Posted by: bgtwindad | February 22, 2012

Computer Work Ongoing

There’s more to this railroad than just the layout.   On a Prototype (real) railroad, much goes on in offices and on computers around the country and around the world.  There is also much going on off the layout with the CH&FR.  Here’s a taste of some of the ongoing work.

I’ve already posted, I think, about how we do “virtual interchange”  through the MRICC Virtual Interchange facility hosted by Jim Stanford.  He has a nice web-based system that allows folks to send railroad traffic back and forth between our model layouts, without actually mailing the cars around the world.  I’ve been working on using JMRI‘s operations package to track those cars, along with cars from my friends at nScale.net and the somewhat more old-school Virtual Interchange setup we have going on there.  That keeps the cars going.

I have gained lots of friends in model railroading, but unfortunately many of them live in other states or countries, and will not likely ever be able to visit for an operating session, let alone do so on a regular basis.  So one of my goals is to use my computer skills to set up a system whereby a selected person can fill the Dispatcher role, directing which trains may go where on the mainline and when, over the computer.  Lately I’ve been making several strides in that direction.

First, I’ve set up an Apache Web Server on one of my computers, and I’m in the process of building and publishing a “CH&FR Employee Website”.  This is set up just like it would be if the CH&FR were real, and has information that Dispatchers, Conductors and Engineers would need in order to operate trains on the “real” CH&FR, along with model-specific info where necessary.

In order to do the actual dispatching, the crews need a way to communicate with the Dispatcher, so I’m also installing a Murmur Server for Mumble  to provide voice chat capability during the ops sessions.  With headsets and microphones, everyone will be able to talk to each other, just like the MMO gaming guys do.  I’ll probably also add a text chat tool to the website as a backup and “sidebar”, but that’s in the “extras” list.

The Dispatcher will need a track diagram, with occupancy indicators and turnout (track switch) controls.  JMRI has some powerful tools for doing just this with its PanelPro and underlying features, so I’ll be leaning heavily on that capability.

And then, just so the Dispatcher can see what’s going on — not that he needs to in order to do his job — I’ll be setting up a couple of webcams around the layout and streaming the video out to the website.  This should allow a handful of spectators to enjoy the session as well.  I don’t think the video stream will be “real-time” enough for train operations, but it should provide a fun addition to the whole package.  I’m still learning how to do this part, but right now it looks like I’ll be using VLC to create the video streams.

Add all of this to the powerful layout control, operations, and dispatching support capabilities built into JMRI, and I hope to provide a very exciting experience for my remote friends.  Stay tuned. I’m making steady progress, so I hope to be getting this deal off the ground and running in a few months.

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