River Crossing

Village Construction

The title might be a bit overdone, but I’ve moved from the “thinking about it” stage to the “building mockups” stage. It’s still planing of a sort, but it feels more like construction. I was ready to start cutting styrene a couple of days ago, but now I think I need a little more contemplation and review before I do that.

I’ve also started taking apart the buildings to prep them for painting, although I’ve realized that I need to adjust my positions slightly, which has diverted my attention from that work. I’ve also started working on my detailed design for the roads and intersection, which is partly what’s caused that re-think about posiitoning.

After more research on road sizes, summarized on the Roads and Highways prototype page, and a good deal of thought about the actual size of my roads, summarized on my Cars and Roads modeling page, I started drawing a 1:1 scale graphic of the road in my layered drawing program (Omnigraffle). My hope is to replace some of the layers with photographs of concrete, asphalt, and similar, as well as adding in details like manhole covers, and then print the final version as either a decal or photo that would be layered onto styrene. Using styrene as a backing has one benefit for use of a decal: printers can’t print white, so decals leave that color clear. A decal applied to white-painted styrene will look correct even if it contains white lines. I may use a similar technique to create the sidewalk as a separate item, although I’m also considering just using painted “tile” sheet styrene and applying separate delays for things like manholes and “braille” safety strips at crosswalks. Read More...

Planning the Village II

Eighteen months on from the first post on this topic, and the scenery in my Village area hasn’t really progressed, but I’ve turned my attention back to it, and am close to having a final layout of buildings. I think. From here, things should start to move. The overall design hasn’t changed: still a broad avenue with commercial buildings up the middle, two typically-narrow side streets, with businesses mixed with residences on one side. The exact selection of buildings, and their placement, has evolved though.

To get here, I finally mapped out the ground I had to work with and put that into a drawing program, then I created outlines of the footprints of each of my candidate buildings, and set to work trying different arrangements by dragging the outlines around on a second layer above the drawing. Layered object drawing programs are so useful for exercises like this; I used Omnigraffle on the Mac, but anything with basic shapes and layers should work similarly.

Along the way I finally decided that the Tomix gas station, as much as I liked the model, really wasn’t going to fit. I’d somewhat realized that last year, which is one reason work on that structure had halted last summer. I may reuse parts of it, although I anticipate scratchbuilding most of the new gas station, which will be sized to fit a spare corner. I also had to abandon plans to use one of the more traditional brown wooden residence/business buildings made by Kato, as they just didn’t fit anywhere.

I also decided, based on purusing Google Earth views of the banks of the lower Sumida River, that some of the oddly-shaped corners could be used as small parks with trees, and perhaps recreational equipment for children, as that’s how such gaps are used in the real world.


No, I’m not writing about the ones from the 70s TV series. These are the electrical kind, Kato kit 23-401, which is actually a Heljan-produced model, although apparently not one sold directly by that company. The kit contains material for three high-voltage electrical towers of a common design. In fact, they’re nearly identical to those in a photo of Shin-Yokohama described as owned by JR East (see my Electrical Reference Images page). List price from Kato USA is US$19, but I’ve seen them for less. Frankly, they’re overpriced for what you get. Read More...

Electrical Substation

It might seem like stating the obvious, but an electric railways needs a supply of electricity for the trains to run. I’m not talking about the model trains, but the prototype. A typical commuter train can use up to 1.5 MW (megawatts) when accelerating. A Shinkansen can use 10 MW. At any given moment hundreds of trains are operating in the Tōkyō area, with power demands larger than a small city.

Where does that power come from? JR East buys some of it from the local utility (Tōkyō Electric Power Company, or TEPCO). TEPCO operates fossil, nuclear and hydroelectric power plants, transmitting power along transmission lines at up to 500,000 volts (500 kV). At substations this is reduced to much lower voltages (6,000 volts or less, according to wikipedia, although distribution lines can be higher-voltage) and sent along street utility poles to local pole-mounted transformers that step it down to 100 or 200 volts for residential use. Industries typically take the distribution voltage and have their own transformers as needed. Both Transmission and Distribution lines are typically three-phase AC power, with three wires (plus a ground, which is often not present on towers). AC is used because transformers only operate on AC, and higher voltages can be sent longer distances.

