Author Topic: Alternative Track Systems and their Development  (Read 1414 times)

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Offline IanT

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Alternative Track Systems and their Development
« on: August 20, 2015, 08:36:06 PM »
Well, as 'Modular' has been something that I've been involved in for some time - perhaps I should try to give some insight of where I am with my own efforts in this area. For those new to this subject, I should probably give some background. We've recently talked about "Track Alternatives" in another thread and I've been working on those for a while now.

My first attempts were long, thin ply boxes with track built on top. They could be bolted together end-to-end and for a while I toyed with various methods of doing this, before realising a simple 'hole and bolt' was quite sufficient in G3. My Mk1 modules were intended as test track but started getting used in a 3-tiered display at exhibitions.

I then discovered Spur II, their track modules and photos of their annual GTG in a very large gym, which they were filling with track and stock. It seemed a good idea to use their experience when developing a G3 modular system, so the M01 'standard' is very much based on the Spur II standards.

A quick word about 'Standards'. Standards occur naturally when enough people decide to adopt the same approach to something. In many cases, they are pretty arbitrary in nature or perhaps copied from a popular design. In many ways, what particular dimension or fixture is used doesn't matter too much, as long as everyone uses the same ones and that they make general good sense.

The lastest version of M01 was published in early 2011, having been slightly modified once or twice before that. I believe it to be a perfectly workable system (and the Spur II version is widely used in Germany) but it has not been taken up within G3 generally (with one or two notable exceptions). To try to encourage (kick start) module use, I designed a kit that met the Connect 3 standard (e.g. to the M01 standard) and had thirty kits made with the support of the Society. Thanks to the support of other members, they were all eventually sold (we had sold the required 'break-even' quantity before we placed the order though). At £25 each - they were about one third the nearest equivalent baseboard available from commercial suppliers in the smaller gauges.

Since then - well a few dedicated members have made progress with their modules but (especially when compared to their use within Spur II) they have not been a great success. I have thought long & hard about this and have come to some general conclusions about the reasons for this difference in uptake. It's worth covering briefly I think.

Spur II is actually a 'Scale' that is modelled in five gauges (Standard, Metre & Narrow Gauge 'Feldbahns'). It is generally 2-rail in nature and highly 'scenic' (in the traditional RM sense) in nature. Whilst I'm sure they do "outdoors" it doesn't seem to be their focus. In terms of commercial support, obviously a big driver of Spur II would have been LGB (1:22.5 on 45mm). They have united their various gauges through their use of modules (which are not quite so restricting in Feldbahn size anyway) and the standard LGB 'G' scale.

Gauge 3 're-emerged' directly into the garden because most of the Society founders were 2.5" live steamers (although not exclusively). As more traditional railway modellers joined the gauge they brought their existing RM practices with them in terms of scenic modelling but also their approach to baseboards (and exhibition railways). The idea of 'interconnecting' different layouts is not common (although modular is now very popular in the US from 'N' gauge upwards).

In summary, a G3 modular "Standard" exists that is very similar mechanically to the one used by Spur II. Whereas the need for a modular system seems to have been recognised in Germany, probably the availability of traditional garden and exhibition tracks in the UK has resulted in less demand for an alternative system. However, I've believed for some time now that one of the biggest 'barriers-to-entry' into Gauge 3 is the availability of a modular, scalable and practical alternative track system.

I have to take a phone call but I'll be back! (Arnie-like) with a second part.

YOU CAN WAKE UP NOW MIKE !!!    ;D

Regards,

IanT
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Offline MikeWilliams

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Re: Alternative Track Systems and their Development
« Reply #1 on: August 20, 2015, 08:51:40 PM »
Just to add to Ian's post, I think his modular units were a superb idea which need to be better publicised, demonstrated and taken up more widely and then they could still become the defacto standard.

Another of Ian's idea was Connect3 which was the steel plate screwed to the ends ensuring perfect alignment.  Personally, I think it a shame that some members felt there needed flexibility to align boards by eye and then "nip" them up, which meant this pure design was diluted and quite different to all other scales who use accurate jigs and/or dowel pins like Connect3.

