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Retailer User Guide

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BlueRailBoard1As a new or existing retailer for BlueRail Trains, here is some information you might want to know about the first BlueRail board.

This board utilizes the same technology used in the Bachmann E-Z App trains (which Bachmann licenses from BlueRail). Because E-Z App enjoys a large user base, the free control app (iOS and Android) and firmware have received well over one thousand hours of software development, making it the most developed and tested train control app on the market. There is no ramp up time with this product – it is simple to install and very intuitive to use (without instruction). The board can be powered by DC, DCC, or battery power, and is particularly popular with battery-operated or Dead Rail users. Unlike other train control systems, BlueRail has no “system” to buy, so there is little investment required to “try it out” (except getting a board and owning an iOS or Android phone/tablet).

Your smart device must support Bluetooth 4 (see this article).

The first BlueRail board is 58.6mm x 28mm (2 3/8″ x 1 1/8″). Here is a printable PDF that can be printed, cut-out, and used to test to see if it will fit in a particular loco or space.

This board is frequently mounted in HO steam tenders, as well as any On30, S, and lower amperage (2 AMP or less) O and G scale trains. The board can also be used to provide power to a DC train layout (example) allowing the app to control 1 conventional DC train and up to 4 LED layout lights.

Here is an article that summarizes a checklist to determine if this board is a good choice for a particular loco.

BlueHorse datasheet - largeBecause the board is so easy to install, as a retailer offering installations you can provide much “perceived value” with very little installation time. The board accepts a standard 9-pin JST harness (sold separately). For DCC-Ready locos this is plug and play, or you may connect the colored wires according to the NMRA color convention (diagram).

The BlueRail website is well documented with articles and videos, alleviating retailers from dreaded tech support.

minibluetoothspeakerThe board does not contain onboard sounds and cannot presently trigger sound decoders. Locomotive sounds are within the app (in the smart device). Many people position a small rechargeable mini-bluetooth speaker within the loco for onboard sound (see video). You may also use a bluetooth speaker on the layout, headphones, or the speakers of the smart device or tablet.

BlueRail is compatible with Bachmann E-Z App trains, and you may run as many locos as you like simultaneously. The board works well on DCC layouts (for power) and can be run alongside other DCC locos. The iOS version of the control app contains added features like consisting, speed-matching, and chuff-rate calibration. Ditch lights is supported in both iOS and Android. The board can be operated with either the BlueRail app or the Bachmann E-Z App (both free). App Features table below.

Compare BlueRail app to E-Z App.

BlueRail App E-Z App
Control multiple trains
from 150 feet
iOS & Android iOS & Android
Consisting iOS iOS
Speed Matching iOS iOS
Chuff Rate Calibration iOS
Ditch Lights iOS & Android
Christmas Train (synched music) iOS & Android
Automatic reconnect option
(good for deep tunnels)
iOS iOS

BlueRail offers the board in 3 variations:

TrackPower Board
BlueRailBoard1
board only
BatteryPower Board
Blue Horse - with battery leads
board with pre-soldered battery wires
Dead Rail Kit
DeadRail_Kit_Thumb
board w/ 9-pin harness, battery, magnetic reed switch (pre-assembled – plug-and-play)
(includes charging cable and extra shrink wrap)

Every board is hand tested (1 year guarantee). We have a 99% satisfaction rate from all of our existing BlueRail users and stand behind our product.

Please email us for pricing information or more info.

Additional resources:

Is the BlueRail board right for you?
Running BlueRail on 3-Rail AC Track Power
BlueRail Userguide
Considerations for using BlueRail board in larger gauges
Battery Operation Connection Diagrams
Dead Rail Kit Video and Details


Android Bug list

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UNIMPLEMENTED


Train Control
Control multiple trains
Basic light control
Extended light panel (for configuring and operating all lights)
Directional lighting
Extended sound panel (for configuring and operating all sounds)
Motor fine tuning settings
Advanced Tuning Panel
Firmware Updates
Multi-Train Screen
Final Chuff/Prime mover sound
Automatic Reconnect (following loss of power)

BUG LIST


General connectivity cleanup required
Problems on Samsung Galaxy 5 clicking “standard” button
Correct crash when brand new E-Z Apps enter “settings” screen
Horn latency
App doesn’t alert you if bluetooth is turned off
Throttle moves and stretches when you first enter Train Control
Throttle sounds are pitch shifted (temp audio)
Throttle audio may not reflect speed (temp audio)
Stop-All issue when operating 3 trains
Occasional unresponsive loco when operating multiple trains
If you experience any connection problems (or loco is unresponsive), try one of these:
1-Restart app
2-Power cycle loco
3-Turn bluetooth on/off in your settings


Make sure your devices is updated to the latest version of Android. Please read THIS SUPPORT ARTICLE

This is a live document

CRASH REPORTS One of the most valuable tools in Android development is the built-in “Crash reports”. If you experience a “crash” while running the BlueRail Android Beta, your are generally given two options: “Close” and “Report”. Please choose “Report” and add a sentence or two in the space provided to tell us what led up to the crash. This report is sent immediately to us and gives us valuable insight on what caused the crash, and allow us to fix the problem in the next app update.


