KATO 10-833 & 10-834


01/17/16- My interest in N-scale is probably like that of a lot of other folks in the hobby: I mainly like the trains. There's the scenery thing, and the prototype thing-- which are the things that we tell ourselves that we'll eventually get around to-- but for a quickie blast of gratification, it's the trains. My interests are German and Japanese trains, and I make a small effort to stick to a general time period-- but I never let temporal compatibility and fear of anachronisms (anachronophobia?) get in the way of a cool train acquisition.

That's why when I saw the Kato Cassiopeia train set, it didn't matter that it didn't fit in with the older-era trains that I'd tried to focus on: I liked the way the train looked, and I liked that it was a locomotive-hauled train.

Locomotive-hauled passenger trains are quickly vanishing in Japan as Electric Multiple Unit (EMU) and Shinkansen trains replace them, and the Cassiopeia appears to be one of the last limited express/luxury sleeper lines still running. I've read that it was being discontinued after the Hokkaido Shinkansen comes online in March 2016, which is just a couple months away. It's a shame, but not unexpected since running railroads is a business.

For model railroading, locomotive-hauled trains are ideal for consisting; a variety of different locomotives can haul different sets of coaches without looking odd. For the Cassiopeia, there are several "kosher" locomotives (if you care about that stuff) to choose from: The EF510 (included in the 4-car basic set), EF81, ED79, and the diesel DD51.

The multiple-locomotive concept goes well with the use of DCC sound cars. It's usually difficult to fit a sound decoder and speaker within most N-scale locomotives, so a sound car is the next best thing. Since sound decoders are expensive and a sound car can be used with different locomotives, it's also an economical way to stretch your bucks if you like to collect locomotives and run them with accompanying sound.

The Kato Cassiopeia Train Sets: The unique, rounded styling of the end cars are what attracted me to Kato's Cassiopeia 4-car basic set (10-833); With this set, you also get an EF510 locomotive and a lighted dining car. The 3-car add-on set (10-834) has sleeper cars, giving a decent length train for a small layout. The 3-car set includes a 8"x12" bookshelf storage case with spaces for the basic set (which comes in a cardboard/styrofoam package). If you've got a large layout, you may want to get the second add-on set of 6 sleeper cars, replicating the actual Cassiopeia train.

I recognized this as a good tinkerer's project. In addition to the usual motor and sound decoder installations, this one would have a more extensive LED lighting installation than usual. The unique Kato light kit for this set is hard-to-find at present, so I'd have to cobble together my own. I'd seen an idea for making flicker-free lighting circuits, so I'd bought a supply of bridge rectifiers, Tantalum capacitors, SMD resistors and LEDs. The Cassiopeia end cars and dining car were factory-equipped with lighting, so replacing their incandescent bulbs with LEDs would be an interesting challenge. All that fun awaited me after installing a motor decoder in the EF510 locomotive.


The EF-510 Locomotive

I often gripe about how these boxy Japanese locomotives all look the same. That's true of the included EF510, but it's considerably longer than the EF81, and it has modern-style pantographs, as well as different-style headlights. Under the skin though, it's much the same as the EF81 and DD54. (I've done write ups of their decoder installations with pics of the innards, so I'll forego that.)

Unfortunately, my attitude was a huge problem with the decoder installation, but serves as a lesson for those who tinker. I'd gutted my DD54 and wanted to re-use those parts (still soldered together) for a quickie, perfunctory motor decoder conversion. The "same-old, same-old" cocksure attitude made me sloppy and inadvertently caused me to spend far longer than I'd intended. I tried unsuccessfully to fit the recycled parts, mainly because of my impatience and aggravation (cursing when I reassembled it time after time and it didn't work, cursing when I had to resolder broken leads, cursing because it wasn't the slam-dunk that I expected). A couple days later, I approached it with a fresh, patient attitude and what a difference that made! My PSA tip: Remove the motor's brush retainers and solder them; If you're in a pissy mood and the soldering iron dwells too long with them in place (quick & lazy corner-cutting), the motor's plastic will melt.

Lesson learned. Once I fitted the decoder and worked out the minor annoyances (snipped a small piece from the ceiling of the body shell to fit the slightly too-thick decoder) the EF510 ran beautifully, creeping along at 1% throttle, without stopping or halting. It was a relief to see that the power pickup trucks had the reliable needle-bearing design, unlike the DD54's horrible axle power pickup design.


The Dining Car

The dining car was my first use of the homebrew keep-alive (rectifier/capacitor/resistor/LED) lighting circuit. Disassembly revealed a light-tube casting with nubs projecting into the compartment, simulating the table lamps. Under that section was a hollow area, suitable for fitting the rectifier/capacitor/resistor assembly, with a short run for the LED to replace the incandescent bulb.

