Model railway wiring part 2 – point control

In the previous update I started writing about how the wiring of the layout works and focused mainly on the power to the track and control of the actual trains would be handled.  This is fine for running trains up and down a single line or loop, however the interesting piece comes when trains can change their routes and for that you need to be able to control the points.

At the heart of the functionality is the point motor.  For this I’m using the Gaugemaster PM-1 which handles both the switching, but also has an accessory switch that I’m using to drive the electro frog of the point.  For more information about how to wire this section up then I’d suggest reading the excellent guides from Brian Lambert on this topic.  The piece that is more interesting for me is how to control and trigger the point motor to actually switch, and again the discussion of DC or DCC control comes up again.

At the most basic level the point motor needs around 16V applied to one side of the coil or the other to switch.  In a classic analog layout then this is usually through the form of momentary switches or touching contacts to make it switch.  However in a DCC layout this is an accessory decoder which picks up the commands from the DCC data stream and then triggers the switch.

When I started thinking about the layout I did some looking at DCC accessory decoders and discovered that there are ways of building a simple and cost effective decoder using an Arduino.  This would take the DCC signal, decode it and then provide GPI outputs to control the points.  Since this is low voltage (5V) and not enough to drive the points directly then this will require a relay board to switch the 16V.  So invested in some 16 way boards similar to this one on ebay.

Over time the reality of my DCC knowledge and trying to get a functioning layout working as meant that I’ve limited my ambition, so the point control using the relay boards needed for the long term DCC control, however in the short (and probably medium) team they will be triggered from simple momentary switches on the control panels.

The final addition was a Capacitor Discharge Unit (CDU) to assist with the drive of the motors.  Since most of the points on the layout work as pairs where both need to be set correctly for the route to work then I’ve wired them together so there is no chance of one being set and not the other.  This means that a fair current is needed in that moment to drive them both.  The CDU uses the capacitors to store the charge and as the name suggests discharges is quickly to drive the motors.  The design is the basic CDU with additional capacitor taken from Brian Lambert’s website referenced earlier, fed from an old laptop power supply.

So once this is all put together you end up with something that looks like this:

And finally, some photos of what this actually looks like on the layout itself:

Review of the last 4 years

I was on Google Photos the other day and it highlighted photos from the same dates in previous years and made me realise that I’d been working on the railway now for just over 4 years – the earliest photos I have being from the 2015 Christmas holiday period.  This made me realised just how far it’s come in that time, so I thought it would be a good time to look back, but also high-light some of the more recent work which was not made it to the blog.


2015 saw trains being unpacked and the start of the frame to support the layout.  With very few changes, the frame has been in place ever since. 


The work from over Christmas 2015 continued into the new year to add the surfaces to the layout.  This then allowed the track laying to start, and also the start of some of the scenic work with the engine shed under construction.


Another year and more progress was made on the railway.  This included new additions to enable a future station, the first trains actually being run on the layout which eventually resulted in both loops being usable.  The year also included starting to investigate DCC control and starting to build a viaduct.


This was a very quite year for the layout due to the majority of the year being focused on building a 1:1 scale extension to the house, so very little happened in the loft besides a small amount of cabling work.  This didn’t stop a few new additions to layout


The start of the year continued the quiet spell for the railway as the number of follow up jobs for the extension occupied most of the first half of the year, however the second half of the year has been much more productive with significant progress being made.

This year has seen a number of new additions join the layout including the Dapol Class 68, a Bachmann Class 66, a Hornby Flying Scotsman and the Hattons Railhead Treatment Train.  Interesting to see how the purchases have been split across the different manufacturers rather than just being from a single one.

2019 has also seen significant progress on the wiring front.  Previously only the two main loops were functional, however now there is a control panel and the goods yard is functional allowing trains to traverse the different sidings and on and off the main line.  There’s a blog post here about how the power side of the layout works, and hopefully at some point in the future (no promises on when) there will be one on the point control.

Also moving forward has been the scenic work, mostly in sitting in front of the TV in an evening, however it does allow progress without being in the loft.  This year has seen a large section of retaining wall well on it’s way, the viaduct has gone from a wooden frame to starting to look like a proper railway structure and work as started on something which should become the large station.


Writing the post has made me appreciate how far things have come over the last 4 years, from a concept to a layout which is starting to really take shape one.

Looking ahead to 2020 briefly, I’ll start by making no promises about what and when things will get done as the railway is always one of the lower priority activities, however there are a clear set of next things to do…..

