself for a short layout designed to display my buildings separate from the main layout. It’s also going to give me a short rail line that I can use with the controller I’m working on for the tram line on the Urban Station scene.

The germ of this idea was a conversation at a local hobby store that holds an annual show in the store to display the model-building skills of its customers. Last month, just before the show, I was asked about some of the pre-built buildings I’ve been detailing for my Village scene. At the time, I didn’t think the couple I’d mostly finished were really in a displayable state, but the idea of perhaps doing some kind of diorama crossed my mind as we discussed how to display something next year.

I also wanted some way to actually see the tram line in operation, as on the layout it’s going to be hidden away behind buildings, providing some background activity without really being visible (something I really need to fix on a future layout). And that led me to think: how small can I make a layout with the tram controller and my buildings?

Other Lightboards

Up until now I’ve been concentrating on my Kato models as far as DCC conversion goes, and at the same time I’ve only really paid attention to the interior lighting of those cars. Now that I’m working up to large-scale DCC conversion of my non-Kato stock, which is mostly MicroAce and Greenmax at this point, I need to think about lighting the interior of those cars.

And it turns out, they’re pretty much identical. Both MicroAce and Tomix make their own interior lighting kits, and they’re very similar. A third-party company, F&MOKEI also makes lightboards, and claims they work with both manufacturers’ cars. And Greenmax notes compatibility of its cars with Tomix lights (Tomix is far larger a company than MicroAce, so it makes sense they only mention one).

DCC Voltage and Cab Lights

’m turning my attention to the cab car decoder install now, and a recent discussion with Don along with a question from a reader had me thinking about potential problems with DCC conversion of N-scale EMU cars with cab lighting. And the one that really worried me was overvoltage from high DCC track voltages, and its harmful (fatal) effect on LEDs. DCC decoders essentially pass track voltage (minus a small bit) through to their function outputs.

Kato Subway Train and December 2011 Monthly Status

My latest Kato model is another subway train, the Tōkyō Metro 10000. I already have a model of this train made by Greenmax, which I have mentioned briefly a few times (it featured in the “first run” video of the subway, see my Subway First Run musing for more on that). It’s not a bad model, but it lacks an interior and requires wire-in decoders for conversion to DCC. And while I’ll eventually get around to that, it’s not high on my priority list. So trains that are easier to convert to DCC, and that means Kato, are at the top of my list for actual operations once I finish up installing all the DCC electronics for the Commuter and Subway loops.

For the above-ground Commuter loop, I have lots of Kato’s commuter EMUs, but trains for the underground Subway loop are another matter. As mentioned back in October I’d hoped to have the Kato Ginza Series 01 be one of those, but it ended up not supporting the EM13 motor decoder (probably due to the narrower width of the cars).

The Kato 10000 had been on my must-buy list anyway, but with fingers crossed that this one would be “DCC Friendly”, I eagerly awaited its arrival. Kato hadn’t actually said it would be DCC Friendly (meaning compatible with their Digitrax-made proprietary decoders) although they rarely do, and there was a cryptic reference to some issue with the interior lighting that had me worried it was some kind of one-off design. I’d previously bought several of Kato’s new “version 2” LED light sets (which I describe more on my new Kato Interior Lighting page) planning to install them in the Ginza train, but hadn’t gotten around to that after it turned out not to support the DCC motor decoder. So my plan was to use them, if I could.

Two Greenmax Trains

Recently I’ve picked up a couple of new Greenmax trains, the Tōkyō Metro Tōzai Line Series 05 and Tōkyū Corporation Series 6000. The models are very similar in a sense, although the prototype trains are different in a number of ways. Both operate well, and look good from a distance, although not quite as good close-up in some ways.

