Grade crossing gates and signals HO scale

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trailrider

Well-Known Member
I have been having frustrations with installing working crossing gates on my HO layout. I first installed some older Model Power gates, actuated by Tortise stall motors under the layout. These were actuated by Azatrax electronics, including infrared cross-track sensors. Worked fine until the gates started to fall apart! Finally pulled them out and kept just the flashing light crossbucks. Should have left well enough alone, I guess, but saw an ad for zstuff HO gates which use NJI gates and mechanisms. The mechanisms stick down from the gate assembly about 1-1/2 inches, and require an oval slot be cut in the layout subroadbed. The slot is 1/2" wide and about 1-1/4" long. The signals are supposed to be actuated by reflection of the sender off a passing engine or car going back to the adjacent receiver. Unfortunately, the two gates I received have a problem and the infrared isn't working unless I block both emitter and receiver with my finger or thumb! I contacted the manufacturer who told me they have been having problems with some of the modules and I can send them back for repair/replacement. There are remote sensing units available for $38 each, which can be located up the track (where the train is coming from, and these will actuate the gates...or so I'm told. When I ordered the two gates, I wasn't aware of needing the remote sensors...there is nothing in the original description to indicate the necessity thereof. Because of the shape of the layout, I am going to need four of the sensors, and ordered them today, along with a grade crossing bell module. Total cost of these items is $196.05 including shipping. It took almost a month from the time I ordered the gates and two of them cost about $166.67! Hopefully, it won't take as long to get the sensors. If connecting the sensors doesn't solve the problem with the gate modules, I'll have to send them back. :(
It is difficult for me to get to the post office right now, so I'll gamble that I can get the system to work. The gates themselves are raised and lowered by a open-frame motor and worm gear. They work nice...when I can get them to sense the trains. If not, I will go back to the Azatrax flashing crossbucks only.
 

trailrider

Well-Known Member
Well, I got the crossing gates set up and wired. The only problem is still the lack of sensitivity of the detectors. The only cars that are detected are some streamlined passenger cars in silver paint schemes. Dark-colored cars won't activate the detectors. I don't have the remote sensors yet, so any approaching train from the "west" end wouldn't activate the gate until it was already across the road. IF the remote sensor on the west approach will detect any train color, it should set off the circuits in the gates. Just have to wait and see. If the remotes won't do the job, I will have to send the whole thing back for repair or replacement.
 

Rico

BN Modeller
I thought interrupting infrared beams would work regardless of color? I’m unfamiliar with them and I’ll reread your post again.
I’ll be looking for something similar so keep us posted!
 

trailrider

Well-Known Member
I thought interrupting infrared beams would work regardless of color? I’m unfamiliar with them and I’ll reread your post again.
I’ll be looking for something similar so keep us posted!
Thre are two ways that infrared beams can work: One is to interrupt the beam between a sender and a receptor. That is a simple way, does work regardless of the color of the rolling stock, and one I employed using Azatrax quipment for some grade crossing flashers. They would also work for gates, but, unfortunately the old Model Power gates fell apart, and I thought the Zstuff system might work better (they use gates from NJI). The second type of IR is to reflect the beam off rolling stock. Azatrax can also be used that way, but the wires have to go to a different set of connectors on their electronic boards. The Zstuff gates have the reflective type, and can't be used in the interrupt mode. :( As I mentioned above, apparently some of the DZ-1010HO crossing gates have too weak a beam to detect dark-colored rolling stock. When I get the remote sensors, which also use the reflective mode, I'll see if they will work with dark models. If not, I'll have to send the gates back for repair/modification.
 

GeeTee

Well-Known Member
Thre are two ways that infrared beams can work: One is to interrupt the beam between a sender and a receptor. That is a simple way, does work regardless of the color of the rolling stock, and one I employed using Azatrax quipment for some grade crossing flashers. They would also work for gates, but, unfortunately the old Model Power gates fell apart, and I thought the Zstuff system might work better (they use gates from NJI). The second type of IR is to reflect the beam off rolling stock. Azatrax can also be used that way, but the wires have to go to a different set of connectors on their electronic boards. The Zstuff gates have the reflective type, and can't be used in the interrupt mode. :( As I mentioned above, apparently some of the DZ-1010HO crossing gates have too weak a beam to detect dark-colored rolling stock. When I get the remote sensors, which also use the reflective mode, I'll see if they will work with dark models. If not, I'll have to send the gates back for repair/modification.
Are the beams reflecting off the side of the cars or the bottom ? Heat/light sources or reflections could be saturating the detector reducing their sensitvity. You might try it at night and turn all the lighting off and see if there is any difference.
 

bklynman01

Active Member
How confident are you with your ability to tinker with electronics and find a method that would work? To create a simple circuit that would detect an object and turn on/off some output isn't too complicated and could be done for much less than $160.

