Monday, 6 February 2017

Creating Authentic Station Announcements

I recently downloaded a program from the RailPage chat forum called DVA 5, and started the fun project of creating sound files for the station announcements on Philden. The program was written and copyrighted by Jonathan Boles back in 1999-2000 and I believe it was the same program used by CityRail to collate their station platform announcements across the Sydney network. With the program now obsolete, Jonathan posted the links to download the Javascript program which he updated to version 5.3.4 on 8th January 2017. Not wanting to be one who violates any redistribution laws, I've simply included the link to Jonathan's post on below, for those who want to download the program for their own personal use.

The program setup file is 27.1 MB in size, is free to download and is also free of any addware. It was simple enough to install and even placed a groovy little CityRail L7 logo as the icon on my desktop. On the screenshot above, you'll notice that the left hand column shows the different sound file catalogs, including Sydney-Female and Sydney-Male. Sydneysiders will remember that the male voice that made the platform announcements on the CityRail network was that of Grant Goldman, the 2SM breakfast radio guy, Manly Sea Eagles ground announcer and now the voice of Sky Channel. He was of course replaced by the female voice of Taylor Owynns around 2010. Before recording the announcements for what is now known as SydneyTrains, Taylor was already famous for being the voice of Lulu on the popular children's show Bananas In Pyjamas.

Anyway, using Grant's booming male voice to fit the 1995-2005 era that I model, I soon started playing around using the 1,251 pre-recorded sayings that Mr Goldman had recorded during his time, to collaborate my own CountryLink station announcements for Philden's South North West Explorer. As my fictional Explorer train goes everywhere except east, (or it would fall into the ocean off the coastline of Australia), I had a bit of fun recording the following announcements. Simply press the play button on each of the following clips below to hear what I mean.

There's this train that goes anywhere ending in 'O'.

Or this train going everywhere ending in 'I'.

Or perhaps you'd like to ride this train heading everywhere ending in 'E'.

Or perhaps you'd like a ticket to anywhere ending in 'A'.

Each file you create can be exported as an MP3 file into a folder of your choosing. I then uploaded the MP3 files above to a free sound file sharing site called Clyp, which I felt was a safer way of publicly sharing these examples than providing a link to each MP3 file stored on my Google Drive account. I figured those serious enough to want to add these station announcements to their own layouts, would simply have way more fun downloading the program and creating their own announcements.

After the fun of creating some bogus station announcements had passed, I soon took out my 1990's railway timetables and began compiling announcements for the trains listed within them, starting with all the CountryLink Explorer trains that I could simulate passing through Philden. I then moved onto the CityRail services that I'm going to pretend my 2 car Sydney suburban double-decker is substituting for on my upper level.

So far, I've created over 40 MP3 files. Next up, I'm going to load the completed files onto an iPod Mini Shuffle and connect it to a small hidden speaker beneath my layout. I figure that playing a different station announcement each time my same 2 car Explorer set or double-decker electric train comes and goes from my station, will do wonders to help create the illusion that my models actual connect to somewhere beyond the layout. Because having a small layout sometimes calls for a bit of creative thinking outside the box.

Speaking of boxes, another feature of the DVA 5 program is the station indicator boards. Clicking the indicator tab will open the boxes that enable you to call up various services from actual timetables, and alter the arrival times and platform numbers etc., before sitting back and watching the station names scroll up on the screen just as the blue computer screen indicators do at the Sydney stations that are fitted with them. Perhaps after I have the sound files finished and working in time for the Brisbane Model Train Show in May this year, I can then look at building a working replica indicator screen into the upper level expansion on my layout. Or at least I can have the program open and running on the desk in front of my layout when I running my trains.

Finally, in keeping with the light-hearted approach to my modelling, I'll leave you with one final clip in honour of the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks winning last year's NRL Premiership. The Up, Up Cronulla service.

Next week I'm heading to Sydney for a short break where, apart from some general sightseeing, I'll be scouting a few train stations in the hope of finding some inspiration for the NSW A-8 centre platform station building on my upper level layout extension. But as usual, I'll let that be a story for another day.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Review: Minimodels Comeng Sydney double-deckers

The latest Sydney HO scale suburban electrics release by Minimodels features the Comeng Series 2 stainless steel double-decker cars, universally recognised by Sydney train fans as the S-sets. To be perfectly honest, I should have ordered this model for the upper level of my bookshelf layout right from the beginning. With a history of operating in either 8, 4 or 2 car sets, they have been plying the rails of Sydney's city network for more than 40 years and are still in use today as the oldest operational commuter train on the SydneyTrains network. What's more, a 2 car set with a total length of just 46.4 cm from end to end is probably the only suburban electric train that is easily able to disappear entirely from view on a layout that is just 278 cm long. So why hadn't I added one to my roster already?

My wife commented that the Minimodels sets came in the nicest model train box she's seen. I think she's right.

