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
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
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
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
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.