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ModelRailroad track Planning software - Which one do you use?

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ModelRailroad track Planning software - Which one do you use?
Posted by gary233 on Monday, October 08, 2018 7:34 AM

Hi,

After 30+ years I’m tearing down my model railroad. I bought a new home with a space for a new model railroad.  30 years ago I designed the layout with pencil and paper. Today, there are several products available that will do a better job. EACH says they are easy to use and have pretty much the same features.

Which have you used? Which do you like best? Why? Which is truly easiest to use and creates the most accurate plan that you can transfer to construction?

PED
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Posted by PED on Monday, October 08, 2018 8:30 AM

I used RR-Track to lay out my N scale. Cost varies depending on package you purchase. It has some flaws but it worked well for me. I tried some of the freeby versions available and none worked well for me. I have seen many comments by others that say they like other packages but I have no experience with them.

I should note that my layout was done with Kato Unitrack. If you are using flex track, I suspect that there are other packages out there that will do a better job.

Paul

Washita and Santa Fe Railroad
Circa 1970's in south central Oklahoma

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Posted by peahrens on Monday, October 08, 2018 8:34 AM

gary233
Which have you used? Which do you like best? Why? Which is truly easiest to use and creates the most accurate plan that you can transfer to construction?

Back in 2011 I used XTrackCAD.  I decided to try something free first and just stuck with it, using it for a year or so before deciding to build.  It has some learning curve, so use the tutorial to try it out.   I got used to it and how to combine using the brand name (template) track pieces with custom drawn curves, etc.  I would use it again. 

I can't compare to others as I did not try others.  Someone here will be able to do that.

Some older threads via a google search:

https://www.google.com/search?safe=active&rlz=1C1CHBF_enUS759US759&ei=kV27W7rWK4LIsAXB6q3IDQ&q=site%3A+cs.trains.com+track+plan+software&oq=site%3A+cs.trains.com+track+plan+software&gs_l=psy-ab.3...27218.29832..31770...0.0..0.87.414.5......0....1..gws-wiz.......0i71.9Mto6c4o4cU

 

Paul

Modeling HO with a transition era UP bent

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Posted by cuyama on Monday, October 08, 2018 10:39 AM

I don't believe that I would classify any of them as easy-to-use. But time spent learning the program does pay off. I have designed a couple of hundred different layouts with 3rd PlanIt and I’m happy with the program. (I don't routinely use the 3-D or train-running features, but they seem to work fine)

I also own a copy of CADRail and it works well. I’ve also used XTrackCAD and tried the demo of AnyRail. One of the differences between the programs is in the user interface, so try them before you make the investment in dollars and/or learning time.

IMHO, 3rd PlanIt works more like a familiar Windows program as compared with CADRail and XTrackCAD, whose user interfaces are more like a traditional CAD program (click-move-click). That was an easier learning path for me. Like 3rd PlanIt, AnyRail also feels to me a little more like a Windows program than the others.

Personally, I prefer a commercial product with support offered by the developer. Others have had good results with open-source offerings.

For any of these programs, the learning curve will be steep. For a single layout just for yourself, the time investment to learn the program may not be worth it compared to careful to-scale hand-drawing with accurate templates of the turnouts you plan to use. 

Good luck with your layout.

Byron

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Posted by jjdamnit on Monday, October 08, 2018 1:07 PM

Hello all,

Analog- -a mechanical pencil, ruler, graph paper, a compas, a protracter and a big old eraser.

I tried RailModeller Pro (I've been using Mac's since 1986) but I wasn't happy with the results just documenting my existing pike.

Hope this helps.

"Uhh...I didn’t know it was 'impossible' I just made it work...sorry"

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Monday, October 08, 2018 1:32 PM

jjdamnit

Hello all,

Analog- -a mechanical pencil, ruler, graph paper, a compas, a protracter and a big old eraser.

My "software" is 11x17 graph paper with scale rule, drafters compass, erasor, erasor shield and mechanical pencils.

I measure the area the layout will go and draw it to scale on the paper and for me it's easier to visualize what will fit there and where:

 

For any of these programs, the learning curve will be steep.

For a single layout just for yourself, the time investment to learn the program may not be worth it compared to careful to-scale hand-drawing with accurate templates of the turnouts you plan to use.

I only design a layout once in any number of years so for me I preferred not to deal with the learning curve and time investment that requires.  For me careful to-scale hand drawing has worked quite well. 

