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Operating Railroad Signal Crossing - II

posted Jul 15, 2012, 7:00 AM by Kevin Fodor   [ updated Jun 7, 2015, 5:10 AM ]
July 2012 

Note: You can find the project files on GoogleDrive located here. Please feel free to download what you find interesting. I will be adding to the documentations over the coming weeks, moths as I find time.

Operating Railroad Crossing Signal

Shown here is a video of an updated build of my earlier Railroad Crossing Signal built sometime back in 2007. At that time I didn't have any idea what exactly I was going to end up with or even how I was going to go about it. Needless to say; without a plan it was a pretty painful process. Lots of mistakes were made, lots of creative problem solving was required and lots of expense trying to work things out. But my motivation was to make something fun for my son, so to that end it was all just fine.
Click above for a short video showing operation.

Recently I have had some interest in what I have done. Mainly people have been interested in making one themself for their own outdoor railroads, train shows, clubs and/or railroad demonstrations. So for the re-build I decided to try to find more efficient ways of doing things by using mostly things I could find off the shelf in typical home improvement and hardware stores. My efforts were focused on making minimal changes to these parts and using them pretty much as is (at least as much as possible). My hope is that by making this a bit simpler to build, similar signals might be made more easily by others.

Aside from the original construction's difficulties and complexities, the electronic controller was also very complicated. In fact I can honestly say I had no idea what I was thinking. Transformers? power transistors? A 555 timer? Very difficult to build and get working the first time, let alone tring to make another just like it. So for that I also redesigned the controller as well. This time I built a PCB and used a microcontroller. Probably overkill, but the flexibility a microcontroller offers is unparalleled by discrete hardware. In addition, I also designed in a 5 VDC switching power supply for the controller and used MOSFETs for the lights and bell output control. The electronic controller project is detailed separately here. All project files for the controller are available and maintained on that site. Please feel free to use and improve on my design as you see fit. 

Here you can see some photos of my signal re-build. It still maintains a basic PVC mast structure as the previous one. However it also uses more commonly available connectors and fittings to pull it all together. The lamps themselves are still automotive trailer lights, but mounted in a simpler way. The biggest improvement to the lamps themselves is the incorporation of a sheet metal 'wall thimble' used to route exhaust lines in a home. Paint these flat black and you have a couple of nice sun blockers. For the bell I used the same Ace Hardware doorbell which seems to work well and sounds great in this application. Crossbucks are made from tempered hardboard and vinyl-cut lettering (also in the earlier design). Since I started this redesign a few months back I have been made aware of a site which offers aluminum crossbuck signs which I think overall is a much better and cheaper alternative than making them yourself as I did. Please check them out. Finally the base itself was greatly improved by using the ideas a friend named "Doc" discovered. The new "H-base" I now realize is a much better way to go about mounting this thing. Much easier than a plywood box. Lighter as well! Which makes the whole thing very transportable. Just unscrew the main mast parts and away it goes. 

As for transportability, this signal is much better suited to carrying place to place. It can be easily separated into four main parts; 1) The "H-base" 2) The riser pole 3) The middle mast (where all the electronics, lamps, switch and bell is mounuted) and 4) the top pole where the crossbucks are mounted. Each of these pieces screw into one another using 1-1/2" PVC threaded couplings.

One of the tools I found very helpful in creating the new design is Google (now Trimble) Sketchup. What a great tool. The tool is free and helps you visual what you are building before you start cutting and glueing up pieces. You can find my model of this signal online here in the 3D Warehouse.

Check the link below for a package download (.zip) of all the design files I have; parts list, cut templates, sketch-up model, stencils and diagrams. Alternatively check the Google Drive site where I have all the project files stored. I plan on writing a detailed step-by-step project build on the Make:Projects site. I will post an update when that happens. Hopefully for now these photos and the link to downloads below will suffice. As always please feel free to contact me if you require any specific details. I am happy to help where I can.

Thanks for looking!

Operating Railroad Crossing Signal.zip
Kevin Fodor,
Sep 2, 2012, 2:24 PM