Sunday, July 17, 2011
The future of model railway control ?
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to have a go with the latest Hornby Railmaster software attached to the magazine's N gauge layout. I was only in charge of it for a few minutes, but it was long enough for me to work out it's not for me. Big time.
I must start by saying that the system works. On screen you have a mimic diagram showing the track plan. Clicking on the points changes them. Down the side of the screen are a list of locos. Each can be selected and driven on screen using the mouse. You have the option to drive the loco in the conventional way, or to pick "cruise" which sets the train off at a pre-determined speed. So we had a 9F on a long coal train set to 15mph. No need to use the speed slider, just press the button and let the computer sort it out.
If you want to get sophisticated then train movements can be pre-programmed. A DMU shuttle service operated and each time the train came into the fiddle yard the points changed so the service alternated between two different units. While clever the programming relied on timing the trains and they didn't seem to run reliably enough for this, sometimes they wanted to go out the back of the siding, other times not running far enough. Maybe OO stock would be better in this respect. Certainly operating in a glass-roofed room didn't help as doubtless the temperature changes would affect the motors.
So if it all works, why don't you like it ? I hear you cry.
I don't know really. Maybe the act of clicking on points didn't seem that natural - a larger touch screen would have been better but that just seems like an expensive version of the button-based mimic panels I build on the back of layouts. I poke a button with my finger instead of prodding the screen.
The problem seemed to be the list of trains. Working them using the mouse was positively unnatural. It will sound weird but I find I need the connection of twiddling a knob and seeing a loco move. There's too much separation. The list was long too which meant much scrolling up and down to find the one I wanted - no fun when you've messed up and need to find it in a hurry.
Now you are probably shouting something about me being old-fashioned. That's a pretty impressive achievement in this hobby but one I'll hold my hand up to. Da kidz will probably love the idea of running trains via the compuery box. With a bit of practise, picking trains from a list will get easier and I suspect they could have been grouped more suitably for stupid people. If I could identify the locos (why are N gauge choo choo's so tiny ?) faster it would help too.
So, this might be the future of train set control, but I'm stocking up on 12DC stuff.