Best software?

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V&AL

Fred's Loco Shop Foreman
What's good and bad about the model railroad plannign software you have used, or heard of?

What would you personally recommend?
 

N-gauged

Off The Rails
I use Scarm.
It's a free track planning program and I like it.
Can't say whether it is better or worse than any others because it's the only one I've used.

I did have a problem understanding the grade percent but the author of the software
explained it to me and said he's going to make a change so it's easier for people to understand.

You can download it for free here:
Download Scarm
 

steinjr

Member
What's good and bad about the model railroad planning software you have used, or heard of?

The bad thing about track plan drawing programs is that a lot of people dive straight into drawing track plan after track plan, instead of first spending some time on figuring out what they actually want to model, what they want to be able to do on their layout, what important scenes to include, basically coming up with an overall conceptual design, or thinking about how to fit the major parts into the available room (i.e. the structural design).

Some general suggestions on the design process:

The phases of track planning:
http://www.layoutvision.com/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/ld_bc.pdf

The "Tragedy of Cad too soon" : http://home.earthlink.net/~mrsvc/id40.html


The good thing about track plan drawing programs is that it is easier to make changes to the track plan on screen than on paper, and thus make easier to make iterative changes and trying alternate ways of doing things.

And it forces you to stay more or less honest about things like how much space turnouts and track take - most of us are way too optimistic when drawing track plans by hand with the track shown as a single line on paper.


What would you personally recommend?

As for specific programs - it really depends on what you want to do.

E.g. whether you are willing to spend money on software or want freeware, what operating system you run, how familiar you are with CAD (Computer Aided Design) type software, whether you will be just using the program to get a rough idea about what could fit in your available space, whether you will be using sectional track only, whether you already have picked what manufacturer you want to buy turnouts from and so on and so forth.

If you just want to get a quick idea about whether there is enough space in your room without having to severely compromise curve radii or creating overly steep inclines/declines, then pretty much any program will work.

You can do e.g. Atlas RTS (Right Track Software) - freeware, but limited to Atlas track (and flextrack).

Which is not bad if you actually are planning to use Atlas track, or if you just need to get a rough idea, but maybe not so great an idea if you are planning a design filled to the gills with lots of turnouts from a different manufacturer (yeah - turnouts from different manufacturers can have quite different geometries - if you are detail planning tight spots, use templates of the type of turnout you will be buying).

You could try this new program called Scarm, from some guy in Bulgaria or some such place that just popped up on the net a few months ago, and pretty much instantaneously hit a ton of different model railroading groups to advertise for his free track planning software.

Personally, I still feel just a tiny bit leery about downloading and installing a new freeware program made by an unknown person from the Balkans, for fear that I would be installing a Trojan on my system. But that's just me. It probably is just fine, and Mixy probably is just a nice, enthusiastic and quick programmer/model railroader who wants to share with other model railroaders.

Otherwise - there is a bunch to pick from. Most of them have some people who swear by them and other people who swear at them :)

Let us know a little more about your needs, and perhaps people can offer more targeted suggestions, instead of a more vague "I use product X and it has worked great for me".

Smile,
Stein
 

V&AL

Fred's Loco Shop Foreman
I've got a 19' X 20' garage that I'm trying to get a rough idea of how I can fill it... I'm debating between my freelanced class 1, or my freelanced shortline... or a mix of the 2... thinking U shape with 1 or 2 peninsulas and a branch coming over to my workbench...
 

steinjr

Member
I've got a 19' X 20' garage that I'm trying to get a rough idea of how I can fill it... I'm debating between my freelanced class 1, or my freelanced shortline... or a mix of the 2... thinking U shape with 1 or 2 peninsulas and a branch coming over to my workbench...

Then I would recommend just using graph paper, a ruler, a pencil and a compass (the kind you make circles and curves with) - the main limits to how you can fit a layout into a room is curve radius, reach and aisle width.

The main factor that determines the length of things like sidings, staging tracks etc are train length. The main factor that determines the number of such tracks is the number of trains you plan to run.

Curve radius and train length is determined by your chosen modeling scale, and the type and number of engines and cars you want to run in your trains.

Number of trains you want to be able to run during a session is dependent on the desired number of operators, and the desired traffic flow and density.

Anyways - plan for a return curve radius of minimum 3 times the length of your longest rolling stock (measured in inches), preferably 4 times (for better looking curves when looking at a curve from the outside) or 5 times the length of the longest rolling stock for automatic coupling (like in a curved yard which will be switched).

Your aisles should not be narrower than 24" wide at the narrowest - preferably wider, especially if you want to have more people in there.

Your reach should preferably be less than 24" from the aisle to the track furthest from the aisle, unless you are planning to use a "topside creeper" or some such device to extend your reach, or are planning to crawl on the floor below the layout and pop up in a hole in the center of the peninsula.

