Project Ideas

People are asking for model railroad project ideas to use with their LaunchPads, so I decided to come up with this list (with many suggestions that were made by others).  This is not an exhaustive list, and if you have project ideas, feel free to suggest them.

  • Lighting Projects
    • Alternate Flasher - about the simplest LaunchPad program you can build.
    • Traffic Light Sequencer  
    • Flare/Fusee simulator - a mild modulation on the brightness of a red LED (preferably a surface mount one)
    • Chase Lights - many different patterns possible. 1 of 3 or 1 of 4 pattern; either illuminated or dark. To illuminate many LEDs at a time, like on a movie marquee, you may need to use an LED driver like On Semi 4101 (1 amp) or On Semi CAT4238 (10 LEDs in series))
    • Candle/Gas Lamp/Ash Pit - Random modulation in amplitude and time, never goes to zero.
    • Welder
    • Emergency Vehicle Flasher - many different patterns from a single lamp to a whole fire truck's worth.
    • Programmable  Light Sequencer - Turns a number of LEDs on and off according to a timed program to simulate activity in a building.
    • Blacksmiths Forge - simulates the action of the bellows on the fire.
    • Campfire/Ash Pit/Building on Fire - yellow, orange and red LEDs flicker quickly
    • Mars Light/Gyralite/Rotating Beacon - If you have an NCE decoder look at these in their light effects.
    • Simple Strobe - 1, 2 and 3-flash patterns
    • Lightning - Use with very high output LEDs and the 1 amp LED driver.
  •  Train Detectors
    • IR Reflective Detector - an LED shines upwards between the ties, light bounces off of the underside of the train, and is received by a photocell/photo diode/photo transistor between the ties.
    • IR Interrupter Detector - an IR LED shines across the tracks and is received by a photocell/photo diode/photo transistor on the other side of the tracks.
    • Ambient Light Detector - a photocell/photo diode/photo transistior looks upwards from between the ties and detects ambient light and when it is interrupted by a train passing overhead.
    • Current Detector - using a current transformer.
    • All of the above can be with or without output to a DCC system.
    • Defect Detector Simulator -  this would include axle counting and reporting.
    • Scale Simulator
  • Projects Using Displays.
    • Scale Speedometer - utilizing IR train detectors a known distance apart
    • Fast Clock - the LaunchPad can drive a 4-digit common anode/cathode 7 segment LED display with few/no other components.
  • Turnout Control
    • Servo Turnout Control - using PWM
    • Stall Motor Turnout Control - using an external  DPDT relay to drive/reverse the motor
    • Yard Ladder Controller - either of the above turnout controllers with the logic to align several at once.
  • Animation
    • PWM Motor Controller - Control motor speed and direction, external 'H' bridge chip?
    • Shuttle Control - Back 'n forth action for your train.
    • Servo Animator - animate things with a servo which can drive to several repeatable positions.
    • Relay Controller - control several relays via a programmable sequence to turn on and off - lights, motors, sounds, etc. Add DCC and it's similar to the 'Aux Box'.
    • Turn Table Controller
    • Bridge Animation (swing or lift) - including interlocking power routing and indication protection. 
  • Signal Systems
    • Signal System Logic - create signal logic at the block level for 2, 3 or more signal indications; coupled with built-in train detection.
    • Semaphore Animator - Using a servo to set the semaphore indications - high ball signals anyone?
  • Sound 
    • Surround Sound - Use a LaunchPad to connect to several speakers distributed around the layout and make sound from a recorder appear when and where you wish.
  • DCC
    • DCC Stationary Decoders - with relay outputs.
    • DCC Turnout decoders - servo or stall motor
    • DCC Throttle - This may be the 'Mount Everest' of design with the MSP430 LaunchPad.   I believe that this can be done - and you do not have to start entirely from scratch.  The MERG group has a throttle based on a PIC 18F2480, which is a more capable microcontroller, but there are work-arounds to use the LaunchPad.  You can see their schematic here: and get the code here:    The schematic will have to be reworked because the MSP430 has fewer I/O pins than the PIC 18F2480; utilizing a straight key array and an external encoder like a 74H147 chip should help.  The code will have to be rewritten and heavily modified using the MERG code as a guide.

As I said, this is not anything like a complete list and I will be adding to it as ideas come to me or are suggested to me.

One of the beauties of electronics design and experimentation is that there are usually several ways to solve a problem; and when software is involved, there are almost infinite ways to code a program.  Some solutions are better than others, of course, but every solution is useful for someone.

Therefore, when someone contributes a project to this blog do not let that deter you from doing your own version of the same project or modifying the original project to meet your needs and preferences and then resubmitting your version to this blog.  Your version may be just what someone else needs too.

By the same token, if you have an idea for a new project or modification to an existing one and you don't want to take on the challenge yourself, suggest it to the followers of this blog (via the comments for now).  You never know who will take up the challenge and complete your project.


  1. I'd like to add a defect detector simulator to the project list (this would include axle counting and reporting), as well as a scale simulator.
    Another one I will add is bridge animation (swing or lift) including interlocking power routing and indication protection. This module (without the animation bits) could be used for swing gates and liftouts (cassettes and carfloats) to keep your models from sailing into the abyss!

  2. Two suggestions:

    1. Lightning - Dimming a 12V LED strip with a mosfet and PWM. This is very common with Arduino

    2. DCC/JMRI - Simulate C/MRI so that launchpad can be used as I/O devise in JMRI. See for how it was done with Arduino.

  3. I second Marshall's thoughts on DCC/JMRI use. I am also a B&O modeler and have looked at various solutions to drive color positions. C/MRI looks to be the best option at the moment but the cost is not insignificant. To be able to create I/O boards that JMRI could toggle outputs to be on, off, or flashing would be awesome. Not to mention cheap at $1 per output.

  4. I have another couple projects to add to the pile, though I am not sure that a Launchpad would be the "best" way to handle it. Several of the folks with large layouts use FRS radios for communications, and some prefer telephone handsets (era may play a part in their choices). A telephone control panel for the dispatcher with "call" buttons and buzzers for each location. Custom ring effects or even a yard "PA" feature would be cool.
    The other would be a custom "front end" for either a Digitrax or NCE throttle. Adding "notch" and "brake" settings and controls on a box and having the Launchpad translate the inputs into the equivalent button presses for the throttle.