Controlling Mains Power on a Layout

This is a simple topic and one which may be of no value if you have a tiny layout.

In my case, with a layout running around the walls, I had 3 mains power outlets all of which would be difficult to access when the layout construction was under way and completed.

This Remote Controller is one of a number that are available which allow you to switch varying number of outlets. This one does the job for me.
Check on-line for pricing (look up: remote control power outlet)

The switched outlet plugs into the wall socket as above. I can turn ON ALL with one switch or select which one I want.
It is also useful for me to divide the layout power into three sections which eases the load when powering up. Others have more than 3 controlled outlets.

Modifying Peco Points for DCC

A Peco Electrofrog point modified for DCC is shown below. I have added the microswitch to the right which changes the polarity of the frog as the point changes. The microswitches were about 50c – $1 on eBay and are activated by the push rod controlled either by:
mechanical point levers
or by servos.
On this page “Point” = “Turnout”  / “Switch”       “Sleeper” = “Tie”The microswitches need to be small – these are 20mm x 10mm x 6mm thick (body size)

These were the microswitches I used but …
… the longer arms on these may have been better (can be trimmed)

The first step is to attach the microswitch in exactly the right spot as shown below.

The critical bits are:

  • I always fit the microswitch such that the electrical switch contacts are towards the “Right” rail which is always a RED wire on my layout. The centre connection  on the switch goes to the Right rail – clarified further down in the YELLOW BOX
  • the hole in the throw bar must be able to operate the lever on the microswitch (and NOT miss it!)
  • the switch needs to be positioned so that the throw bar will operate the switch (hear it “click”) when the points are thrown.
  • the switch is attached using contact cement (in my case Quick Grip). First work out which surfaces of the point and the microswitch will fit together – they need to be scraped or filed smooth for a good bond. I scrape the underside of the point with a blade and file the bottom side of the microswitch to level it (actually, I hold the microswitch and rub it back and forth on a file).

make sure you don’t get glue into the moving parts and hold it with a clamp as in the photo below.

There won’t be any wires on your switch at this stage.

The two bridging wires here need to be prised out. Check the instructions with new points or on their website.

The easiest way to lever the two short wires is with a small screwdriver.

Then put a small amount of flux on the 4 rails shown. Use something like Carr’s Red Label or DCC Concepts Flux – a non-corrosive type.

The 4 rails have had a spot of solder to “tin” the rails and on the left a piece of tinned copper wire has been soldered in place. You can buy that from electronics suppliers like Jaycar.

The rails on the left are bridged and trimmed; the wires in the middle removed; and attention moves to the frog connection on the right.

The wire provided needs to be extended to reach back to the microswitch. Use similar size tinned copper wire. Here the extra wire has been twisted around the original and will be soldered together first then run down the length of the point.

This diagram explains what is happening electrically. In my method, the switch becomes part of the point to feed the correct polarity from the Common connector on the microswitch to the frog – as shown above by the GREEN connection 3.
On my layout, an additional (Light Blue) wire from the Common connection on the microswitch is taken below the layout to be used to indicate which route is set on the panel. This means my panel LEDS show which track has power.

The extra tinned copper wire has been soldered to the point wire and is run in the least conspicuous path. I gently melt the wire into the underside of the sleeper with the soldering iron to hold it in place.

The wire from the frog terminates at the Common connection on the switch – may be labelled       “C” or “1”

The wire from the frog terminates at the Common connection on the switch – may be labelled           “C” or “1”

This rail area indicated has been tinned ready for connection …

…and this one ready for the other side.

As the run is only a few mm, bare tinned copper wire is fine.

Another view.

These wires run through the foam benchwork and connect to DCC (red & green) and the 3rd light blue wire provides a common connection (from the frog) to allow an indicator to show which way the points are set.

The LH connection is the common pole in the SPDT switch (SPDT= Single Pole Double Throw)
The middle contact connects to the red (Right rail DCC wire) and the RH contact connects to the green  Left rail .

This template locates the cut-out needed to accept the microswitch under the point.
The red lines are used to align it to the rails as the switch is off centre. In this case the point was being operated by Wire-In-Tube via the trench shown.

Having marked out the position of the recess for the microswitch, cut the underlay and foam with a sharp knife.

Routing the hole to a depth of 10-12mm with a Dremel (and vacuum cleaner).

Dremel Cutter
Ready for a test fit.

The final steps which can be done after the point is installed:

  • remove the over-centre spring IF you are using servos to control the point – this can be done from the top.
    My points are operated using servo control technology designed by the MERG UK group and built by the user. The points operate at a slow speed and can be set up using a computer interface to smoothly touch the stock rail. See MERG site.
  • leave the spring in place if you are manually switching the point.
  • notice that the sleepers near the mechanism have been thinned down from their over-scale size.
  • if servos are used, the throw bar ends can be cut off.
  • weathering will improve the realism of the installed point.

Joining Rail

“Aligners” for Connecting Rail

Flextrack needs to be connected by “rail joiners”. I prefer to call them “aligners” as they really can’t be relied on to JOIN or at least electrically connect two pieces of track. They do a good job of keeping the ends of the track in-line.

But don’t rely on them for electrical connections!

The photo above shows from the top:

  • a standard Peco “joiner” for Code 75 flex track (which is what I use on my layout).
  • a shortened joiner which aligns the track, but is SHORT enough to be moved along the rail if track adjustment or point removal is needed (trust me , it will be!)
    I have had cause to remove points which were glued to the road bed with latex carpet cement. Brushing some water around the sleepers freed the point after 10 or 15 minutes and then slide the joiners sideways to lift the point out.
  • a small tool consisting of 2 offcuts of rail soldered together so that the smaller joiners can be held on the LH end to trim the ends neatly.
    The tool is also useful to ensure that the ends of the shortened joiner will easily slide on the rails.

SHORTENED JOINERS: to make these:

  • cut the Peco joiner in half with a motor tool (get 2 for the price of 1!)
    to do this I hold the joiner in one end of the jig which is held in a vice.
  • file the ends square – to do this hold it with the shorter end of the little jig in the top photo.
  • scrub the end of the joiner with a wire brush to clean out the end.
Cut the rail to length if necessary. Use something like “Xuron®” cutters as shown below. File the ends of the rail to remove any burrs so that the joiner will slide on easily.
Showing how to cut the rail with a “Xuron®” cutter. The flat side of the cutter should face the rail to be used.
Don’t use these cutters on hard materials like steel wire (and how do I know this?) The last photo in this post shows the right tool to use on hardened wire.
Remove the rail chairs from the last sleeper (tie) with a sharp blade. In this case I am using a surgical scalpel.
A good way to ensure you don’t rip off a sleeper or cut yourself is to use a piece of scrap wood to cut against.
The chair needs to be completely removed so the joiner can clear the sleeper.
The short joiner will slide up the rail and be flush with the end. If you use a full size joiner, it will not slide up far enough to clear the join.
When the track is fixed down, this method allows the rail or point either side of the join to be disconnected by sliding the joiner to the left or right.
To cut hard wire such as “piano” wire use this tool. A beautiful German tool designed for the job. I couldn’t find anything locally and was able to buy it on eBay. Just search for the name showing on the handles.