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Track Planning Software Recommendations

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Track Planning Software Recommendations
Posted by SPSOT fan on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 5:57 AM

So today I was doodling random ideas for trackplans, and I realized that my doodles aren’t very accurate in terms of being drawn to a specific scale. Now I could go through all the work needed to draw accurate trackplans on paper, but when I draw track plans they are often just ideas and will unlikely ever become actual layouts, so I am not anxious to put that much time into them.

Then I realized that I could use a trackplan program on my computer. The problem is I don’t have any experience with such programs, so I need some recommendations of specific programs I can use. He are some of the requirements I need:

  • I would like it to be free, I don’t want to pay anything at the moment. I also don’t want a 1 month trial or something like that, though if there is a good “lite” (as in not full) free version.
  • I would like it to be a dedicated track planing program, if I have to use a program we’re I have to make the track so to speak (a forum member recently mentioned using SolidWorks, for example) that won’t work. The point is this is quick and easy to use.
  • I needs to be Windows 10 compatible, as that is what I use on my computer.

So if anyone out there uses a certain track planning program to design track plans, please speak up below!

Thanks in advance, I look forward to reading responses!

Regards, Isaac

I model my railroad and you model yours! I model my way and you model yours!

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Posted by SPSOT fan on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 6:12 AM

Might I add that I noticed on the Atlas Website that they have their own track planning software. Does anyone use that? Is it free, the website says you can download the demo version, what exactly is that?

Would anyone recommend this track planning software from Atlas?

Also to add a bit on to my original post how much space do the software you recommend take up, and how smoothly to they run? My computer has a terabyte of storage (that’s plenty) but only 6 gigabytes of RAM (better computers have 8, cheap ones have 4, so 6 is in the middle), so it sometimes moves slower.

Regards, Isaac

I model my railroad and you model yours! I model my way and you model yours!

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Posted by tstage on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 6:34 AM

Any trackplanning software is going to have a learning curve (some more than others) and any FREE ones will be limited - i.e. either in features, or the maximum amount of pieces you can use per file.

The Atlas software is decent and has some handy templates (e.g. their turnouts) but it's limited.  Years ago it was completely free but now they charge $30 for the software.

If you are dooding a lot of layout designs and ideas, a pencil (w/eraser), straightedge, and graph paper will be the most advanteous for you.  And you don't have to worry about software updates.

Tom

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Posted by richhotrain on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 6:41 AM

tstage

Any trackplanning software is going to have a learning curve (some more than others) and any FREE ones will be limited - i.e. either in features, or the maximum amount of pieces you can use per file.

The Atlas software is decent and has some handy templates (e.g. their turnouts) but it's limited.  Years ago it was completely free but now they charge $30 for the software.

If you are dooding a lot of layout designs and ideas, a pencil (w/eraser), straightedge, and graph paper will be the most advanteous for you.  And you don't have to worry about software updates.

Tom 

Couldn't agree more. I always use a quadrille pad of paper, 11" x 17" to draw HO scale layout plans. The quadrille pad is typically divided into 1/4" squares and I use each 1/4" to represent 3" of track. So, 4 squares represent 1 foot of track or layout area. Easy to use, easy to erase, no learning curve.

I repeatedly tried to use the original Atlas Right Track software and always found it awkward and extremely limiting. The newer version doesn't really seem any better.

Rich

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Posted by Erie1951 on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 6:52 AM

I've always used XTrackCad because it's free and also works with Windows 10. There's a learning curve involved, but the tutorials are helpful. Might be worth checking it out.

http://www.xtrkcad.org/Wikka/HomePage?show_comments=1

Russ

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Posted by Harrison on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 6:53 AM

The Atlas track planning software is a version of SCARM. SCARM can be downloaded here:

https://www.scarm.info/index.php

Here is my trackplan, made using SCARM. I was right at the limit for tracks on the free version. You can also get an extenion to run trains on your layout!

TRACKPLANFORARTICLE

Harrison

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Posted by mbinsewi on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 7:06 AM

The one and only track plan program I have tried, long ago, was the Atlas, and I gave up.  

