Wireless in Southampton

The last weekend in January saw me visiting the Southampton Model Railway Exhibition. Confusingly, it’s held in Eastleigh … but that does make it easy to get to, being just a few minutes off both the M3 and the M27.

This was my first visit to the Southampton show (having only recently moved into the area), and I was impressed by the size, scope and organisation. I’d taken my camera along expecting to take lots of pictures, but in the end I spent most of my time there talking to traders, societies and other members of my club (South Hants MRC) who were there in force. So, apologies if you were expecting a photo gallery.

Probably the most interesting and useful conversation I had was with Hubert Carr of Model Railway Developments (MRD). Hubert has recently been appointed the UK Channel Manager for ProtoCab, a new development in loco control using batteries and wireless transmissions. I’d read a couple of articles in MRJ (as I’m catching up on missed issues) by Don Rowland and his experiments with wireless control, so I was receptive to the possibility.

Hubert’s demonstration consisted of a piece of perspex the length of his stand with two perspex ‘walls’ a couple of inches apart. On this stood a Bachmann ex.SR ‘N’ class loco converted to the ProtoCab system. Hubert held a small controller and turned the knob to make the loco go backwards and forwards on the piece of perspex. There wasn’t a wire in sight!

Wireless control is nothing new – it’s been used in aircraft and toys for years. But improvements in battery technology (especially the size) means it is now a practical option in 4mm railway models.

Imagine not having to wire up any of the track on a layout … no section switches, now power districts, no isolated point work or polarity switching!

At a stroke, this is likely to reduce the wiring on my new layout by half. I know I still have to power and operate points and signals, but that should be much easier than connecting up hundreds of dropper wires. The prospect of constructing the complex track formations my plan calls for is suddenly less daunting.

There are compromises, of course:

  • Small tank locos will be challenging
  • The cab space in some may have to contain the battery or electronics, leaving no room for the crew
  • If the loco isn’t switched off when not in use, a flat battery will prevent it’s use until charged
  • If a loco comes off the track, it just keeps on going!

But then there are compromises with everything we do as railway modellers.

I shall be speaking to Hubert again, as I’m 99.9% sure I shall be using ProtoCab instead of DC or DCC.


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