TPL Reviews

TPL has received excellent reviews in recent model railroad publications:

Marklin Digital Newsletter (USA) Reviews
Allt om Hobby (Sweden - translated into English)

The following review, written by Tom Catherall, appeared in the Marklin Digital Newsletter publication which is distributed via subscription by Marklin, USA.

TPL Windows Software

The following is a continuation of the software reviews for the Windows environment. The TPL program discussed here was developed by Robert Frowenfeld. He can be contacted at: 81 Allison Road Katonah NY 10536. 
Phone: (914) 232-5546 evenings and weekends. Fax: (914) 232-6641.

Mr. Frowenfeld's goal was the development of a microcomputer program that provides the ultimate in computerized train operations. The program is called "TPL" which . stands for Train Programming Language. Simply stated, TPL is a language that uses simple commands to operate a digitally equipped train layout, regardless of size or complexity. It requires the Marklin Digital Interface and an IBM PC (or compatible) microcomputer to operate. TPL has the ability to control up to 80 engines, 256 switches and/or signals, and monitor 496 track detection points. The new version of the program, developed to run in the Microsoft Windows operating environment, takes advantage of the Windows graphical interface to provide "point and click" control for many interesting train related operations.

Hardware requirements:

In addition to the normal complement of digital equipment (e.g., Central Unit or Control Unit, digital locomotives and/or solenoid devices), the computer and associated train hardware required to use TPL is:

The "command center" for the entire program is the TPL Main Screen. There are various icon buttons at the top which provide instant access to the other screens. In the illustration, a command file h~ been loaded with the first five commands shown for the first ten routes. Note that each command has its own icon associated with it for instant identification. For example, a clock indicates a PAUSE statement, an engine or switch icon shows an ENGINE or SWITCH command, a musical note indicates a sound file is to be played, etc. There is a block of four command buttons in the upper right of the screen to make it easy to temporarily stop and resume all engines, set all speeds to zero, or terminate a route. A user need only click} anywhere on the appropriate row of this command grid to start execution of a route.

The user creates a text file of TPL sequencing commands using any word processing software or the Windows NOTEPAD program.

These commands are then read by the program and executed. Up to forty (40) different train "routes" can be operated simultaneously. Each route can be responsible for operating any number of trains and solenoid devices (switches and/or signals); there are even commands which temporarily halt execution of a sequence until a Marklin Track Detection Unit is tripped (or cleared). For example, it would be simple to have the program wait until a. train approaches a station, turn on the station lights, and then turn them off after the train leaves. A more interesting use of this feature would be to wait until a train approaches an inclined section of track, then slowly increase its speed to help it climb. Once the engine reaches the top, the speed could be cut back for the dissent. There is even a simple series of commands that will cause a train to gradually increase or decrease its speed to satisfy the true prototypical modeler. These are just some of the simpler situations TPL can provide a model railroader. The user is only limited by his imagination as to how complex he wants his operation to be!

To give you some idea of the many commands available, here is a list with a short description of each:

SWITCH - Turns a specified switch straight or curve, or a solenoid to the "red" or "'green" position.

ENGINE - Causes a specified engine to move at a certain speed, reverse, or stop. This command also controls the lights or TELEX coupling on engines so equipped.

PAUSE - Tells the computer to wait a certain number of seconds before continuing with the route.

DETECT - Causes execution of this route to wait until a specified Track Detection Module is triggered

CLEAR - Causes execution of this route to wait until a specified Track Detection Module is cleared.

RESET - Resets the logical status of a contact track section to "empty" prior to a DETECT or CLEAR command.

GOTO - Transfers control to another specified route.

TERM - Identifies a reserved section of TPL instructions for each route that can be executed by another route or from the computer keyboard in an emergency.

SUSPEND - Temporarily halts the execution sequence of a particular route.

RESUME - Temporarily resumes the execution sequence of a particular route.

IF_SWITCH, IF_SIGNAL, IF DETECT, IF CLEAR - Used for testing the status of solenoid devices or contact track sections. Different sequences of commands can be executed depending on the result.

START - Begins execution of a specific route.

BAR, DANCE - Operates the digital Panorama car and dance car.

SOUND - Plays a pre-recorded sound file in the ".WAV"' format. Several sound clips are included; the user can use any compatible sound file.

One of the available screens (windows) contains a graphic representation of a Digital Keyboard (#6040) and Control 80f (#6036). The keyboard actually functions as 16 different keyboards to accommodate all possible 256 solenoid devices. Clicking on the appropriate red or green button above or below the solenoid number activates the appropriate switch or signal. When "scrolling" through the 16 possible keyboards, the switch numbers and their current status are instantly updated.

