Mini Diorama for Office

I found it therapeutic to work on a model railroad in spite of its size. While my larger segment layout is stowed in the cellar for the time being, I found a small piece of wood 46cm x 11cm that makes a nice mini diorama for my office desk.

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I took a piece of medium right Peco turnout and laid some concrete Peco flex-tracks to each end of the wood. I used a 3mm cork roadbed which was made from cork wall panels (available at hardware stores). The platform at top end is also made from cork. I am modelling a small town station with single line and a siding near the station.

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I applied Tams dark gray ballast which from this photo looks black. After gluing the color stayed black (reminder to self: buy light gray ballast or mix with other light-color ballast). As you can see above, it took me a good one hour to upkeep the embankment and make sure the ballast stayed near. The end-result was a neatly-attended track.

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After letting the glue mixture settled over night, it was time for photo shoots. The BR 185 and ICE 2 volunteered for the first few shots.

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For finishing touch I applied liberally some Noch grass along the tracks and added a block signal near the platform. In total I spent less than 10 working hours on this piece, not including drying time. The result is quite pleasing. This gives me a hands-on practice in laying tracks, ballasting and making the diorama stands out. At least I learned what I should do on my larger layout later.

It is not complete yet. You can still see some bare wood. I will add a dirt road on this end and a tar-road on the other end. The platform needs some concrete color and I will add a few passengers on the platform. Again, when time permits, you will see little progress on this diorama.

For my photos, see my Facebook page.

z21 Review: Booster Light and Detector

It has been awhile (more than 1 year to be exact) since I touched my z21 digital controller. It lied packed neatly in the original packing. This means I have missed many firmware updates (hmm …. not a good thing to do). Anyway, even though I am not actively working on my layout, this does not mean that I have gave up the hobby. No, no way sir. You will just have to be a bit patient with my progress. This morning, I posted on a friend’s Facebook that I have 8 modules and if I work on one each year, I should have my layout completed 2023! Just in time to enjoy my retirement with a completed layout. Oh yes, it is a segment layout by the way.

When I was looking at the Roco 2016 catalog the other day, I saw a few new products for z21/Z21. Roco/Fleischmann (both companies taken over and run by Modelleisenbahn München GmbH) will offer accessories to their current z21 white and Z21 black digital control centers. Upcoming products are Z21 Booster (Roco Art. 10806), Z21 Dual Booster (Roco Art. 10807), z21 Booster light (Roco Art. 10805), Z21 Detector (Roco Art. 10808). The first two are power boosters that complement their current Z21 Black digital control center (Roco Art. 10820 EU-version 220/240V). Please take note that these 4 accessories are built for 220/240V power supply. We will most likely see the US version later in the year or next year. The US-version of Z21 Black (Roco Art. 10822 110V) was introduced some time spring last year.

In this post, I am interested to review (on paper at least) and discuss about the last two accessories – Z21 Booster light and Z21 Detector, although I do not have the products yet. z21 white is sold as part of HO- or N-scale starter packs. On eBay, you can get the z21 white for 160 Euro as modellers. Both Booster light and Detector will come in white (as shown in promotional material). Visually you can relate them to the z21 white control center. Nonetheless, to be on the safe side, I have written to Roco and received their confirmation that both Booster light and Detector can be connected to the z21 white via respective B-Bus port for Booster and R- or CAN-Bus ports for Detector.

Z21 BOOSTER lightProduct illustration: (L – R) separate DC power for the booster light, power to track (separate power district) and 2 B-Bus (booster bus) ports.

However, you will notice that the main controller has only 1 B-Bus and 1 R-Bus port (even Z21 black has only 1 B- and 1-R bus port) but the Booster light will have 2.

z21White-back

z21Black-back

Does this mean that multiple Booster light can be daisy-chained or connected in serial? Another clarification question for Roco.

At least for now, we can safely say that the Booster light can be connected to the z21 white, which would be a good news for those who want to continue to use their z21 white but need additional power district. Like me. I would need two power districts for my german160 segment layout. This Booster light has 3A output (non-adjustable voltage) and supports RailCom cutout (i.e. (allows use of RailCom*-track occupied detector) and terminal loop feature with short-circuit detector.

The Detector itself has 2 R-Bus (Response bus) and 2 CAN-Bus ports. For the Detector to have 2 ports is understandable. When you connect one Detector to the main controller, which then communicates with the Z21 app in your smart device or PC, you need to have one free port to connect to additional Detector. Each Detector can connect up to 8 track-occupancy sections. For more sections, you need multiple Detectors and each Detector must be able to connect to the main controller. The only way to do this is ….. yes, DAISY-CHAINING the Detectors together!

Z21 DETECTOR

The Detector monitors each section by way measuring power drop on each section and relay the occupied message back to the App or PC. It also supports RailCom-detector for loco identification.

