Thursday, 12 September 2013

'Buses will replace trains'

'Buses will replace trains' is a familiar refrain for commuters on the greater Sydney rail network when essential track maintenance is programmed. And so it was for Philip's Creek, when the decision was made to replace two points in the middle of the yard area.

The two original Atlas points had been in place since 1997 but the electrical connection on one had failed. The points provided an essential loop for shunting operations but the electrical fault, combined with the large isolated frog on both, had made these actions difficult for most locomotives.

This was a job that had been planned for some time. Having originally used Code 83 track, I decided to purchase two Peco Code 83 electro frog points as replacements. This was done about a year ago, but I held off commencing the project because of its impact on operations. There was no bypass and trains would have to cease operations. With my very recent retirement from the workforce, it was now or never for the project.

The job had several complications. The points were located in the oldest section of the layout and, consequently, the area that had been the subject of significant landscaping and detailing. Power poles, buildings, the fettlers' work area, a water column, fences and a war memorial all had to be negotiated during the repair activity.

To lift the old points, I saturated the old ballast with very hot water and some kitchen detergent and removed all of the track pins and cut the track in appropriate locations. I then used a paint scraper to ease each point out. The first came off as anticipated but the second proved to be a little more difficult and lifted the surface of the original homasote roadbed as well.
After some basic cleaning up, the exposed homasote was coated with a grey paving paint prior to the installation of the new points. The installation was a bit fiddly with additional wiring to support the electro frog arrangement and new point motors. Most of my points are manual but in this situation, I decided to use point motors and combine the operation of both points using the one switch.

The new points were significantly shorter than the original Atlas points and it was necessary to add additional short lengths of track to span the gaps.

The process took much longer than planned as I had to recall a number of skills that have not been used for some time, as well as negotiating all of the scenery obstacles. Furthermore, I hate crawling underneath the layout to finish the wiring, so additional prefabrication work was necessary to minimise this part.

The work is now about 90% complete. The point motors have yet to be connected and I am going to hold off the final ballasting until I am sure that there are no problems with the new arrangement.The repairs to the landscaping including something to cover the polarity switches will be completed after the ballasting.

But now at least, trains are again running through the Philip's Creek station and yard, and the buses can now be sent back to the depot.


  1. G'day Phil, Just read this post for the first time (followed the link on the Yahoo site conversation). I am curious as to why you felt the need to fit the surface-mounted switches to control polarity? Don't get me wrong, I use the same method to control the polarity of my Peco E/frog points too, but mine aren't electrically operated.
    Given that you have said you were/are going to fit point motors, I was wondering you might have been better off fitting a SPDT switch to the point motor. If you were fitting Tortoise motors, then they already incorporate 2 sets of SPDT switches. If you're using Peco motors, then you can piggy-back their own brand of switch on top/underneath the motor proper.
    Anyway, just a thought.....not a criticism.
    All the best, Bill Roach

  2. Bill,

    Thanks for the comment and advice. The options that you have identified would be the usual solution but the short answer is that the switches were "to hand". Probably a bit of history is appropriate. When I first started the layout whilst residing in the US quite a few years ago, I purchased Atlas code 83 track. It probably wasn't the best decision that I made but one driven by the economics at the time. While the track has been fine, the points have been a disappointment, particular the large dead frogs that has stalled many a locomotive.

    Like you, most of my points are manually operated and a while ago, I investigated solutions to the problem of the Atlas points. I purchased a dozen of the switches with the intention of retrofitting them to specific points. A few were installed but the majority remained unused. Gradually over time, most locomotive pickups have been upgraded although a few still need to be addressed. As a consequence, the need for the switches has diminished.

    One of the two points that were replaced developed a dead section that was driving me crazy during shunting operations, so I bit the bullet, purchased two Peco code 83 points. I decided to interlock the two points to prevent an accident, and so purchased Peco motors as well. As I had the switches available, I did not pursue the usual option and fitted the existing surface mounted switches.

    The challenge now is to find some scenic device to conceal the switches. One of the earlier installations has been covered by a coaling stage, another two hidden in rising ground. I haven't yet hidden the two switches in question so any other suggestions based on your experience would be appreciated. My thoughts to date are a pile of sleepers for one and a stockpile of ballast for the other.

    Again, thanks for your comment. I'm sorry if the response has been a bit long winded.

    cheers Phil