Released in October 2016 through Berg's Hobbies own Minimodels label, the 2 or 4 car sets were made available in a combination of the original all stainless steel cars from the 1970's, or the 1990's modified city-decker version complete with yellow ends, doors and destination screens. The yellow-end version was not only a perfect match for my 1995-2005 era layout, but the two car version was guaranteed to work on a small bookshelf layout such as mine. So I finally made the decision to add this 2 car Sydney double-decker to my small layout roster. Arriving safely in the post, the first thing I noticed when unwrapping the parcel was the beautifully presented box the model comes in. I know its just a box, but the artistic drawing of the model looks superb. But don't get too excited, as inside it is just another foam tray holding a railway model.

Inside, the foam tray was a little too tight, but came with extra detail parts and decals to be added to the model.

Getting the model out of the tray was a little tricky. The driver trailer car on my set was wedged in tighter than the Hammer of Thor, and took a bit of gentle upside down shaking before it worked itself loose enough to squeeze out. Once on the rails however, it coupled straight together with the Kadee-style knuckle couplers, unlike the fidgety 21 pin connection on my Southern Rail Models 2 car Explorer set. The pick-up for the directional front and rear marker lights are mounted on the bogies of each car, and work correctly in DC mode straight out of the box. The model sits very low to the track, just like the prototype, so any underfloor detail would be pointless. As such, there is nothing to see other than the Minimodels logo and a series of holes for ventilation.

The underneath is plain as it sits closely to the rail, but I've never been a fan of nylon tyres on the driving wheels.

The HO scale model is designed to operate on 18 inch curves, and is 12 volt DC with a can motor fitted with dual brass flywheels. Inside is an 8 pin plug for those who wish to convert the model to DCC operation. The model also features nylon rubber tires on the 4 driving wheels, something which I've never been a huge fan of as they ultimately collect a greater build-up of gunk and eventually break. Also inside the box is a small packet of what is referred to as "additional parts", including an EP brake unit and air tanks to fit to the model. Only I have no idea where to stick them, and the instructions don't so much as provide a clue. Parts that look identical to the ones in the packet already seem to be mounted to the car behind the leading bogie as shown in the above photo. So I'll provide some more information at a later date when I've had a chance to research it further.

The details instantly make this model recognisable as being uniquely Sydney, (and much better than NY subway cars).

The initial details are very nice; windshield wipers on the drivers window only at each end, correctly painted buffer plates and carriage end walkway panels, metal handrails fitted separately on each doorway, sprung overhead pantographs on the driver car, air vents on the roofing and see-though metal grilles above the motor compartment on the roof of the driver car.

The see through grilles above the driving end look great, as do the handrails on the doorways!

The windows on the modernised city-decker version differ from the original beclawat aluminium windows, and are a darker tint that allows just a hint of the interior seating to be seen on the upper level. There is no interior lighting in the model, and the lower level windows appear a little darker to help obscure the placement of the motor inside the model. The blue guards' lights above the driver compartment door is only painted on, and is non-operational. The same goes for the destination indicator screen above the windows on the drivers' end which is just a blank, black screen. The stainless steel finish to the car bodies however is simply superb, and features the two different variants of corrugations between the extended roof area and the Budd-style fluting to the main area.

The cars couple closely, and the open-air passage between cars was a hallmark of Sydney's early suburban trains.

I'd like to say that the lettering and CityRail logos on the model are crisp and clear, but the car numbers and era specific logos are provided separately on a decal sheet included inside the box. As there were 306 of these Series 2 double-decker motor cars, trailer cars and driver trailer cars constructed by Comeng between 1973 and 1978, I'm guessing the manufacturer thought it easier to include a large run of numbers on the decal sheet for modelers to pick and choose which car numbers and era logos they wished to letter the models as.

The numbering of each car needs to be better researched before I just whack decals on the side of the model.

Once more however, apart from a well explained history of the electric car sets that comes on the included sheet, there is no simple explanation given as to where the numbers and logos should actually be placed on the model. A Google search turns up a number of variations of where the CityRail L7 logo was placed. There are also blue and yellow or solid yellow platform stripes to add beneath the lower deck windows, depending upon the era you are modelling. Perhaps the strangest observation, (and really it's the only disappointing thing when it comes to this model), is the absence of the target plates themselves, either on the model or on the decal sheet, that readily identify each train as either a 4 car S-set or a 2 car L-set. It looks like I will have to make those from scratch myself, but it is a simple enough project and I will show you how in a later post.

The No. 2 end or driver trailer end has working red marker lights, but no set target plate on the bottom right corner.

