Automation is defined as "the use or introduction of automatic equipment in a manufacturing or other process or facility", a contraction of the words automatic and action.
On a model railroad the term applies to actions that occur without the intervention of the operator, such as signals, crossing gates, turnouts aligning for a defined route and other tasks. In some cases, even the movement of trains can be controlled without an operator.
Examples include a train which moves between stations without an operator. The train could leave one terminal and arrive at another, then reverse and return to the starting point. It is also possible that the train will stop at points between the two terminals.
- Stations are defined as points on the railroad where trains can pass through them on their way to destinations further down the line. A terminal is a point where the train cannot go further, it must reverse its direction to continue.
A number of devices and methods to implement automation are available for Digital Command Control. Asymmetric DCC, Automatic Brake Control, HLU and Braking Districts are available options. More sophisticated options include basic command stations which can issue instructions to specific addresses.
- Asymmetric DCC requires additional hardware and compatible multifunction decoders
- Automatic Brake Control is a subset which includes Asymmetric DCC, HLU, and brake on DC voltage
- HLU is a system offered by ZIMO
- Braking Districts can be created using a dedicated booster
DCC based devices are available to enable various levels of automation. They can be purely hardware based, or a combination of hardware and software running on a computer. RailCom can be used with a computer or compatible command station to implement some form of automation.
These devices can instruct the train to reverse direction, allowing it to run autonomously between two points. More sophisticated versions can control specific addresses, allowing trains to pass, stop or return to their original start point. They will need some form of detection to determine the presence of a train, using either occupancy detectors or optical sensors.
- Main article: Automation/Automation Products