View Full Version : The Substation Project

Builder 2010
05 Dec 13,, 17:06
I'm starting a new thread on building a medium-sized substation to feed my town and industries on the train layout. This project will be involved enough to warrant its own thread and not over-complicate my layout build thread any more than it is. I've been doing research and on the other thread talked about finding something that can simulate the large, high-voltage insulators. As for the power transformer, I'd like to use the Mike's Train House (MTH) transformer that's on my UP heavy duty flatcar, but I don't want to use that transformer. I put an inquiry into MTH's Customer Service Dept, but they responded that they CANNOT sell me the transformer separately without an exchange for my old one. So scratch building is the way I'll go. In that case, some of the low relief molded details can no be fully worked out.


Here's a typical, big power-transformer. Notice all the stuff hanging off including the cooling fans. In fact, if you didn't know better, you'd think it was some kind of large engine.


For cooling fans, the only thing I could find was a Precision Scale Co. brass cooling fan grill and fan. It could work. I did a major search for other diesel details and came up empty. If anyone knows any please let me know. I'm thinking of buying a beat up HO EMD engine and cutting off the fan shrouds and using them. If I had photoetch capability, I make my own, but I don't so I won't.


In addition to the power transformer, there's lots of other pieces. The basics include bus frames and insulators bringing power leads from the high tension poles, and then carrying three-phase power to the other apparatus in the substation. This included circuit breakers, and re-connectors.

Here's a typical plan layout. I will have to compress distances since real stations are fairly large plots.


Notice that the distance from the incoming bus poles to the transformer bushing is 48 meters. That's 39" in O'scale which is a lot of layout real estate. There's some compact designs that can be applied. I'll share the drawings I produce as we go on. The horizontal bars on top of the bus frames running perpendicular to the power flow direction I believe is a lightening protection grid that's grounded. The substation surface is gravel which is chosen since it provides the least path to ground for operators when standing near the equipment. Under this gravel (and unseen on any model) is a complex ground grid that extends past the perimeter fencing. Everything is grounded through this "earthing grid". There are good sources of scale chain-link fencing, but in all cases, I'll have to add the barbed wire extensions that are on top.

Meanwhile, for the last week my laptop is behaving very badly. It's constantly crashing in an unrecoverable manner. The mouse pad is forgetting its settings, loading and unloading files is very slow, and it's just operating badly. If I can't figure it out, it may be time for a new one. It's over 4 years old and I've worn the covering off the keys, so it's had plenty of use. But getting a new one is a pain in the butt since I have lots of programs that will have to be reloaded by hand, including lots of updates. Also, I'm not a big fan of Windows 8. We'll see. My wife is trying to convince me to buy an Apple. New Apple machines run Windows which lets me run my normal graphics suites, plus my RRTrack layout design program.

Builder 2010
07 Dec 13,, 23:32
Using the MTH transformer as a model, here's the modified transformer adding the details that will make it fit in as an "operational" substation power transformer. Items added include:

Conservator: the large tank that sits above the transformer and serves as a reservoir for cooling oil
Radiators: I added three sets. The bigger the transformer the more radiators are present. Some arrays are so large that they sit as a separate installation next to the transformer
Control Box: the transformers usually have some enclosed box on the side with doors
Surge Suppressors: tall insulator stacks that protect the transformer from line surges due to faults and lightening. These can be connected to the transformer (as shown here) or sit on their own supports and foundations. For the sake of keeping the substation footprint as little as possible, I chose to have them hung on the transformer.
Bushings and insulators for High Voltage input and low voltage output
Miscellaneous conduits and lines: not shown, but can be added when building
Bucholtz Valve: situated between consevator and transformer — prevents flashover from reaching oil reservoir in case of catastrophic failure inside the transformer
Base: grid made from Plastruct 1/4" I-beams

Besides the insulators and fans, all other appliances can be fabricated from styrene using normal scratch building techniques. I'm going to use 0.040" for the transformer tank and 0.080" for the reinforcement ribs on the outside. I still have lots of rivet decals left over from the bridges project so the various access ports and panels can be properly decorated.