Overall, the quality of this model compares very well to the excellent Southern Rail Models Explorer that runs on my layout. Straight out-of-the-box it ran well, slowed and accelerated pleasantly and crawled along beautifully at slow speed. Although some of these sets had brighter twin headlights fitted at the top of each end for outer suburban runs, within the CityRail network, Sydney's trains operated with just the white marker lights or trailing red marker lights on, (just as Britain's railways did). So maybe that is the reason why the headlights on the No. 2 driver trailer end of the citydecker version appear to be for visual effect only? I suppose a working LED light could be added behind the light housing if you really wanted to, but the No. 1 driver end of course already has the modern destination screen added in place of where the headlight would have been. For inner Sydney working however, the model is correctly lit as is.

These 2 car double-deckers ran local Wollongong, Newcastle, Carlingford and Richmond Line services in the 1990's.

Aside from the confusion that surrounds the decal sheet and the additional parts, this is a beautifully executed model of an easily recognisable Sydney double-decker train. Sydneysiders may not regard the last non-air-conditioned trains still running on the SydneyTrains network very highly, (especially on a stinking hot summer's day), but to train fans and modelers alike, the S-sets have long endeared themselves as a part of Sydney's railway culture. It will be a sad day when the last of them are retired in the coming years. This model captures the look and feel of the real life version perfectly, from the modern stainless steel finish of the Seventies that would become the standard for Sydney's passenger train fleet, to the sad droopy-eyed face of the driver cars. While the 4 car sets of this model retail for $695 Australian, the 2 car sets are a little more within the budget at $415 Australian. I'm so glad that I decided to add one of these little models to my HO scale bookshelf layout.

The 2 car Minimodels Comeng double-decker set suits a 3 foot staging shelf just fine.

I'll post some more information on the S-set car numbering here when I research the subject further. In the meantime, you can check out some excellent video clips of S-sets in action around Sydney such as STV Sydney Trains Vlog 700 on the YouTube channel hosted by the enigmatic Phill, (no, its not me, but another internet genius by the same name who is responsible for over 1300 YouTube videos of trains running around Sydney, and for me wasting up to 6 hours each Saturday night watching them).

Review Card: Minimodels Comeng Series 2 Double Deck Sydney Suburban Electrics

My Rating:


Final Thoughts: A fantastic model of a familiar Sydney favourite. Although a little more detailed instructions to go with the decal sheet would have been very helpful indeed.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

That steel ain't light

Following the recent arrival of the NCTY Tubemakers Structural open wagons at Philden, coil steel shipments have begun arriving at the open concrete yard alongside the cement plant. A concrete reinforcing shed has been erected 'just beyond the layout edge' as part of a Nation Building upgrade for the Interstate Highway that crosses the tracks at the mouse-hole end of my layout. The steel rolls are being milled and cut on site to reinforce the giant concrete spans needed for the highway construction. So I thought I'd venture trackside with my camera to capture the first shipment of 1:83 scale steel as it arrived. You may notice the rusted rails from a long abandoned siding that are still embedded in the concrete loading area. I sure hope that 'forkie' knows what he's doing before he tries to unloading the wagons.

She'll be right mate! It just needs a bit more Gumption.

Apparently not. After struggling to lift the giant coil from wagon number 85117G, it appears he didn't have enough back tilt when jolting across the old rails and has ended up with his back wheels in the air, (something that happened to myself a few times during my years driving forklifts). Maybe the site foreman needs to look at buying a bigger forklift!

Those abandoned rails are going to make unloading a pain in the butt for the forklift driver.

By the time he had finished unloading both wagons, it was fast approaching nightfall, and the new LED lights I had installed were on in the yard. While the construction crew probably won't get to work rolling and cutting the steel coils till morning, meanwhile the train crew had returned to collect the empties and were growing irate by the minute that their pick-up wasn't yet ready.

The crew of 8633 are held up in the platform road. Maybe the lack of overhead wires could be the reason why?

The two crew members on 8633 were meanwhile holed up in the platform road at Philden Station, waiting to drag the two empty wagons forward before they could run around to couple on and head off in the up direction towards the staging yard. While chatting with the Senior SM on the platform, they were however heard to speak highly of the new LED lighting installed recently at the station. The driver even recalled humorously a previous visit when he asked the Assistant Station Master at the time if he was burning the toast in his office. It turned out it wasn't the toast, but the old platform lighting that had begun to melt like toasted marshmallows. Fortunately by now the NCTY's were ready to be pulled clear of the cement road siding and the crew were on their way just as the last slithers of light disappeared in the west.

This short operating session was all just a bit of fun, but it does show that a small bookshelf layout can be used to simulate some real life operation problems. The 86 class, having ventured further than any NSW 86 class has ever ventured before, will now be packed away to await the construction of the upper level of my layout, which will feature overhead catenary and a giant OneSteel receiving shed. Next week 8243 will return in its place. Also due next week, (by means of the post man), is the first of my major rollingstock additions for the as yet un-named upper level, (no, its not the Tangara), but something else that combined with my 86 class electric will provide enough operating pleasure all on its own. But as usual, I'll let that be a story for another day.

See also; Auscision Models NCTY/NODY Wagons