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Getting Started Creating A Layout

Getting Started

The software package, Track Builder 3 is used to construct Dispatcher style layout files for use in ATCSmon. TB provides a graph paper like area on which to construct your layout.

Some tips:

  • Start small, just a few MCP's, test it, and get this to work in ATCSmon.
  • It is recommended that you build your layout using only the upper left quarter of the graph paper. This size seems to fit well within the ATCS screen.
  • Font Compatibility tells about type face choices. Arial 16-pt is a good start for station names.
  • You are limited to a maximum of 62 MCP's, identified as a thru z, A thru Z, and 0 to 9
  • Make all track segments at least 3 units long.

It should be noted that ATCSMon does not directly use the TB lay file. Rather it uses the lay file as a graphical template, redrawing it, and applying ATCSMon rules, procedures, and logic to it.

Mnemonic Directionals

You have a choice of track segment naming conventions. You can choose your screen to have a Left/Right, North/South or East/West orientation. This is somewhat of a personal choice. On the railroads, situations occur where a particular section of east/west track is part of a north/south route. So how do you label it? Any way you'd like, just be consistent. Some people like the left/right convention because that is the way the screen is drawn, but in the real world, the railroads go East/West or North/South. I would recommend using the compass directions and create layouts that have either East or North in the upper right corner of the screen. Some other people feel that they should do it the same way the railroads do or in increasing milepost order. Any of these can have valid reasons to exist, but they sometimes create screens that appear to be backwards from normal map viewing perspective.

Remember that your decision may impact lots of other people using the layout. If you work with several people in your area on a particular territory, you may want to consult with them and get some opinions. A little planning now can save you some big headaches in the future. Also see the topic on Bounded Approach Naming for an alternate view on directionals.

Some example mnemonics:

Preference Indication Left/Right East/West Additional Mnemonics
Track TK TK 1TK, 2TK, 3TK
Normal Switch NWK NWK 1NWK, 2NWK, 3NWK
Reverse Switch RWK RWK 1RWK, 2RWK, 3RWK
Lock LK

Signal mnemonics like EGK or WGK, are indications for Eastbound and Westbound signals respectively. These would appear on the west and east sides of the interlocking, respectively. On the other hand, EAK and WAK indications are for approach circuits to the east and west of the interlocking, respectively. So an Eastbound train arrives from the west on the WAK and a westbound train arrives from the east on the EAK. This naming convention is used by a number of railroads, and is the defacto standard for ATCSmon. However I have been told that on some railroads, the E is always Eastbound, and the W is always Westbound. This would place the eastbound signal and approach circuit next to each other, rather than across the interlocking from each other, as described previously. See the topic on Bounded Approach Naming for more information.

Another signal system design reduces costs to the railroads by eliminating two of the normal six approach circuits for a single track controlled siding. It contains only one circuit, per track, between the interlockings. It assigns two of the four total approaches to each of the two interlockings. Typically, the first interlocking will have a single track approach and the controlled siding approach, while the other interlocking will have the mainline approach (next to the Controlled siding) and the single track approach beyond the interlocking. This design also lowers the number of indications at each interlocking by one, making it easier to control each interlocking with only one 7 bit control word. It also made each interlocking have the same complement of indications.

North and South indications are normally associated with either crossing diamonds or other tracks connecting to the primary track East/West track.

See Also "Multiple Routes" in the Advanced Layout Topics section.

Other Types of Control Points

Hold Out Signals

Hold Out Signals are an MCP with only signals. They need to be at least 3 units in length. This type of MCP will identify itself, but send no indictions, unless a train is expected or passing.

Approach circuits usually extend about half way to the adjacent MCP, or to some midway point, past which starts the approach circuit to the next MCP. Assuming that there is usually 10 to 12 miles of single track between MCP's, each Approach circuit may be 5 to 6 miles long and include a number of intermediate wayside signals spaced about every 2 miles. In some mainline cases, where two MCP's are very close together (less than 2 miles), there is usually only one track circuit between them. It is assigned to one of the MCP's. The other MCP does not have an Approach from that side. I have also seen this done on Controlled Sidings where the entire siding is a single circuit that belongs to one of the MCP's.

Crossing Diamonds

Crossing Diamonds will also identify themselves, but send no indications, unless a train is expected or passing. In TB, they must typically be contorted to be able to use signals that are available in TB. Typically the other railroad at the crossing will have it's own Approach circuits, usually identified as North and South, as well as it's own TK circuits, usually identified by taking the next higher number TK, like 2TK.

Movable Span Bridges

Movable span bridges create some of their own problems. In addition to Approach, Signal and Track indications, they also usually indicate if the bridge is Locked (lined and locked for rail traffic) or Unlocked (as to allow it to be opened for river traffic). These can be equated to Closed and Open, respectively. Since a TK won't light up without being preceded by a Signal, you must fool the system by using an Approach circuit for the River. On the Layout, place a couple of vertical segments of track above and below the mainline. Label them both as an Approach circuit and then equate the Bridge Open mnemonic to them. Then, when the bridge is open, the display will give the appearance of a train crossing, similar to a crossing diamond.

Labeling of Control Points

The spelling of the MCP name must be identical within ATCSmon and the Lay file. This is how ATCS Monitor figures out how to "communicate" with the Track Builder layout file. The process by which ATCS Monitor knows how light a signal or track segment in Track Builder flows something like this:

1. Received "EGK" (Eastbound Proceed) from the MCP Named "Sugar Grove E". 2. Search Layout file for the Station Call-Up Letter for "Sugar Grove E" = letter "Y". Note: The station call-up letters are defined in Track Builder when the layout is created. 3. Search Layout file for a signal named "Y:EGK", and toggle it's status 4. Wash, rinse, repeat. Wipe hands on pants.