Here's what it looks like. This is not to scale, but the attached PDF is exact 1:1 from which direct measurements can be made.


11 Dec 13,, 06:04
I have been reading about your layout and your work is just amazing. Thanks for sharing you talents with the world. Say hi to the grandkids for me :)


Builder 2010
11 Dec 13,, 14:38
Many thanks! With USS Wisconsin no longer with us, I don't get as many responses as I used to, but it's great to know people are still following this odyssey.

11 Dec 13,, 15:18
Don't worry, we are, and I believe I will speak for most here, we enjoy it. Just nothing substantial to be added.

Builder 2010
11 Dec 13,, 15:27
Understood! Every once in a while, just check in so I know people are out there.

Builder 2010
12 Dec 13,, 01:15
I just spent the last two days removing the best articles out of a hundred or so model and train magazines and putting them in a binder. The rest of the paper—many pounds of it—went into the recycle bin. This pile had been growing for the last five years and needed to be addressed. I'd been putting it off.

It actually was a terrific exercise since I found many articles pertinent to what I was doing right now in the layout. I also took the time to go over other article binders I had and removed those that no longer are germane, and extracting those that have immediate need. Some of these were articles on building grade crossings, water-ways, rock embankments, and the like. It was hard 10 years ago to decide what kind of articles I needed to save since I had no idea what kind of railroad I would have. Now that the layout's built, the wiring is done, and the scenery concepts are gelling, the types and amounts of articles I need to save changes dramatically.

Before I went any further with plastering, I needed to finish the site planning of the substation so I can find where on the layout it's going to go. Since I'm doing this project as a relatively scale attempt with only distances between apparatus being compressed a bit, it's going to be an 11" X 23" foot print which is substantial. Also, since it's going to have lots of details and a Dennis Brennan chain link fence, I want it some where near the viewing point so people can see it. That precludes it from going in the back of the layout. I think I'll put some houses back there.

As before, I'm including a JPG and a 1:1 PDF in this post for those of you who'd like to take a crack at it. I've selected a compact breaker assembly that is used in compressed real-world designs. I'm also including a CVT on its own stand. A CVT is a Capacitive Voltage Transformer. This device samples the 300 kv input to the station and converts it via capacitive coupling to a lower, but proportional voltage that can be used to trip breakers, measure power inputs and other control functions. For the overhead truss structure, I was going to use Plastruct lattice pieces until I checked prices. For their 1/2" X 9" Warren Truss pieces, they want $10.49 for a pack of 2. It's not hard for me to use 18 packs of these for almost $190.00! That's ridiculous. I'd would rather not have to scratch build these. There are designs that don't use these overhead structures, and I'm going to redesign the project to reduce the amount and complexity of them. The triangles sticking up are also part of the lightening suppression system that accompanied most substations.


This circuit breaker design is going to be a challenging scratch-build project. The pedestal lends itself to brass work instead of styrene due to its thin cross-sections. It may provide an opportunity for work with my resistance soldering set.

Here's the plan:


Here's the full-size print being tried in two different locations. One is near the spot where the engine house will go. The other is on the swing gate. I'm thinking it might be a little delicate for the swing gate. Instead, I may put a power house there. Although this won't be technically correct since I'm designing a step-down station, not a step up one so it wouldn't be situated next to the power house. I could make it a step up yard, but then I'd have to make a step-down yard somewhere else on the layout. (Just thinking out loud here...)



When I do the redesign, I'll submit it also. Since I'm now of the mind to NOT put this in the area that's currently being plastered, I can get back to the plaster work without worrying about interfering with the substation installation.

12 Dec 13,, 01:26
Don't worry, we are, and I believe I will speak for most here, we enjoy it. Just nothing substantial to be added.


