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Model Railroad Electronics and Control


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Terry Chamberlain

Terry Chamberlain

I am an electronics engineer by profession and I live in Macclesfield, Cheshire, England with my wife Sue (but without any cats at the moment). I met and married Sue well over 40 years ago while finishing off my PhD in computer graphics at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. We then spent six years in Cumbernauld (near Glasgow in Scotland), where I was working for Burroughs Corporation on banking computer development, before moving back south, this time to Macclesfield, and a new job for me with Ferranti Computer Systems designing and building sonar systems for the Royal Navy. And that's where I stayed for over 24 years, while the company evolved through a series of owners and name changes (finally as Thales Underwater Systems, being part of the Thales Group - a French multi-national corporation) - until I took early retirement. I continued to work part-time as a consultant for a small company developing aerospace systems for the next 7 years, but am now properly retired.

Like many engineers, electronics has always been my hobby as well as work - my excuse is that it keeps my hand in with the technology while my full-time job developed into that of a paper-pushing manager. My first involvement with home computers was with the (primitive) Sinclair ZX81, but blossomed when I encountered the Atari range of 8-bit machines. Based on the 6502 microprocessor, and with a beautifully structured operating system, they were a joy to program compared with the complexities of Z80-based machines, and a range of small projects laid the groundwork eventually for my magnum opus - the A-TRACK system for DCC model railroad control, written entirely in Assembler to fit in the limited memory available, and with custom-designed DCC interface hardware.

Unfortunately, the Atari 8-bit machines became obsolete a long time ago with the relentless march of the IBM PC, so the future of A-TRACK continues as PC-based software, interfacing to commercial DCC hardware produced by NCE Corporation. Learning about the complexities of the PC, Windows, Visual Basic, USB peripherals and, more recently, Arduino modules has currently occupied most of my leisure (?) time for more than the last 20 years - but a brand-new A-TRACK with much-expanded features has now evolved, is in operational use world-wide, and is freely available to download by anyone who is interested. See the appropriate pages here for details of the latest developments.

Having accumulated an appreciable stable of HO-scale model locomotives and rolling stock in the course of developing and testing A-TRACK, I regret to say that it is only in the last year or so that I have managed to make a start on producing a proper model railroad layout - after many years designing a lot of possible track configurations on the computer - and to putting all my electronic module designs to good use. Progress may be slow, but it's still something to look forward to for the next few years - like all good hobbies, it's the dreams that count . . . .



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Page Last Updated 20 January 2024