The Cassiopeia coaches are very different from the open compartment passenger seating coaches that I've used circuitboard light kits to illuminate. The Cassiopeia coaches are bi-level and divided into walled compartments with windowed walkways along the side. I had no idea how the Kato light kit was supposed to illuminate the coach, but I was sure that a diffuser light-tube kit would have a tough time illuminating some of the windowed nooks and crannies. The homebrew system with individual LEDs could handle this better, although requiring significantly more work.

I'm sort of lazy: The real Cassiopeia's table lamp compartment has additional room lighting, but since I'd rigged the table lamp lighting with LEDs, I chose not to do overhead LEDs in that section. Instead, I ran a second LED to the frontal section which had a large window. Because of the walls, light is visible from only one side in the forward section; I didn't light the walkway along the other side. The lower section compartment under the table lamps would have received no lighting from a ceiling mounted light tube, so I followed Kato's lead and left them dark. (I have to admit that I was thinking of all the other cars that I'd have to light, and wanted to move on.)


The Sleeper Car(s)

I next did a sleeper car to work up a lighting plan for the other two sleeper cars. This was straight-forward, basically imagining how the Kato light kit worked from its overhead-installed location. The Kato light kit looks to be specially-designed for the Cassiopeia: Unlike the stock kit, the light tube diffuser has a unique curve, which I assume conforms to the shape of the interior framework for the bi-level sleeper design. The floor of the upper compartments have rectangular cut-outs, which lets some light through to the lower compartments; good enough for me, as I didn't want to figure out how to light them with their own LEDs.

For the main ceiling lighting, I borrowed another idea I'd seen elsewhere for creating power busses (basically, solid wires stripped of insulation) that would run along the ceiling, to which LEDs would be soldered. The advantage of this approach was that the LEDs could be soldered precisely where needed along the length of the wires, plus, the LEDs could be pointed at the ceiling to reflect downward, presumably diffusing the light some. You can't do this effectively with LEDs mounted on a circuitboard because the board itself will block the bounced light. Another cool feature of this design is that you can tap off of the buss anywhere and run longer wires to place an LED down below if you want-- something that the Kato diffuser can't do.

For what it's worth, the interior details and lighting of the 1:1 Cassiopeia coaches are well-documented in website pics and YouTube videos. One could spend a lot of time attempting to place lights and interior details faithfully, but IMO, N-scale is not a very good format for hyper-detailing and Kato didn't give very much to work with: All the deep detailing is on the exterior body shell. The interior construction of the cars was designed primarily for production and performance, so some windows don't have rooms or floor depth behind them, and seats are too shallow: You can improve the look of the interior, but don't expect to create a credible illusion of the real thing in miniature.


The Lounge Car

The lounge car was selected for the sound decoder, being one of the end cars and therefore next to the locomotive. In the real Cassiopeia, that's true for much of the route, since it gives the deluxe suite at the rear of the train an unimpeded view. However, the locomotive is attached to the other end for some parts of the route. For toy trains, a single sound car is good enough, IMO-- having two sound cars would be over-the-top extravagance.

The lounge car has a lighted headboard and taillights, illuminated by an incandescent bulb and upper and lower light tubes that project from the middle of the car. The bulb is mounted on a simple slide-in circuitboard for connection to the track power, per Kato's usual solderless style; the bottom of the board has a diode so that the light is powered in only one direction when run on a DC system. In a DCC system (because the track power is AC), the light illuminates in both directions.

Since the car will have a decoder, might as well set up the lighting so that it operates properly for both directions, even though the locomotive will almost always be attached to this end car (because that's where the sound will be coming from). This means that the lights will be off when the locomotive is moving forward, and on when the locomotive is in reverse. If the locomotive were attached to the other end car (with no sound decoder), the lights would be on, and correct. Of course, if the locomotive were never attached to the other end car and only moved forward, you wouldn't need to bother with the lights-- but where's the fun in that?

The incandescent bulb was replaced by LEDs. I decided to use two SMD LEDs, mounted together, but pointed in slightly different directions to illuminate the upper and lower light tubes. There were other ways to do this, including running the LEDs much closer to where they'd be seen instead of using the light tubes. Since there was a lot of space on the interior even with the large lighting cover, I opted for the simple replacement of the incandescent bulb: The circuitboard diode was snipped out and replaced with a jumper, and the circuitboard's bulb mounting holes were used to get rail power to the sound decoder.

The lighting cover provided a convenient surface to surround with (220uF x 8) Tantalum capacitors for a "keep-alive" circuit. This time, I made sure to test the capacitor array outside of the train... which is a really good idea when using Tantalum capacitors!