I used paper and pencil and my engineering rulers.  

My current lay out is built on top of storage shelving, custom built to fit a certain sized Tupperware container, for all our family and holiday "stuff".  So, my benchwork was in place, and I designed my railroad to fit that space, with a couple of little additions to help with curves.

This area WAS just going to be a bench, for working on stuff.

I used to mess around with architectual drawing software, talk about a learning curve! and cost!  I don't have much tolerance for learning curves, I tend to keep going straight, and occassional run in to walls. Bang Head

The only thing that was "cool" about the drawing programs was the 3D image.

Give me paper and drawing supplies, and I'm a happy man.

This doesn't answer the OP's question, or give any ideas on programs, just my opinion, and a bit of rambling. Smile, Wink & Grin

The younger set has and uses programs for everything, I'm sure he'll figure something out.

Mike.

 

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Posted by DSchmitt on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 7:08 AM

Erie1951

I've always used XTrackCad because it's free and also works with Windows 10. There's a learning curve involved, but the tutorials are helpful. Might be worth checking it out.

http://www.xtrkcad.org/Wikka/HomePage?show_comments=1

 

 

I have used XTRAKcad and SCARM.   I prefer XTRAKcad.  It is free - no pay verson.  Not limited in size.  and I feel easier to learn and use.    Had more dificulity controling accurate track placement with SCARM.  SCARM has some nice aditional abilities however, but the free version is limited in size (number of pieces).  

I tried to sell my two cents worth, but no one would give me a plug nickel for it.

I don't have a leg to stand on.

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 7:16 AM

SPSOT fan
So today I was doodling random ideas for trackplans, and I realized that my doodles aren’t very accurate in terms of being drawn to a specific scale. Now I could go through all the work needed to draw accurate trackplans on paper, but when I draw track plans they are often just ideas and will unlikely ever become actual layouts, so I am not anxious to put that much time into them.

 

First off, I am not a luddite.  I've used a number of graphics software over the years including Autocad when I was in grad school and worked at the Indiana Geologic Survey, and other software to draw maps and figures for my masters thesis.

However, for track planning, I still prefer pencil and paper.  If you need to doodle, simply get a pad of 11 x 17" graph paper and draw in your room boundaries, doors and other major features and draw a scale bar of 1" = however many feet on it.  Then make a bunch of photo copies so you can draw many various iterations.

I find it MUCh easier to visualize what will fit using a real 11x17 scaled drawing of a room with a grid on it.  Then use a scale rule to measure out features, and a compass to draw radii circles to see what will fit and what your minimum radius will be.

Here is my current track plan I drew up as first draft.  I had a good idea what would fit so I didn't have previous iterations to toss in the circular file.  Each square on the grid here is 6 by 6 inches.

Rio Grande.  The Action Road  - Focus 1977-1983

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Posted by markie97 on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 7:26 AM

I will give a third vote for XTRAKCAD. Bit of a learning curve but excellent demos and help menu. I found it to be very accurate and you can use any manufacturers' turnouts. Also a yahoo group for help and even track plans.

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Posted by rrinker on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 7:56 AM

 I tried XTrack, Really wanted to like it, because it was free and could run on both my Windows computer and my Linux computer. And I have CAD experience, so the concepts at least were all familiar. But the thinking in 2D only just didn;t cut it. $100 is not a lot, cheaper than most locos, and I've found 3rd PlanIt to be far superior. ANd highly useful in drawing and designing things OTHER than layouts.

You get what you pay for. I really wanted to like KiCAD for circuit design and PCB layout, too. But it's just got too many quirks. At least there I've found a very good free alternative.

                                          --Randy

 


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Posted by dstarr on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 8:50 AM

I have used a bunch of CAD programs for this and that over the years.  I tried the Atlas program.  I went back to track planning with pencil and eraser on squared paper.  Faster and easier. I can pencil in rivers and main streets and mountains as well as track.  Straight edge and a square very useful.  Call the first draft a think paper.  After you stop erasing and moving stuff and like it, make a second draft.  Pay attention to scale, particularly curve radius.  Set a compass to your minimum radius and draw the curves.  Make sure that everything fits with real curve radius.

