Custom Model Railroad Signal Systems

Having an operational signal system on your model railroad is an exciting aspect of the hobby that's growing rapidly as new hardware and if using a computer, software making it easier to install and configure.

Model railroad signaling, once installed on a layout adds not only visual animation, but governs your  train activity. It gives you a clear, positive visual indication of what is happening on the track. As in prototypical railroading, a fully operational signal system on your layout operates automatically utilizing train detection to determine what aspect or colors a signal should display. Signal heads display different colors that gives the train engineer a clear indication of what is happening on the tracks ahead and whether to stop or how to proceed.

Signal systems can be as simple as showing turnout position or as complex as train detection for full signal automation. Some examples of signal system installations that I've built into custom layouts are detailed in the photos below.



Modern block signals govern the movements through this crossover section on the HO Scale Salt Lake Corridor layout. The signals change their aspect or color automatically when a train enters the isolated blocks of track on either side of the crossover. Since they are protecting train movements through the crossover, the signals also show what is happening in the first 3 track blocks on either side of the crossover by displaying either a red, yellow or green aspect/color. Installing this signal system utilized the Digitrax BDL168 rail current detection board, SE8C signal logic board and JMRI computer software to make work.



The Poco Grande N Scale layout shown above features a 3 aspect/color signal system that protect the crossovers and any diverging routes from or onto the double track mainline in both directions of travel. This signal system also is fully automated. It too uses rail current block detection which feed information to a custom made signal logic board that processed the signal commands to change the necessary signal colors. This signal system was independent from the DCC system and did not require a computer to handle the signal logic. It was designed with common and readily available over-the-counter electronics. This layout's signal system electronic approach is very typical and has been utilized in many model railroads.



Scratchbuilt block signals controlling train movements on the HO Scale Parker Subdivision layout. If a particular signal is needed that can't be found commercially, as part of the larger project, I can scratchbuild signals to match prototypes as needed.



Another type of signal found on railroads is the grade crossing. Here we had 2 pairs of NJ International crossing gates that were modified and installed on the N Scale Poco Grande layout. These gates were modified with micro LED's on the gate arms and were wired to flash prototypically with the mast mounted crossing lights. Additionally, these crossing gates were activated when a train was detected within a specified length of track on either side. There was a the working bell circuit as well.



Yet another qualifier as a signal system that can be found on a model railroad. This is a set of 4 corner traffic lights and center hanging 4 way traffic light on the Poco Grande N Scale layout. These particular traffic lights were installed with a traffic light circuit timer so they were able to change colors as a real traffic light does. You can adjust the length of the traffic light cycle from green to yellow to red. A very cool feature! Always an available option.




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