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Common Tools

JMRI provides powerful tools for working with your layout.

System-specific Tools

Layout Automation

JMRI can be used to automate parts of your layout, from simply controlling a crossing gate to running trains in the background.

JMRI: Sections Documentation

What is a Section?

A Section is a group of one or more connected Blocks that may be allocated to a train traveling in a given direction. Sections were created to solve the direction problem that can occur when using Blocks directly. A Section has only two directions, "forward" or "reverse". Sections can be traversed by a Train in either direction. Section direction is independent of the direction set for the locomotive by a throttle. In addition to solving the direction problem, Sections offer the user other useful features.

Sections can be considered an extension of Blocks. Many Sections contain only one Block. All Blocks contained in a multi-Block Section must be different. Blocks are kept in order--the first block is connected to the second, the second is connected to the third, etc. That means a Block in a Section must be connected to the Block before it (if there is one) and to the Block after it (if there is one), but may not be connected to any other Block in the Section. A Section may not contain any reverse loops.

Sections and their associated Transits are designed to provide support for dispatching, either manual dispatching (by a dispatcher sitting at a panel), or automatic dispatching by the computer. Dispatching is the temporary allocation of Sections for the exclusive use of trains, either run by engineers with a throttle, and/or run automatically by the computer. Support for dispatching is provided by Dispatcher, which also provides for set up and running of trains automatically.

A Section's direction is defined by the sequence in which Blocks are added to a multi-Block Section. For a single Block Section the direction is chosen arbitrarily when the Section is created. A train may run through a Section in either the forward direction (from first block to last block) or reverse direction (from last block to first block). If a Section has only one Block, the direction of that Section is chosen when setting up its Entry Points (see below).

Therefore, when setting up multi-block sections, you should choose blocks in the same order across the layout for sequentially connected sections. That way, the forward and reverse directions will have consistent meaning for sections on a relative basis

A Section has one or more Entry Points. An Entry Point defines a connection from a Block inside the Section to a Block outside of the Section. Entry Points are set up using Paths of Blocks in the Section--Paths that represent connections to Blocks not contained in the Section. Entry Points are classified in one of two ways:

  1. Whether entering the Section at that Entry Point will result in a train traveling in the "forward" direction.
  2. whether entering at that Entry Point will result in a train traveling in the "reverse" direction.

Sections are designed to be allocated to one train at a time. If a portion of connected track is long enough to support multiple trains simultaneously traveling in the same direction, one following the other, that connected track should be divided into two or more Sections, if the user wants to run following trains in that area.


Sections may be used with a Panel Editor Panel, with a Layout Editor Panel, with a CTC machine, or directly without any Panel. Sections build on JMRI's Blocks and Paths structure. So before attempting to create any Sections, you should have Blocks and Paths fully initialized for your layout. (An easy way to automatically initialize your Blocks and Paths is to sketch out a Layout Editor panel of your layout, with Blocks assigned. By assigning Blocks to all track segments, Turnouts, etc., the paths will be created automatically for you by JMRI.)

Layout blocking should be carefully planned, to provide "reasonable" Sections--Sections that make sense for a Dispatcher to allocate to a certain Train. For right-handed or left-handed Turnouts switching mainline track, for example, this usually means including the Turnout in the same Block as the track entering at the Turnout throat, and providing separate Blocks for continuing and diverging tracks. Some users prefer to have a Turnout in a separate Block, and that works fine also. From a Dispatching perspective, tracks of mainline Turnouts that branch to industries do not need to be separately blocked, but blocking here is acceptable. A layout blocking scheme that works well for Signals, should work fine for Sections also.

Signals are not required for using Sections, but Sections will work fine with Signals installed. If Signals are installed, the direction Sensors included in Sections provide an easy way to set up simple APB signaling (see below).