I don't use turnout templates but I estimate the space required realistically usually I've had no problems translating the plan to full size.  I don't have a scan handy of the drawing for my last layout but all the major elements went in fine:

Both ends of staging and main yard above:

 

Rio Grande.  The Action Road

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Posted by michaelrose55 on Monday, October 08, 2018 2:11 PM

I use Anyrail and I'm quite happy with the software.

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Posted by Pruitt on Monday, October 08, 2018 4:45 PM

I use CadRail

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Posted by hon30critter on Monday, October 08, 2018 5:07 PM

Hi Gary,

I have used 3rd PlanIt extensively and I am really happy with it. I first used it to design and refine my own layout (which I will never build thanks to back problemsAngry). I played with a number of designs and it was easy to make quick changes to each of them as I identified problem areas.

More recently I used 3rd PlanIt to design a new layout for our club (which is being built as I write). The club set some parameters like 36" curves and 2% grade and I went to work with those in mind. It quickly became obvious that 36" was not workable in the space we had available so I changed the minimum to 32". The change was easy and the layout fit nicely into the 20' x 25' space that we had.

I was able to establish a 2% grade (+- .2%) no problem, and calculating clearances at overpasses was a breeze.

When it came to building the layout the program proved to be really worthwhile. We used cookie cutter sub roadbed for about 2/3rds of the layout and the rest was flat. Using 3rd Planit I was able to draw out each piece of the cookie cutter roadbed and the flat areas and lay them out on a scale 4'x8' sheet. That allowed us to minimize waste big time! There was less than one sheet of scrap plywood out of 12 sheets.

Perhaps the best use was made when cutting each of the pieces. I simply established a 0"-0" starting point on the drawing at one corner of the sheet and measured out the coordinates of each cutting point from there. I was able to plot points every six inches so drawing accurate compound curves was a breeze. Just connect the dots.

I was able to draw the benchwork framing piece by piece. That allowed us to calculate how much lumber was needed, and it showed detailed assembly directions for each section of the benchwork. Putting the frames together was quick and easy. In addition, the program allowed me to plot the future locations for all the Tortoises so we could adjust the positioning of individual frame pieces to avoid interfering with the switch machines. I was even able to calculate cutting angles for the non 90 degree joints.

When it came to actually locating each of the pieces of benchwork and sub roadbed I used the same 0"-0" method to plot exactly where each section should be in the room. We left each of the roadbed pieces a bit long so we could make precise joints, but everything fit as planned.

I was also able to use 3rd PlanIt to help other club members with their proposed plans. In some cases I was able to show them that their rough sketches simply wouldn't fit in the space available. In one case I drew up the complete layout plan for another member so that the club could compare the plans apples to apples.

A couple of caveats:

- Yes, there is a learning curve. The basic stuff is pretty simple IMHO. I didn't find it too difficult to get into the more advanced stuff, and I am a professed computor dinosaur. You don't have to master the whole program in order to draw your layout. However, when I did eventually figure out how to use the terrain program I was able to produce a decent 3D view of what the club layout would look like with basic scenery forms in place. That helped a lot of members understand the layout proposal much better.

- You still have to do the design work. The program will draw whatever you want, right or wrong. There are a few warnings that can be set up, for example, when you draw a curve less than your minimum radius, but you have to determine the layout's functionality. If you haven't read John Armstrong's 'Track Planning for Realistic Operations', get yourself a copy before you do anything else.

Just to add to cuyama's coment about CAD methodology, 3rd PlanIt allows you to choose how your mouse buttons work, i.e, 'click-move-click' or 'click-hold-release'.

Finally, their customer service is excellent! I have asked a few questions and I have made a couple of suggestions and each time I dealt with the owner who is the guy who designed the program. Updates (which are done regularly) are free for two years.

Other than 3rd Planit and the old Atlas freeware I have no other experience with CAD programs.

Dave

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Posted by RR_Mel on Monday, October 08, 2018 6:32 PM

Hi Gary
 
I’m a long time CAD user (30 years) and I’ve tried several of the model railroad packages and all worked pretty good.  Basic differences are the individual program ‘accessories or tools’.  They all have a steep learning curve but not much more than any other Windows software program now days.  
 
Most have either a freebee demo or startup package so that you can test drive them before they cost you money.  Actually several of the freebee open-source programs work pretty good too but like Bryan said having support makes a big difference. 
 
