John's Jottings

119. The Grand Inaugural Run - May 2016

Posted on May 8, 2016 at 4:10 PM

Last week, Fred told us about the ceremonial unveiling of a large model railway built by Alan, a long-time friend of his. Alan had retired a couple of years ago and decided that he’d have the time to construct the model railway he’d always wanted. And he’d now got a large loft in which to house his Grand Project.


As he approached retirement after four decades with the same company, he was asked what present he would like. He told them about his modelling plans and wondered if instead of the traditional watch or clock, they’d consider model railway equipment to be appropriate. The directors not only agreed to his suggestion, but contacted the firms with whom he’d had dealings during the latter stages of his career. Many of them were delighted to mark his retirement by giving him locomotives for his Grand Project.


Once retired, Alan started construction. With great enthusiasm, he had his baseboards up within a few weeks, quickly followed by the track. DCC was his chosen system of control. Some basic platforms and other key railway buildings were put in place.


Then came the day of the inaugural run. Alan invited some of his former colleagues to witness this significant event in the development of the Grand Project. Alan said a few words of welcome and briefly introduced his layout. He then tapped in the code for the first locomotive, opened the throttle. And nothing happened. He tried again. Nothing happened.


He tried another locomotive: completely dead. Then he noticed a ‘short circuit’ indication on his hand-set. He pressed the reset button and tried again: another short. With increasing embarrassment he tried all sort of settings to clear the problem, all to no avail. His friends left, wondering why they had been invited. They were not impressed.


It was at this point that Fred was called in for his advice. He confirmed that there was indeed a major problem. Then he tried to find out what it was and its location. He first removed all locomotives and rolling-stock from the tracks. This didn’t help. He got Alan to disconnect the DCC master unit from the power bus. A DC controller was substituted. The short was still present.


So he suggested they narrow down the geographical area of the problem by putting breaks into the two bus wires so that each of the resulting sections could be tested individually. But Alan was unwilling to do this, as every connection had been soldered. There wasn’t a single screwed terminal block, or plug-connector, or switch on the entire system. Fred suggested cutting wires, but Alan was adamant: no cutting.


It seems that Alan had laid the track and wired everything up without checking running and electrical performance as each length was installed. Fred examined as much as he could visually, particularly the correct positioning of isolating fish-plates at points, but to no avail. He left Alan to sort things out for himself. Fred was annoyed, Alan was frustrated.


“It just goes to show,” the chairman commented, “that even the grandest of Grand Projects should be considered as a series of small projects. Each segment should be thoroughly tested under as-near-to-normal operating conditions as possible. The correct working of every new section should be verified on its own, and then in conjunction with all preceding mini-projects, before being ‘signed off’ as proven and complete. And on larger projects, means should be included to easily isolate zones of the system to facilitate the speedy location of any faults that might subsequently develop.” And who but Peter and Paul could disagree with such advice?


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