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Posted by carl425 on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 8:58 AM

riogrande5761
First off, I am not a luddite.

Yes you are.  You still use nails to hold track down. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Smile

Perhaps it's one of those left brain vs right brain things, but having been trained in mechanical drawing in both high school and college, spending many years drawing track plans on a drawing board with T-square, triangles, compass and a scale rule, I went digital at the first opportunity (AutoSketch in the 80's) and couldn't imagine going back.

For MR specific CAD, I started with XtrackCAD and later bought 3rd PlanIT.  I ended up going back to XtrackCAD - primarily for the way it handled grades.  In XtrackCAD you just define the elevation of a point and it calculates the grades and connects the dots in both directions.  3rd PlanIT requires you to first create a "path", then assign elevations to each end.  It may be just me, but for some reason it would randomly forget this information.  I also had trouble with it refusing to connect tracks from time to time.

I have the right to remain silent.  By posting here I have given up that right and accept that anything I say can and will be used as evidence to critique me.

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Posted by SPSOT fan on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 9:23 AM

Well it seems to me that XTrackCAD is the way to go. As far as free programs go it seems to be what everyone is using. I think I will get it. Is there anything I should know about XTrackCAD before I download it?

Thanks everyone for your responses thus far. I am overwhelmed by the amount of responses I have got in such a short time! Keep it coming folks!

Regards, Isaac

I model my railroad and you model yours! I model my way and you model yours!

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Posted by RR_Mel on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 9:28 AM

I’m a long time CAD user (34 years) and I tried all of the freebees and I always returned to my CAD for layout design.  I do have to make “track” drawings but I enjoy drawing so it’s not a problem for me.  Like Randy I use my Cad for many things including making templates for scratch building.
 
 
 
 
 
 
There can be a steep learning curve to any type drawing program but young minds adapt very fast.  Go for it!
 
 
 
Mel
 
 
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Posted by kasskaboose on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 9:30 AM

Another one to consider is SCARM: https://www.scarm.info/.  I've used it for the 2nd layout and really like the versality.  The tool has multiple track type libraries.  The learning curve in some software is quite steep.

Once you decide on a layout, I'd make a grid on the foam or wood tabletop to draw things out.  That's much easier and faster than eye-balling.  I did that on the 2nd one and really like the results.  I also had less redo of the track.

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 10:28 AM

carl425
 
riogrande5761
First off, I am not a luddite. 

Yes you are.  You still use nails to hold track down. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Smile

Hah hah.  But nails and glue are in the same ball-park when it comes to technology - both have been around since before I was born.  Anyway ....

Perhaps it's one of those left brain vs right brain things, but having been trained in mechanical drawing in both high school and college, spending many years drawing track plans on a drawing board with T-square, triangles, compass and a scale rule, I went digital at the first opportunity (AutoSketch in the 80's) and couldn't imagine going back.

I grew up typing papers and reports on a electric typewriters but when word processors came out, I happily switched!

But with graphics oriented stuff, I can visualize what will fit much better on a nice 11x17 with a grid that is scaled out.  It is actually higher resolution "in a way" than computer screens.

For other purposes, like maps and diagrams, I found computer software to work well - like I said, for my masters thesis, I did everything on the computer.  Graphs, maps, diagrams, etc.

I feel graph paper and scale rule is worth mentioning because some may feel the MUST use a computer to plan a layout, but that's not necessarily true. 

But I suppose asking someone in this day and age to use graph paper might be like asking Mr. Spock to assemble a mnemonic memory circuit using stone knifes and bear skins!

Rio Grande.  The Action Road  - Focus 1977-1983

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Posted by York1 on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 10:48 AM

riogrande5761
But I suppose asking someone in this day and age to use graph paper might be like asking Mr. Spock to assemble a mnemonic memory circuit using stone knifes and bear skins!

Now you've done it -- quoted from one of my favorite episodes.  My favorite part of that episode?-- Kirk and Edith Keeler walking past Floyd's Barbershop of Mayberry fame.