The Tōkyū Railway Series 6000 is a relatively recent (2008) train, formed of six-car sets, operating on the surface Tōkyū Ōimachi Line on the south side of Tōkyō. The Tōkyō Metro Series 05, on the other hand, is a subway train dating from 1988 (but still in service), operating on an east-west axis underground route through the center of the city (it goes above ground away from the center). Both trains operate on narrow gauge track, from overhead 1500 Volt DC catenary, and are 2.8m wide, 20m long. The one difference is height, but not in the way you might expect: the subway train is actually 4.0m high, while the 6000 is 3.6m.

Subway Trains

In some ways there isn’t a whole lot of difference between Tōkyō’s urban and suburban commuter trains and its subway trains. Both are electric multiple-unit (EMU) sets, running on narrow-gauge track and typically using 1500V DC power from overhead (catenary) wires. Some commuter trains even run through into the subway tunnels to reach more central stations.

But there are differences. First, subway trains (and commuter trains designed for subway use) will have emergency exit doors on the ends, to facilitate evacuations in a tunnel. Second they are often shorter, to allow for tighter curves. And some are also narrower, although this seems less common.

An EMU for the Tram Layout

I haven’t been working on my tram layout all summer. I’ve run the tram around a bit, but the bus roadway had a gap in it as I’d run out of parts before finishing the loop, and I didn’t have a commuter car for the outer loop of track, which was a lack I keenly felt. I also had only one power pack to move between the two tracks (unless I wanted to cut up one of my Tomix feeders and connect it to a Kato pack, which I didn’t). So all I could do with it was run one of my Modemo Setagaya line trams at a time. Which was nice, but a bit less than what I wanted. That’s all changed recently (or will shortly). Read More...

The Smaller Railroads of Tōkyō

Railroading in Tōkyō isn’t just huge railway stations and double-track commuter lines bringing people into the city from hours away, there are a number of much smaller railways, serving neighborhoods, industrial areas, or what have you. The photo above (from flickr, photographer: haribote) shows one of these, the Keisei-Kanamachi Line, (see also Japanese wikipedia) a mostly single-track line running 2.5 km through a residential neighborhood of Katsushika City, one of Tōkyō’s 23 special wards (which formed the original city of Tōkyō). The line runs due north from where it meets the Keisei Main Line at Keisei-Takasago station. The last station is adjacent to JR East’s Kanamachi Station on the Jōban Line.

Tram Layout Installed

My tram layout moved to it’s semi-permanent home today. I finally gave up any hope of doing more work on the scenery any time soon, so after finishing the backdrop I moved it into the living room and wired up the tram track. The bus roadway is mostly in place, but I’m still waiting on the additional bus set (now due in late August) to add the final 140mm segment of that so I can actually run busses.

Subways of Tōkyō

You’d think someone who’s built a Tōkyō-inspired model railroad with a subway on it would know a bit about the subways of Tōkyō. But in fact when I started construction I knew next to nothing, and I’ve only recently begun to rectify that. Part of the reason is that I’ve been focused on the commuter trains of JR East, and JR doesn’t operate any subway lines (although they do operate a couple of subway trains, as we’ll see in a bit). And part of it was that models of subway trains weren’t all that common, and I hadn’t collected any.

Getting into Japanese Model Railroading

Whether you are interested in high-speed rail (bullet trains), short rural passenger trains rumbling through the woods, action-packed multi-track commuter trains, small trams slipping behind buildings or running down a busy street, or semi-rural passenger/freight railroading, there’s a prototype in Japan to draw inspiration from. And thanks to the Internet, you can get photos (on flickr, search on “Japan Railway”, with over 13,000 images to start), maps ( or Google Earth), video (on YouTube, search for “Japan Train” or similar phrases), and a fair amount of data (wikipedia), without ever leaving your chair.


A Final Track Plan, I Hope

I spent most of the last month refining the track plan, first with the height and approach tracks of the Urban Station, and more recently with the mess of track at the right end of the Riverside Station scene (above). This last part has always been a headache, as I just couldn’t get everything I wanted to come together.