Track Circuit and Signal Naming Conventions

ATCSmon supports East/West, North/South and Left/Right naming conventions. It is recommended that you use the same directions as the railroad does for your territory. They have already taken the time to figure out how the Big picture fits together. For the examples below, I have chosen East/West.

West                                                                       East
                       O-| WGK                                O-| WGK
{| border="1"

          EGK |-O \    O-| WGK                   EGK |-O    /
                                                 EGK |-O 

It Should be noted that Signals control Eastbound or Westbound train traffic, and are named that way, while the approach circuits are named west because it is west of the interlocking.

                                   O-| 1WGK
{| border="1"

         1EGK |-O   \           /  O-| 2WGK
{| border="1"

         2EGK |-O          \       O-| 3WGK
                   Sw1    SW2   Sw3

                             O-| 1WGK 
{| border="1"

          EGK |-O   \    \   O-| 2WGK
                     \    \----|-----2EAK-----|
                      \      O-| 3WGK
                    SW1  SW2 

In ATCSmon, you must ALWAYS number your switches from the narrow end of the MCP to the wider end of the MCP. ATCSmon contains logic to properly display ladder tracks like the above.

               SGK ||                                                  O-| SGK
                   O|                                             /------|-----NAK-----|
                   2TK                                           /
                    |    O-| WGK                                 |     O-| WGK
{| border="1"
|-----WAK-----||-----+-1TK--||-----EAK-----||  ||----WAK-----||--1TK--+-------||-----EAK-----

          EGK |-O   |                                EGK |-O     |
                    |O                                           /
                    || NGK                  |----SAK-----|--2TK-/         
                    --                               NGK |-O    

ATCSmon supports crossing diamonds quite well. TB3 on the other hand, requires us to contort the facility on the left, to look like that on the right.

Interlocking Plant Locks are somewhat different. In the days of interlocking towers, the towerman would first throw levers to line the route, then he would throw a route locking lever, and finish by throwing a signal lever. In the case where he had to change something, the levers needed to be undone in the same order they were done. This was complicated by the fact that when the signal lever was thrown, it activated electric locks on the track locking and signal levers. Ordnarily, the lock on the signal lever would release at the same time the signal dropped as the train past it, and the track locking lever would unlock as the caboose exited the TK. If the towerman had to take the signal away or reroute the movement, he had to set a wind-up timing element. These timing elements usually were set for about 7 minutes and in appearance looked like electric meter on the side of your house, with a twist handle on their face. After the 7 minutes had past, it would release the electric locks on the track locking & signal levers, thus allowing the operator to make changes. During the 7 minute period, the interlocking was said to be "in time". On ATCSmon, when an MCP goes into time, we will usually see back to back green signals on both sides of the MCP for the full duration of the time. Sometimes the MCP will send a TEK indication for Timing Element. When an interlocking is 'in time" the actual signals in the field will always be red.

Holdout signals are used typically at the edge of a busy location on the railroad where it is desireable to stop trains and prevent them from causing additional local congestion. If built as holdout signals, the only difference between them and any other intermediat signal will be that the holdout signal has no number plate on it. Holdout signals can be one direction or bi-directional. In some cases, an older interlocking will have had all of it's switches removed, but it's signals remain as a holdout. These older installations, where radio code line has been piggybacked into the facility, will often send out additional indications that hint that all it's former switches are set for normal. In TB3 we have to make them 3 blocks long and bi-directional.

Electrically locked switches are located along signaled mainline track, between signals. Usually they do not have a signal associated with them. Usually they do not have ATCS associated with them either. However, in a few situations, ATCS is used to perform the locking and unlocking function at the location. An electric lock is always applied to a manual thrown switch. ATCSmon can support the locked and unlocked status of an electric lock.

Testing The Layout

Testing in Track Builder

(section courtesy of Martin Levesque)

When you have finished the design of your layout, try to create a "track territory" file from it by using the File -> Create Track Executable File (.trk) menu item. If there are any problems with the layout, TB3 will generate a list of errors that may cause problems in ATCS Monitor.

These errors can be safely ignored:

  • Error 107 Block - XXX non-connecting lines blocks must have three
  • continuous straight sections.
  • Error 121 Block - XXX speed must be assigned to all used train types.
  • Error 119 Block - XXX could not find a signal between entrance/exit location and the first switch.
  • Error 550 Block Permit - XXX assigned a track name that doesn't exist.

If you get an error message when you try to load your .lay file in ATCSMon, try to solve all the errors that show up using the above procedure.

Testing in ATCS Monitor

Testing of mnemonics can be done from the Mnemonic Maintenance dialog box. To get there, double-click on the address from the Active MCP Window and choose Edit Mnemonics. Alternately, right-click on the control point name from the Dispatcher Display for Indications, left-click for Controls.

To test a mnemonic, double-click on the mnemonic(s) to send to the display. The background turns yellow to indicate that it will be sent when the Test button is clicked.

You may notice that all of your switches move to the reverse position. This is because reverse is the default position for a switch. In other words, if switch 1NW exists on a layout, and you have assigned a 1NWK mnemonic for it, a packet sent to the display which does not include 1NWK (regardless of whether 1RWK is sent) will make the displayed switch display in the reverse position. To avoid this situation, highlight all (or selected) xNWKs before pushing the test button. Note: versions 3.4.6 and greater no longer update switches on the dispatcher display if both xNWK and xRWK are the same value, so it is no longer necessary to manually set all switch values during testing.

Contributing Layouts

  • Give back to the group, and contribute your layouts