BlueRail’s first plugin board

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The Blue Horse

The Blue Horse


The Blue HorseBlueRail’s first plugin board is now in manufacturing and we will begin taking orders in April. This first board has been nicknamed the Blue Horse. It measures 28mm x 58.6mm, features a 9-pin JST connection port, and can be used to drive any train with a DC can motor (not exceeding 2 amps*). Boards will be available on the BlueRail site for $75 plus tax and shipping within the US/Canada (see non-US and retailer sales info below). The boards can be easily plugged into any DCC-ready train, or wired directly to many non-DCC-ready locomotives. These boards are of particular interest to battery operated users (as they can run from either track or battery power). You will have control over speed, direction and up to 4 lights or accessories. The boards also contain an expansion port for future add-ons (sound). BlueRail boards may alternately be used to control up to 4 lights or accessories on your layout. Control your board using the configurable BlueRail app (see below regarding iOS/Android app) or the Bachmann E-Z App™. Please use the information below to decide if this first board is suitable for your needs. We will release subsequent boards in alternate dimensions and suitable for other gauges in the future.

For priority on obtaining a board, please use our contact form to have your name added to our database.


BlueHorse datasheet - small

Installation considerations:

Space: Use the dimensions of the board (28 mm x 58.6 mm x 5 mm) to make sure it will fit. Allow an extra 5 mm to the length of the board (58.6 mm + 5 mm) to allow for the wiring harness. If possible, allow for 5 mm vertical clearance above the expansion port for future connectivity.

This board can either plug into a DCC-ready locomotive using a wiring harness, or may be used as a complete drop-in board (using a 9-pin connector to NMRA colored wires). Please refer to the colored wiring in the diagram above for proper connections.

Power: It is very important to test the stall current of your locomotive and that it does not exceed 2 amps*. Attempting to draw 2 amps or more from the board for more than 15 seconds will cause the board to shut down. Please refer to the chart below for details. Also see instructions on “testing motor stall current”. Do not use AC voltage to power the board. The board will operate on DC voltage between 9-24 volts. Do not use the board with O gauge Universal motors. Do not use old “Pulse Power” transformers to power this board.

Overload Protection* Overload Protection: The BlueRail board contains circuitry to protect itself in the event of a current draw overload. Please refer to the graph to the left. The red line indicates the point at which the BlueRail board shuts itself off. The board will tolerate an 8 amp draw for .4 sec (before shutting itself off). It will tolerate a 4 amp draw for 1 second, a 2 amp draw for 15 sec (continuous), a 1.25 amp draw for 1 min (continuous) and a 1.2 amp draw continuously. A locomotive with a 2 amp stall current (green line) will typically draw 2 amps of current for the first few seconds it starts to roll, before stabilizing at a much lower current draw. Pulling heavy loads up steep long hills and lots of lighting will increase current draw. Please consider these values when deciding if this board is appropriate for your locomotive and layout.

Electrical: If your locomotive is not DCC-ready (and you are modifying a standard locomotive) it is important to isolate the motor and lights from the frame. Failure to do so can damage the board. See instructions on “isolating motor and lights from the frame”. Always handle the board carefully in a static-free environment. Make sure the board is electrically isolated from all metal surfaces or circuitry in your locomotive.

Mounting Position: To achieve maximum range, orient the board with the circuitry facing upward and the antenna as far from metal chassis areas as is reasonably possible. Mounting the board vertically is ok, but may result in slightly less range on the bottom (no circuitry) side of the board.

8-pin Connections: If you are using an 8-pin connector to your locomotive, make sure to plug it in with the proper orientation on your loco. (Failure to do so will result in your loco running backwards). See instructions on “using 8-pin connectors”. 8 pin connectors do not take advantage of ACC3 and ACC4 from the board. If you choose to utilize the green (ACC3) and violet (ACC4) wires, refer to the wiring diagram.