Support for Optional Direction and Stopping Sensors

Optionally each Section may have two direction sensors, one for the forward direction and one for the reverse direction. These are normally internal Sensors, bearing system names that begin with IS. They automatically follow the state of their Section. A Section has three states, FREE (not allocated to a train), FORWARD (allocated for travel in the forward direction), and REVERSE (allocated for travel in the reverse direction. When the state of the Section is FREE both direction sensors are set ACTIVE. When the state of the Section is FORWARD, the forward direction sensor is INACTIVE and the reverse direction sensor is ACTIVE. Similarly, when the state of the Section is REVERSE, the forward direction sensor is ACTIVE and the reverse direction sensor is INACTIVE. These sensors may be used in signal logic to force signals for travel in the direction opposite to the allocated direction to RED. Tools are provided here in the Section Table to automatically add direction sensors to signal logic or to automatically remove all direction sensors from Signal Mast Logic (see the Transit Table Tools). Alternatively, if Dispatcher is being used, it can add direction sensors to signal logic as needed.

Also optionally each Section may have two Stopping Sensors that indicate when a Train in the Section has reached the end of the Section by traveling in the forward direction or in the reverse direction. Stopping Sensors should be physical sensors on the layout, for example infrared point detectors. For manual dispatching, these Sensors may be displayed on a Panel to indicate to the Dispatcher when a Train has reached the end of its allocation. For automatic running, these Sensors may be used to stop a Train before it reaches the end of its allocated Section, and before it overruns a Red signal, if Signals are present.

Using Signal Mast Logic with Sections

If your signaling is based using Signal Masts, with the associated logic that has been generated using the Layout Editor, then it is possible to also have Sections automatically generated based upon the logic.

The tool can be found in the SignalMast Logic Table | Tools | Generate Sections Running this will immediately create Sections that each contain all of the Blocks between any already-defined Signal Mast Pairs. It will also setup each "Automatically Generated" Section so that they include those Blocks in the correct order, with the direction being set as FORWARD travel, going from the source to destination Signal Mast. Please note that the Block details are not saved when the Panel is stored, but are re-created when the file is loaded.

The tool will also automatically create forward and reverse direction Sensors and places them in the Section, however currently the Signal Mast Logic does not use these and their creation is only there to allow validation of the Section (or use by the user in unrelated Logix if desired).

Sections generated with the tool will only have a pair of Entry Points and simply follows the path between the two Signals.

Direction Sensors (Forward and Reverse) are created by the Generate Sections tool, but Stopping Sensors (Forward and Reverse) need to be added manually by the user via the Edit Sections window for each section if desired.

The details of the Optional Direction and Stopping Sensors are saved when the Panel file is stored.

To use the Sections that have been built this way you will next need to setup Transits. Following that, you will also need to set the Dispatcher to use SignalMast Logic via the Dispatcher's Options menu.

How to setup Sections

Displaying and creating Sections

All the Sections that JMRI knows about can be viewed using the Section Table. Select Sections in the Tables submenu of the Tools menu of the main JMRI program window. Sections can either be created manually from the Section Table pane, or they can be created automatically if you also plan to use Signal Mast Logic. There are eight columns in the Section Table:

Section Table Controls

Below the Section Table there's an Add... button.

The Tools menu gives access to:

Creating a new Section

To Create a new Section, click the "Add..." button. A window will be brought up that will allow you to define the blocks included in the new Section, and if necessary, designate which entry points to the section result in travel in the FORWARD and REVERSE directions.

Currently the user must manually select FORWARD or REVERSE for each Entry Point after all Blocks are added to a Section. The program will set some directions automatically, but others are left as UNKNOWN. An Entry Point should be set to FORWARD if a train entering the Section at that Entry Point would be traveling in the FORWARD direction. Otherwise it should be set to REVERSE. A possible future addition is to set directions of Entry Points automatically from the connectivity found in a Layout Editor panel.

For Sections with more than one Block, travel from a lower-numbered block to a higher-numbered block is FORWARD travel. Stated a different way, moving from a block higher in the block list to a block lower in the list is FORWARD travel. Similarly moving from a higher-numbered block to a lower-numbered block is REVERSE travel. For Sections with only one block, it doesn't make any difference which direction through the Section is designated FORWARD, as long as Entry Point travel directions are consistent. That is:

WARNING: If Entry Points are not consistent strange behavior may result when using the Section.

Saving Sections to disk

Use the Store item in the File menu of the Section Table (or the Store Panels... item in the Panels menu of the main JMRI window) to save Section information to disk. This information (and any modified signal logic information) is saved with the configuration and panels in an XML file, along with control panel setup and similar stuff. To store your panels in the same file (recommended), select File>Store>Store Configuration and Panels To File... or select Panels>Store Panels... in the main JMRI window.