I still prefer using my CAD over the custom programs but that’s just me.  I make my own turnout and special track drawings and then copy and paste.  Worked out great for my Mel Double Crossover.
 
 
I made my own double crossover from four Atlas code 83 #6 Custom Line turnouts and their 19° Crossover.  Works great!  I normally get my drawing accuracy under 1/64” so everything fits together pretty good.
 
 
Mel
 
 
My Model Railroad   
 
Bakersfield, California
 
I'm beginning to realize that aging is not for wimps.
 
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Posted by agrasyuk on Tuesday, October 09, 2018 8:48 AM

Tried several and my vote is for Anyrail. I like the familiar MS Office-like interface. Free to try. I guess you could "cheat" a bit and just have it free if you design your layout in sections to overcome the 50pc trial limitation.

Regards

Anton.

PED
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Posted by PED on Tuesday, October 09, 2018 9:14 AM

In my early days before I started using software, I discovered that a simple paper drawing would quickly trick you into a design that would not fit. I then covered the floor of my layout space with big sheets of cardboard. I then used that as my full size drafting board. That allowed me to verify that a curve and turnouts would fit as I wanted. That also gave me good dimensions for my benchwork. Once I got benchwork built, I transfered the cardboard cutouts of my design to my homosote and started laying track. Worked great.

Paul

Washita and Santa Fe Railroad
Circa 1970's in south central Oklahoma

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Posted by kasskaboose on Tuesday, October 09, 2018 9:23 AM

Atlas and Scarm are both free and reliatively easy to use.  There is a learning curve, but I found the youtube vids a help.  It helps to first figure out how much room you have for the layout before planning it, so you confine yourself to those paramets.

Plenty of options available, but I prefer not to spend the money knowing that the design changes from paper to the layout.

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Posted by MisterBeasley on Tuesday, October 09, 2018 9:35 AM

I started with the old free Atlas program.  After finishing that section of my layout, the program was no longer available and I switched to XtrakCad.  By that time, I knew what I wanted and only used the program as a first cut guideline.

I will warn you.  Using software can trap you in "analysis paralysis" and actually delay your layout.

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Tuesday, October 09, 2018 10:47 AM

PED

In my early days before I started using software, I discovered that a simple paper drawing would quickly trick you into a design that would not fit.

I agree, a simple paper drawing would give you problems.

The "trick" to using paper is to draw to scale.  If you buy a tablet of 11x17 graph paper which has the squares on it to help scale things out, use a compass and be faithful to the scale (in my case 1" = 2 feet) and allow for actual turnout size, you should be fine.

On the graph paper used, each square represents a 6 x 6 inch space in the real world.

I then covered the floor of my layout space with big sheets of cardboard. I then used that as my full size drafting board. That allowed me to verify that a curve and turnouts would fit as I wanted. That also gave me good dimensions for my benchwork. Once I got benchwork built, I transfered the cardboard cutouts of my design to my homosote and started laying track. Worked great.

The second step is optional if you do your scale drawing correctly - and I'd say the same if you use a software scale drawing using one of the availalbe applications.

When it comes to turnouts, rather than full-size photocopies, I just use the real thing to check locations before actually laying track.

Here I am test fitting turnout locations with centerlines drawin in on painted Homasote for control.

I did make a scale drawing but don't have digital copy atm - part of it is visible in the photo below.

Here is a scale drawing of a previous layout I had nearly finished the plywood Pacific phase before it had to be dismantled for moving.

Not on a scale drawing it's a best practice to draw in an actual scale or bar scale for reference.  I use those to set my compass when drawing curves in.  It is also a good idea to mark the cross hairs of the locus of the curve drawn.

This one shows two sheets - one for hidden staging and the other with visible yard over the top.  Follow the link to see a bigger image of it.

http://atlasrescueforum.proboards.com/thread/3737/jims-layout-progress?page=3

 

Rio Grande.  The Action Road

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Posted by rrinker on Tuesday, October 09, 2018 11:27 AM