Battery Use: The board contains two connection points to which wires may be attached as battery leads. If you are not experienced with soldering small connections, please consider purchasing a board with the wires already soldered in place. Improper soldering can result in damage to the board.

The board will operate on track power or battery power. You may use both at the same time (for improved performance on dirty track). When using battery, make sure the battery polarity is correct. For smoothest transitions (from powered to non-powered sections of track) your battery voltage and track voltage should approximately match. The board is not capable of charging batteries. See instructions and options for charging batteries in the article “Battery Powered Trains”.

Blue Horse - with battery leads Dead Rail kit

iOS and Android control apps:

iOS app: The free BlueRail iOS app will be available in appstore. These boards may also be operated using the Bachmann E-Z App™ (now available in the iOS appstore). The BlueRail app will include additional configuration and customization options.

Android app: We hope to release a beta version of the BlueRail Android app in time for board release, but are allowing ourselves till April 30 (should we run into any challenges). During the beta period early adopters will be encouraged to download and use the app which we will continually update based on feedback.

Sales Info:

Non US and retail sales info: BlueRail would like to make these boards available outside the US and Canada. There are additional costs and certification associated with selling electronics overseas. We will complete certification for worldwide sales when the volume of overseas sign-ups for boards reaches the threshold to cover those costs. Once certified for overseas sales, our best course of action is to make boards available to non-US retailers for sales in those areas.

If you live outside the US/Canada and are interested in a BlueRail board, make sure you are on our mailing list (Contact Form) and that you have indicated your region. We will remain in contact with you regarding regional sales as they become available.

If you are a retailer interested in BlueRail boards (either in the US or outside the US), please contact us at for information. If you have contacted us in the past we will be contacting you.


The Advance of Model Trains

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Antique_Trains


Model and miniature trains have existed for hundreds of years. When electric trains were developed over 100 years ago the hobby greatly expanded. These traditional electric trains were controlled by transformers that vary voltage to the track, a practice that remained the same throughout the century. In the early 1990’s, digital command control (DCC) was adopted as the standard for enhanced control, and remains in the hobby today. DCC involves using a controller to send commands (in the form of data packets) through the rails which are received by the locomotives through the wheels (in contact with the track). GE_Vintage_posterDCC requires electronic hardware (to send and receive signals) and is subject to issues related to dirty track. Shortly after the adoption of DCC, the late nineties brought large advances in personal computing, wireless connectivity and mobile devices. In the years that followed, model railroading benefited from the enhanced features of DCC, but the popularity of model railroading declined, and the hobby began searching for solutions to the limitations of DCC. In 2011 bluetooth low energy (BLE or Bluetooth Smart) was added to the bluetooth protocol as part of bluetooth4. Because BLE allows for connection to many devices simultaneously at great range with low packet loss, it is an excellent solution for model train control. In 2012 a small group of high-tech and mobile application/game developers in California saw this solution and designed a circuit board and application for train control and formed BlueRail Trains. Their background in high-tech toys, robotics, game/app and early BLE development made BlueRail well-suited to take on the challenge. (See photos of early prototypes below).

early bluetooth prototypes

BlueRail designed and licensed the technology to Bachmann Trains (one of the world’s oldest and largest model train companies) which has now been released as the Bachmann E-Z App™ train control system. No additional equipment is required to operate these trains other than a bluetooth smart phone or tablet running a free downloadable app. BlueRail is also manufacturing plug-in boards that can plug into existing DCC-Ready trains to make them bluetooth enabled. BlueRail plans to develop games and applications that work in conjunction with model trains.


Features of Bluetooth Smart

Bluetooth Smart has many features that make it highly suitable for model train control.

Unlimited simultaneous connections – The Bluetooth Smart protocol has no defined limit on the number of simultaneous connections. Although a practical limit may be found some day, it is safe to say Bluetooth Smart can be used to simultaneously run as many trains as needed.

Range – BLE boards have been operated from 150 ft or more, and through up to 3 indoor walls. Of course no one really needs to run their train from 150 ft or several rooms away, but the fact that you can demonstrates efficient signal strength which means dependability and low latency. The technology works well with many users in close proximity without interference, and is a good solution for brass locos.

Updateable system requiring little hardware – The system depends on very little hardware. The control app is updateable software running on the user’s smartphone, while everything in the loco is handled by firmware within a bluetooth module (which can be wirelessly updated at any time). This means the protocol and entire control system can grow through wireless updates without requiring new hardware. This frees users of the cost, update issues and obsolescence of older systems, while providing more intuitive user control without the big learning curve.

