By Alfred Barten
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.)
I always knew Trainz had the ability to construct layouts to scale, but I had never tried it before. Essentially all Trainz does is let you stretch a scale ruler between two points to give you the actual distance in real terms for your chosen scale. For example, having chosen HO scale, I stretched the ruler across the length of my planned layout until it read 8.7 feet, the length of my layout. That amounts to a hair under 23 squares on the Surveyor grid.
Now let me point out something before we go any further and you get to the end and claim that I've led you down a false path. Trainz is NOT one of those CAD programs or layout design programs that let you draw arcs with prescribed radii, nor does it provide you with sectional track. What Trainz does is permit you to build a functioning, full 3D rendition of a layout you've already designed, or at least gone far enough with to know the basic dimensions and elements you want to include. You can rework the plan and other details when you have the basic plan laid out to scale. Since most of my layouts are for trolleys, which can use tight turning radii – 9 inches in HO - I often discover my layouts are too small to look good. Trainz is very good at giving me a realistic picture.
The layout I'm showing here is a simple dogbone trolley layout intended to run along the backside of my desk (yes, it's a big, built-in desk). The layout measures 8'-8" long and is to be in 4 modules, including 2 end modules for turning and 2 in-between modules for more or less straight running. I’ve modified most of my trolleys to run with a 7-inch radius, but for this layout I used 9 inches as the minimum.
It took me about half an hour to get all track in place with some degree of accuracy. I then spent a few more hours adding scenery and buildings and placing trolley wire. (Remember, don't use Trainz to determine if your assumptions about fixed curves or sectional track are correct - work those things out on quad paper and with full-size mockups or sketches. Use Trainz to make sure the layout is what you had in mind. The constructed layout in Trainz will give you a true picture. Trainz will even let you place signals and begin running cars/trains. This is a good way to test your blocks and general operation.)
My original plan was to build the layout in 4 sections. The 2 middle sections could be omitted with just the 2 end sections forming a complete layout. Conversely. More sections could be added in between. I have a fair amount of HO scale rolling stock, ranging from old single-truckers to double articulated modern-day trams. These are not necessarily compatible with each other in that the trams use pantographs whereas the older cars use trolley poles, but that’s a detail I’ll work out when I build the overhead (if I ever get that far).
Building in Trainz
When you create your new layout in Trainz, begin with the Surveyor module. Then:
- Select Create new
- Enter a Route name
- Select a Working scale (choices are N Scale, O Scale, OO Scale, Real Scale, S Scale, TT Scale, Z Scale, #1 Scale, ½ Scale, G Scale, and HO Scale)
- Select Working units (Metric or Imperial)
- Click the check mark
To use the scale feature:
- Select Tool menu
- Select button in upper left (Add Ruler ‘R’)
- Click and drag to measure a distance
Building the Layout
Build the layout as you normally would, just using the ruler to set dimensions when needed. With the tight curves, I found I needed to place a lot of track points – far more than normal. I also had to use what was available in the way of buildings, but found I had what I needed. It would be nice if there were some interurban freight motors in Trainz, though I can substitute other cars for size. Also, I have not yet placed the signals or backdrops, but those will only take a few minutes.
That’s all there is to it!
Article and screen shots (C)2006 Alfred Barten. All rights