Mike

Offline IanT

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Re: Alternative Track Systems and their Development
« Reply #2 on: August 20, 2015, 10:33:13 PM »
Part Two!

So what are the problems with the current modular system?

Well, some of the issues will also affect any Gauge 3 railway built on a baseboard. That is they are quite large and need a lot of space to both erect and store. Moving larger layouts is also problematic in terms of transport by car. There is another issue that modularity brings with it (that does not really effect permanent or even sometimes exhibition layouts) which is that track design is hampered by having to cope with module standardisation. For instance, constructing a ‘crossing’ on three standard modules (required for length) is difficult, as the moving pointwork will be over the module ‘joins’.

My original assumption was that modules would be used (very much as the Spur II guys do) as part of a local or national group. My thinking in this area has changed somewhat, in that whilst I believe we still need something that can combine (or be connected) at local and national level, we also need something capable of operating successfully at an individual level. Let’s call it increased Granularity.

My modules (so carefully stacked in the Shed) have never connected to any others, nor are they much use to me on their own. So whilst the ‘Standard’ is essentially OK, the actual execution of it clearly needs more work.
 
I really started to revisit this whole area after Barry Island. I had a very enjoyable afternoon playing trains with Dave’s ‘Table Top Railway’. Now, I know that some here were not that impressed with the TTR ("It’s not steam and it’s not scenic – so what is it?"). Well, apart from a great deal of fun, one answer is that over 100 foot of track and turnouts were transported to Barry in one small car, set-up and operated (with track tokens) and then taken home again. I also watched the younger visitors as they operated the engines and track tokens. They didn’t notice the lack of scenery at all, they were busy filling in the details with their imaginations! One young man had to be dragged away by his Dad. Isn’t this the “young blood” we’ve been talking about needing recently?

I realised that I needed a system that not only met other peoples needs but my own too and one that wasn’t dependent on other peoples participation or involvement either. This doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be involved with others. It’s just that I don’t want to be dependant on them.  I want to be self sufficient in operational terms. Of course, given unlimited space (and storage) there would no problem with the existing module system. However, could the problems of storage and transport be reduced sufficiently that I could have a usable system, which I could also store and transport when required. (Thereby having my cake and eating it too). My thoughts kept returning to the TTR. Crude though it was, it was also a very simple idea that could surely be improved upon?

I decided that connectivity was still a priority for me and (for want of anything better) I decided to stick with the existing C3 connector as my “Standard”.  The next step was to decide to separate out the various elements of a ‘board’ based track system. These can be  broadly generalised as Track, Ground, Lineside, Structure and Height.
 
I’ve been exploring these five areas (on and off) for a little while now. I’ve built a few things, kept some and scrapped others. Most recently for instance, I purchased some very low cost tables (from Lidls) but decided they weren’t really up to the job and that I already had something better (at least for my needs). As my system will be C3 (M01) compatible, I should still be able to connect to any C3 modular layouts (or any exhibition layout with a C3 connection point).  It is still very much a work-in-progress but once I’m further along with the detail, I’ll be happy to share it with others here.

Sorry about the two long posts (brevity isn’t my strong point) but I hope that they are of interest to some here and will also provoke more discussion and support for alternative Gauge 3 track systems on this Forum.

Regards,

IanT
Nothing's ever Easy - At least the first time around.

Offline IanT

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Re: Alternative Track Systems and their Development
« Reply #3 on: January 06, 2016, 08:44:22 PM »
Since the subject of 'Modular' standards has come up again (in another thread) I thought a quick update on the subject might be useful?

The modular concept is certainly a viable one. I can say that with some confidence because Spur II have proven it to be so in Germany. However, modules still need to be stored and transported and this is I believe a key problem to their further adoption - at least it is for me. I want a modular track system whereby I can own sufficient modules & track to meet my own needs without filling an entire garage when they are not in use. If I can achieve that, then it should also be much easier to transport my modules when required too.