 Long-time 3rd Plan-It user. I foud it as easy or easier than most (none of these programs is particularly 'easy' in the sense that you can open it up for the first time and in an hour have a basement-size layout designed). I do think it takes a specific mindset to use a CAD package, it's not for everyone. Hand drawing can work well - in fact one of my favorite things in school was mechanical drawing becasue it was a kind of drawing I could do - using tools for accurate lines - I can't draw 'art' to save my life. But in part I think that allowed me to move to CAD because I was thus familiar with the concepts, and having the ability to click on a line and alter it or just erase it instanatly is a whole lot faster than pulling out the eraser shield and carefully wiping out the aprt you don't want. Especially in the early stages, unles you don't mind going through lots of sheets of paper and tossing the false starts. You also need to be disciplined to do it by hand - it's far too easy to cheat and make turnouts far sharper than they are, or curve radii tighter than you want. Using templates solves this problem. The computer won't let you cheat - you place a #6, that diverging route is going off at a #6 agle and that's it. You can usually set other limits, like radius and grade, adn when you attempt to go outside those settings, it either won't let you or will flag the problem areas with a different color so you know it's substandard.

 One thing I don;t do is tyry to print the whole thing full size and trace it. My main purpose for using CAD is to use the layers capability to compare multiple options, and get somethign that I know will fit. I once tried the full size printout thing, and it was a whole lot more trouble than it was worth. Instead, I'll pick a critical area, print it to some reasonable scale where it is easy to take measurements, and use a good reference point, such as the edge of the benchwork. The rest just sort of fits in as I go, and I know it will fit because the turnouts and curves on the drawing are accurate.

 I also use the CAD program to draw other things - like my workbench. Came out looking just like the drawing when I was done.

                                     --Randy


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

Visit my web site at www.readingeastpenn.com for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Tuesday, October 09, 2018 11:48 AM

rrinker

 Long-time 3rd Plan-It user. I foud it as easy or easier than most (none of these programs is particularly 'easy' in the sense that you can open it up for the first time and in an hour have a basement-size layout designed).

That sounds like a pretty easy software to learn and use!

I do think it takes a specific mindset to use a CAD package, it's not for everyone.

Back in grad school I did part-time work for the Indiana Geological Survey and used AutoCad.  I was far from an expert but I'd think a package made for layout design with built in templates would be more user friendly for a beginner.  I never had a copy of AutoCad to install on my personal computer and it's not cheap if I remember correctly.

Hand drawing can work well - in fact one of my favorite things in school was mechanical drawing becasue it was a kind of drawing I could do - using tools for accurate lines - I can't draw 'art' to save my life. But in part I think that allowed me to move to CAD because I was thus familiar with the concepts, and having the ability to click on a line and alter it or just erase it instanatly is a whole lot faster than pulling out the eraser shield and carefully wiping out the aprt you don't want. Especially in the early stages, unles you don't mind going through lots of sheets of paper and tossing the false starts.

Hand drawing with controls like paper with a grid, and a scale rule and a room drawn to scale first, works well for me.  Maybe I just have the "knack" but I drew the above recent layout plan on a single sheet of paper.  What helps me to avoid throwing sheets of paper away on false starts is past experience and using the outline of the room to visualize what will fit.  I can take a 180 degree curve turn back minimum radious and aisles and other features and estimate what type of configuration will fit before I start drawing.  That saves a good deal of time and trial and error.

You also need to be disciplined to do it by hand - it's far too easy to cheat and make turnouts far sharper than they are, or curve radii tighter than you want. Using templates solves this problem. The computer won't let you cheat.

If you know your turnout physical length and your center-lines, and you are motivated to not-cheat, then hand drawing a track plan with turnouts will net you something that will fit and not present problems when actually laying track.  If you can't do that on paper, then software may be a necessary option for some.

 

Rio Grande.  The Action Road

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Posted by rrinker on Tuesday, October 09, 2018 3:04 PM

 First job out of college, they switched from hand drafting to CAD. Only they went with Cadkey (what-Key?) because at the time, it was native 3D. AutoCAD at the time was still faking it. I got to go to class along with the drafting team because guess who was going to provide all the support when they had problems? And considering none of them had ever used ANY sort of computer-based CAD in their life - and all were at least 15-20 years older than me... I at least had a tiny bit of experience playing with OrCAD for electronic schematics in college. I've always found AutoCAD to be downright hostile to use - but 3rdPlanIt works more like standard Windows drawing programs and a bit like CadKey.

 Before 3rdPlanIt, I used two different products, one was a model railroad specific program called Design Your Own Railroad. Kind of limited, but it did work for my shelf switching layout that I built that had a pair of the 101 Track Plan bits on 2 sides with a custom piece connecting them. Then on some railroad forum (probably CompuServe, going back that far) I found people using a generic PC CAD program called PC-DraftCAD. It was sort of AutoCAD Light, Shareware I think, and some people had made templates for some common track. It was OK, but having to make up my own templates for every piece of track I wanted to use got old real quick.

