Introduction to JMRI – Computer Control for Model Trains

It is difficult! But I am making progress

Maintaining a YouTube Channel, a Facebook Page, an Instagram Profile and as well as a blog is difficult – especially when you still have to work your a** for the job that actually pays the bills, and build the models in the first place so that you can create the content. Jeez… I really wonder how some people manage to do it all! So, I apologize for not being able to post anything for last quite a while, but here I am again.

The good news is, I am not sitting idle. Despite all the crazy work pressure, international travel and other obstacles, I have been making steady progress for my new project. Now, if you remember, my last post was all about the basics of DCC – if you’ve missed it, here is the video again:

After I posted my last post showing how to wire a model railroad for DCC, I also graduated to computer control using JMRI (For the uninitiated, it’s Java Model Railroad Interface) and I can now control my test layout and my trains using my computer as well as my smartphones and can do some cool things.

So far I am not getting into block detection or automation. I’m doing this with a very basic DCC set-up where everything basically runs off the bus. Now, I’ll tell you, this approach will not work for larger railroads where more sophistication is needed, but is clearly an option for smaller and simpler layouts.

And don’t worry, sophistication needed for a larger, bigger and complex layout will be covered in the coming days. I am just scratching the surface when it comes to computer control for a digital model railroad and there are so many exciting things ahead – block detection, signaling, dual control from computer and a control panel, automation… the list is long, and I hope I manage to keep myself motivated till the end!

Now without further ado, let’s get started.

The very first step is of course setting up JMRI. You can go to JMRI Website to download the latest production release. If you’re a first timer, then always ensure to start with the production release and not any test releasees (beta releases) because they often are unstable.

I am using a small Lenovo notebook that runs on Windows 8, so I followed the installation link for Windows. If you’re using a different OS, then that’s what you need to download. The download and installation is pretty streight forward, just like any other software.

I chose RR-Cirkit‘s LocoBuffer USB as the interface between my Digitrax system and the computer. If you’re using this interface, then just go to their website and follow the instructions. If you follow the instructions closely for the specific OS you have (the drive installation process differs from OS to OS and version to version), you should be all good.

Finally, I configure JMRI to communicate with Digitrax through LocoBuffer USB. Again, the steps are specific for the specific hardware I chose and will differ considerably depending on what computer, DCC system and interface that you use. I found that following documents closely, takeing it step by step and having patience are the key success factors for any technical installation, and this is no different.

But honestly, a video is worth a million words! So here is what I’ve done to install JMRI using LocoBuffer USB to communicate with my old Digitrax Zephyr command station. Take a look:

Now that it’s all set-up, it’s time to get to more advanced stuff! But that’s for some other time. Hope you guys have fun playing with model trains and unravelling the misteries of computer control.

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