Railwriter -- Updated introduction

RailwriterRailwriter Durham, NC
edited May 2019 in Members

This is an updated version of an introduction that I first posted to this Forum many years ago. The original apparently got eaten by one of the system crashes – and I thought a repost might be useful for some of the newer Forum members.

Hello everyone. I’ve mentioned a little of my background in other posts, but I guess a formal introduction would be helpful.

My real name is Ernest Robl. I am a retired journalist (both writer and photographer) who long specialized in travel and transportation subjects, with a special emphasis on railroads. (I have, of course, covered many other topics from politics to sports – and I’ve had detours through other work areas, such as technical writing. I worked on the user manuals for a large computer-based logistics management system and also did contract writing for the U.S. transportation branch of the European company Alstom.) I’ve also supplied photos to major U.S. railroads and railroad manufacturers, such a Siemens.)

I was born in Vienna, Austria, and came to the U.S. with my parents at age 8. I still speak and read German – and keep up with European railroads, particularly those of Austria. I can also read and speak a little French.

The focus of my model railroad activities has changed substantially since I posted the original introduction -- both due to being retired for a while and due to having realized that digital was the only logical way to build the layout that I wanted.

I model/collect Austrian model railroad equipment in HO DC DCC. Because many of my early locomotives – some acquired many years ago, and others given to me by various people – are analog and would probably be very difficult to convert to digital, some of my older equipment may not make it onto my planned current layout – which is set in the Era 5-6 range, but also has a museum with historic equipment -- and which will host some excursions with a preserved class 52 (Roco) steam locomotive..

My rolling stock (and track) is predominantly Roco, but also comes from Kleinbahn and Klein Modellbahn, Piko, and Jägerndorfer (JC) -- among other manufacturers. I also have a number of Kibri railcars built from kits. And, I also have the operable Viessmann Austrian version of a Robel track maintenance vehicle.

My digital control system uses Roco components, with several Multimaus controllers.

My current layout is in the very early stages of construction, but I also have a variety of scenes and dioramas (including structures) on bookshelves – and the plan is to incorporate most of these into the layout. I also have what I describe as a rather "intense" (analog) test track – an 4.5x7 ft. table-top oval with about a dozen switches. That setup, all Roco Line track, lets me run trains of substantial length and do some switching. This setup has no scenery, unlike some of my dioramas and displays. (The reason that this test track is analog is that it lets me run some of my older analog models -- and newer items that have not yet had decoders installed.)

I also have a digital test track in the spare bedroom that I use as my model railroad workshop -- for assembly of structure kits and similar items..

My modeling philosophy is based on the "good enough" principle. I do like a moderate amount of details in my models, but I don’t see the point of paying much more for extra detail, which is very fragile and likely to break with handling and operation. Most of my passenger rolling stock is compressed (1:100) in length. Not only does that equipment work better on curves, but in many cases a seven car passenger train with compressed length coaches will actually look more realistic than a five-car train with full-length coaches.

As I’ve also mentioned elsewhere, an ongoing (started long ago) modeling project is building the equipment and facilities of the fictional railroad construction company, Bahnbau Robl. This includes both on- and off-rail equipment, mostly from Kibri kits. Many have been modified to some extent to fit my needs and almost all have been painted in a common paint scheme. Bahnbau Robl even owns a small preserved steam loco (Roco BR80), which it uses for promotional purposes, but, which can also be pressed into switching service if needed. (While Kibri vehicle and railcar kits are not absolutely the most detailed models, they are certainly among the most adaptable and versatile, making them easy to modify for a particular purpose.)

My first locomotive cab ride came around age 5-6 in Vienna, on a small switching steam lok, probably an 0-6-0. (You can read about that and other factors that led to my interest in railroads in the Blog post "Early Beginnings.") I have not only traveled widely by rail both in the U.S. and Europe, but have also traveled on engines both in the U.S. and Europe, including ICE and TGV trains. Over the years, I was able to do quite a few engine rides in Austria, which provided many insights into operations.

I’ve produced (usually with my own photos) well over 50 substantial magazine articles on railroad and rail transit topics alone, for publications both in the U.S. and abroad. For more than five years, I wrote a column on railroad radio communications for the (now defunct) radio magazine Monitoring Times. And, for two years I wrote the high-speed passenger rail column "Going Faster," for Passenger Train Journal. I’ve produced several self-published books on transportation subjects. And, I’ve contributed many photos to books, particularly textbooks for all levels of education.

That’s enough for now. I just wanted to point out that much of my knowledge of European railroads has come from many years of conversations with railroad employees and officials at all levels. And, as a journalist, I was able to get into many railroad facilities not open to the general public.
-- Ernest


  • el Gato Gordoel Gato Gordo Colorado Spring

    And your various blogs are much appreciated!

  • RailwriterRailwriter Durham, NC

    @el Gato Gordo said:
    And your various blogs are much appreciated!

    Thanks. I have some more Blog articles partly done. It's just a matter of getting my life organized.

    -- Ernest

  • Love your blogs my favorite one was Christmas in Austria about the candle!!

  • a good write , and reading was pleasant , trouble with DCC into older models ? i have a question for you , is it possible to place N scale decoders into a HO system ? they would be smaller right ?
    french ? i have a jeouf (a T40, i think) analog , do you want it ? i prefer german models , after all , my last name is krebs. (and no i do not fish for lobsters )

  • RailwriterRailwriter Durham, NC

    I'm not sure why you are asking me these questions -- I am far from an expert on digital -- but I'll give them a try.

    Whether a decoder is classified for HO, N, or any other scale is largely based on what power consumption it can handle. The larger the scale, the larger the motors, and the larger the power consumption.

    There are now some very small decoders designed for HO. But in theory, yes, you could use an N scale decoder in an HO locomotive - provided it is a small locomotive with a small electric motor and it will not be pulling any huge loads.

    At this point, I don't have any interest in rolling stock beyond that which operates in Austria. That includes equipment from neighboring countries, such as Germany. I probably already have too much rolling stock, and am now mostly concentrating on working on structures.

    -- Ernest

  • BR42BR42 Auburn


    Welcome to the forum. As Ernest says, you can put any decoder into any engine as long as the decoder can handle the current needs of the loco. Digitrax and TCS, my favorite decoder makers, produce very small Z-scale decoder delevering 1A continuously, and 2A as peak for a very brief period. I have been using these decoder without problems for almost 15 years.


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