 

riogrande5761
I grew up typing papers and reports on a electric typewriters

You youngster!  My high school typing class had only manual typewriters.  When I went to college, my compact manual earned me some money.  I typed papers for other students at 15¢ a page.

 

Back to business.  I started my layout last year, and I tried several programs.  None did what I felt I wanted.  Finally, like most of you, I used paper and pencil.  From there, the best part was actually drawing lines on the tabletop, crossing lines out that didn't look right, etc.

I made a few mistakes.  Maybe the computer program would have caught those before I laid out track, maybe not.

 

I realize none of this helps the original poster's questions.  If I were younger, I would probably go with a computer program.

Saints Fan John

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Posted by Carolina Northern on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 10:55 AM

Back when I was a "serious" model railroader, I when through the process of what track planning software to use.

My take away was that all had good and bad.

Taking it down to the top three (all of which you can try for free) 

XTRACKCAD - powerful - couldn't get use to the unusual ways it did normal things from other CAD programs. At the time, I was still working and using CAD every day. Trying to shift thinking between this and real CAD drove me crazy. If it's the only one you use, this problem disappears and lets of people love it.

SCARM - great when it was free. Currently free up to 100 pieces of track. Provided a lot of feedback and some suggestions ended up in the final version. The  licensing terms took the glow off of it. Don't mind paying for it, but his terms I couldn't live with.

ANYRAIL - Without a doubt, the easiest to learn and work with. Constantly updating and free to work with up to 50 pieces of track. If I could still build big layouts, I'd buy this one.

With all of them, I find that I went back and forth between working with the program and just laying track down on a flat surface. 

If I were to give advice, I'd say build your benchwork and plan the layout by moving track around on it until you like the plan. Simple and free.

Don

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Posted by Medina1128 on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 11:03 AM

tstage
The Atlas software is decent and has some handy templates (e.g. their turnouts) but it's limited.  Years ago it was completely free but now they charge $30 for the software.

30!?!? Greedy suckas!!

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Posted by Carolina Northern on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 11:26 AM

That was a requirement from the author. You should read his licencing terms.

Don

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Posted by SPSOT fan on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 12:23 PM

To all those who have been following this thread I have downloaded XTrackCAD and put together a 4x8 just to get myself used to the program. The learning curve is a bit steep, but I’m climbing up it! I’ve made a siding and a spur made just to test how to use the program. Then I discovered how you run trains! So much fun! I can’t wait until I figure out how to use flex track!

The program is a bit fiddley at times but considering I paid $0 for it it is great!

Thanks for all the contributions thus far! This forum has another satisfied costumer!

Regards, Isaac

I model my railroad and you model yours! I model my way and you model yours!

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Posted by mbinsewi on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 12:26 PM

I thought you were still in high school?  You can do track programs in high school?

Mike.

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Posted by hardcoalcase on Saturday, June 01, 2019 9:09 AM

Right Track is the older software from Atlas, which originally was for sale at a modest price, and later was free.  Discontinued long ago on the Atlas site, but all the versions are available for download free here - http://trainweb.org/seaboard/layouts.htm

The site is safe, I have downloaded from it several times.  General feedback seems to prefer v.8. 

The only significant limitation I've found is the lack of curved turnout templates.  I just do a work-around by overlaying sections of curved track of the different specified radii.

Jim

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Posted by peahrens on Saturday, June 01, 2019 9:59 AM

Erie1951

I've always used XTrackCad because it's free and also works with Windows 10. There's a learning curve involved, but the tutorials are helpful. Might be worth checking it out.

http://www.xtrkcad.org/Wikka/HomePage?show_comments=1

 

My experience also.  I would use it again.  I do recall getting stuck on how to do a couple of things but got answers by asking here, doing a search or also (in 2011) a Yahoo user group.

Paul

Modeling HO with a transition era UP bent

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Posted by SPSOT fan on Saturday, June 01, 2019 10:24 AM

mbinsewi

I thought you were still in high school?  You can do track programs in high school?

Yes, I am in high school. I don't see why I couldn't?

Regards, Isaac

I model my railroad and you model yours! I model my way and you model yours!