Almost Scenery

If you look at the River Crossing scene now, you’ll see grass and shrubs alongside the tracks. Yes, spring has come early to Sumida Crossing, and there’s ground cover on the hillside above the Village area.

This may not seem major to you. After all, ground cover isn’t exactly rocket science. It’s probably one of the easier aspects of model railroading when you come right down to it. But of all the different aspects of model railroading, it’s the one I absolutely hate. Unlike buildings or track, it’s not precise. And since it uses glue, there’s really no second chance. Like painting a picture, if you make a mistake all you can do is paint over it. There’s no “undo” with ground cover. So getting to the point where I’m ready to take that step is a major milestone for me. The River Crossing scene and its scenery is far from done, but this feels like real progress, at least to me.

Photographic Backdrops II and January 2012 Status

I’d mentioned a few weeks ago the work I was planning to replace the old (and disintegrating) backdrop for the River Crossing scene with a new one. That’s completed, and the new backdrop in place (as seen above). The differences are subtle (aside from the fact that this one isn’t peeling off). The horizon is lower, as I cut out more of the foreground to give it more of a “seen from a distance” look. The colors are a bit more accurate (the green of the trees looks particularly good). Finally, the image resolution is higher, but you really can’t see that in these photos. It does make a difference in person, although perhaps not to the casual viewer. Below are the original presentation paper backdrops, from an early test before I glued them in place.

Planning The Village

The “village” is what I call the collection of buildings tucked inside the four-track curve of the River Crossing scene. Today this is just a set of pre-made buildings, mainly from Kato and Tomix, placed roughly on gray-painted foam. The bridge across the river for the “commercial avenue” is likewise temporary, just a slab of gray foam-core with lane markings painted on it.

Once I realized that the road behind the elevated station in the Urban Station scene was largely out-of-sight, the village became the place that I wanted to carefully detail in its entirety. Detailing the buildings of the urban scene themselves is still important, particularly the upper floors of those buildings that will be front and center part of the scene. But the village is going to be where my ability to craft a convincing scene will be most on display. So, no pressure, eh?

DCC Power II

The DCC Power work continues, but it’s still not done, as I have to do the power panels for the urban scene and the unsceniced return loops, but with the panel I built and tested back in September/October finally installed under the tables of the River Crossing scene, I’m at the halfway mark (having done the Riverside Station scene back in March).

To recap, the board contains a PM42 DCC circuit breaker that provides four separate circuit breakers and a BDL168 occupancy detector that can provide up to sixteen occupancy detectors and eight transponding sensors (see my pages on occupancy detection and the BDL168 for more details). This board provides occupancy detection for six electrical blocks, two each on the commuter tracks and one on each subway track where it loops below the expressway. Although I’m also wiring up the transponding sensors, as mentioned previously I’m having doubts about them due to problems in testing and the anticipated low power draw of my trains being borderline to register on them.

June 2010 Status - A Sense of Accomplishment

Well, I have a much greater sense of accomplishment this month than last. June not only saw the subway line completed (in the electrical sense) and operational, it also saw substantial progress on the River Crossing scene. This included finishing the foam shaping for the other side of the river and painting it, as well as building and painting a roof for the subway where it runs through that hillside. There are still retaining walls and roads to build, and some painting, but it looks pretty good “for now” (still with just painted foam for scenery), while I turn my attention to work on the Riverside Station scene.

May 2010 Status - Carving Foam

Time marches on, but it seems to be crawling on the banks of the Sumida. The hillside covering the subway has made little apparent progress over the last month, going from squarish blocks of pink foam to carved, but still pink, sections, which only just received a first coat of primer (and have yet to be glued in place).

First Scenery

The last couple of weeks have been mainly spent on the initial scenery for the “Village” part of the River Crossing scene. This consisted of carving and gluing foam, making and painting bridge abutments, laying plaster cloth (seen above) and filling in various gaps, applying a stone texture to the face of the sloped sections of embankment, and laying cork where the track goes. Read More...