Catenary Poles Installed

The Centreville Railroad is partway through a major capitol project with the installation of an overhead wire catenary system along the main route and select yard tracks.

Well, ok not really.

I’m mostly through the process of installing Kato catenary poles along the layout so I’ll have simulated catenary on the line. It is possible to setup an N Scale layout with working catenary Vollmer, Veissmann and Sommerfeldt all make systems, and Bachmann and a few other companies make engines that can actually take power from overhead feeder wire. As much as I think this would look amazing, I’m not going this route for a few reasons, first it’s expensive, just to run wire on the entire mainline would likely run more than $1,000. It’s not easy, the feeder has to be positioned properly, wired correctly, and has to be kept at the proper tension, it’s a level of work that I’m really not interested in taking on. The other reason is because I think they’d obstruct too much of the track. I need access to the track to get trains on the layout, and the added overhead wires make that a bit more difficult.

What I went with instead was Kato’s system which is essentially simulated catenary. Instead of the metal poles like the more expensive systems, Kato’s are all plastic and while they’re fairly detailed, they’re missing the hangers you’d need for a feeder line.

When you compare the Warren Truss Catenary above with a prototypical photo below, you can see what’s missing:

Ignoring the wires for stabilizing the truss, there’s a cable hanger for the overhead feeder lines coming off the center bar. Without that you can’t even string up guitar strings to use as a simulated feeder wire. This isn’t a big deal if you’re looking to simulate a line that was electrified but the operator took down the wires and left the trusses in place – like the rail line that runs south through Washington DC from Union Station. But has some drawbacks if you’re not which I’ll get to later.

On the double track main I’ll ultimately have three different types of trusses. Most of it will be the Warren Truss catenary in the first photo on the post. I really like the squared off girder boxes, and they remind me a lot of the catenary systems on the North East Corridor.

I have on order from Plaza Japan the single track Warren Truss catenary poles for the yards.

Along the back end of the West Side to the Long Bridge I’ve put in a simpler squared gantry style of poles. Again, thinking back to the North East Corridor, there would be different styles of catenary depending on where you were on the corridor.

The final style is more of an arched style of gantry. I’m hoping to be able to trim the legs down and mount them on the roof of a few of the platforms to simulate the catenary running through the station. For less than $10 for an 8 pack of poles, I’m willing to buy a pack and trim down two of them to use on the station. By comparison, the Vollmer system would run me about $8 for just one single track pole. Given that I don’t plan to ever run trains powered by the overhead line on this layout, going the cheaper route with imaginary overhead feeder line is just fine.

But, like I said there are drawbacks, and probably the most noticeable is around the varying height pantographs tend to actually sit at. On the Kato Shinkansens, it seems to be a bit low.

The Bachmann HHP-8 is designed to be able to run off a powered overhead feeder line though. Just like a real train, it’s designed to put pressure up the pantograph in order to keep the pantograph in contact with the feeder wire at all times. Bachmann’s HHP-8 and their GG-1s (which I don’t know if they can take overhead power) have spring loaded pantographs in order to keep them in contact with an overhead line. Without that overhead line, the pantograph sits high… Higher than it should if there was actually an overhead feeder line.

The pantograph on the HHP-8 at full extension just clips the bottom of that insulator. If that engine was headed into the station, the pantograph would snag that insulator.

The Swiss Railways Re 4/4 is a bit better

I think it sits at just the right height for the Kato gantries, but even then there’s an issue.

The issue with not having an overhead feeder wire is other overhead structures. Again, on a real electrified line the overhead wire would drop down below overhead structures, the engine’s pantograph would compress and lower as the clearance between the wire and the engine drops as the wire lowers to go under the structure. This keeps the pantograph from striking those structures, with everything raising up after passing the structure. But, on a layout with the Kato poles – since you don’t have the overhead wire, there’s nothing to force the engine’s pantograph down so the pantograph is likely to strike any signal gantries, pedestrian crossings and any other structures that are lower than the full extension of the pantograph. As a result, even with the new poles, I still can’t run with pantographs up.

All of this leave me a little conflicted about this addition. On one hand I think the catenary trusses look good and are a nice overall addition from a general scenic perspective. However, operationally I’m a bit disappointed. While trains don’t look quite as silly with their pantographs up now as opposed to how they looked without the trusses installed, other than the Shinkansens, I can’t actually run anything with their pantographs up because they’re going to snag on stuff and that is disappointing.

A few other things worth mentioning:

On Thingiverse I found files to print out an N scale version of the NJ Transit and PRR gantries found on many of the electrified lines in NJ. That might be something I try in the future, but for the number I needed it didn’t make sense to try and print them.

The Warren Truss gantries come with the base pieces you need to install these with Kato Unitrack, however the other gantry styles don’t necessarily come with those pieces. If you’re not dealing with viaducts or other elevated sections, you could just drill a small hole in the baseboard and glue the poles in, otherwise you do need to buy the N Catenary Pole Base Set 23-056. This is a 10 pack that includes the bits you need to mount the poles on elevated track sections or without drilling your baseboard. It’s cheap (Trainworld sells it for $3.99) but I’m not sure why Kato doesn’t just include these parts with every catenary set.

The last thing is that I probably should have installed these before I started landscaping. Because I didn’t I have to pry up track in order to slip the base pieces in. This would have been a bit easier if I had started this before landscaping.