Builder 2010
13 Dec 13,, 02:09
On the other forum in which I write my railroad building blogs, one of the responders—who knows much more about power transmission than I—offered that there's some more apparatus on the downstream side before the stepped-down voltage goes to the telephone poles. My design needed to be changed. I also gave up on the making the old style lattice-girdered overhead bus structures. William K. Walther's model train supplier has an HO version of a nice substation with all the correct bits and pieces. After looking at this, I now know that I will add low-voltage side circuit breakers and distribution bus racks. This will make the design longer. I also want to add a small cinder block shelter which will also take up space.

If I can reduce the width some, there's a nice space on the front of the layout near the train station that would give me a 24" X 10" space for this project.

I'll post the new design when it's completed.

Builder 2010
14 Dec 13,, 20:07
Since this project is actually going to use more modern equipment and superstructure designs, I'll probably go with the all grey scheme, except I might paint the insulators something more contrasting so they're stand out.

So I've taken all the advice and examined the prototype pictures some more and modified the design to include so output side controls and circuit interrupters at strategic locations. Since it's all on the computer and I haven't started anything—and won't for quite some time—any changes from suggestions are no problem at all, so keep the critiquing coming.


As you can see I've simplified the bus supports, and added the Low Voltage framework. The width is compressed since I'm sure these clearances are too tight for a real station, but it will be interesting to look at.


I think there's still some more apparatus on the output side, but I'm running out of room. There's also no room for the control building.

Battleship IOWA
14 Dec 13,, 20:20
This is one of the nicest layout I have seen look forward to seeing it finished. Craig

Builder 2010
14 Dec 13,, 21:12
Thanks! There are many nice layouts, but I accept your opinion. I hope you're patient... there's many months left before it's presentable.

Builder 2010
16 Dec 13,, 01:00
I printed the new design out on multi-sheets and taped them together to do a trial fit. It will work. I also scaled a picture of a electrical worker to give an idea of scale.



I also attempted to make an insulator using sequins and some 6/10 beads. The experiment was a failure in my estimation. The beads are made in China and varied greatly in size, shape and were irregular. I also bought some 11/10 beads, but they're very small and would be better for HO. I'm wondering if there's some sizes in between these two that could be better.


Meanwhile the plastic push connectors will make good insulators. More about them later.

16 Dec 13,, 01:50
Man, all the extra attention to the tiniest details... You must be enjoying retirement, eh? :tankie:

Builder 2010
16 Dec 13,, 03:34
retirement is a blast! It is the first time in my life that I can think about and plan, and then do big projects. I'm glad that I have interests that can keep me busy for years. (as long as the eyes and hands hold out).

16 Dec 13,, 03:39
I'm glad that I have interests that can keep me busy for years.

So am I and a few others that have been following this!

Builder 2010
20 Dec 13,, 04:10
Good! I will keep at it.

I realized that locomotive radiator fans could simulate the cooling fans used on some of the transformers. I was going to buy a hulk HO engine and cut out the fans, but the local train store owner suggested buying separate super-detail fans available from Walther's. I ordered the following fan that used on the EMD GP40's and other 80s vintage engines. It's a 48" fan so it scales .55" in HO. It's a tad smaller than I envisioned by will definitely work and probably make the model.


I may modify the mounting flange, but otherwise, I've seen pictures of fans like this on transformers.

Just to manage all of your expectations, I don't plan on getting into active building on this until March or later. I've got to finish the ravines and get the trains running, finish the town basics (Streets and associated details), and get the train stations built. It's good to have stuff to do.

20 Dec 13,, 09:05
What's next? You gonna make this fan actually work?

I don't challenge your skills, just curious.

Builder 2010
20 Dec 13,, 14:22
Na! I think I'll leave that up to people's imagination. I found some #8/10 beads to try to homemake some more insulators. I post when the experiment is done.