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Investigating Hornby Railmaster by Stephen Nicholson

Part 1

I have had DCC for a number of years and am reasonably happy with the control offered by Bachmann Dynamis System. So when Peter and I visited The Model Railway Club exhibition at the Ally Pally, finding out about new DCC systems was not on our list for the day. However we found ourselves listening to a talk by Hornby about Railmaster and its features.
Railmaster is a means of DCC control that uses the power of PCs and extends this to certain phones and tablets. Currently you need to own the Hornby Elite controller. (so the total cost of the solution, with software is about £230-250). So far, not enough selling points to convince me to change, although the visual nature of the system is attractive. I can never remember numbers, so recalling 4 digit addresses is a nuisance - however pointing and clicking at a picture of your engine seems a winner.
Railmaster Screenshot

In their 2013 range, Hornby announced a new version of Railmaster, that has a simple interface between a computer and the layout - the computer is used for all train control (ie no need for an Elite). Total cost of this gadget plus the software is less than £70 (from the well known retailer in Liverpool). As I have an old, but working computer, this seems like a relatively inexpensive project. The E-link, as its known, is due in the next few weeks and so have decided to take the plunge and get the computer setup in our converted garage where we have our layout.

For balance I should point out there are other computer controlled DCC systems, but all seem to be at a price or require electronics/computer knowledge. Railmaster is targeted at the trainset and enthusiast market - and seems to strike the right balance of ease of use and features. Although as an IT professional, a more techy solution should not be barrier, I would prefer to spend leisure time railway modelling rather than getting to understand JRMI, SPROGs and CBus etc.

First off, where to put the computer? I want to ensure the computer is there as a model railway controller, not a computer with a model railway attached. I needed a screen for the computer, and managed to locate a second hand flat screen for £20 on Gumtree. I have been able to mount it above the layout and connect the computer underneath with a keyboard and mouse in a convenient location. I can just get a wireless signal, so I will be able to get updates without difficulties.

I have installed a demo version of the software, which has allowed us to try out the interface - which is dated, but functional. Features that I like are: 

Due later this year is a loco detection feature (So the computer will know where the engine is on the layout). Hornby promises this will be cheap and easy to install. With multiple speakers, I am hoping this will be a poor mans (and boys) alternative to sound fitted engines.

So, we are just about ready, just a DPTP switch from Squires (handily their shop is open again) to allow switching between Railmaster and the Dynamis.


TO READ PART 2 - Using Hornby Railmaster, CLICK HERE.