Railstars crafts tools for operating model railroads. Our focus is on designing tools for humans, tools that get out of your way, so you can focus on enjoying your trains.
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began with the thought that I could create a digital command and control system for my own model railroad. Motivated by the high cost of commercially available products, their general level of user-hostility, and a desire to learn about new things, I decided to set out to make my own system from scratch. Railstars began as a personal project, but has now grown to become the newest entrant into the world of model railroading controls. Our goal is to craft the best and easiest to use tools for operating your model railroad.
Railstars’s controls interact with each other and with the layout in two distinct ways. Interaction with your trains is accomplished via the industry-standard NMRA Digital Command Control (DCC) protocol (see right). Interaction with other layout components (turnouts, signals and indicators, visual and sound FX) and with you (via hand-held cabs, control panels, etc.) is accomplished via the powerful and flexible NMRAnet protocol.
is a protocol for communicating commands to model trains that is backwards compatible with long-standing practices for analog train control. Analog model trains use the two rails as conductors connecting an analog voltage source (the throttle) to a DC motor mounted inside the train. Thus, trains are controlled by putting a voltage on the rails: the greater the voltage, the faster the train moves. DCC
, in contrast, uses the rails as a kind of low-bandwidth packetized network connecting a so-called digital command station to tiny computers, called decoders, mounted inside the trains. The digital command station generates a square wave signal that can be rectified to provide power, and that communicates instructions to specific decoders. In this way, multiple trains can be run independently on the same track, and the user is given unprecendented fine-grained control over auxilliary functions as headlights, warning lights, smoke generators, and even sound effects mounted within the model train.
, National Model Railroad Association Standard 9.7, is a new set of protocols for handling everything else on your layout. Designed to be forward-looking while maintaining compatibility with existing systems, NMRAnet
offers a transparent way to interact with the other components in your layout, using more sophisticated means of communication. Based on the existing OpenLCB
protocol stack, NMRAnet offers a rich set of protocols for handling communications to and from: hand-held controllers or throttles, control panels, layout elements (such as turnouts and signals), the digital command station (and hence the trains on the track), and more. NMRAnet is based on the industry-standard CAN
transport, designed for reliable operation in electrically noisy environments (such as your basement). Unlike DCC, NMRAnet is a work in progress, and Railstars is an active contributor to the NMRAnet and OpenLCB efforts.