 I did give XTrackCAD a try, hard to beat free, plus I did have a Linux machine for JMRI to run the layout in addition to my usual Windows machines. I redrew one of my plans from 3rdPlanIt. It sort of worked - while XTrack has elevation, there is really no visualization in 3D. Whereas with 3rdPlanIt, you cna switch to the 3D view and literally step into you plan, walk through the room, etc. Look from any angle. I can get a prety good sense for a room layout looking at a 2D blueprint, but there's nothing liek having the whole thing visually right there in front of your face. Especially when you take the time to color backdrops and place some scenery. There's an ancient post on my web site where I was experimenting with a layotu that was never to be, where there would be a transition from a (part that did get built) single level to a double deck section. The automatic landform a fitting made what shows in that screen shot take minutes - probably took me longer to add it to the web site than actually draw it in 3rdPlanIt. Not possible with one of the 2D programs, and not possible for me by hand - no way could I sketch out what the tunnel portal with a track passing over woudl look like by hand. I know people who could do that, but that's not me.

                                                 --Randy


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

Visit my web site at www.readingeastpenn.com for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

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Posted by Nevin on Thursday, October 11, 2018 5:04 PM

gary233

Hi,

After 30+ years I’m tearing down my model railroad. I bought a new home with a space for a new model railroad.  30 years ago I designed the layout with pencil and paper. Today, there are several products available that will do a better job. EACH says they are easy to use and have pretty much the same features.

Which have you used? Which do you like best? Why? Which is truly easiest to use and creates the most accurate plan that you can transfer to construction?

 

I've been using Cadrail for a very long time.  I try other software but I alway end up going back to it.  I'm now up to version 10.0 and I'm prety sure that I started with 2.0.  I went to Parallels so I can run it on my Mac.  

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Posted by dante on Friday, October 12, 2018 2:56 AM

If you have a Mac, try Empire Express by Haddon. It is simple, inexpensive and easy to learn although it doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles.

Dante

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Posted by gary233 on Friday, October 12, 2018 7:28 AM

dante

If you have a Mac, try Empire Express by Haddon. It is simple, inexpensive and easy to learn although it doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles.

Dante

 

THANKS! I have an iMAC and everything is for PC.  I bought a cheap windows laptop to run JMRI and LokProgrammer but it would be tough to do it on that.

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Posted by gary233 on Saturday, October 13, 2018 6:18 AM

That program works great. EASY to use, virtually no learning curve for me. Even makes a list of supplies.

One thing I haven’t figured out is the curve radius. The program allows you i to put in a minimum radius, however it will allow you to make a curve any radius you want. I entered 28 as my minimum but I have several curves that are larger.  Is there a way to determine what the larger radii are?

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Posted by hardcoalcase on Saturday, October 13, 2018 1:33 PM

MisterBeasley

I started with the old free Atlas program.  After finishing that section of my layout, the program was no longer available and I switched to XtrakCad.   

 

The older versions of Right Track can be downloaded for free at http://trainweb.org/seaboard/layouts.htm.

 

I've used this site several times and it is safe.  Version 8 is generally considered the best.  

The downside to older Right Track is that the track components are limited to Atlas products, so there are no curved turnouts, but I "fabricate" them by superimposing one radius curve over another.  No #5 turnouts either.

I've designed many room-sized layouts using V8, and, despite its few limitations, I like it.

Jim

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Posted by OldEngineman on Saturday, October 13, 2018 11:09 PM

gary233 wrote: "I have an iMAC and everything is for PC.  I bought a cheap windows laptop to run JMRI and LokProgrammer"

Railmodeler works fine on the Mac (I've only tried the "Express" version, not the "Pro", but I would expect it to run well, too).

I have the JMRI package and it, too, runs well enough on the Mac OS. It's a "Java" app so it can run on any platform that supports Java. Do you have Java installed on your Mac?

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Posted by gary233 on Sunday, October 14, 2018 10:48 AM

I don’t think I have JAVA on teh MAC but the laptop is portable and a good choice for JMRI and LpcProgrammer because it is easy to move arround.

The MAC software recommended is working fine.  I just posted my first plan for comments.

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