I had already built four large modules but they exceeded the capacity of my car (then a four door saloon) to transport them. Although I now have a five door hatchback, it's actually a smaller car and I don't have that much more room - so nothing really changed in terms of my ability to move 'stuff'.

I therefore had a very long think about what my own particular needs were (I decided I wasn't going to worry about anyone else - very selfish I know) and set about designing something that would hopefully meet my needs and where (frankly) I was not going to be too reliant on others following suit.

In theory at least, my latest modular "solution" seems to meet my requirements quite well, although it may not meet everyone's. To cut a long story short (OK - shorter) I've now sold my original G3 modules and I'm in the process of building new 'unit' modules. They will still be 'G3 Modular Standard' compliant but will take a slightly different approach...

I'm currently planning to build twelve of them (900mm x 450mm x 150mm modules) and if I can finish them in time, I hope to bring them all to the AGM. They will be very much a 'Work-in-Progress' (Proof-of-concept?) but hopefully they will be sufficient to demonstrate the ideas involved and show their potential for members with big (G3 sized) ambitions but not that much space!  :-)

That's it for now - I just wanted to let you know that things 'Modular' are (still) evolving...

Regards,

IanT
Nothing's ever Easy - At least the first time around.

Offline dajo

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Re: Alternative Track Systems and their Development
« Reply #4 on: January 07, 2016, 05:16:03 PM »
Quote
Since the subject of 'Modular' standards has come up again (in another thread) I thought a quick update on the subject might be useful?

Tell me where, please.
dajo

Offline LankyTank

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Re: Alternative Track Systems and their Development
« Reply #5 on: January 07, 2016, 05:35:28 PM »
David

There's a thread - New Society Website, within - Reaching a wider audience.

HTH
Barry

Offline IanT

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Re: Alternative Track Systems and their Development
« Reply #6 on: October 03, 2016, 10:35:38 PM »
I was looking back through some of my posts on this subject and realised that I hadn't really provided any updates for anyone interested in this subject.

Quite a lot has happened since my last post in this area. I actually built six of my new "flat-pack" base units and took then together with a sample of my track to the AGM earlier this year. I was hoping to add to the Mangapps layout that Dave and his Dad, Eric were running there but space restrictions prevented this I'm afraid. As it was, I just erected one unit and probably not too many people actually noticed it against the wall in the Restaurant area. However, I'd proved to myself that the idea could work. I'd arrived with six 450mm x 900mm base units in the car, with plenty of room for much, much more if required.

This year I've been pretty much fully engaged withh the Monkton Priors project. Originally, I'd hope that the layout would be 'flat-pack' in nature and to this end, I designed and built seventeen 600mm x 900mm base units. It was eventually decided that a more traditional approach to the units should be used for the actual scenic areas of MP and in fact I've just about finished producing a pre-cut & drilled 'kit' of parts for seven base units that John and Roy will assemble in Ely later this Autumn. However, the (non-scenic) fiddle yard will be provided using flat-pack base units and just this section will be about 18-20ft long.

So my personal 'modular' plans have been somewhat delayed this year but once the work on MP is complete (I still have things like the traverser to design and build) then I will be picking up where I left off. In the meantime - I now own (and can store and transport) twenty-three 'flat-pack' base units (Qty 6 x 450mm x 900mm + Qty 17 x 600mm x 900mm) which can be erected either end-to-end or side-by-side (and in any combination thereof). So that's about 21m (68ft in old money) for a simple end-to-end type layout or a 7m x 1.8-1.2m (23ft x 6ft/4ft 5") potential station area. So lots more still to do but I now have an appraoch that I feel can be further developed and which tackles the biggest drawback to Gauge '3' (which is also one of its greatest attractions) - its sheer size and volume!

To give you some idea of what is possible, the first photo shows one of the 600mm x 900mm base units erected (which with just 8 x M8 bolts, plus an electric screwdriver, takes less than three minutes to assemble). The second photo shows all seventeen base units packed for transport in the back of my small hatchback. I didn't need to remove the rear shelf and I still had plently of room for other things such as track and stock (and maybe even the wife!).

Regards,


IanT
Nothing's ever Easy - At least the first time around.