Monthly Archives: January 2018

Panel Restoration Latest

The end of a long several weeks and months for SPS volunteers involved in finalising the panel’s electronics and simulator made some satisfying visual steps forward this weekend, when debugging of wiring and software glitches took place on the east end of the panel.

Although not all bugs have been fixed, a great many have, and the east end of the panel now looks ‘believable’.

Both ends of the panel have worked with the ‘outside world simulator’ independently, and a huge amount of very frustrating computing and programming work has taken place to bring the two ends together to work seamlessly with each other. Very soon we will reach the stage of restoration when a pretend train can travel from one end of the panel to the other!

All this recent work has used a lot of resources – especially computer components. We have been using parts of our collection of a great many donated computers and peripheral equipment, some of which is useful on its own and some has been a useful source of spares. There are some items which we will soon need to purchase, and these can be found on our Amazon Wish List if any supporters are feeling generous! They aren’t very glamorous (mice, extension leads, etc), but they are all required to complete the work.

While the last year has seen a lot of progress, not much has been visual. The next few months will see rapid visual progress, both for the panel and the building. The panel will move into its final position in the early spring, the ceiling and flooring will be completed, and a lot of the tools and equipment in the panel room will move elsewhere (probably upstairs into the loft).

Once the panel is in a working state we will resurrect the list of volunteers interested in demonstrating the panel and holding some training sessions for this. We also hope to hold some Members’ Days in the lead-up to or shortly after the grand opening.

Thank you very much to everyone who has slogged through the last year – especially the solderers! – it has been a long job but we are now going to see the fruits of our labour in a working panel!

Progress at Didcot

Well done to everyone who has been involved in progress at Didcot over the last several months.

A great deal of time and effort has gone into soldering the thousands of connections to tags in the back of the panel – a seemingly never-ending fiddly task that made us glad we hadn’t tried to preserve anything bigger than Swindon!

The west of the panel is pretty comprehensively debugged and has been fully working (to the extent to which the software is programmed).

The east end is not fully debugged yet, as software progress is not as advanced on this end of the panel and it is more difficult to debug the hardware before the software performs reliably.

The volume of computer hardware in the panel has increased significantly over the last few months, with a computer required for each of the east end of the panel, west end of the panel, ‘outside world’ simulator, and train describer. Our collection of second-hand computers has been worked hard, and some patch-and-mend has been required in the short term. Once the final computer requirements are established we will install some decent hardware, but there is little point in doing this until the final requirements are known.

Integrating the hardware and the software has been challenging, especially as we are using the software for an installation far far bigger than anything envisaged when the software was designed (for model railways). Some hurdles have also been encountered because we have written our own code for the program in addition to using code written using the program interface, which has occasionally caught us out when newer versions of the program have been released by the makers.

The completion of the panel simulator is comparable to filling up a swimming pool – in that it fills up widely and slowly until one day it all reaches 100% full. We are at the stage of everything being 95% complete, and everything having been seem to work independently, and all the integration concepts having been proved, and it is now a case of ironing out all the snagging issues of making it all work together!

The original VDUs in the panel have been made to work (which was more tricky than it sounds!) and connected to the TD computer. This emulates the Vaughan Harmon train describer, which Swindon had for approximately its last 20 years. Previous to this there was an LED train describer and previous to that a Sodeco mechanical describer. We also have components available of both of these other types of describer, which we plan to recommission in the future on at least part of the panel.

The work is currently slow, sometimes frustrating, and doesn’t show such as visible progress as our earlier work, however, we will very soon complete this stage and move on to more detailed testing of the panel. Completion of the panel room ceiling is now imminent and very quickly the room will start to come together.

We hope, soon to be able to advertise some members’ days in the leadup to the grand opening in June.