For now, looks like Roco/Fleischmann would allow modellers to have one more power district and able to detect track occupancy. They must have read my german160 blog (*wink*) as I was planning to have extra power district and was looking for ways to implement track occupancy.

Something that fellow modellers using z21 white can look forward too. We will see how the price and performance/features measure up to alternative products.

Is this something you are looking forward too? Would love to hear your feedback.

Season’s Greetings 2016

Hello everyone,

First of all, a belated Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2016 to all my readers.

merry-christmas

As you can see I have not been posting any updates since January this year. I joined a sales division in my company and have been busy setting up a new function handling lots of bids/tenders. I am expecting more bids next year as well as managing a new team of 6. As such, my model railway activities would have to take a pause for the moment.

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Please stay in touch. I hope to return to this hobby when time permits; at least to do a little.

Best wishes,
Jimmy Low

z21 Review: Settings and Programming

Hello 2015! A good start for 2015 with my further review of the z21 controller. In my last post for 2014, I gave a quick run through of the setting up and running the trains. In this post, I would like to explain more about the Z21 settings and how to read and program decoder values.

z21 Settings
As mentioned in my last post, you need to change the default settings in z21 controller to suit your scale. The Output and Programming Voltages allow a value between 12V and 22V. The default settings are per the first photo.
20150101_133436Track-Voltage settings
The default Output Voltage was set at 18, a value typically applies to HO-scale (between 16V and 20V). For N-scale, this value varies between 12V and 16V. As the Programming Voltage could not go below 12V, you have to set this to “12” instead of “10” as earlier posted. You will get a notification “Data was sent”. For N-scale, I set to the following:
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Common Settings
RailCom allows decoders that support decoders to feedback to command station (in our case z21 controller) the status of the decoder. This is particular useful when one would like to know the position of a loco (or train). This function is only possible if a decoder supports Railcom. The use of train automation software such as RocRail, iTrain allows TrainID to be reported on the display. You can turn this off/on anytime.

Center-Stop Key is found in the middle top panel. This is like an emergency stop button. You could set this to either “TrackPowerToggle” (i.e. turning the power on/off to the track. If you examine the z21 controller carefully, there is no power on/off button. Just “Stop”) or “EmergencyStopToggle” which stops all locos but not just the power to the track. See the difference. I like to set “TrackPowerToggle” since the z21 controller would be a distance from me and in the event of a short circuit, I could turn off the power to the track. When using “TrackPowerToggle”, you also stop all locos.

Programming-type allows you to specify using bit or byte (1 byte is 8 bits) value. Click any toggle (more about this later)

Program-Settings
I am not sure what Program-Settings meant but these values were given by Roco/Fleischmann technical support for N-scale.

I tried out the Roco z21 app on my HTC Desire (Android phone) and found that the same track settings that I made earlier via the tablet were read by the the z21 app on the HTC too. In effect, the z21 is a mini computer. Any track settings sent to z21 controller are stored and could be retrieved by any smart devices connected to that z21 controller (via the WLAN). How I wish the train (mobile decoder) settings could also be stored and retrieved from z21 controller.
20150101_141116Programming Decoders
When you select “Programming” on the main screen, you will come the programming page with Program on Main (POM), Programming Track and Loco Address functions.

Loco Address function
I start with Loco Address function. The right panel allows you to read and program a decoder in a loco (could we read/program accessory decoders with z21 too? A good question to be answered). Click “Read” to read out the CVs on the decoder (known as CV Readback function). There are 4 CVs readable by z21 Loco Address function – CV1 (short address 0-255), C17/18 (extended address up to 4 digits 9999), CV29Bit5 (value 0 or 1) (note: this does not mean you cannot read other CVs. You can use Programming Track function to read/program other CVs)
20150101_134322 When you read or program a decoder, the loco headlights will blink intermittently and the loco will jump forward a few small steps. It sounds like a manual typewriter when a decoder is read or programmed. The LED will turn green when in programming mode and return to blue when the programming completes.
20150101_133825Programming Track function
When using (separate) Programming Track function, you must have only 1 loco at a time. You can read/program the decoder by first identifying which CV# you want to change. In the second photo above, you will see that the loco decoder has a short address “3” which corresponds to CV1.

In Programming Track function, you select the CV# you want to change, in this case CV1 (i.e. CV-Address) from CV-Value “3” to “52” (the road number of P42 Genesis). Again, the LED will turn green and the loco will jump a few steps.
20150101_134112 You can go to Loco Address function and click “Read” to see if the CV1 value has been updated.

Change Loco Images
I have shown how you could add new loco to the pre-configured list. Here I will show how to add a new image. Earlier the P42 Genesis had a blank loco image. Click on that image and you will be asked whether you want to select an image from a gallery or from a camera. I chose “camera” and snapped a picture of the P42.
20150101_14155420150101_141658You can then crop the image and the save the final version. I did this on my HTC phone and would need to repeat the same on my Samsung tablet or any other new devices.

