Building a Workbench Test Layout




As modellers, we are probably all familiar with the need for a test track on the workbench which can be used for:

  • Testing new locos to make sure they work
  • Testing locos for electrical continuity
  • Testing during conversion to DCC
  • Testing locos during maintenence activities
  • General fault finding
  • Testing the running of kits as they are built etc

This article describes how I built a test-bench layout for Ashprington Road.


Requirements

I have been building and maintaining model railway locomotives and rolling stock since a high single digits decade of the last century. As time has progressed, I have increasingly found the need to set up a proper test track. I am sure that many of us are familiar with the scenario of building something, needing to find a length of track to run it on, then connect a controller and/or switch it between DC/DCC etc. Very quickly, the whole thing becomes quite fiddly and untidy. There must be a better way!

At the time I built the test layout, I was regularly demonstrating at exhibitions, so I needed something that was portable and met my 'workshop' needs. The principal requirements were:

  • It needed to be switchable between DC and DCC operation
  • It needed to support a DCC programming track
  • It needed to support computer connectivity so that computer control and programming of decoders could be done
  • I model in OO9, OO and O, so it needed to support all three scales
  • It needed a track layout with some operational interest, not so much for viewers, but so that I could 'play' with it at home and more importantly, have curves and transitions through turnouts so that I could test the performance of locos and rolling stock as it moved through a layout, for example, to test electrical continuity, coupling distance settings and general chassis flexibility on curves etc
  • It needed to support a Relco unit which could be switched in/out of circuit where required, primaily for smaller scales
  • It needed a few sidings so it could be used as a 'works storage yard'


The Traditional 'Lash-up'

The following shows the typical setup which many modellers are probably familiar with:


This was the setup I had been using for a number of years. On the left end can be seen a DC and DCC controller, together with a simple switch box. Power is only connected to the front track and there is no support for 9mm or 7mm scales - the 4mm scale track must be moved out of the way to support these!


Investigations / Trials

The following pictures show experiments at designing a test track layout. The first shows planning a track layout. The board here turned out to be too small, so a longer board was used as shown in the second picture. This board is about 2M long:


Note how the second image shows a border around the edges of the board being constructed. The purpose of this is to prevent rolling stock running off the ends or falling off the back.
Initially, this version was built with a raised platform over the left end to locate the controllers per the original 'lash-up'. In practice, this turned out not to be very accessible, having to lean over to the extreme left of my workbench to reach it, so the platform was removed and I mounted a further shelf on the wall behind to hold the controllers and a small control panel which contained all the switch gear. A 25-way D plug was used to connect the panel to the board (this can be seen at the left of the first picture below). The following picture shows the setup in its current form at the time of writing:


The following is an image of the control panel which shows the track layout and the switches. The switches are arranged to switch different inputs to given tracks and are described below:


  • 1. O Gauge track switchable between DCC and DC. The DCC is switchable between track power, command station programing track or ESU LokProgrammer. The DC can have a Relco unit switched on and off. It is purposely not possible to switch the Relco into the DCC supply.
  • 2. OO gauge track with DCC track supply only
  • 3. OO gauge track with DCC track supply only
  • 4. OO gauge track switchable between DCC and DC. The DCC is switchable between track power, command station programing track or ESU LokProgrammer. The DC can have a Relco unit switched on and off. It is purposely not possible to switch the Relco into the DCC supply.
  • 5. N gauge track. This is wired in parallel to (4) and has the same capabilities


I have been tempted to convert the N gauge track to Tillig dual 9mm/16.5mm gauge track since my usage of the 9mm gauge (for N gauge and OO9 narrow gauge) track is not very frequent, however, this was more out of personal interest in seeing dual gauge track than any justifiable purpose! It would have the benefit of providing another OO gauge siding which would dual purposed for N gauge.



Graham Plowman (29/12/2019)



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