Make a Low Cost Sensored Track in Minutes!

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About: I am an electronics and model railway hobbyist.

In my previous Instructable, I showed you how to make a model train layout with automated siding. It used a track segment, named 'sensored track'. It is a quite useful thing to have in a model railway layout. I can be used for the following:

  • Block occupancy detection: These 'sensored tracks' can be installed in sidings and yard lines to detect whether the particular track is free or not.
  • Automating layouts: These 'sensored tracks' can also be used to automate an entire layout. If used with a microcontroller such as an Arduino board or a computer such as a Rspberry Pi, this can be used to switch turnouts, turn on and off lights on a DCC rolling stock, change the speed and direction of locomotives autonomously, control block signals and do a lot of more stuff! All without any human interference.

The above video shows one of its applications.

So, without furthur ado, let's get started!

Step 1: Gather All the Stuff!

If you have a drill machine, you will need:

  • An IR proximity sensor(IR LED and photodiode of small diameter are recommended).
  • A diagonal cutter.
  • A track segment(I used a Kato S62 track).
  • A hot-glue gun or super glue.
  • A drilling machine.
  • A drill bit with the same diameter as those of the IR LED and the photodiode of the sensor.

If you don't have a drill machine, you will need:

  • An IR proximity sensor(IR LED and photodiode of small diameter are recommended).
  • A diagonal cutter.
  • A track segment(I used a Kato S62 track).
  • A hot-glue gun or super glue.
  • A small-sized cross-head screwdriver with a pointed tip.
  • A cross-head screwdriver of about the same diameter as those of the IR LED and the photodiode of the sensor.

Step 2: Cut a Notch on One Side of the Track

Using a diagonal cutter, cut a notch of adequate width to fit the pins of the IR LED and the photodiode.

Step 3: Make Holes in the Track

Make holes between the ties/sleepers of the track, keeping one tie/sleeper in between the holes to accommodate the IR LED and the photodiode.

Step 4: Enlarge the Holes

Using the cross-head screwdriver, enlarge the holes to accommodate the IR LED and the photodiode.

Step 5: Bend the IR LED and the Photodiode

The picture explains it all.

Step 6: Install the Sensor in the Track

Push the IR LED and the photodiode into the holes, fitting their pins through the notch made earlier.

Step 7: Glue the Sensor to the Track

Using hot-glue or super glue, glue the sensor to the tracks as shown in the picture. Super glue may give clean results but removing the sensor from the track in the future becomes easy if you use hot glue.

Step 8: Test and Calibrate the Sensor

Connect the 'sensored track' to some straight tracks and run a locomotive or a rolling stock on them. If the indicator LED does not turn on while the locomotive or the rolling stock is anywhere on the sensor, adjust the sensitivity and check once again.

Step 9: It's Done!

Now your 'sensored track' is ready to be used in your layout. Use your creativity to use this to create autonomous operations in your layout. I would love to know where you used this in your layout to do which function, in the comments. If you are interested, you can also check the above video.

All the best!

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