Summer Virtual Open House Sat July 16th 10am

Join Silicon Valley Lines for our virtual open house Saturday July 16th at 10am-3pm pacific time. Run a train around our layout and get a idea what remote operations are like.

What: SVLs Virtual open house where you can take control of a train on our 23’x73′ layout and get a engineers POV of our layout and a light demonstration of our virtual operating sessions ran monthly.

When: Saturday July 16th from 10am to 3pm pacific in half hour running blocks.

Where: Your home, office, RV on a camping trip with good camp ground WiFi, another club, etc. The virtual throttle and camera feed can be run from an Android/iOS phone or tablet or a Windows/Mac/Linux based computer running a modern browser like Chrome or Safari.

How: Use this link to sign up, information will follow before the Open House.

If you are unsure about participating we have some demonstration and examples below.

We look forward to seeing you there!

The Merits of Joining a Club/Historical Society.

Two brand new Canadian Pacific SD70ACus getting a break in run.
Two brand new Canadian Pacific SD70ACus getting a break in run.

Joining a model railroading club or association can be daunting and is not for everyone, though there are a few benefits to joining a club with a large layout. This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means but it is a few things to think about if you are on the fence. There are some obvious things like running trains but there a few less obvious benefits.

Being a member of a club allows you to have a smaller layout at home or no layout depending on your living situation. Another advantage is this gives you the ability to run a different prototype or era, you can buy that model that you fancy even if it doesn’t fit in your era and run it at your club. If you join a club that does operations will also be able to participate in operating sessions you otherwise may not be able to host.

When it comes to getting new locomotives they really benefit from being broken in. They run better at slower speeds and usually a bit quieter at higher speeds once broken in. This also gives you a chance to see if there are any issues while still in the warranty period. I personally have a small layout at home so it can take forever to get a locomotive broken in. At the club I am able to stick a new locomotive on our open house loop and leave the locomotive to run for an hour or so varying the speed while I work on a different part of the layout. You can leave the sound on to locate the locomotive and if it stops it hit a dead spot or it derailed.

The new units being broken in.
Those same units on my home layout, there is about 2ft to the left and 7 to the right, not much room.
CP 7021 on the SVL programming track being setup for the first time.

You also potentially get access to a bigger range of hardware for managing your rolling stock. If you have Loksound decoders another member may have the expensive LokProgrammer that you need to write new sound files, and do firmware updates. Some Digitrax decoders need this as well. They should also have access to the various NMRA measuring gauges you should be using to maintain your equipment.

And last on my list today but definitely not least is the knowledge of others. The knowledge of other members and their varying methods of modeling can teach you a few things if you take the time to listen. They may also learn a thing or two from you as collaboration betters everyone. It also helps you as not everyone needs to master every aspect of model railroading. This of course comes with great friendships and comradery which is worth it all.

As I step down from my admittedly biased soap box I will leave you with one last thing to consider as you are reading this post on a clubs website. Consider joining a club, come visit SVL, if you don’t feel we are a fit then check out some other clubs as every one is different. In the area there are about 5 clubs/historical societies that I know of including SBHRS and the Niles Depot Museum. Visit one, visit all, we would love to meet you.


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.