2022 FPV Contest: Get The Train Driver’s View In Your N-Scale Railway

A model train car carrying a camera

Model railroaders typically observe their project from high above. It would be neat to see what the world looks like to the residents of your little town, but getting down to their point of view is difficult, especially if you’re working in one of the smaller scales. For those working in the N scale, there’s now an easy way of observing your project as the train driver would see it: [Vassily98] managed to squeeze a wireless camera into an N-scale railcar.

The main challenge here was the extremely limited space available: the track in N-scale layouts is 9 mm wide, meaning that the whole system had to fit in just 23 x 20 mm2, the frontal area of a typical train car. One of the few cameras that fit within that profile was the RunCam Nano 4, which [Vassily98] connected to an ultra-tiny Team BlackSheep 5.8 GHz video transmitter.

Inside view of a model train car carrying a camera
It’s a bit of a sqeueeze, but everything fits perfectly.

Everything is powered through a 3.6 V lithium battery, rather than through the rails – cameras and RF transmitters are quite sensitive to power interruptions and interference, and wouldn’t work reliably on direct rail power. This did require the addition of a boost converter however, because the video transmitter requires at least 4.5 V to work. [Vassily98] designed a neat 3D-printed wagon body that securely holds all components and fits on top of a standard cargo wagon chassis.

If you can’t wait to get a train driver’s view of your N-scale layout, then you’ll be happy to know that STL files and detailed build instructions are available on the project’s Hackaday.io page. We’ve seen FPV cameras in model railroad engines before, but that was in the huge O scale. You can also fit a miniature display in the slightly smaller HO scale – perhaps something similar would be a neat companion project to [Vassily98]’s camera train.

23 thoughts on “2022 FPV Contest: Get The Train Driver’s View In Your N-Scale Railway

  1. Very nice layout. Like mine, mine, not finished in a lot of areas.

    Next we will be going by the station where there is an N Scale digital Signboard saying ‘Next Train 16:42’.

    Thanks for the effort.

  2. Really nifty! I was also impressed with the lack of “hunting” and camera shake. And just think of all the new opportunities to hand-decorate all those once-invisible, interior spaces, or just fire up your color printer…

  3. Well from the size now I know why passenger rail has never taken off in the U.S. But I do have a question since the power to the train is dc couldn’t have sent a modulated video signal over the track instead of wirelessly?

    1. Probably would work pretty well with a channel 3 modulator treating the track as a 300 ohm balanced pair…. well apart from all the contact noise… but it would look great in snatches.

  4. I am very impressed to see a camera in N. I used to have an N scale layout. It’s all so darned small.

    I recently did something similar in HO. I spent a fair bit of time trying to squeeze a RunCam Hybrid 2, ESP32, NRF24L01, H-bridge and batteries into an HO boxcar. Sadly, most of my work was for naught. Whilst debugging the inevitable “why wont the locomotive go” after arriving at the location, I managed to short the battery plus to the 3.3v, and smoked everything but the camera. We were able to film using a track-powered loco instead, but it took a LOT of rail cleaning to make the final take. Just in time to decommission the layout.

  5. O scale is huge at 1:45? So… what do you call G scale, which is 1:22.5? That’s not even scratching the tip of the iceberg, either!

    Jokes aside, that is a neat use for a drone camera.

  6. Terrific build. Only suggestion I could make is…flextrack! Every one of those joiners is a potential trouble spot and long runs of flextrack would eliminate lots of those and give a smoother ride as well.

    1. The rails are directly powering the motors. When you want the train not to move, there is no power on the rails. So the rails might be +12V (I don’t know what voltage N scale uses offhand) to go forward — or -5V to go back slowly. So generally anything that requires power regardless of train movement (switches, lights, etc) can’t be powered via the rails.

      1. More and more N scalers are doing DCC so it’s a constant power. The issue arises on turnout frogs, if they are not powered you can lose power going over them. Dirty track can also cause issues.

      1. You could easily make a powersupply that takes care of an uninterrupted powerfeed, regardless the voltage or polarity on the track.
        What bothers me most is the very bad image quality. You can buy decent digital cameras that can be accessed by wifi directly (bodycams or spycams) and that are small enough to build in this train.

        I like the concept and idea and it might open some new ideas for those enthousiasts.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.