Second Virtual Open House a Resounding Success

Amtrak 161 enters the Kalamazoo Loopat Kaos Junction while Extra 285 leaves the Loop on its way towards Jacksonville

The Second Virtual Open House was a big success. We applied the learnings from last time, and relaxed our schedule a bit to allow the crew in the layout room some breathing room. We still had 40 operator slots during the Open House and all available slots were full a week before the event. A few last minute cancelations allowed club members to run trains remotely, too, and keep the main line busy.

Extra 911 runs southbound through Jericho, while Extra 695 is headed towards the Loop. Both trains are controlled by remote operators.

Once again we used a modified JMRI Web Throttle to enable remote operators to control trains with no need for any software installs. This approach worked very well and minimizes potential technical problems. We prepared a tutorial video to explain how to use the throttle. Since operators knew what to expect they also could tell us when things didn’t work as advertised. Case in point: The Web Throttle Stop button becomes non-responsive if there isn’t operator activity for a while. Adjusting the locomotive speed with the slider always worked, so remote operators could always regain control over their respective trains, but this bug caused a few run red signals and will need to be addressed.

Extra 695 is stopped at a red signal in Fryton

All our guests paid extra attention to run their trains carefully and with appropriate speed. We have found that remote operators run their trains slower than in-person operators. The cab view camera contributes to a more immersive operator experience and naturally leads to running trains more at scale speeds that “feel” right.

Nighttime operations during the Open House

During one session we ran the layout in nighttime mode with the work lights in the room turned off and the layout lighting set to a blue tone that resembles a pale moon at night. Remote operators enjoyed this change in atmosphere immensely, and reported good video picture quality despite the reduced light.

Amtrak 161 is passing a flashing Yellow in Jacksonville

While remote operators enjoyed the view from their personal cab camera within their throttle as they were running their train, we also streamed the cab view camera feeds from all 4 active trains, plus additional rail fan cameras, on Youtube Live during the event. A recording is linked below.

Everyone had a great time today: The support team in the layout room, the online SVL crew, and of course our virtual guests from all over the world. Thank you for joining us, and while we have not picked a date yet, we are planning to offer a similar event again later this year.


Night Time in Tracy

Well, … Covid is still here and Santa Clara County continues to be in Purple Tier, so indoor operations at the club are still closed as required by the local health authorities.

Once Santa Clara County moves to Red Tier and allows for indoor operations, we will restart with remote operations sessions.

The SVL CabCam Disk Image

Since we wrote the installation instructions for the CabCam project in August 2020, we have been fine-tuning the camera settings and made other improvements. Review the project page for the hardware we use for our camera cars and to get a better understanding about the software side of the setup.

The instructions on the project page are very detailed and several groups have built camera cars using them. We’re now making a disk image of our CabCam project available for others to use with the hope that this is an even easier way build a working camera car. The disk image comes as a 600MByte zip file with Raspian and mjpg-streamer preconfigured. Depending on your Internet connection speed, it will take a while to download. The download is available below.

This disk image is intended to be used with a Raspberry Pi Zero and the Raspberry Pi camera.

Setup and Usage

Make sure to unzip the disk image before writing the file to the SD card with a disk imaging tool of your choice.

After writing the disk image to the SD card, eject and re-insert the SD card. Edit the file wpa_supplicant.conf in the boot partition to enter the network name and password for your Wifi network. This file can be easily accessed from Windows, MacOS X, or Linux. The Raspberry Pi web site has more information about configuring Wifi for headless operation.

Finally, put the SD card into your Raspberry Pi and let it boot. The Raspberry Pi should acquire an IP address and come up on your Wifi. Give it a few minutes to do that. Many home routers have a handy client list feature listing all devices on your network with their IP address and what they identify as. The camera should identify as “cabcam1”.

Enter the IP address in your browser and it should come up with the default M-JPG Streamer Web page, which has various options for accessing the camera stream in different situations. The URL provided on the VideoLAN sub-page can be used to access the camera video as a Media Source in OBS Studio.

The image brings up SSH with the default password (user pi, password raspberry). We recommend to change the password.

The camera configuration can be changed by changing the parameters in the script in the pi home directory and rebooting the Pi.

This disk image contains software from the Raspberry Pi Foundation and Liam Jackson’s fork of the M-JPEG Streamer project under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation; version 2 of the License. This software is distributed in the hope that it will be useful, but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. See the GNU General Public License for more details.

Happy Holidays

While the layout is currently closed due to county Corona restrictions, club members are working on small, portable projects like this lovely scene at Peachey Brothers.

We are thinking ahead to 2021 and are discussing how to adjust our operations scheme to facilitate remote ops sessions until we can come together again as a group at the layout. A dedicated computer to run video and conferencing software is being built and installed in the dispatcher office. This will help with enabling remote ops and live streaming from the layout room with much less overhead.

Stay tuned for more updates and information about upcoming sessions.