So to get a rough idea of what the room affords in terms of peninsulas with turnback curves, just use a compass to draw circles of the radius you want to use, and connect those curves with freehand curves.

But I would recommend thinking a lot more about what you want to accomplish before you grab some program and try to "fill the room". The bigger the room is (and your is a nice size), the more costly it is to throw it all away again and start over again.

At the very least I would have spend a little time thinking about whether I wanted to model in H0 or N scale (N scale allows a lot more railroad in a given space - H0 gives bigger trains - what works for you depends on what your goals are).

Whether you are thinking about a double track mainline with lots of traffic in both directions, or a shortline with just a couple of trains a day. That determines your need for staging.

Whether you are thinking about a line set in an era where most cars were 40' cars (5.5" long in H0 scale, 3" long in N scale), or whether you want to mostly run modern cars (which can be e.g. 89' cars - which are about 12" long in H0 scale or 6.5" long in N scale).

Stuff like that. Seeing what will fit into your room will only make sense when you have a rough idea about what you will want to do.

There is a pretty dramatic difference between a layout needing turnback curves that have a diameter (2xradius) of about 72-75" (6+ feet) diameter (minimum radius curves for H0 scale trains pulling 89' cars) and a curve diameter of about 20" (minimum radius curves for N scale trains with 40-foot cars).

As for drawing circles on a track plan to get an idea of where you can put turnback curves - you can use pretty much any track planning program for that.

Smile,
Stein
 

V&AL

Fred's Loco Shop Foreman
Thanks Stein.

HO is my poison of choice, and big power up front, and pushing on the rear are my glass of sweet tea.
At this point, I probably have more motive power than rolling stock, at least when it comes to being fit to run. (This comes from years or clubbing it, and only having a locomotive shop at home.) This leads to the idea of running the shortline, with perhaps the double track line running in the background? (Simple loop to hidden staging while the shortline rambled down the peninsulas...)
 

SRN

Member
I use XTrkCad. It is widely used, runs on Windows, Linux, and Mac, and best of all it's free.

Like all of the major non-brand specific programs, it has its pros and cons, but it is very usable. Unlike the others, it is an open source program, which is a big plus to me.

I suggest you take a look at it. If you have any specific questions, you can join the Yahoo XTrkCad group or post them here. There are enough XtTrkCad users that you can get support on just about any model railroad forum if you are not inclined to join a Yahoo group.
 

N-gauged

Off The Rails
I've got XTrkCad but I don't like it.
After going thru the whole demo I still don't under stand it and I can't figure out how to get specific brand of track and specific pieces of track.

I use Scarm because it has all of the manufactures of track and it will let you pick the exact track that you want to use.

I can select the Atlas code 80 library and it will show me all of the track and show the length, radius, and part number.

With the XTrkCad it seemed like I was dragging track to different lengths and radius's and had no idea what track I needed to make the layout I was drawing.

I may have been doing something wrong and just wasn't getting it but that's part of my point.

I understood Scarm pretty quickly after I started using it.
(except for the percentage thingy which I understand now after it was explained to me)

Now there may be some better programs to use but for free I like Scarm.


 

SRN

Member
I've got XTrkCad but I don't like it.
After going thru the whole demo I still don't under stand it and I can't figure out how to get specific brand of track and specific pieces of track.



You need to load the correct parameter file for the brand of track and scale you plan to use. Failing to understand and load the correct parameter file(s) is probably the most common mistake made by beginning XTrkCad users. For flextrack, no specific parameter file is required for track, but it is usual to load the NMRA turnout file. Alternatively, you can load a Fast Tracks file, since they use the NMRA specs for their turnout jigs.

XTrkCad also has a handlaid turnout tool and turnout designer tool that will let you use pretty much any kind of turnout you can imagine.

All of the layout design programs I have tried have a fairly steep learning curve, and in my opinion, they could all use better user interfaces.
 

N-gauged

Off The Rails
So how do you load a parameter file?
More specifically Atlas code 80 n-scale.

I believe in giving second chances.
Maybe I'll change my mind about it if I know what I'm doing.
 

SRN

Member
So how do you load a parameter file?
More specifically Atlas code 80 n-scale.

I believe in giving second chances.
Maybe I'll change my mind about it if I know what I'm doing.

I assume you are using Windows. I use Linux, so the directory structure will be different. I can't give you full path names. However the procedure should be similar.

1. Under the File menu, look for Parameter Files and click on it.

2. In the menu that appears, click on Browse.

3. Navigate to a directory called xtrkcad\params.

4. In that directory, you should find a number of files with xtp file extensions. Those are all parameter files.

5. Scroll to atlasn.xtp and highlight it.

6. Click OK, and it will load. Once loaded, it will reload automatically each time you start the program unless you specifically unload it.

