Q. What type of PC do I need ?

A. Nowadays, the rapid pace of technology makes even a 3-year-old PC "obsolete". But frankly, it doesn't take a super-computer to control a model railroad. Virtually any retired PC built in the last 10 years can be given a second life in the basement as a controller for your layout. In fact, the computer needed to run your entire railroad can be picked up at any computer show or "ham-fest" for less than the cost of many HO scale engines!

To specifically answer the question, these are the computer requirements needed to operate the CTI system:

  • An IBM-PC or compatible computer
  • 256 MBytes of memory or greater
  • Windows 98/2000/NT/XP/Vista/7
  • SVGA color monitor
  • One serial (COM) port or USB port
  • Mouse
  • Sound card (optional)

Q. With which model railroad gauges can I use CTI ?

A. The CTI system is completely "gauge independent." It is currently in use with all model railroad gauges from Z through G. (There are even a number of live steam railroads using it for their signalling operations.)

Both AC and DC-operated trains can be controlled using CTI.

Q. Do I need to make changes to my engines to use CTI ?

A. Definitely not. One of the big strengths of our system is that it will work will all off-the-shelf model railroad equipment, without modification. For multiple train operation using non-decoder equipped locomotives, CTI allows the use of conventional block wiring. The PC takes care of tracking each train as it proceeds along the mainline, and automatically routes the throttle assigned to that engine ahead of it, as it proceeds from block to block. The PC can also automatically slow or stop a train based on the presence of traffic in the blocks ahead. The entire operation is automatic, and completely transparent to the user.

If you prefer to control your motive power using Digital Command Control, CTI's software provides full support for the systems from all major manufacturers of PC-controllable DCC equipment. In this case, too, operation can be fully computer-controlled. (See the question on DCC compatibility below for more details.)

Q. Can I still use my conventional throttles with the CTI system ?

A. Certainly. Most model railroaders have invested a lot of money into sophisticated throttle controls, and we felt it would be a mistake to require our users to reinvest in yet another speed control system just to enjoy the advantages of computer control.

Unlike some computer control systems, CTI doesn't require you to use our throttles. You have the option of going to fully automated speed control (either through the use of our Smart Cab modules or Digital Command Control hardware), of using your existing manual throttles (using the CTI system to automatically take care of routing the output of your conventional throttles to the appropriate engines), or of using any combination of these approaches.

As an example, some users like to use a Smart Cab to operate their passenger trains (letting the PC automatically run them according to regularly scheduled timetables), while running their freight service operations using a manual throttle. In both cases, power routing is still fully automatic.

Another popular option is to computerize operations along the mainline, handing off automatically to a local manual throttle as the train enters a yard area. Once the yard switching operations are performed, and the train is ready to reenter the mainline, the PC automatically retakes control, and when it is safe, reinserts the train into the flow of mainline traffic under control of the Smart Cab or DCC system.

Q. What sensing mechanism is employed by the Train Brain ?

A. The Train Brain's sensor ports themselves are completely independent of any underlying detection mechanism. They are fully compatible with all common forms of train detection including magnetic, infrared, photocells, and current detection sensors. The Train Brain's sensor ports incorporate a digital noise rejection filter to prevent noise-induced false alarms. In addition they provide a variety of detector-specific filtering mechanisms for use with each type of sensor (e.g. switch bounce rejection for magnetic sensors, car-gap rejection for IR, and intermittent contact (dirty track) compensation for current detection sensors).

CTI sells a full range of magnetic, IR, photocell, and current detection sensors that are 100% compatible with the Train Brain's sensors ports. Our users's guide also shows how to design your own sensors for use with the Train Brain.

Q. What speed control mechanism is employed by the Smart Cab ?

A. We believe the worst place a model railroader can scrimp is in their choice of throttles. Even the best engine will respond like a toy when run using a cheap throttle. So when we designed the Smart Cab, we set out to make it the best performing throttle on the market (computer controlled or otherwise), while at the same time making it affordable. We think we succeeded.

Smart Cab supplies a fully regulated DC output, controllable in 100 discrete digital steps. It continually monitors its output, maintaining output voltage to within 0.1% regardless of variations in load. For smooth, even starts and steady low-speed performance, Smart Cab employs pulsed operation at the lowest throttle settings, switching automatically to a continuous voltage output once the train reaches cruising speed.

Smart Cab employs a novel user-selectable output voltage range so that all of its 100 speed settings are available for use by your locomotives, regardless of gauge. None are wasted on speeds that run your trains faster than you want them to run. Other built-in features include variable momentum settings, direction control, braking, short-circuit and over-temperature protection.

We think it's worth comparing Smart Cab's features to the throttles employed in other computer control systems, which consist of nothing more than a simple transistor, turned quickly on and off to vary motor speed. This technique is commonly used to control the speed of high horsepower industrial motors. Unfortunately, when applied to the tiny motors used in model railroading (which lack sufficient torque), it causes vibration, noise, overheating, and excessive motor wear. It's only advantage is that it's cheap. We could have used it too, but we chose not to cut corners. We think you'll be quite surprised at how much better your engines perform when run by the Smart Cab.

