Hello. My name is Marc Damhaut and this is a description of my n-gauge Japanese-style model railroad, Yūkari Station. I live in an apartment and this is a small layout (880 x 2160mm) built inside an oversized drawer under a platform bed in a bedroom.
The layout does not represent any particular area, it could be anywhere in a large Japanese city. My goal was to pack as many trains, trams and buses as possible in that small area in order to convey the impression that you get when you travel to Tokyo for the first time, the impression that "there are trains everywhere"
The layout is built on three levels separated by just 6cm, the main structure is built with 10mm foam boards. The train tracks are Tomix Fine Tracks. There is an elevated double loop, with the Tomix elevated station (Shin-Yūkari Station). On the ground level there is also a double loop with a local station at the back and two small yards. The two ground loops descend below ground level at the front of the layout into an underground station below Shin-Yūkari Station. The tram layout uses standard Tomix Wide Tram Tracks. The three trams (three Kato Portram) commute between the main station and their terminal station.
Automation The whole layout has been designed from day one to be fully automated. It is divided into blocks and the tracks are fitted with current sensors to detect the presence of trains. The train blocks each have two sensors, one at each end, while the tram blocks just have one sensor. Most of the EMUs, trams and locomotives are from Kato. They are all fitted with DCC decoders (mostly the EM13, FR11 and FL12 from Kato, and other decoders from Digitrax and NGDCC). The main control station is a Roco Z21. The feedback modules are manufactured by Digikeijs and the switch actuators are made by LDT. There are 67 current sensors and 24 switches around the layout. I have also designed signals controllers based on Arduino Nano microcontrollers. All these devices are controlled by the Rocrail software, which runs on a Raspberry Pi behind the layout. Rocrail allows me to sequence the movement of the trains and trams in a realistic way. I really enjoy automating the layout. It is fun to program routes, speed curves and rules that the trains have to follow, then hit the “start” button and watch all trains move around the layout in a realistic way.
Buses Soon after starting to design the layout, I purchased a Tomytec bus starter set and saw an opportunity to also have buses moving around the streets of the layout. As cars cannot move (not yet…), I created bus lanes on each side of the main street and modeled cars and other vans stuck in a traffic jam. The Tomytec buses use a magnet to follow a steel wire embedded in the road. Their motor runs at a fixed speed, but they can be stopped, for example at bus stops, when the bus detects the magnetic field of small magnets below the road surface. I use that feature, replacing magnets by electromagnets and using hall sensors to detect the buses, to control the position of up to ten buses around the city. This adds a whole new dimension to the layout.
Lights After starting to fit some buildings with LED lights, I quickly realized that I would need dozens or even hundreds of light points. While it would have been possible to power them with a simple power supply and an on-off switch, I wanted to do more and at least be able to create effects such as flashing lights, or be able to switch lights on and off randomly, or at a given time during the layout’s virtual day and night.
In addition, wiring a high number of LEDs (I now have more than 300 light points) is an issue. Each individual LED requires its own resistor, not only for current control, to protect it, but also because most LEDs are far too bright and need to be significantly toned down. Having to fit each LED with its own resistor is not practical and figuring out how bright the light has to be, hence the value of that resistor, is not easy. Often, it’s only after installing the building on the layout or even after taking photos that you want to adjust the brightness of the lights.
The system I have designed does not require complex wiring (even for dozens, hundreds or even thousands of LEDs). It does not require resistors and it allows to control the brightness of each LED individually by software. It is based on the TLC59711 remote-controlled LED driver chips from TI, which is available as a small module made by Adafruit (product ID: 1455). Another advantage of working with Adafruit modules is that they provide standard software libraries, a user guide and sample programs for popular microcontrollers. Each module can control 12 LEDs and modules can easily be daisy-chained to increase the number of light points. I currently have 26 of these modules spread around the layout, mostly below buildings.
Lighting control unit under buildings
Displays Another unique feature of the layout is the extensive use of small LCD displays. These are now available in various sizes and resolutions for just a few dollars. They may be very small but many of them are still too large and the electronics required to control them has to be cleverly hidden. I have used four of them as overhead schedule displays at the elevated station, two as advertisement screens at the window of the Uniqlo shop, one as a tourist information kiosk and one as a roadworks signboard. I plan to add more when I detail the buildings of the main street.
I started the layout six years ago, it is not even close to being completed, so this is only the beginning of the journey. Thanks for reading!