20150101_141727z21 Updater
I was updating my Roco z21 mobile app and found that Roco/Fleischmann has published a z21 Updater app too.
20141231_171616The first app is your virtual throttle. The z21 Updater allows you to update the firmware in your z21 controller and SmartRail (aka “loco on threadmill”). When you click “Connect” (do not change the default IP address), the z21 Updater will check the current firmware version in your z21 controller. My current z21 firmware version is V1.21 (the latest versions for z21 and SmartRail are shown below the IP address)
20150101_142107Click “Update” and the server will push the latest version to your z21 controller (or SmartRail). So, the firmware version is now V1.25.

20150101_142213This z21 Updater app does no more than checking your current firmware version and send request to server to push the latest version to your z21 controller (and SmartRail). The z21 Maintenance.exe does more.

I hope this short review helps you to understand more about your z21 system and what it could and could not do. I look forward to your comments or feedback.

A Review of Surprised Birthday Gift – Fleischmann z21 Digitial Starterset ÖBB Rh1116 Taurus

This is my 100th post on germaN160 thus far and so I would like to end the year by showing off my surprised birthday gift – a Fleischmann z21 Digital Startset with ÖBB (Austrian Federal Railway) Rh1116 Taurus and passenger coaches (Art. no. 931383)

20141224_180103I wanted this set for quite some time. Guess, I was a good boy this year and thus, my Santa(rina) decided to reward me. If you have been following this blog, you would by now that I am modelling the German railways in Epoch 5/6. This era is marked by a few key characteristics, among other, liberalization/deregulation of the railway transport in Germany and Europe, rolling stocks with UIC identification numbers, etc. In particular, the liberalization of the railway market in Europe means the once state monopoly such as Deutsche Bahn (DB) is no longer the only passenger and freight railway provider in a country such as in Germany. You see more private operators in short-distance passenger transport as well as freight, and also neighbouring state operators plying certain routes in Germany. The Austrian Federal Railway (ÖBB) for example operates all the way up to Frankfurt (Main), where I lived. You will see the ÖBB Rh1116 Taurus electric loco regularly stationed near Frankfurt station. Thus, having a foreign (or non-DB) trains running on my germaN160 layout would not be non-prototypical.

What are included?
This starter set consists of a Rh1116 Taurus DCC loco with sound (I believe it is Zimo sound decoder), 2 second-class coaches, 1 first-class coach, tracks and turnouts make an oval 45cm x 85cm, track connectors, and of course the heart of the system, the white z21 digital controller with WLAN router. Getting a starter set is a good way to get into a hobby or to expand you existing stuff. Buying all the above except the tracks/turnouts on piecemeal could be the same value as the whole z21 starter set. The value of all the tracks/turnouts is the same as the value of white z21 itself! Thus, consider the tracks/turnouts or z21 controller as “free”.

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What are not included?

Where is the throttle? Well, you have to provide it yourself. The beauty of the white z21 or black Z21 (www.Z21.eu) is you could use your smart devices such iPhone, iPad, Android phone or tablet as a virtual throttle. Just download the Roco Z21 app and you are (almost) ready to go. On iPad or in my case Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition (Android tablet), you get to control two DCC-trains at the same time and from the same screen (in landscape format). In the photo below, I have the Rh1116 Taurus from the set and P42 Genesis (I will show how easy it was to add new loco to the list). I was able to run both trains on the same screen (left and right hands).

20141224_214803You need to supply your own pair of cables from the z21 controller to the track connectors. Other than that, a CAT5/6 cable is already included for connection between the WLAN router and the z21 controller.

The Setup
Connect a pair of cables from the z21 controller (green terminal connector) to the track connectors as per below. The white cable is a LAN cable, one you normally find in office connections, connects to the WLAN router (sits above the z21).

20141224_212740Start the Z21 app and at main screen go to “Z21 Settings”. This is an important step before you put a DCC-loco on the track. This step is not explained in the online PDF manual. Notice the Track-Voltage reads Output Voltage “18” and Programming Voltage “16”. This output voltage applies to HO-scale. For N-scale, you need to change the output voltage to “12”. Failure to change this value would fry your N-scale decoder! The Programming Voltage should always be 2V below the Output Voltage.

Don’t forget to click “Send to Z21” to execute the changes in the z21 controller (make sure your WLAN connection to z21 controller is working). One thing I found lacking was the feedback from the Z21 whether any command or change from the app to the controller is properly executed. You just have to presume the command or change is executed; hence, the WLAN connection must always be on (some troubleshooting tips later).

