Brand new but with many questions

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New Member
Hello to all, brand new to
Been building our railway for 15 months and finally have a completed circuit, finishing touches will go on for years to come. I've been told there is life outside of
railways! Garden/full size....they just get a blank stare from me..My wife keeps on telling me "Its just a hobby ". My reply is "Just a hobby!!"
I currently have a question for anyone who has knowledge on the subject.
We run LGB and Bachmann locos currently. The layout is a continuous circuit so a collision is impossible unless the train changes direction. I'm using a Massoth controller and would like to put signals in so the following train wont catch up to the lead train. As in real life on a single line the following train will be stopped at a red signal until the lead train has passed a signal further up the line. Is this achievable ?
I can use the controller to change speed of the locos but I would like a more realistic/automatic mode of operation. I also want signals at junctions so whatever train gets there first will get the green signal while the other waits until the signal up the line has been passed. Plus how do signals work? Are reed switches used in the track and if so will these switches effect the automatic horn/bell triggers in locos? :)


BN Modeller
Hi Ian, and welcome! I've been in the hobby for years (and years) and still have many questions. We're also doing a garden railway and I've thought about working semaphores so I'll be watching your post with interest. Planning on battery power with remote control from the deck... next to the fridge. :D


Fleeing from Al
Welcome aboard, Ian. There are indeed automatic block controls you can buy that will stop a following train if the block ahead is occupied. The best for outdoor use would be optical detectors that monitor when a train enters and leaves a block. The signal from the optical detectors can be used to activate a DPDT switch that will cut power to the adjacent block until the block is unoccupied. These detectors are usually used for grade crossing signals but should be reasonably easy to adapt to what you want to do. The switch could also change a signal aspect depending on block occupancy.

I'm not clear about your question on signals. Do you mean trackside signals or grade crossing signals? Reed switches are not normally used for any type of track detection so you've lost me on that one. Again, using optical detectors, you might be able to trigger a horn and bell but you'd have to get the signal from the track to the engine and then to the correct electronics in the engine to trigger the horn and bell. I'm sure it can be done, and probably already has been done by someone. I don't know of a ready made system off the top of my head.


New Member
Hello Jim, Rico
Trackside semaphore signals is what I'm looking at. Why I mentioned reed switches is because that is what was used on a layout here. my layout has switches in the track for whistles and bells, so reed switches would probably be out of the question. Wow what a can of worms I've opened up! Would you be able to point me in the direction of a optical detector suitable for a garden railway?
Regards Ian.


Fleeing from Al
Ian, here's an article on a roll your own optical detector system:

Here's a more advanced article on building an optical dection system for block control and signaling:

And here's a company that puts all the pieces together for you if you're not an electrical engineer :) :

You'll still have to do some modifications to any of these systems since they are primarily meant for block detection and not power control. Once you have the train detected, it's a matter of having the power routed to a relay and switch to control the power to each block based on occupancy. It is a can of worms but it can be done if you have the skills and money. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to - An online railroad bookstore featuring a curated selection of new and used railroad books. Railroad pictorials, railroad history, steam locomotives, passenger trains, modern railroading. Hundreds of titles available, most at discount prices! We also have a video and children's book section. - An online model railroad bookstore featuring a curated selection of new and used books. Layout design, track plans, scenery and structure building, wiring, DCC, Tinplate, Toy Trains, Price Guides and more.