  • Fit the remaining point motors to the points that are currently laid
  • Install the power supplies and relay boards to control the points at the far end of the layout
  • Commission the second half of the control panel
  • Finish the viaduct
  • Landscape around the viaduct area
  • Build the large station platforms
  • Start landscaping the large station and surrounding areas

My aim (as always) is to try and create more blog posts as I go along to show the progress, however please bear with me as time is limited and often blogging time can eat into actually working on the railway.  However this gives me something to look back on next year and see how I did!



Model railway control panel

I’m very aware the blog has been quite on progress around the actual layout for the last 18 months or so.  The reality is that most of last year and the early part of this year went into building an extension to the house, so the railway got fairly neglected, however since the summer work has slowly moved forward, so hopefully there will be a few more posts on the blog detailing the work.

One of the next areas which has needed attention has been taking the wiring from being just the two main loops to the stage where I can control some of the turn outs and be able to run trains into some of the goods yard sidings.

The concept

When I started building the layout my original thought was that I’d build it all using DCC control since that was the future.  That way I’d just run common bus round the board and eventually use the DCC to switch the points also.

The reality has been quite different – I’m still getting up to speed on DCC and how to use it, but more significantly most of my locos are analog control.  While the most recent ones have the ability to fit a DCC decoder, and in some cases I’ve bought them ready, a much higher proportion do not or will require significant work to fit.

So in the end I reached the conclusion that I needed to add a more classic style control panel to the layout to enable me to switch controllers to areas of tracks, and also switch the points.  The key difference here is that as well as being able to switch the analog controllers to the different regions of track I also want to be able to switch parts of all of the layout over to DCC control as and when I’m ready.

So the control panel has three sections – a 4 way Gaugemaster analog controller for basic running, and then on either side switching panels for each end of the layout.

4 channel Gaugemaster controller

This blog post is going to concentrate mainly on the physical construction of the control panel.  I’m going to leave the wiring to a future blog post.

Panel construction

How to build the actual control panels themselves was one of the big questions I had when I started this.  I did look around and a bit trying to pick up ideas – this post on RMWeb gave me a lot of inspiration, however in the end I’ve done what I think is my own idea.

The main design on the control panel was generated in Microsoft Visio.  The choice of this was mainly because I have access to it and know it well through work.  This allowed me to draw out the basic design, but also to create layers to represent the size and locations of elements such as the switches and structure to make sure they fitted correctly.

Once I’d got the design completed I was able to print it out, cut out and laminate it.  This then created a nice clean surface which will hopefully last a long time.  Once cut to size the laminated design was then stuck using PVA glue onto a piece of 3mm plywood of the correct size to give strength.  I was then able to drill through the laminated paper and plywood to fit the switches needed for the power and point control.  

One area I did struggle with was how to deal with the edges and make that look neat.  This was not just around the edge of the whole thing, but also between the three sections the overall control panel is made up from.  The process of laminating paper made this worse as to make the lamination work well then the paper needs to be cut smaller than the required size to ensure the lamination seals all the way around.

My plan (however I can’t get to this until all the wiring is complete and I’m ready to fasten the panel in place) is to use from right angle plastic that I had kicking around from another project.  This is about 12mm right angle, so will overlap the edge of the panel and hide the edge lamination as well as the different layers.  Where the different panels fit together I’ll do the same thing, but just with 12mm strips of flat plastic.

Mounting the panel

Once I’d worked out where I wanted them, the actual mounting of the panels was another challenge.  I didn’t want them to be flat – either horizontal or vertical – as that didn’t feel very natural to me.  Also I have the 4 channel analog controller to mount alongside them, so some careful construction would be needed.

The aim was to have three sections, all angled at 45 degrees from the layout to make operation easy.  The outer sections would be the switches, with the middle being the Guagemaster controller. So lots of pieces to fit together accurately but also ensure that things like the controller are well supported and won’t move when operated.

Again, my Visio license came useful here – it allowed me to take designed I’d sketched out and actually plot them accurately to scale.  I was then able to print out the 4 key sections that define the size and angle of the controls and use that as a template to cut them out.

From there it became simpler, adding legs, fitting to the layout and adding a bottom piece for the controller to rest on.  Some fine tuning around getting the precise positioning for the control panels and analog controller was required during construction, but basically the core design remained unchanged.

Next steps

The next stage is to actually wire the control panels into place.  This work has started for the first panel which controls the goods yard and since much of the required infrastructure (point motors, relay boards etc) was in place then this should be fairly easy.  The other end of the layout by the viaduct and stations will take considerably longer as in some places the track is not even laid yet, let alone having all the other bits needed!

As mentioned previously, my aim for a future blog post is to try and explain how the wiring of the layout will work, so I’m going to sign off here in order to have time to actually do the work!