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Life of a Model Railroader Mile Post 1

My Path To Remote Ops

(Remote Login With Gordy Robinson, Orkney United Kingdom)

Living in rural Australia and being of the younger NMRA generation does have its draw backs; Three hours to the closest model railroad club and very few peers of my age. However as the saying goes, you only get out what you put in. Being introduced to model railroading as a seven-year-old and only moving away from the hobby when girls and cars became of more interest, I quickly rejoined when I had a son of my own. In the space of ten years technology has taken a large leap. When trying to find answers to my questions and problems I instinctively turned to the internet.

In the world of DCC, open source software and microcomputers I am sure you have all heard of JMRI and a Raspberry Pi. My new layout build is in the early construction stage. By the end, I am aiming to have a multi deck layout with the ability to have eight to ten operators for a three to four-hour operating session. It was at this point I reached my first group of questions: how do I fit eight to ten people in a 6m x 3m area?, what DCC system offers the best solution for ops and user-friendly throttles? The answer to the first was easy! I would not overcome this without reducing my layout footprint. That was not going to happen! Second question was not so clear cut, with every DCC system having their own pros and cons. A fellow modeller here in Australia was assembling Sprog Pi’s and introduced me to the idea of having my Pi and eating it to.

The Sprog Pi system uses a Raspberry Pi 3B+ with a Pi-Sprog Hat (Hardware Attached on Top) from Sprog DCC. This takes care of the DCC throttles, with the added benefit of a computer that is running JMRI for as part of the Sprog system. As the Raspberry Pi is a minicomputer, you can attach multiple DCC systems via the USB ports. This enables the user to add block detection from one manufacturer and signalling from another as the layout evolves. Using JMRI as a building block has the added benefit that while building my Roster, Tables and Panels as I go the integration of other systems will be slice of Pi due to the groundwork already started.

The Sprog Pi comes as a plug and play system so I will not be covering the setup of this. The Sprog Pi comes pre-configured to operate your layout via WiThrottle in JMRI, the Raspberry Pi’s WiFi and a smart phone or device. With half the battle won, it left me pondering the notion of fulfilling my need for two person train crews whilst having less operators onsite. While tinkering within JMRI I found and used the “Web Server” to view my panels while testing the layout during track laying. Access was via a web browser and my local home network (all in house IP address). This had me thinking, if only half of my operators could access this while not in my train shed! Being part of the NMRAx team hosting and watching Dave Abeles clinic, I knew the technology was available, it was a matter of determining how and what settings to use.

Setting up JMRI to start and launch WiThrottle, My Panels and the Web Server is the first step. All of this can be completed from within JMRI’s Preferences. Under the “Start Up” tab, you can add files or parts of JMRI you want to start every time you open JMRI [img1].


 To Add a new start up item, click the add button [img2]. Here you can pick from several options [img3].


I like to run a pause between start-up and all items I have opening. This gives the Raspberry Pi time to complete the operation. I run the sequence of WiThrottle, My Panels, Web Server. Once you have all items you wish to open upon starting, be sure to note the port numbers for both WiThrottle (12090) [img4] and the Web Server (12080) [img5]. These will be used later in the setup.


Next you need to setup port forwarding within your home network router. The home network router is broken up into two areas. The first is the local network, everything that you connect to it within your home. The local network has an IP address assigned to every item connected, regardless of the connection type. PC’s, Printers, TV’s and Phones. Evan the router itself has an IP address, this is normally Every router is different when it comes to port forwarding so it’s best to read the manual. For my TP Link router, I open a web browser and enter the IP address into the address bar. I then find my Sprog-Pi under the client list of connected devices ( [img6]. Under the advanced tab, and NAT Forwarding, I setup virtual servers. Here I enter two servers [img7]. I do this to keep the port arrangement directed at only the ports I want to access from the internet.


The second area of your home router is the IP address your internet provider assigns you. This normally changes every time you reboot your home router. To find this you can do a simple google search “What’s My IP Address”[img8]. Here you see mine is, note this down as it is needed when you issue this connection address out to your operators. As most internet providers here in Australia do not supply you with a static IP, I see this as added security as after every Op session I simply restart my home router and will have a different IP address. The above setup takes around two minutes before any Op session to reconfigure.


Now you have the port forwarding setup and the external IP address for your router, you can use these to connect. First, I connect to WiThrottle using the “Engine Drive” app. In the “server address” you enter your external IP address and the WiThrottle port number and click connect (NOTE I’m only connected via my mobile 4G network, meaning a different internet connection then my Sprog-Pi) [img9]. Once connected you can see your JMRI roster under “Server Roster”, Select a loco and cycle the layout power [img10] [img11] [img12] [img13].


Now we have confirmed the connection and access is possible, you can log on to the web server using your IP address and the webserver port ( You can access this via a web browser on any device that is not on your local network [img14].


From here you can access any panels that are open, web throttle and your roster. The panels work as any other panel you have in JMRI. Here you can see my overall layout. This gives the user the ability to change points [img15].


So, what is next I hear you ask! At the time of writing this, I am working on video and audio for the crews. I am planning to have a few remote cameras around the layout to get an overview but not to the point the remote driver can see the operation and car spot. The audio will be via UHF radio’s here in the layout room. I plan to broadcast this along with the video over a video conference room online. After this I will look at digital switch list and operation practice that will help slow everyone down and act like the real-life railroad. My grand plan for the layout is to have two, two-person train crews out and about the layout. With another two-person train crew working the yard. Where possible the engineer for each train will be accessing via be remote login to the system, the conductor will be in the layout room with a UHF radio and digital tablet to follow switch list and throw turnouts.

Brad Anderson

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