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 Lightning storms and garden railways

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PostSubject: Lightning storms and garden railways   Fri Jan 09, 2009 11:40 pm

It just occurred to me to share an area of concern and perhaps help someone avoid having an expensive accident Very Happy

Last summer in the Vendee we were awoken about 3 in the morning by a tremendous thunder storm, the sky being lit up with an astonishing display of lighning and a torrential downpour.
After a few moments admiring the display it occurred to me that a strike anywhere on the garden railway (550mtrs of prime brass) would be transmitted straight to an expensive Massoth controller and to several DCC eqipped locos on the storage sidings in the barn. I should have thought of this but hadn't and so pulled on some clothes waded out to the barn and spent a very uncomfortable few minutes disconnecting the controller from the track and mains and lifting all the locos off the track.
The cost of replacing these items if they had been fried would have put a sudden to my garden railway activity so now all the engines are on shelves when not in use and the controllers unplugged.
I will have to take the risk of leaving the DCC and point motors out on the track.

Have any of our select band had a lightning strike in the railway or have a more elegant solution to the problem?
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Location : Portsmouth, England

PostSubject: Re: Lightning storms and garden railways   Sat Jan 10, 2009 11:23 am

Thankfully, I've never had any lightning strikes here.

However, from my 'Boys' Own Book of...' on the subject, the likelihood of a 'primary' strike directly to the track would be pretty remote, especially as there are potentially easier paths to ground around - your house/outbuildings for example. However, the chance of a 'secondary' or 'splash' strike - ie lightning hitting the tracks having first hit an adjacent structure might be higher. In which case, then possibly moving your delicate electronics off the metal tracks might help.

Having said that, lightning strikes are known to have other tricks up their sleeves, including an EMP which although not necessarily huge, might if the strike is close enough be sufficient to fry said chips anyway, even in a loco sitting on a wooden shelf. If your storage area, on the other hand, was a metal shed - that would give the best protection as it acts as a 'Faraday cage'. For this very reason, I am told, the safest place to be in a thunderstorm is in a car or otherwise in some other metal building - not that I would like to try any of this, you understand!



Fat Controller of the S&CGR
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PostSubject: Re: Lightning storms and garden railways   Sat Jan 10, 2009 12:26 pm

The Faraday Cage is ably demonstrated by this loony.

By the Way, if your wife should complain about your railway her this flick.
Add that the total cost to set up one of these things in the garage would be less than /euro 500
and that you think its would be excellent to try it........See the complaints disappear!!! Smile


As for the lightning strike...If a bolt of lightning landed near your railway, I think that the removal of most of the house roof would be a higher priority!

But I would use plug couplers to seperate the railway from the controllers.
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Carl Hibbs

Location : Haute Normandie - visitors welcome

PostSubject: Re: Lightning storms and garden railways   Sat Jan 10, 2009 2:05 pm

I worked for BT after army days and spent my early years as a field engineer working on switchboards and telephone systems which were very prone to electrical storm damage.

The effect is similar to a railway in that a strike several hunded metres away can damage equipment by travelling down the wires - or rails. All this despite surge protection in the form of fusible links and gas discharge tubes.

Also there doesn't have to be a physical strike. Just the electrical pulse in the air can cause damage to electronic components if not sufficiently protected.
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PostSubject: Re: Lightning storms and garden railways   Sat Jan 10, 2009 3:49 pm

OK pull up a sandbag and set the lamp swinging!
When I was a lad and in th RAF keeping the the USSR at bay we often had lighning strikes on the aerial farm on the Salt Lake Cyprus. These would travel at great speed down the feeders and whack into the transmitters, no amount of protection helped and the effect was devastating! I of course was napping in the crew room most of the time but the lads told me it was a bit/lot scary.
Having said that the amount of RF in the building was enough to keep the neon lights working after the power was switched off.
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Location : Dordogne France

PostSubject: Re: Lightning storms and garden railways   Sat Jan 10, 2009 5:09 pm

Two things are bothering me;
1.I was computorless for three months due to not unplugging my PC during a storm.

2.We get lots of very heavy electric storms (particularly in august when the pressure builds up). Our neighbours poplar tree looked spectacular last year all ablaze after being struck!

All the posts so far have described the damage that can occur but what is the best thing to prevent it? Just unplug everything/ or should I sink a metal bar in the ground attached to the track so that electricity can pass to earth?.
and if the danger is purely because of the amount of metal, why dont cars get struck more often?

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PostSubject: Re: Lightning storms and garden railways   Sat Jan 10, 2009 5:54 pm

The best method of avoiding lighning damage to the railway or computer is to get the wife to stand on the roof waving an earthed copper rod about Laughing
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Carl Hibbs

Location : Haute Normandie - visitors welcome

PostSubject: Re: Lightning storms and garden railways   Sat Jan 10, 2009 8:00 pm

Lightning is a strange, complicated yet very interesting phenomena Mikey and I did a bit of study on it whilst at BT but there's lots of absorbing and frightening info on the web.

I once had the scary opportunity to witness 'ball lightning' whilst working near Maidenhead in 1993. It was like a glowing football moving slowly and crackling across the sky. Other reports at the time put it about a mile away from where I was.

The ionisation of the air and the electrical pulse was always a problem rather than a strike itself as Geoff said earlier following a direct lightning hit, your trains wouldn't be that important.

To protect against that (and not a bad idea if you live in a sensitive area like my MIL in Corsica...) you would need proper copper conducting cable and rods from the highest point to earth away from the house. She has all that........ scratch

In the old days I would have unplugged and disconnected everything electrical which was actually a mistake.

It is better to leave appliances connected but with surge, transient and inductive protection connected.
For most situations you can buy a good quality (not cheap) plug-in surge protector/filter from Leroy Merlin or similar. We have three here and during a heavy thunder storm last year I was using the PC with no problem even though my hair was sticking up straight....!

That way if there is any inductive pulse it will (hopefully) discharge away through the protection device.

A good earth is important though and I'm shocked ( Smile) how many French properties have dodgy earths ....including mine at one time.

Last edited by carl hibbs on Sun Jan 11, 2009 8:57 am; edited 2 times in total
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Location : Derbyshire, England

PostSubject: Re: Lightning storms and garden railways   Sat Jan 10, 2009 9:42 pm

I did read of exactly the risks described at the start of this thread in the US Garden Railways magazine a couple of years back. If I recall correctly, the analysis was that you'd need a very substantial (1 metre ?) isolation gap between your track and anything you want to protect. The author described a very frightening and damaging lightening strike that destroyed his Bridgewerks controller. That said, such incidences may be less common in Europe? I've certainly never heard of a problem in the UK, but if the storms in the Vendee are as bad as some I've witnessed in Germany over the years...

BTW, I've always understood the reason that a car is a safe place to be in a storm is because the rubber tyres mean that there's no path to earth.

General Manager, H&DLR
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