The Control 80f allows the selection of an engine or function car via the "L" or "F" buttons. The numeric keypad selects the particular address, and a scroll bar selects the desired speed (0 14). Pressing the button marked "R" reverses engine direction, The "f1" - "f4", "off", "func", "stop" and "go" buttons provide the exact same functions as the real Control 80f.

The latest version of TPL has many useful and interesting features:

There's a special function that supports 3 way switches. By identifying which switches are 3 way switches, . TPL will automatically set the left, right, and center positions in the proper sequence so the points never jam.

By identifying the type, position, and orientation of each solenoid device (i.e., signal, 2-way, 3-way or double-slip switch; red, green, left, right or center; left-handed, right-handed, etc.) the proper icon is used to display the item in a grid on the "Global Status" screen. There is even a facility to allow the identification of solenoids that "stick" so extra time can be given to allow them to change direction.

There is a table that allows the user to define slow, medium, and high speeds for the 80 different engines. In this way, abbreviations can be used for speeds instead of "hard coding" the speeds in the command file. If the characteristics of an engine changes, or you simply want to use a different engine with the same number that runs a little faster or slower, you don't need to change all your command files -- simply change the speed values in the table.

Engines can be referred to by using abbreviations in command files. This feature, along with the ability to abbreviate speeds (above) can save hours of retyping!

An extensive help file, using the familiar Windows Help Engine is available at all times. This help file, nearly 1/2-megabyte in size, contains descriptions of all the features of the program, complete with graphic displays of the various screens, along with definitions and examples of all available commands, all cross-referenced with hypertext links.

Several interesting examples of TPL command sequences are included to help familiarize the user with each command's use. Both simple and more complex train operating situations are described.

There is full support for the Marklin digital accessory items (Panorama car, dance car, crane).

Each TPL command sequence is checked for errors before train movement actually begins. Each command is checked for proper syntax. Verification of available engine, switch, and track detection module numbers is also made. Any errors detected are reported and must be corrected before operation can begin. This helps prevent unpredictable train and solenoid operation. The new Windows version has a special "compile" feature which allows incredibly fast loading of even extremely large command files.

There is also a screen for Multiple Engine Control which provides the equivalent of (up to) 9 independent Control 80f units for easy control of different engines complete with accessory function, reverse, and instant stop buttons.

- Tom Catherall

The following review, written by Rutger Friberg, appeared in Allt om Hobby, a Scandinavian model railroading magazine.

TPL means "Train Programming Language", and it's the name of a new software for Marklin Digital. It comes from USA and a gentleman named Robert Frowenfeld in Katonah, NY 10536 (Fax 0091 914 232 6641).

We got curious on this product, because it's been given a lot of credit by different sources on the Internet, because of it's simple and logical construction. TPL is already in version 3.0, and that's what we've been testing. It's a very complete program delivered on 3 diskettes. Lowest configuration is 386/25, 4 MB RAM, and Windows 3.1. The program supports the use of a mouse, and you can choose between COM 1-4. The baud-rate is limited by the 6050 to 2400, but could be raised. It also supports the faster interface 6023, which was never sold in Scandinavia, but can be bought in the USA.

The TPL language is the key to the program's success. It's simple for the user to write, and one can practically have as big layout as one wants, without having the program growing in complexity. The command language is a combination of characters and punctuation marks, and one can of course control the layout in manual or programmed mode. TPL supports a maximum of 80 engines, 256 switches and 496 sensors, which also is the limit of the Marklin Digital system.

There is a separate setup screen, where you activate the tools you want to have available, and different configurations for each engine. It looks like a card register on the screen, and you can also keep a register of your own MR equipment. WAV sound files can be activated for sounds on the layout.

All standard Marklin controls like Control 80f and Keyboards, are ready to pick up and use for manual mode. And in programmed mode you can construct your own layout with graphics and save it. Even very big layouts can be stored in this way, and this is software which is very good for clubs who uses Marklin.

On one screen (window), you can let the program control up to 9 trains independent of each other. Interesting is that the program has the ability to update all screens simultaneously. For this to be possible though, it's recommended a faster CPU, better graphics card and SVGA monitor.

You can also print out the command file, a function which only appears in a few programs.

To the end this is an unusual complete covering software; it's from USA, written in English, and therefore easy to understand for most of us. TPL leaves us with a taste for more.

- Rutger Friberg

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