about us

Sharing Experience and Enthusiasm for the World’s Greatest Hobby!

The North Central Florida Model Railroad Club, Inc. is a not-for-profit corporation functioning as a professional educational hobby Club. It operates exclusively as a tax-exempt corporation within the meaning of Section 501(c)(3) of the US Internal Revenue Code. We’ve organized to:

Construct and operate scale model railroad equipment, layouts, modules and exhibits;

Train and educate Club members and the public in the skills involved in scale model railroading;

Promote general fellowship and personal contact among and between all scale model railroaders and members of the Club;

Provide a forum and/or sponsor technical clinics for the further education of the Club members, the public, and organized youth groups;

Exchange ideas and techniques in connection with the hobby of scale model railroading as well as the preservation of Florida’s railroading heritage;

Participate in public venues, train shows, swap-meets and joint modeling meets with other Clubs by displaying and operating Club modules separately and in conjunction with other Clubs; and,

Assist Club members and other railroad modelers to build, maintain, operate, upgrade and modify their home layouts and/or model railroad equipment.

Harbor Gantry About Us
The Hobby: a Quarterly topic

How Has Model Railroad Control Changed?

Multiple Scales, Direct Digital Control, and Computerized Train Automation Offer Limitless Possibilities

Analog AC and DC Control

For many of us, the hobby began with a train set on a Christmas morning, beneath a tree. For some, that then grew to a basic layout. Maybe one or two trains ran on separate loops with one or more transformers. The most complex layouts might include insulated track “blocks” that could be separately energized for even more complex operations. Track wiring, switch and block control were complex and often limited realism. Many “startup” sets and individual pieces like this are still being offered, and a great many fans of vintage trains still appreciate this approach, though it is limiting when layouts grow.  

DCC Controller Example

Digital Command Control (DCC)

The advent of microcontrollers enabled the design of what was to eventually become the NMRA standard known as DCC. DCC enables multiple trains to share the same track, yet be separately controlled through individual addresses using a control console and digital “decoders” in the locomotives, switches, signals, etc. Lights, smoke, sound effects, & locomotive inertial characteristics are all programmable. Layouts can now be designed using a single pair of power wires and a single power supply, without a degree in Engineering. Better “startup” sets include a DCC controller and a DCC locomotive.  

Auto Train Control Example

Automated Train Control

Even using DCC, on most layouts, an experienced operator can control one or two trains on their routes at a time, but running real-life operations, including routing (setting switches, speed, and timing to avoid conflict) on a larger scale can prove difficult. Automated Train Control provides the solution. Touch screen computers and software tethered over USB to DCC systems can now provide enthusiasts with super-realistic operations on large and small layouts alike. Above a screen from Freiwald Software  Railroad & Co. ‘Traincontroller’ software on Windows. 

Lights, Trains, ACTION!

Want to add some realism to your model railroad? How about creating some eye appeal at the same time? Maybe spice up future train operation sessions. “Ah, but how,” you ask?   ADD SOME TRACK SIGNALS!  The North Central Florida Model Railroad Club (NCFMRC) decided to investigate installing track signals on their main layout and concluded it would definitely improve one major feature–FUN! 

The first step was to identify those track sections in need of signals according to three criteria:

  • Mainline with diversion tracks
  • Tracks crossing the mainline
  • Merging tracks onto the mainline

The second step involved selecting which signal types were going to be needed for each criteria. Selections were made using single, double and bridge-type 2 or 3-aspect signals. The plan was coming together.

The third step was how each signal would be operated. The consensus was to maintain ‘hand-thrown’ turnout switches where practical. This method was most popular with members during operation sessions, as it best simulated working a real railroad during the period being modeled.

In order to keep costs under control, signal kits of various type were planned for each type of signal. For example, inexpensive signal head kits can be found online which include the LED lights. Different typed of signal masts can be made from kits or from scratch as desired.  Cost savings by this method can be significant.  Building from signal kits, as well as some scratch building, provided a 70% overall savings over ready-to-run signals and related electronic control boards.  This project involved mainly kits, plastic hobby material, Cat5 data cable, DPDT slide switches, and terminal blocks.  A few turnout motors will installed at some locations.

Wiring diagrams were also planned for each signal location to help keep wiring and troubleshooting under control, especially when ‘issues’ crop up at a later date and someone has to find and fix them! Overall, it was agreed the more planning up front would yield benefits in the future — like running trains more, and fixing signals less!

Bridge-type 2-aspect signal

Due to the large amount of mainline track, many Bridge-type signals were built to control various ‘critical’ sections where dual and single mainlines had traffic flowing in both directions. In addition to this traffic, there were many tracks converging onto the mainline from industries and towns.

