Model trains go fully digital

20:12, Jul 13 2014
Innovation: Gabriel Young controls a train with an iPad at Rail Model X in Palmerston North in the weekend.

Model trains have moved into the 21st century, with the technological advances ensuring there will be a next generation of hobbyists.

Many of the trains on display at Rail X in Palmerston North in the weekend were controlled by traditional analogue dials and switches.

Over at the Manawatu European Model Railway Club's stand things had gone next gen with trains being operated by iPads and iPhones.

"It's gone fully digital," club spokesman Mark Young said. "There's a chip in every locomotive.

"As computers have got more clever the hobbyists have caught up."

Those chips communicate to an app installed on smartphones and tablets that allow the user to control the speed of individual trains.


The upshot is multiple trains can be run on the same line at the same time, which was not possible under the older technology.

Young said the app could also control the signal points on the tracks to shift trains between lines or into sidings.

As Young described the software to the Manawatu Standard he was keeping tabs on two children who were running trains on the club's display.

"It's great," Young said. "We've got a 6- and an 8-year-old actually controlling the trains."

The club's display was one of 19 on show at the expo, which ran on Saturday and Sunday.

While many of the displays had focused on historical accuracy, Young said the club's display was about showing off as many trains as possible.

The result had been a crowd-pleaser. "It's all the movement on the layout."

An unthinkable number of hours had gone into creating the displays on show in the weekend, with hobbyists attending from across the lower North Island.

Buildings, vegetation, vehicles, infrastructure and people had all been hand-crafted to create a setting for trains, of various gauges, to roll through.

One of the larger dioramas took its trains through the Sussex countryside along a fictional line, much of which had been dressed to resemble Britain during World War II. An impressive smaller display recreated an old New Zealand bush tramway, with every element, from the nikau palms to the train engine, made by hand. Another crowd-pleaser was a Wellington-based layout capable of delivering Jaffas from the top of the hill to waiting children at the track's end.

Manawatu Standard