If you can't find the directory, use the Windows search function to find the file and directory.

If you need Windows specific XTrkCad help, and you can't get it here, post to the Yahoo XTrkCad Group.. You can also find help at the XrkCad Wiki.
 
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N-gauged

Off The Rails
Thanx SRN.
That was easy enough to do.
I'll give it another try and see how I like it.

I have another question now though.
It looks like you can run trains on the track but it says
"No cars are defined for the current scale"

How do you get trains?
 

SRN

Member


How do you get trains?

More parameter files. I noticed an atlasen.xtp and atlascn.xtp. Presumably, they are Atlas N engines and cars respectively. Load those and see what happens. By the way, they are simple text files. You can inspect them with Notepad to see what they contain.

The Wiki has an entry on how to run trains, if you have difficulty.

The "hot bar" will get pretty busy with several parameter files loaded, but a short cut is provided. Right click on the bar and you will get a drop down menu of files and parts of files. Just click on what you are interested in to make it active on the bar. It beats the heck out of scrolling.
 
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Cjcrescent

Master Mechanic
One thing that you absolutely need to do with XtrkCad is to do the tutorials. Once you do the tutorials, there shouldn't be a trackplan you can't draw. For example, here is one level of my track plan that I drew with XtrkCad.

Selma3.png
 

bn-1000

Member
....You could try this new program called Scarm, from some guy in Bulgaria or some such place that just popped up on the net a few months ago, and pretty much instantaneously hit a ton of different model railroading groups to advertise for his free track planning software.

Personally, I still feel just a tiny bit leery about downloading and installing a new freeware program made by an unknown person from the Balkans, for fear that I would be installing a Trojan on my system. But that's just me. It probably is just fine, and Mixy probably is just a nice, enthusiastic and quick programmer/model railroader who wants to share with other model railroaders....

Well I use SCARM and I can assure you there is no problems that I have been detected with viruses, by myself of several of my friends. For a free program, Mixy has done a tonne of work and produce a great product. I can assure you the latter is most correct: Mixy is genuinely enthusiastic and is willing to share his efforts with his fellow modellers, and a damn good programmer by the looks of it!:) This is reflected in responses users of SCARM. Mixy has taken on board suggestions for new features and added them to new releases.

Overall, rail software is "horses for courses". I only use SCARM now because of it's simplicity, and ease of use. It's not overloaded with features, but having said that, it does have a great 3D feature.

The best way is to download each program and give them a go.

Cheers.
 
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SRN

Member
Out of curiosity, I downloaded SCARM and ran it on my Linux laptop under Wine (an application that runs Windows programs on non-Windows operating systems).

I only took a quick look, but from what I saw, SCARM does not do easements, has no provision for handlaid turnouts, and has no libraries for NMRA standard turnouts. It seems to treat flextrack largely like sectional track, which is a shame.

SCARM does not have scrollbars. Instead, you have to hold the mouse wheel down to drag-scroll the workspace. To me, this is unnatural and uncomfortable. XTrkCad doesn't have scroll bars either. It relies on a small window called a "map" that scrolls the main window. For the record, SCARM's mouse wheel drag interface sucks less than XTrkCad's map interface, but not by much. Rumor has it that XTrkCad will be getting scroll bars in the not too distant future. Hopefully, SCARM will get them too.

Obviously, the developer of SCARM has put a lot of effort into the program. I hope he will continue and the program will find a lot of users. I think it is off to a pretty good start, considering it is still a beta release.

But for me, the lack of easements and no provision for handlaid turnouts is a show shopper.

A couple of other things. I got an "<info not available> is not an integer value" error on program startup, which I had to click on for the startup to proceed, and Help did not launch any help program. Both of these may have been related to me running SCARM under Wine.
 
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steinjr

Member
More parameter files. I noticed an atlasen.xtp and atlascn.xtp. Presumably, they are Atlas N engines and cars respectively. Load those and see what happens. By the way, they are simple text files. You can inspect them with Notepad to see what they contain.

Also, the "protoam" parameter file has locomotives and cars. "Walth-ho" and "Walth-n" has Walther's buildings in H0 scale or N scale.

Stein
 

steinjr

Member
Well I use SCARM and I can assure you there is no problems that I have been detected with viruses, by myself of several of my friends. For a free program, Mixy has done a tonne of work and produce a great product. I can assure you the latter is most correct: Mixy is genuinely enthusiastic and is willing to share his efforts with his fellow modellers, and a damn good programmer by the looks of it!:) This is reflected in responses users of SCARM. Mixy has taken on board suggestions for new features and added them to new releases.

Sounds good. Guess I am just being overly cautious about stuff from Bulgaria - have had some bad experiences with freeware from that area before.

Anyways - more good software is a good thing for everyone involved.

Smile,
Stein
 




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