Bi-directional communication – All control is bi-directional, meaning the loco can talk back to the control app. This is a strong advantage in things like consisting (cooperation between multiple locos to pull a single train) and allowing for realistic audio responses to how hard a loco is working.

Direct connection to a micro-computer (smart device) – With a direct connection between a train and any smartphone or touch device, control apps become possible on many platforms (iOS, Android, Windows, Mac etc). This also creates a platform for game and application development that works in conjunction with model trains.

Battery powered operation – Because bluetooth doesn’t rely on track signals, bluetooth trains are an excellent choice for battery powered train operation (also called Dead Rail). All BlueRail plugin boards have connection points for optional battery power.

Grows the model train hobby – BLE and touch screen control makes model trains accessible to a generation of new and younger tech-savy users and creates a platform for ongoing content development, helping preserve the model train hobby for another generation of users.


The history of model trains is a wonderful example of the pairing of a traditional toy with modern technology to create a new spin on an old tradition.


Please use the video link above to see videos about various aspects of bluetooth train control.


Maybe Model Trains Aren’t Dying.

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Bachmann E-Z App Generations

An older model railroader hands a child an iPad to control model trains

It is not uncommon to read articles about how the model train industry is on the decline. Statistics commonly depict a dying hobby who’s users are aging and declining in number. NMRA articles often feature a president’s message looking for ways to bring young people to the hobby. Train shows are filled with rectangular layouts with elderly club members operating their locomotives safely from the center of the display (which often includes safety glass). But if you attended the Amherst train show in Springfield, MA last month, you may have seen something different. Young kids are downloading apps onto their smart phones and running trains themselves. Bachmann is the first major manufacturers to build Bluetooth Smart directly into their trains. Families with kids are downloading the free control app on their smart phones and running the trains themselves. The trains use the same technology found in the Apple Watch and Fitbits, and are a great example of refitting a classic hobby with cutting edge technology. This is accomplishing its goal of bringing younger users to the hobby. 35% of the people who’ve purchased Bachmann E-Z App™ trains since they released this Christmas are between the ages of 25-34, and 28% are between the ages of 18-24. These are young families with kids, and just the target audience the model railroading hobby is trying to reach. The photo at the top of this article (taken from the Amherst show) tells the story of an older model railroader handing the hobby to another younger generation. In this case, he is handing it over in the form of an iPad mini, and the child seems interested.


The BlueRail Story – Background

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BlueRail Trains is made up of three west coast developers with a background in high-tech and game development.

David ReesCEO and Creative Director (background: 2d/3d art graphic design, music, sound, ui, game design and high-tech toys)
Pete SkeggsChief of Hardware (background: Senior embedded firmware engineer, electrical engineer, robotics, programming)
Eric LaunChief of Software (background: Senior UI and Game design programmer, robotics AI)


BlueRail Trains Logo

2010

I finally had a basement space capable of supporting a decent layout, and created a double-L comprised of 200 ft of 3-Rail Atlas O track. In my haste I made the grades too steep, leading into turns that were too sharp. After my nephews crashed a few O locos, I knew I would either need to re-do my layout, or move beyond standard transformer control. In 40+ years of model trains, I had always ran standard trains. For the first time I started researching my digital control options, and learned that my options were 2 competitive proprietary versions of DCC (DCS and TMCC). The more I read, the more I realized this was a decision I would be committing to. I began reading CV variable programming manuals to acquaint myself with general DCC basics. I also borrowed and examined the Cab controller interfaces and associated hardware (for my 2 options). This decision was going to require investment and commitment to learning. As a UI designer and user experience developer in games and high tech for 20+ years, I realized this technology pre-dated a lot of modern advancements from the last 15 years, and I knew my wife wasn’t going to be excited about the money I would spend.

Around this same time, Bluetooth Smart was released, and I was fortunate enough to be doing app development for some of the first BLE smartphone controlled home lighting and backyard irrigation products. This new aspect of bluetooth supports unlimited simultaneous connections from hundreds of feet. I knew this was a great solution for my train control dilemma. I spoke with my former college roommate Pete Skeggs about making the board. He was president of the Portland robotics club, and had worked as senior embedded firmware engineer for EM Electronics and Intel. BCW-V1 He is also the closest thing to Tony Stark this country will ever have. I also spoke with long time friend and work associate Eric Laun who is a senior UI and game design programmer with whom I had done game and tech development for many years. Pete created his own homemade bluetooth smart module and board while Eric and I developed the control app. I integrated the board into a basic Lionel steam loco within the tender. To our amazement the first board and app worked surprisingly well. We nicknamed the board “Boxcar Willy” (because it rode around in a trailing boxcar). Here is a picture of BCW v1:


BCW-V2_900
With the success of BCWv1 we set out to create a smaller board that could fit in an HO F unit connected by a DCC-Ready cable. 6 months later BCW-V2 was completed – it had a smaller footprint and was outperforming it’s predecessor.
At this stage we realized what had started out as a personal basement tech experiment was revealing itself to be a great way to run trains – one that offers some distinct new advantages. BlueRail Trains was born.

