Beginnings of a Computer Controlled LEGO Train Layout

Modular Train Layout    Send article as PDF   
For the last few weeks I have been putting together a Modular LEGO Train Layout. Each Module is based on a 900mm X 1200 X 6mm MDF board mounted to a 70mm X 20mm Timber Frame. The Module use a series of Dowls and Holes to join the Modules together. This arrangement allow for easy storage and transportation to LEGO Shows and Displays.

Train Layout - Details
Click Image to view a larger view of my LEGO Train Layout

The Layout is being built using the same methods used by Railway Modellers. I chose this method to keep the price down as my budget is some what limited. All the Buildings, Vehicles and Tunnel Fronts will all be made from LEGO.

Servo Motors

Each of the Train Track Points has it’s output controlled by a 9gram Radio Control Type Servo Motor. Dotted around the Track Layout are Infra-red Train Sensors which give location feedback and allow for Automatic Point Change if the direction is incorrectly set and will cause the oncoming Train to derail. Also at prime points around to Layout are 13.56MHz RFID Readers which are used to detect what Train is at a designated position on the Layout. Each Locomotive has a self-adhesive 3M RFID Tag stuck to its undercarriage. Each RFID Tag has a unique, programmable identification ASCII Code.

RFID Reader & 3M Tags

The electronics too control the Layout will consist of a Master Raspberry Pi Micro-PC which will directly control the Servo Motor and read the Infra-Red Train Detectors. The RFID Readers will connected to an Arduino Micro-controller which will process the RFID Data and from the Locomotives and feed to the Raspberry Pi.

Servo Motors

Module #1 has a Turntable to Rotate the Train Engines. Also the Turntable allows access to the Engine Shed and Train Washer. The Turntable is driven from a MG996R Metal Geared Servo Motor. Using this type of Motor to rotate the Turntable gives One degree accuracy of Rotation.

My LEGO Train Layout Module #1
My LEGO Train Layout Turntable

Module #2 has two Tunnels through a large hill. One Tunnel leads onto Module #3, while the second Tunnel leads to the Ore Mine and Loading Facility The Hill and Mine surface are built up with Expanding Foam that comes a spray can, on top of a 3mm MDF Skeleton. I will shave of the excess Foam to achieved the final shape.

My LEGO Train Layout Module #2

I chose to use Expanding Foam for two critical reasons in place of the standard Plaster Bandage method used by many Model Railway Layout Builders. Firstly, as the Layout will be moved around a lot, weight is a major consideration. Plaster is very dense, and when combined with the other material used to shape the landscape. Secondly, the plaster doesn’t cope well with movement and vibration. It tends to crack and the surface often blisters.

My LEGO Train Layout Module #2 Tunnels

When it came to choosing a brand of Expanding Foam in a can, I relied on my love of Sika Products, and selected their Sika ‘Boom’ AP 850mL cans. Each can has the potential to create 45 Litres of final product.

The foam exits the can not unlike Whipped Cream. This initial sprayed foam then expands another 60% over the curing time of 24 hours. Its surface is touch-dry in around 10-15 minutes.When cured it is very solid, yet easy to work with standard crafting tools.

My LEGO Train Layout Module #2 Mine

Module #3 will have the Cargo Termial and Railway Station. This Module also shows my Modified 90 Degree Turnout Points, which results in a smaller loop using 3x such points..

My LEGO Train Layout

I’m hoping for a completion date of April 2015, ready for the Launceston Brixhibition, which is part of Tasmania’s premier LEGO Exhibitions series held throughout the year, and ran by the Tasmanian Brick Enthusiasts Inc. group.

Stay tuned as the project contues…..

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