Honestly, what was I thinking ? Infrared remote control requires line of sight in order to operate the device - it won't work through walls. So if you place the device that you wish to control, for instance a LEGO train, in a place without line of sight to the controller, say in a long, enclosed section of railway tunnel, then it won't work. Duh.
Above (as with all the pictures, click to enlarge) you can see where I'd got to with my LEGO city layout the last time I blogged about it; eventually the whole loop of track will be fully enclosed, and the plan is to ultimately run an extended 5-car version of Set 7938 Passenger Train on this loop. Problem is that the standard, unmodified train is operated by infrared remote control, so for the majority of its progress around the enclosed loop of track I won't be able to control it. Whoops.... So what to do ? Well it's thankfully not an insurmountable problem, but it has once again necessitated an unplanned excursion into my wallet for what I think is the optimal solution.
For those of you of a more tender age, it's probably time for a quick history lesson. Since the appearance of LEGO trains in the mid-nineteen sixties, the company has utilised a variety of methods for making trains move by themselves. Initially it was 4.5V motors powered by huge on-board battery boxes. Then in the late sixties LEGO introduced a system of 12V motors running on electrified track; this system gave rise to some of the most iconic and revered trains that LEGO have ever produced, not least Set 7740 Inter-City Passenger Train (below).
This 12V system endured for two decades, eventually being phased out in the early nineties when LEGO transitioned to a system of 9V motors running on a different, moulded type of electrified track. This 'era' ran until 2006, and the introduction of the Remote Controlled, or RC, system which reverted to non-electrified track and motors once again powered by on-board battery boxes. Importantly, however, as the name suggests trains could for the first time be controlled remotely without the need for a physical connection between train and operator. The RC system was short-lived, however, giving way to the Power Functions-based system a few years later. This PF system, which is what LEGO currently sells, also employs non-electrified track, motors powered by on-board battery boxes and infra-red remote control which requires line of sight in order to control the train. Bringing things back to the present, it's this PF system which is used by the train I plan to use in my underground track loop, and hence my little problem....
So the solution ? 9V. Despite having been officially phased out by the LEGO company a while ago now, 9V is still probably the standard for AFOL builders of public LEGO train displays. The track is no longer produced by LEGO and is relatively expensive on the secondary market, as are the motors, but critically for me, train control is via a speed regulator attached to a section of track by wires so there's no need for line of sight, nor is there the potential for batteries to run out with the train stuck deep in a section of tunnel.... Talking of public train displays, and the observation that most seem to employ 9V, there's also another possible advantage - when I finally complete my layout and my attention shifts to the question of public display, if I use 9V track then it raises the possibility of linking my layout with that of someone else to produce a much larger collaborative build.
Anyway, once I'd sourced (and paid for....) the required quantity of dark bley 9V track, it took no time at all to replace the existing track in my layout with the 9V alternative and wire it up to a speed regulator. You can see where I've currently got to with my layout in the pictures below (click to enlarge); use of a wired system is certainly messier and less elegant, but it"s a compromise I'm willing to make in this case.
The other thing I needed to do, of course, was to convert my train from PF to 9V. Having previously had few dealings with 9V beyond buying a couple of old 9V sets for my collection, I approached this task with some trepidation. I needn't have worried, however - it was incredibly simple. From the outside, the standard 9V motor seems to be pretty much identical to the PF motor included with Set 7938 Passenger Train, so it was literally a matter of disconnecting the PF motor from the battery, removing it from the train chassis, and attaching the 9V motor in its place. I could have stripped out the PF remote receiver and battery box at this point given they were no longer needed to make the train move, but decided instead to retain the PF components to power and control the front and rear lights of the train instead.
You can see the train running on the newly laid 9V track loop in the (decidedly ropey) video clip below, complete with PF-powered front and rear lights. These are turned off and then back on again about halfway through the clip using the remote control.
So another small step forwards, then - ever onwards !
<-- LEGO City Layout : previous blog entry