A Cover for an In-Track RFID Reader

Model railways have seen many great technological improvements through the years and Digital Command Control (DCC) is one of the biggest, but sometimes I get asked to work on something that’s totally new.  This week I have a small project to share with you for a customer who’s experimenting with RFID.

RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification and is used in all sorts of things; there’s a good chance you have an RFID chip in your wallet.  Bank cards that have the contactless payment option have an RFID chip inside the card which reacts to the RFID reader when you hold your card up to pay.  This technology has been in use for a long time in all sorts of industries, from such environments as warehouse management to automatic bridge toll devices.  Now it’s making its way into model railways, at least on one model railway anyway.

To add another level of realism to the customer’s railway, all of his freight wagons have been fitted with an RFID chip.  There are readers either under the track or within it at multiple places around the railway.  This means, when a train enters a freight yard, the computer will know exactly which wagons make up that train.  It’ll then work out where each needs to go, such as a local industry or added to another train, and the operator then has the fun of shunting the train as instructed.

With a newly-constructed part of the layout, adding a readily available RFID reader under the track was fairly easy, but on the already existing section it’s a little bit more of a challenge without ripping up the track.  The answer came in the form of these custom made RFID readers by Eccel.

This are designed to fit between the rails allowing space for the wheel flange to pass.  A hole at one end needs to be driled between the sleepers to allow the cable to pass through. However, they don’t look very realistic for a model railway, so the customer has asked me to design a 3D printed cover to make them look like a timber uncoupling ramp.  The uncoupling ramp below, made by Peco, is designed to clip into the track, but also sits above the railhead so it will engage the UK-style couplings.

The customer uses American-style Kadee couplings so the uncoupling ramp will be purely cosmetic and needs to sit just below the railhead.

As always, I have 3D modeled the original part, and some track, to ensure everything is correct.

The ramp is designed to clip over the RFID board, with space inside to allow for the circuit components.  The RFID reader itself will be fixed using the two holes in the board.

To get the wood grain effect I’ve recessed the patten so it will, hopefully, print and be visible when painted.  I’ll spray these to ensure a thin coat of paint as brushing would probably fill the recessed wood pattern.

Although this a simple project it’s been very interesting to do and I’m eager to see them in use on the layout.  Once they’re all printed and installed I’ll take some video of the trains running, and the computer screen capturing the RFID data.  This may be several weeks away, but I’ll share it with you when I can.

If you have something different like this on your layout that needs a special part, get in touch, I may be able to help.