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Posted by E-L man tom on Saturday, June 01, 2019 9:17 PM

I also agree with Tom and Rich. A pencil with a good eraser, a strait edge and quadrille graph paper are the most versatile, and easy. I also use cardstock cutouts (circles) of various curve radii as templates for drawing curves. I use a compass to draw the circles and, as steady as I can, cut them out with scissors. You must know what scale you're using on the drawing to get the right sizes for your templates.

Tom Modeling the free-lanced Toledo Erie Central switching layout.
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Posted by Tom Bryant_MR on Sunday, June 02, 2019 11:44 AM

SPSOT fan

Might I add that I noticed on the Atlas Website that they have their own track planning software. Does anyone use that? Is it free, the website says you can download the demo version, what exactly is that?

Would anyone recommend this track planning software from Atlas?

Also to add a bit on to my original post how much space do the software you recommend take up, and how smoothly to they run? My computer has a terabyte of storage (that’s plenty) but only 6 gigabytes of RAM (better computers have 8, cheap ones have 4, so 6 is in the middle), so it sometimes moves slower.

 

I'm also using XTrkCAD. I'm running on Windows 10 with a 2.2 Ghz with 3GB memory.  No performance problems. I've had some fairly large track plans, track, structures, scenery etc.  No issues.  Also supports outputing to BMP. Can also print in full scale with track roadbed etc.  I use this to put down on deck and then trace track onto deck.

Tom

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Posted by ctclibby on Monday, June 17, 2019 11:56 AM

Might be a little late .. I have tried 3 different - CadRail, 3rd Planit and Xtrack. 

CadRail was quirky and I dropped it. Been awhile, but the menu structure was trouble for me. 

3rd has a learning curve when you are trying to draw curves, arc's or circles. What I like with 3rd is the ability to add scenery and fill areas with color.

Xtrk is my goto when I want to work out a specific track arrangement as it is the easiest to place track items. For instance, the last drawing I did was of a wye junction - double track all three legs. One thing I don't like is how it places track items .. I mostly have 2 inch center. To create a crossover you can't just connect the diverging routes of two switches .. track center is now less than 2 inches. You need to fudge stuff apart until the centers are 2 inch, and the diverging routes align perfect. I use FastTrack switches for HO; haven't tried other venders from the library. I suppose the above is just me and my quirks; although it makes a difference when you print a section 1:1 to position the track on benchwork.

Oh, haven't used pencil and paper since the early 80's after I found AutoCad. 4.62 I believe was my first.

Todd Hackett

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Posted by rrinker on Monday, June 17, 2019 3:58 PM

 See, I do the same thing with 3rd PlanIt when someone asks how to say set up Atlas track to do something with 2" centers or whatever. I'm jst used to the program, I guess, been using it close to 20 years now. I start with 2 parallel lines that are 2" apart and then drop in the Atlas components to see how to make it fit. 

 Going to come in handy, too, because the design for my workbench has changed, I am going to use two full doors, instead of cutting down the second one, so the base I made for the second part is no useless. Base for the new second part will be exactly the same as the base for the existing part, so I can just take dimensions from my existing drawing and cut some new 2x4s. That's what I like most about 3rd Planit. It has 'wood' types so you can build up the benchwork, or even non-railroad things, like the workbench.

 I usually draw in the benchwork too. he one time I didn;t draw it completely, down to the crossmembers was my last layout, and of course I ended up with a turnout close enough to a crossmember that I needed to fudge the linkage a bit since even a tiny servo wouldn't fit directly under the throwbar.  Other times I've drawn all the crossmembers and can see before building anything if a turnout is in a bad spot and move either the crossmember or the turnout.

 Kind of neat to use the 3D mode of 3rdPlanIt and see the structure, then build it and compare a photo of the real thing to the rendering and have it match almost exactly. I may have to upgrade, since the latest version supportd 3D printing. I've tried to learn some of the 'common' 3D programs for 3D printing but every one is complex and/or has some weird quirks. Since I am already familiar with 3rd Plant and its quirks, I could probably draw what I need much faster than learning a new program.

                                                 --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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