I am using two different elements to control my layout: a touchscreen command station (the excellent ESU ECOS II), and a PC software (Freiwald’s TrainController Gold). I wanted to switch from S88 train detection to a Loconet network, far more flexible. The ECOS is not Loconet compatible and I had no intention of buying another control center, so I had to create a “standalone” Loconet network, and connect it directly to my PC. Here is how I did that, for less than 100€.
I wanted the benefits of Loconet (train detection, accessory control) without spending big money on a Loconet enabled command station:
Normal vs. standalone Loconet
This looks simple, but before reading further, please be aware of the limitations of a standalone Loconet:
A standalone loconet only responds to certain needs. If you don’t have a Command Station yet and wish to have a Loconet network, I advise buying directly a Loconet enabled command station.
A Loconet is a very basic network. It needs 2 things, that are usually integrated in a command station:
Additionally, for a standalone Loconet, you’ll want to connect it to a PC. The best option I have come around is the Locobuffer-USB from RR-Circuits.
Locobuffer USB from RR-Circuits,to connect the Loconet to a PC
[important]A note on the terminator function of the Locobuffer: The locobuffer has a (jumper) setting, that makes it a terminator for the Loconet. However (as stated by RR-Circuits), using this option puts your computer at risk: with this setting, the USB and Loconet are not optically isolated anymore. This would mean potentially exposing your PC to surges from your model railroad.[/important] Since this was not an option, and thanks to many users feedback on the German forum “1zu160.net”, I found another solution.
What we are going to do:
But first, here is a short overview of how the Loconet plug, and what the 6 wires do:
Pin 1 – Pin 6 : Railsync (+) Pin 2 – Pin 5 : Ground (-) Pin 3 – Pin 4 : Loconet data
As you can see, the loconet plug is symmetric. And now we understand better what the terminator does: it pumps power from the Railsync pins, and injects it (according to Loconet standard) to the data pins, allowing devices to communicate. This is why just “powering” the Loconet (on Pins 1/6-2/5) is not sufficient. Make sure you understand this simple list before building your own terminator.
1) Power supply
Power will be provided by a simple power adapter. This can be bought in any electronics store (eg. Conrad in Germany, or Radioshack in the US). This adapter must be 12V, 500mA, not more !
2) Building the “Terminator”
The terminator is the tricky part. You will need to build a small electronic circuit. It’s pretty basic really, 2 transistors, 2 diodes, an elko and 2 resistors. The circuit is provided by Reinhard Müller and the schematics are here: http://www.dcc-mueller.de/loconet/lnpull_e.htm
One thing to note is that this circuit is not actually “made” for a standalone Loconet: it is made as a “backup terminator” for super large Loconet network. But it will do exactly what we do: provide the termination.
Make sure you understand the schematic, get the right parts (see bottom of this blog post), and you’re ready for some DIY:
Test plate, that we will use as a base for our DIY operation
And that’s it! Now, it will take you some time to bring the components together, and I can’t help you for that.
But we are missing a part aren’t we? Where are our loconet plugs? Well the Müller schematics is a “dead end”, it only shows on Loconet ending. The good news is, building a “HUB” for Loconet is a bliss: you can’t connect as manny RJ12 plugs as you want, in a 1:1 fashion (all pins 1 together, all pins 2 together…). That’s it, so let’s do it:
The result: it’s ugly, it’s unprofessional. But it took an hour and works perfectly!
On the final picture above, you can clearly see the different elements:
Now, I am not an electronic expert. Frankly I didn’t even try to figure out exactly what this montage does 😉 . But there are a few common sense tests that you can do before pluging expensive Loconet devices to your Power+Terminator device:
Use a Voltmeter to to test the following:
Make sure it is symmetric! The readings you should get for one side should be the same on the other.
If everything goes well, you just built yourself a power supply AND terminator to create a standalone Loconet network; therefore sparing about 300-500€ in a new command station, for only about 20€ of components. The next steps include of course connecting the Locobuffer USB and Loconet devices, but this is another story….
The final result, connected to the Locobuffer USB
As always, this article is just the sum of tips that I got from different places. I tried to gather it all in one place, and hope this will be helpful!
Update 07/2013 for those who don’t want to solder! I just discovered this. A german manufacturer, Bluecher Elektronik, sells a module that does exactly what my DIY module does: it provides Loconet with a termination, and power is with a 12V external power supply. The product page is here and the instruction PDF is here (in German, use Google Translate). Setting this module as a terminator for a standalone Loconet (without Loconet Command station) implies just changing one jumper on the board. One should note, that they advise the exact same thing as I do: this extra board needs to be the terminator, not the Locobuffer. The termination function of the Locobuffer USB should not be used, as it cancels the short circuit protection between Loconet and USB (computer).
(references are for “Conrad” stores in Germany, but all parts are very easy to find wherever you are)
Do you have any experience with the Digitrax PR3 unit as a stand-alone Loconet unit?
Hi, I don’t. As far as I remember though, this PR3 is supposed to be used as a PC interface in combination with a Loconet control station. That means it probably doesn’t provide the termination or the power to the Loconet.I think you could use this PR3 for a standalone Loconet, but you’d still need to build a loconet termination and power supply. This would be the same setup as mine, as described in this post, just with a different PC interface device. The Locobuffer USB was described as the best choice when I did my research; I don’t remember if the PR3 had limitations or why I didn’t go for it, maybe simply because it was harder to find for me in Europe.
Pierre, consider Raspberry Pi credit card sized PC as standalone control centre. Google Raspberry Pi
Thanks Jimmy. In fact, I already have 3 Raspberry Pis. 1 is for Home Automation, 1 is a Personal Cloud…I love them, I’m not just a train geek!
But for train control in my case? Over my dead body 😉 I spent €1000+ on the ESU Ecos II (one of the best command stations IMHO), and Train Controller Gold (one of the best train automation software IMHO). I don’t want to play for weeks with a Raspi, and obtain 10% of what I can achieve in an hour with what I already have!
That said, this is a very good tip. I have seen people playing with Raspi and trains, I am sure it can be fun as well!
It probably wasn’t available when you wrote this, but ESU now has a LocoNet to ECoSlink converter, no. 50097
Thanks! In fact, I think I had already heard about the L.net converter back then (it has been announced for a long long time, and just arrived before summer).
As expected though: no PC software is able to access the Loconet detection information through the ECOS. This might change soon though.
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