Automation Software – Longlist

Based on the requirements in my last post I have started to look at automation software. I’ll start with the long list of products and an initial assessment before shortlisting these down for a more detailed look.   Most seem to offer trial versions so once i have a test layout I can use this to complete the selection. The challenges are mine and not necessarily applicable to other people. I may end up doing a functionality matrix on the short list options

NameManufacturerKey capabilitiesChallengesShortlistPrice
RailmasterHornbyEasy to use Macro based setupNo integration with feedback systemNoFree
JMRIOpen SourceIntegrated set up Understood integration with blocks and sensorsAppears complex with overlapping capabilitiesYesFree
Train Controller  Railroad & Co    Freiwald SoftwareTiered functionality Bronze, silver, Gold Integrated controllers Good reviews Supports mixed manual and automatic operation Supports Railcom S,GWould require new controller system //Use Hornby?No172-900
iTrainBerrosTiered functionality, Lite, Standard, plus, pro, full automation  New controller system //Use Hornbyyes120-350
Rail MagicRail MagicDoesn’t require blocks, Appears to be macro basedStill in development, no case studies, Available end 2020? Needs detector in each engineNo 

Initial thoughts

I didn’t really come across many references to Railcom despite all of the systems being DCC.  The majority appear to use the start position to track and remember where the train is located which is ok but may mean I have to always start with the same setup which could be problematic if the stock is not working on the day.  This does though make the selection of block detection equipment somewhat easier.  I may end up using standard blocks and some Railcom blocks to manage this.

Whilst it is obvious its worth noting that stock has to run reliably and for my simple set up I had assumed that the blocks world have to know if a train was present and if it had left before another can enter.  So far some of the systems need braking and stopping sensors and others that can be programmed in so that is going to take some experimentation to work out and probably before I lay the track out.

Railroad and co have some great guides that I have read so far but the function matrix is difficult to read  https://www.freiwald.com/pages/traincontroller_bronze.htm where they use faces which are very similar I assume this is to provide an indicative view of some very basic functionality in bronze through to something more complex in the gold version

I have stated looking at the JMRI automation options with Sturminster Newton as its currently up, I have blocks on the plan but no sensors.  The initial setup appears to be straightforward using  blocks, sections and transits before warrants but I think that further work may wait until I have a simpler test layout to play with.

Railcom is still in its infancy looking at the JMRI and Merg forums with a number of issues which may cause me a problem, the Multiple Units and Pendelino are effectively consists and this appears to cause some problems with Railcom detection. The test layout needs to cater for these formations which is going to determine the size for that

The success of this phase has been iiTrain,  after a good discussion with Nick (njee20) on the N Gauge forum at the local hostelry and a review of the automation forum on RMweb I think that iTrain looks like a great solution, I’m going to change my approach and use this as the baseline comparator with JMRI and drop the other solutions for the moment.

iTrain is very well supported by a set of comprehensive tutorials from Bob Fuller. Bob has a series of 18 to date individual videos (Video 1) which take you through the software in a clear and easy to follow way.  I’ve actually binge watched the first few of these which is key to the decision to shortlist iTrain.   Downloading the software was very easy and I had a licence code inside 24hours for a 2 month trial of the pro version. This may have been a mistake for me as i won’t have the test layout built by then due to the house move but i will try as much as I can with Sturminster. 

Next post I think will be on my experiments with iTrain

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