If you're up to the task, here's a link for how to wire a photo interrupter with an Arduino nano (~$25 for a basic nano, or a Bluetooth enabled one for ~$38). The components can be easily obtained for less than $10.
The biggest benefit to using something like an Arduino (or similar) is the expand-ability. The nano shown in that link can handle 25 different inputs/outputs, so controlling all of your gates and building lights and even turnouts are all possible.

A kit that includes everything you could possibly need to detect a train and move the gates runs about $100, link: https://www.sparkfun.com/products/15631
There a bunch of extra stuff there too, so setting up some other controls on the layout would be possible too.

This may not be what you're looking for, or maybe you're more interested in a turn-key system, but it is an option if you're truly frustrated with the market.
 

trailrider

Well-Known Member
Are the beams reflecting off the side of the cars or the bottom ? Heat/light sources or reflections could be saturating the detector reducing their sensitvity. You might try it at night and turn all the lighting off and see if there is any difference.
The beams reflect off the sides of the cars. The emitter/receptor pair are fixed on the module containing the gates, so they can't be moved (unless, I suppose, I sawed off the plastic box...being careful not to cut the wiring inside, try to separate them, and move them under the track). Since I run the layout primarily with the lights on, turning them off really isn't an option. I'm still waiting for the remote sensors, so I will just have to see... Thanks for the suggestions, however.
 

trailrider

Well-Known Member
How confident are you with your ability to tinker with electronics and find a method that would work? To create a simple circuit that would detect an object and turn on/off some output isn't too complicated and could be done for much less than $160.

If you're up to the task, here's a link for how to wire a photo interrupter with an Arduino nano (~$25 for a basic nano, or a Bluetooth enabled one for ~$38). The components can be easily obtained for less than $10.
The biggest benefit to using something like an Arduino (or similar) is the expand-ability. The nano shown in that link can handle 25 different inputs/outputs, so controlling all of your gates and building lights and even turnouts are all possible.

A kit that includes everything you could possibly need to detect a train and move the gates runs about $100, link: https://www.sparkfun.com/products/15631
There a bunch of extra stuff there too, so setting up some other controls on the layout would be possible too.

This may not be what you're looking for, or maybe you're more interested in a turn-key system, but it is an option if you're truly frustrated with the market.
Not really confident about my electronics abilities, although years ago, I built some visible light detectors for a previous layout using some diagrams from a MR magazine article. But that used a lot of Radio Shack stuff, which, of course, isn't available. I think I will wait for the remote sensors to arrive and see if that will solve the problem. If not, I will have to ship the gates back for replacement with the upgraded sensors. Frankly, right now, I have over $300 invested in the Zstuff system, and would like to get things working before investing more. Thanks for the suggestion, though.
 

bklynman01

Active Member
Not really confident about my electronics abilities, although years ago, I built some visible light detectors for a previous layout using some diagrams from a MR magazine article. But that used a lot of Radio Shack stuff, which, of course, isn't available. I think I will wait for the remote sensors to arrive and see if that will solve the problem. If not, I will have to ship the gates back for replacement with the upgraded sensors. Frankly, right now, I have over $300 invested in the Zstuff system, and would like to get things working before investing more. Thanks for the suggestion, though.
Completely reasonable.

Good luck! If you decide to build a circuit, for sure post the questions and we'll help out. I'm sure I'm not the only electronics engineer in the group!
 

trailrider

Well-Known Member
Completely reasonable.

Good luck! If you decide to build a circuit, for sure post the questions and we'll help out. I'm sure I'm not the only electronics engineer in the group!
Thanks! I'll sure keep it in mind. Haven't been notified of the sensors having been shipped yet. If it takes as long as the gates took (about a month!), they probably build them to order. Good to know there are electronics types out there. I'm just an old "acid-on-the-hands rocket engineer" (mechanical type).
Stay well, friends!
 

trailrider

Well-Known Member
I received the crossing gates and the sensors back, and for awhile they worked okay. There is an adjustment potentiometer on each gate's circuit board. It is extremely small and very, very sensitive. I was able to get them working, but then one wire came off one of the gate's boards. The other gate was connected to a single up-track sensor, and it does work with dark-colored cars passing by. I may have to send the other gate back, or forget it! If I could find a different type of gate, I'd go to them and connect them to my Azatrax systems, which can be detected by their IR sensors, either by interrupting the beam across multiple tracks or by reflection under single tracks (but multiple sensors can be connected). I prefer the interrupt type, even though the sensors stick up. They can be hidden or painted silver or somesuch to make them appear to be some sort of post. Even with the zstuff gate, I am using the Azatrax system to control separate flashers in certain positions at the same grade crossing. They will actuate whenever a train or switch engine breaks the beams on any of the four tracks. Right now, the bigger problem with going to a completely Azatrax setup is finding crossing gates that can be actuated by Tortise stall motors, which are hard to install under my layout due to structural members being in the way! Also, NJ International seems to be out of stock on just about everything in the way of gates and signals! Walthers gets their stock from NJI, so no-go there.
For the money and aggravation I'm pretty disillusioned with crossing gates!
 




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