For this layout, it was decided to have signals show the ‘status’ of turnouts ahead. For example, a turnout ahead was set for the mainline, a green signal light would appear. However, if that turnout was set to ‘divert’ from the mainline, a red ‘upper’ signal would appear as a warning along with a green ‘lower’ signal showing the turnout ahead was set to exit the mainline.

To reduce costs and keep operators on their toes, train detection ahead was not implemented. Since the layout is flat terrain with no tunnels, and trains ahead can be easily seen, operators are encouraged not to run into each other! 

On the other hand, operation sessions become more interesting when signals must be taken into account.  Some train operations have a series of signals that must be set ahead in order to reach a given destination.  Without a central dispatcher, it’s up to each train operator to check all critical traffic before switching a turnout!!

Simplicity was also a key to manual operations. A manual slide-switch could operate a turnout and a signal without the need for a motorized unit. Simple wiring and mechanical setup made for basic signal installations.

With the layout being basically a large oval with inner sidings and yards, most slide-switches can be easily reached for operations. Another plus relates to maintenance — this switching method requires almost no maintenance.

In some locations too difficult to reach, slide-switches were wired to turnout motors for operation.  In this way, a slide-switch installed on the layout’s facia could operate a turnout in a remote location.

As part of the initial planning, and because most members do not enjoy working underneath a layout, electrical drawers were designed and built using 1/2 inch composite board from the Club’s stock room.

Terminal blocks were installed inside each drawer, allowing easy access to signal wires and electrical boards in some cases. These drawers where then mounted below the layout facia where needed. 

For wiring, each signal connected to an 8-wire data cable.  The cable was attached to the underside of the layout and connected to the terminal block inside a drawer.  The operating slide-switch was connected to its own data cable which was then connected to the drawer terminal block.  All wire connections then accessible by just opening the drawer!

Crossing signals were added for roads crossing the mainline. These were purchased online in ready-to-run form. Because of the electronics needed for alternate flashing and approaching train sensing, this was the most cost effective way achieve the desired effects.

The operation of these is very realistic. As a train approaches the road crossing signals from either direction, sensors are tripped and the signals begin to flash red alternately. As long as the train is passing by a sensor, the crossing lights continue to flash. If the train stops over either sensor, lights continue to flash. Once the train is clear of both sensors, the lights stop flashing after a few seconds. Just like a REAL railroad crossing!



The model railroading hobby has been experiencing a renaissance over the past few years, and for good reason. Unlike the virtual worlds of video gaming, model railroading is a “hands on” hobby that teaches a variety of disciplines to enthusiasts. From geometry to carpentry, basic electrical and electronics skills, to model building and crafting, painting and airbrushing, and now even programming skills, there’s so MUCH to be learned and enjoyed by most everyone in the family. 

While many of us continue to enjoy the nostalgia and appreciate the challenges of model railroading’s early days, it’s now possible to model a real railroad – in a real town – with incredible realism… or just let your imagination run wild and create your own vision! 

Don’t think you have room for your own layout? Come learn how much can be done on an 18″ x 96″ shelf layout. Or, learn about modular layouts you can easily disassemble and store. Love trains but don’t want to build a layout? No problem. You can bring your (HO) trains and run them on our many layouts during our weekly Operating Sessions. Don’t have trains but love them, or just want to learn more before you commit to a purchase? Come run our trains! 

Conditions permitting, our business meetings are scheduled for the first Thursday of each month at 10:00 am. Come join us and see how we can help you start in – and get the most out of – The World’s Greatest Hobby!

Click below to find the membership form. Please complete and email to [email protected].

The NCFMRC in the community

Past Events

Educating the Community and Enriching Members’ Experience

Tower Rd. Library Event 2019

Our annual library events bring working layouts to the community to entertain and educate attendees about The World’s Greatest Hobby! 

Gainesville Library Event 2018

Kids of all ages enjoy learning about model railroading at the Gainesville Holiday Main Library event in December, 2018. 

Cordell, GA Excursion 2017

NCFMRC members and their families enjoy a railfan trip on vintage railway cars in Cordell, GA.


Upcoming Events in Our Area

North Central Florida and the surrounding areas are a great place to be for model railroading. Check back often to see where you can travel to meet model railroad enthusiasts and learn more about …. “The World’s Greatest Hobby!”

2024 Florida Aug 17th – Pinellas Park September 7th – Melbourne September […]

contact information

Fill out our contact form for more information and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible!

13201 Rachael Blvd.,
Suite SW-12
Alachua, FL 32615