BlueRail has since partnered with Bachmann Trains and licensed this technology for use in Bachmann E-Z App™ train control. As Bachmann integrates bluetooth into their various lines, BlueRail is growing the application and feature set. BlueRail is also developing bluetooth plugin boards for use in any model train.


What’s so cool about bluetooth smart?

Bluetooth Smart has many great features that make it excellent for model train control.

Unlimited simultaneous connections – The Bluetooth Smart protocol has no defined limit on the number of simultaneous connections (trains) you can make. Perhaps we will find a limit someday, but for now it is safe to say you can use Bluetooth Smart to simultaneously run as many trains as you desire.

Great range – We have operated our BLE boards from 150 ft or more, and through up to 3 indoor walls. Of course no one really needs to run their train from 150 ft or several rooms away, but the fact that you can demonstrates efficient signal strength which means dependability and low latency. The technology works well with many users in close proximity without interference, and is a good solution for brass locos.

Updateable system requiring little hardware – The system depends on almost zero hardware; the control app is updateable software running on your smartphone, while everything in the loco is handled by firmware within a bluetooth module (which can be wirelessly updated at any time). This means the protocol and entire control system can grow through wireless updates without requiring new hardware. This frees users of the cost, update issues and obsolescence of older systems, while providing more intuitive user control without the big learning curve.

Bi-directional communication – All control is bi-directional, meaning the loco can talk back to the control app. This is a great advantage in things like consisting, cooperation between multiple trains, and allowing for realistic audio responses to how hard a loco is working.

Direct connection to a micro-computer (smart device) – With a direct connection between a train and any smartphone or touch device, control apps become possible on the most popular platforms in the world (iOS, Android, Windows, Mac etc) using the most standard modern protocol for connectivity. This also creates a platform for game and application development that works in conjunction with model trains (which we are excited to pursue).

Dead Rail support – Because our system doesn’t rely on track signals, BlueRail is an excellent choice for Dead Rail (battery powered trains). All BlueRail plugin boards have connection points for optional battery power.

Grows the hobby – BLE and touch screen control makes model trains accessible to a generation of new and younger tech-savy users and creates a platform for ongoing engaging content development.


Our Goal

Our goal at BlueRail is to use 25 years of user-interface, game and high-tech development to bring model trains to a new level of user experience that has equal appeal for new users as well as seasoned hobbyists. We are a few creative tech developers and friends who run trains, love high-tech, enjoy what we do and want to take it further.

If you use our free downloadable app to run a bluetooth loco (Bachmann E-Z App™ or BlueRail plugin boards) and notice any features you don’t like or think are missing, you can just wait for automatic updates as we add features, sounds and capabilities. The interface for great train control can be deceptively simple while maintaining robust underlying features.

If you are a smaller scale modeler concerned about the size of circuit boards, remember tinier bluetooth solutions come out every few months. It is only a matter of time before the technology miniaturizes to your favorite gauge.

If you are heavily invested in DCC and wonder how this fits into your world, remember we are hobbyists and understand the value of all the high quality locomotives and equipment out there (like fine Stratocasters). As interested as we are in creating a new modern train control system that is expandable and avoids obsolescence, we are also very interested in adapting BLE to work with existing equipment. We have no interest in supplanting DCC, and believe BLE is a protocol that has many applications that can advance all aspects of the hobby. Our focus is to create great interfaces, and it is our hope BLE will find a way to connect our interface with whatever protocol or loco you operate.

And if you hate new technology in every form and are angry about emerging technologies, remember that technology can bring a new generation of users to the hobby. New enthusiastic users allow the hobby to flourish and grow. Model railroading has been handed down from father to son for generations. We hope BlueRail can help that continue to happen.

Please use the video link above to see videos about various aspects of bluetooth train control.

David Rees
BlueRail Trains


Contact

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Please excuse our site construction.

Please use our contact page to receive preferred information about BlueRail boards.

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