• Train/railroad simulators, virtual railroading and V-scale modeling

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Latest arrivals at V-Scaler:

Kuju/EA Rail Simulator: Now There Are Three
SINCE 2001 there have been two heavyweight, full-featured, three-dimensional train simulators on the market: Microsoft Train Simulator (MSTS) and Auran Trainz. Now there are three. Rail Simulator (RS), released in the US in January 2008 by Electronic Arts (EA), is both heir apparent to the original (and only) MSTS and a completely new simulator that draws on features pioneered by Auran through five evolutionary releases. [Full article.] April 23, 2008.

Metro North Harlem Line: A Trainz Classics Original
THROUGH THE YEARS my approach to route design has been to imagine a type of operation and then create a route to go with it. The opposite approach, and one that has found much favor on the MSTS and BVE platforms, is to replicate - or at least be inspired by - the prototype. The new Metro North Harlem Line by Auran is an outstanding example of the latter approach, an authentic modeling of about 38 miles of this busy former New York Central commuter rail line. [Full article.] July 15, 2007.

Transit Modeling - A Broad Niche
This is the first in a series on transit modeling - real and virtual. [Full article.] Aug 19.

It's in the Air
Comment on the status of the model railroading hobby. [Full article.] Jul 17.

Dogbone Traction
Through the years I've designed numerous model railroads for myself. I've even built a few. Well, almost built them. For one reason or another I lost interest before completing them.

This time was different. After completing the sketches and even laying out the principal sections in full size on quad paper, I decided to try building it in Trainz, just to see if I would like it. (I also became a little gun shy about building the physical model when I realized that, even with the rolling stock on-hand from my pre-trainsim days, my estimated cost would be about $250. Since I retired almost a year ago, spending $250 is not something I take lightly.) [Full article.] Apr 29.

Locomotion: The Sequel
When Chris Sawyer released his Locomotion in 2004, a full ten years after its popular predecessor, Transport Tycoon, fans of the old were disappointed. They had hoped for something more than what is largely a graphic update to the old favorite. Many hoped for a cure for the old ills and perhaps some great new features. Chris's approach, however, was to simplify, to streamline. Anyone who's followed Microsoft through the years - and just about every other software house for that matter - will find this approach contrary to the norm. For me, a person who never really got to know Transport Tycoon or any of the other corporate-based train sims until I discovered Locomotion last year, Locomotion stands on its own. [Full article.] Apr 22.

Transport Giant: Getting Acquainted
The first thing about Transport Giant that caught my attention was the graphics. For a strategy-type game along the lines of Railroad Tycoon, Transport Tycoon, and Locomotion, these graphics are superb. What’s also nice is that you can zoom in closer than you can with other games. What you can’t do – and it’s unfortunate – is follow a train in the main window or in a separate window. To follow, you have to use the cursor keys. If you have a busy terminal, however, you could find the stationery view just fine. Another thing I really like is the ability to build trains with up to 64 wagons. This is extremely long for a strategy sim. [Full article.] Apr 14.

Trainz: A Modeler's Paradise
Less than six months after Microsoft released its Train Simulator (MSTS) in June 2001, Auran, released Trainz in time for the Christmas rush. There was much anticipation, as Auran had been issuing press releases on a regular basis, touting the ease of building routes in its new simulator, and displaying the results of its accompanying utility, Paint Shed, which let just about anybody reskin a model in their favorite livery. [Full article.] Mar 06.

MSTS: First of the Big Ones
When Microsoft released its much anticipated Train Simulator in the spring of 2001, they opened the door to a new era of train simulation. MSTS, as it's called, set new standards as a can-do-everything simulator, including full 3D environment, train control from inside and outside the cab, the ability to throw track switches, shunt cars, and much more. [Full article.] Mar 06.

BVE: A View From the Cab
"Next stop, Times Square. Please stand back of the closing doors." These are familiar words to New York City subway riders. They're also part of the first train sim, the Flushing Line for BVE 2, to really catch my imagination. (See screen shot below.) I'm convinced that sounds are the most important part of any sim when it comes to conveying realism, and this route by Ernie Alston has it in spades. As the string of Redbird subway cars heads out, lurching and screeching around the tight IRT (Interboro Rapid Transit) tunnel curves, I know I'm there as much as I ever could be without actually being there. And that's the joy of train simming. [Full article.] Mar 06.

Getting Started in V-Scale Railoading
It would be great if, once we decided to try a particular train simulator, it would magically appear on our desktop and let us be off and running. Unfortunately, there's some up-front efforts we need to make to ensure things go smoothly. [Full article.] Feb 06.

Welcome to V-Scale

By Alfred Barten

You say you never heard of V-scale? You're wondering what it's all about? Why should you bother? In this and future articles I'll be discussing all of the above and more.

To begin, V-scale is just another name for train simulation on a computer, or virtual railroading, as I like to call it. V-scale means no more space limitations and no more dirty track. It means - depending on your simulator - such things as train dispatching and signalling, railroad empire building, complete railway simulation, train driving and simulation, and even model railway simulation. It also means being able to run 2-foot narrow gauge one day, urban rapid transit another, and class 1 steam, diesel, or electric on yet another day. You can even run prototypes from around the world and have your choice of weather condition and time of day and year.