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Running the Trains
Click the large “PLAY” button on the main screen and you will see the following screen with two virtual throttles. At the bottom of each virtual throttle you will find a list of pre-configured locomotives. Just select your loco and all the settings for that loco will appear on Control One and/or Control Two panel(s). On top right of the screen, you will find a WLAN signal with a green check mark. This will tell you if your connection between Z21 app and WLAN is established (technically, it does not tell you if your WLAN connection to z21 controller is established. The green check mark could appear even if the LAN cable between WLAN router and z21 controller is not connected. So check the LAN cable is securely attached to the LAN ports on router and controller)

20141224_214803Now you are ready to run the train(s).

20141224_224554You can also download a driver view of Rh1116 Taurus (or any other corresponding locos). You can run like a real train driver (unfortunately, there is no video loco in N-scale yet)

20141224_224005Adding other DCC-Locos
Adding DCC locos to the list is also easy steps. My Kato P42 Genesis address was changed from default “3” to “52” (the road number) about 7 years ago (using NCE PowerCab). Adding this to a pre-configured list, select “Railed Vehicles Settings” on the main screen. Press “+” /Add sign on top left corner and select “Locomotive”. To remove a loco from the list, select the pencil/ “Edit” sign.

20141224_214711Give the loco an easy-to-remember name. The road-number or some additional identification (if you have more than one loco of same type and the road number is not easily identifiable – this is the case with non-North American models). Enter the loco (decoder) address and specify the max. speed (in my case I have set it randomly at 200, although the max. speed is 177km/h, 110 mph (see Wiki)). Thanks to Wiki, you have a wealth of information about virtually any loco performance for traction fine-tuning.

Select DCC if you are not running Märklin locos and your choice of 14, 28 or 128 speed steps. The largest speed step 128 allows you run your train at crawling speed when you move the virtual throttle up 1/2 bar.

The display could either be in km/h (per hour kilometer, non-US speed measurement) or regulated steps (14, 28 or 128 steps).

Again, make sure the WLAN signal has a green check mark as any changes will be sent to the z21 controller (immediately??). Go back to main screen and click on the large “PLAY” button.  See “Running the Trains” above.

First Impressions
I must say, I have been following the development of this z21 controller since I first saw it at Modellbau Süd, the annual N-scale convention and fair in Stuttgart in 2012. I was particularly impressed with the use of smart devices as virtual throttles which makes perfect sense for the hobby and the industry. The number of smart devices – phones and tablets – have increased tremendously in the last 4 years and surpassed the number of PC and laptops. The future is software-based rather than hardware-centric where the core intelligence of any system lies. The hardware will have to eventually keep up with the performance demand of the software processing and I am sure the hardware will. The diehards swear by their trust handheld throttles such as Digitrax, Lenz, Multimaus, NCE, etc. I am not again these handhelds. After all I own an 8-year old NCE PowerCab, which I have missed 4 chip upgrades. I would like to upgrade the PowerCab someday.

For a small- and medium-sized layout (or even a club layout using black Z21 controller and boosters), z21 provides a quick way to bring family members and friends into the model railway hobby. Just download the Z21 app into the phone or tablet, set up one or two locos per device and we are ready to run (I need to explore if there is an easy way to save one setting of all pre-configured locos as a master list and transfer to other devices either wirelessly (i.e. via Bluetooth) or conventionally (i.e. via cable). With a smart device, add additional player would be fast and at least transaction cost.

The Rh1116 Taurus runs smoothly and responses well to the virtual throttle. My home WLAN router was just next to the z21 WLAN router and there were occasionally signal interferences (you will notice on the WLAN signal (green check mark or red cross) on the main screen switching between green and red occasionally. I would need to find a better location in the next trial (after all this is the first unboxing trial).

On the virtual throttle screen, you will notice a “Stop/Go” button on middle top screen. If you have intermittent running problems, you could press stop and go to reset. I did this a few times especially at turnouts. I read that Fleischmann turnouts have contact problems. Proper wiring would solve this problem.

Overall, I am happy with the z21 controller. It was easy to set up and within 5 minutes you could run your first train. The control panels allow you to turn on/off specific functions like ditch or headlights, horn, bell, engine sound, announcements, brake and coupling/uncoupling sound. The Zimo sound was clear and loud. The decoder responded well.

20141224_225759I would explore and review other features of the white z21 in the near future and incorporate the running into my segment layout.

trai-N-master is Taking A Short Break

short-break-routes

Just a short notice to my readers and followers that I am taking a short break from my model railroading activities. The last few months have been a peak period for me, too many projects running in parallel and one after another. I am also moving on to a new role in the organisation in the next 3 months. There would be a lot of handovers of existing projects, which take priority over model railroading. However, I am not abandoning my germaN160 layout nor this hobby.

See you again next year!

 

Jimmy