I'd tested the capacitor array with a DC power source, and it worked fine at 14 volts. However, on the LokProgrammer programming track, one of the capacitors burst into flames! This had happened once before, but I thought it was a defective capacitor, or that I'd dwelled too long with my soldering iron. I now believe that the problem is that the 16-volt rating of the Tantalum capacitors doesn't give enough of a safety margin for some DCC systems, which vary in voltage. My Digitrax Zephyr system is 13.8 volts, but I suspect that the LokProgrammer puts out 16 volts when rectified to DC. Some of the Tantalum capacitors just can't take it, and express their displeasure by bursting into very hot, plastic-melting flames.

After replacing the capacitor, the circuit worked fine with no fireworks. However, I don't know if the capacitors' tolerances change as they age, and it would be very bad to find out that they do while running the train on your layout a few months or years down the road! I think it would also be very risky to run the train on an unfamiliar track with an unknown track voltage.

Therefore, I can't recommend using 220uF 16v Tantalum capacitors for keep-alive circuits unless you devise some sort of protection circuit, or connect them in series to increase their voltage rating. Of course, that would quadruple the amount of space needed, which negates the reason for using them instead of aluminum electrolytic capacitors. It's a pity because their size/capacity is near-ideal for N-scale; use at your own risk!


The Deluxe Suite Car

I seriously considered installing a decoder since this is an end car with a lighted headboard and taillights. I decided not to because it seemed like a waste since the only thing it would do is turn those lights on/off when the direction of travel changed. The model doesn't have a working headlight between the taillights like the 1:1 scale Cassiopeia, so that was one more argument against "wasting" a decoder (in addition to it being easier not to install a decoder). In fact, I considered leaving the incandescent bulb in place since it was going to be on all the time and worked fine.

I changed my mind and replaced it with two LEDs because the no-flicker electronics would need to be installed at the far end of the car (where there was a large space), and track power would be tapped from that end. It would be easy to drop the LED wiring from the ceiling LED bus and remove the incandescent bulb circuitboard entirely and have the headboard/taillight lighting powered by the flicker-free circuit.

The large space at the end gave me an opportunity to test a 470uF/25v aluminum electrolytic capacitor as an alternative to the Tantalum capacitors.

It would take eight 220uF/16v Tantalum capacitors to give similar specs: 2 in series = 110uF/32v, x 4 in parallel = 440uF/32v.

Volume of eight Tantalum capacitors: 7mm x 4mm x 2mm = 56 cubic mm each x 8 = 448 cubic mm.

Volume of Aluminum capacitor (cylinder): 16mm height x 5mm radius = 1257 cubic mm. This looks like a huge difference, but converted to a cube, it's the difference between cubes with 7.65mm and 10.79mm faces.

Sooooo... Eight Tantalum capacitors have a higher voltage rating (more safety margin, but 25v is adequate for N-scale DCC), but slightly less capacitance and take up slightly less space. The biggest advantage is that they're small blocks instead of a single large cylinder so they can be distributed and fitted where there's room. This advantage comes at a cost however; the Tantalum caps cost about $.45 to $.75 each (or $3.60 - $6.00 for eight), whereas the Aluminum cap cost about $1.70 (not a bargain price) at Fry's.

On the other hand, if you're certain that you'll only be running on a Digitrax 13.8v system and are okay with the risk, you only need two 220uF/16v Tantalum capacitors for 440uF of capacitance. Quite a difference in space and cost, which makes Tantalums look much more attractive. You can thank the DCC standards committee for this quandry!

[Sorry... I did that because I was curious. FWIW, I tried two Tantalum capacitors in series (110uF), and the circuit did absolutely nothing to smooth out flicker.]

The overhead LED bus was easy to construct: The two bare wires were taped to a sheet of paper, which was marked with where the main compartment LEDs needed to be positioned/soldered in place. The walkway LEDs were soldered off to the side of the positive wire. Once those LEDs were soldered in place, the overhead assembly was positioned in the car and the headboard/taillight LED leads were soldered to it.

The rectifier/capacitor/resistor section was assembled separately to fit in the available space at the end of the car; the bus wires were soldered to the capacitor and resistor leads, which keeps the assembly in place and the LEDs positioned where they're supposed to be.


Video Clip: (Darn, I always forget to raise the pantos!) I used ESU's "Domino" electric drive sound in along with a fan and rail clank sounds. The drive sound is deliberately exaggerated since electric trains don't sound very interesting-- mainly just a fan and rail clanks. The sound decoder also has a diesel drive sound installed since the coaches will be consisted with a pair of DD51 cold-weather Hokutosei locomotives.

I grabbed some new Japanese sounds from YouTube videos, including the Cassiopeia announcement and the EF81 horn chirp.