Not too long ago I counted over 70 simulators and listed them in an article entitled "Train Sim Webfinder." The article is in the VR Reading Room located on my Virtual Railroader web site. Which is best? Sorry, I'm not going near that. It's really a matter of what you like to do; and there's nothing that says you can't enjoy more than one simulator. Many are free, and those that cost something are typically $40 or less. Compared to the cost of a model railroad locomotive, that's cheap.

Of course, different simulators have different requirements. Generally speaking, the more graphically exciting the simulator, the more demands it will place on your computer in the form of faster CPU, larger hard drive, more RAM, and separate graphics card. Perhaps the biggest impediment will be finding sims for Macintosh and Linux computers. There are some, but not many. The game consoles are also lagging in this respect. If you're one of the millions who have a home PC, there's almost certainly some sort of train or train-related sim that will work for you; and if your PC is of recent vintage, you're golden.

If you're new to the idea of train simulators, let's have a look at some of what's available and what you can do with them.


The first sim I encountered was Train Dispatcher, back in the 1980s. It ran on MS-DOS and let you control trains in CTC fashion, following lights on the big board and throwing switches. The game has evolved along with the move from DOS to Windows and is now quite colorful and graphic, though still big board in concept.

A separate program, Track Builder, let's you build your own track plans. There are also a number of prototypical plans available for download.

Train Dispatcher 2 is available free from Signal Computer Consultants. Train Dispatcher 3 is available from Softrail.

Empire Building

The next type of sim was Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon, which I picked up in 1991 for my all-in-one Macintosh. The game has moved on to other designers and publishers, but it still exists for PC and Mac, and sports beautiful graphics, though still in the isometric (God) view that typifies this tycoon-type, or strategy, game. The game begins with a sparsely populated landscape with towns, resources and factories. Your job is to provide rail transportation in order to make money, expand your holdings, and keep your board of directors happy. Railroad Tycoon has competition from the likes of Transport Deluxe and its sequel, Locomotion, Transport Giant, and others. These games can be played at varying levels of competitiveness (there's the buit-in competitors as well as the potential for online play against real opponents) and can be a lot of fun. In the interests of being able to see what's going on, dimensions in the game are compressed, as is time; but once you're in the game, you'll find the graphics and time to be just right.

Strategy games can usually be gotten from electronic game stores, big box retailers, and online from the game's publisher.

Railway Modeling

Next came the isometric-view railway simulations in which building complete networks and operations of trains, trolleys, and buses was the goal. The first of its kind that I'm aware of was JBSS Bahn, which is still available from its creator's, Jan Bochmann, web site. Bahn has provision for creating add-on routes and vehicles. You can follow the links from the Bahn web site to sources of free simulations of transit systems around the world.

Another simulator along the lines of Bahn is Rail3D, created by Mark Goodspeed. When Mark came out with his newer, fully 3D version, he renamed the original version Rail3D Classic. You can get both free at the Rail3D web site. The programs come with a library of vehicles and demo routes. Building vehicles is relatively easy and building routes is very easy. Mark Hodson has written some excellent manuals for Rail3D.

Cab-View Driving

How often have you wished you could climb inside the cab of a locomotive and drive the train? To do so realistically, one must have a proper cab layout and controls, and realistic sounds and controls. Perhaps the best known cab-view simulator is Boso View Express, a free program first released by a then-14-year-old Japanese student who goes bythe nickname Mackoy. BVE, as it's called, is in its third major iteration and has gained a worldwide following. It allows for third-party add-on train and route creation using simple tools. The process is not hard for someone with a zest for working with numbers. If you don't have that zest, there's no need to worry. You can find all sorts of trains and routes freely available on the Internet. BVE users adhere to a code of non-commercialsim fostered by its founder. You can get BVE only from its creator's web site.


BVE routes are set up with timetables that will challenge your driving ability. You can, of course, ignore the timetable if you just want to drive.

Full 3D Train Simulation

The simulators that gain the most attention at train show demonstrations are the full 3D versions, most notably Microsoft Train Simulator and Auran's Trainz Railroad Simulator. A third, TrainMaster Train Simulator by P.I. Engineering is in the development stage and, we hope, will be released sometime in 2006. These sims let you drive from inside and outside the cab. They let you view the train and its setting from all angles, and permit shunting of cars. Building add-on trains and routes is possible, though in some cases this is not easy. Trainz is particularly well known for its extreme ease in building routes. Both have many thousands of freeware third-party add-ons available on the web.

You can operate these sims in free form play or with structured tasks or challenges designed by the route builder.

Train Simulator and Trainz are both available at the VR Pro Shop.

Model Railroad Simulation

If we can simulate a real railroad, why not a model railroad? One British model manufacturer, Hornby, has created a model railroad simulator based on the products the company sells. Jim Dill, on the other hand, has created a program that lets you operate trains in overhead view on track plans of model railroads. The program, named TrainPlayer and available from Jim's web site, comes with preloaded plans from Kalmbach's 101 Track Plans for Model Railroaders and has provision for creating your own plans and sharing them with other users.

Whatever your interest, there's bound to be a train sim just right for you.


2006 Alfred Barten. All rights reserved.

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