Q. Is the CTI system compatible with DCC ?

A. Yes!!! One of the major advantages of our control software is that it supports the integration of command control with our cost effective discrete control and sensing modules.

One of the big drawbacks of digital command control is that it has no sensing capability. Thus, automated operation simply isn't possible. That problem is solved by CTI's control software. Your command control hardware and the CTI system can now be joined, working in tandem as a seamless, integrated system. Your command control system can respond automatically to CTI's sensors, and work in partnership with CTI's affordable control modules. Command control owners can use their DCC system to do what it does best - run trains, while using CTI to cost-effectively control switches, signals, sound, etc. - the entire integrated system operated automatically by CTI's powerful control software.

Currently, our software supports the PowerHouse Pro series from North Coast Engineering, System One from Wangrow Electronics, DCS-100 and Zephyr from Digi-Trax, the Easy-DCC system from CVP, the X-Bus and XPressNet -based systems from Lenz, the Master system from Atlas, and TrainMaster Command Control (TMCC) from Lionel. Each of these systems is well-suited to use in a PC-controlled operating environment. Collectively, they provide our users with a wide range of choices in price and performance. (And we’ll be expanding to support other DCC manufacturers in the coming months. Stay tuned for details.)

Q. What types of signals can the Signalman control and what signaling protocol does it employ ?

A. When we designed the Signalman, we realized there was a nearly endless variety of signaling products on the market. Trouble-free, 100% compatability with all commercial signal hardware was a top priority in the Signalman's design.

Electrically speaking, all signaling hardware falls into one of 4 categories:

  • Incandescent lamp-based signals
  • Common-anode LED-based signals
  • Common-cathode LED-based signals
  • Bipolar LED-based signals
The Signalman was designed to support all of these 4 electrical categories.

The same issue arises when it comes time to implement a signaling protocol. We all spend countless hours in an effort to make our model railroads true to the prototype. Yet when it comes to signaling, the available signal control electronics on the market today has forced us all to live with nothing more than the most simplistic 3 aspect Red-Yellow-Green signal protocol. When we designed the Signalman, we set out to change that.

In contrast to the profusion of fixed-function signal control products on the market, we designed the Signalman to specifically exploit the flexibility that’s available only through computer control. Rather than build complex fixed-function signaling logic using expensive, "hard-wired" electronic circuitry, with the Signalman, all signaling decisions are centralized, and performed much more affordably, under computer control (just like on real railroads) by CTI's powerful control software.

As a result, the Signalman can implement any signaling protocol, and works equally well with block, searchlight, and positional signals. Some users have used the Signalman to implement the full NORAC signaling protocol, with up to 18 distinct signaling aspects per signal head! That kind of flexibility is simply not found on any other signaling product on the market today.

Q. Can the CTI system be incorporated into an existing layout ?

A. Yes. Most of our users incorporated CTI into their existing model railroads. In fact, in most cases, adding computer control capability will not even require removal of your existing manual wiring. It can simply be wired in parallel with your present wiring, giving you the ability to switch back and forth between manual and automated control.

Q. CTI manufactures a variety of control and sensing modules. I'm not sure which ones are right for my railroad.

A. Confused? Don't worry! In general, there's no wrong answer when it comes to picking a particular CTI module for a given application. Our products are very flexible, and most functions can be performed by more than one of our general-purpose modules. CTI's Train-Brain module family is merely designed to provide the best combination of price and performance to allow users to automate their model railroad at the most affordable price possible. To help you decide which modules are best suited to your railroad's needs, we've put together a "Quick-Reference" chart to faciliate the choice of control modules. Use it as a guide, but as always, we encourage you to experiment with a variety of our flexible, easy-to-use modules.

Q. What's the best way to get started with CTI ?

A. To make it easy to check out what CTI can do on your layout, we've packaged everything you'll need to get started in model railroad computer control into the "CTI Starter Kit". It contains our control software, a Train-Brain PC board, sensors, our users guide, power supply, and interface cables. That's everyting you'll need to try out a wide variety of real-world applications of CTI on your own railroad.

We firmly believe it shouldn't cost you an arm and a leg to try something new. For that reason, we've priced our entire starter kit at a very affordable $99.

Once you try CTI, we're convinced you'll be hooked, but rest assured that the Starter Kit comes with a full 30-day no-questions-asked money back guarantee (as do all of our products). If you try CTI and decide it's not for you, just return it for a full refund.

You can also download our software and user's guide free from our website to get a head's up on what CTI can do for your railroad.


  Voice: (410) 882-8384               Fax: (410) 882-8393
info@cti-electronics.com           PO Box 9535  Baltimore, MD 21237

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