Sorry if this has been covered recently; I've been lurking on this
group for a while, but haven't seen much on this subject.
I'm looking to buy a track planning software package, to run on a PC.
The layout will be N scale, using an open top / riser method of
construction. My turnouts, switches, crossongs etc will be Peco code
So far I've located these packages: RR-track, 3rd PlanIt, Cadrail, Win
Rail, 3D Railroad Concept & Design, Right Track.
Has anyone got any comments on any of these? Or any packages I've
missed, from the pouints of view of capability, accuracy, track
libraries? I can get demo packages for most of those I've mentioned,
but nothing beats comments from people who've already used the
=>So far I've located these packages: RR-track, 3rd PlanIt, Cadrail, Win
=>Rail, 3D Railroad Concept & Design, Right Track.
Any of these will do the job; their differences are more a matter of working
style and aesthetic preferences than anything else -- oh, yeah, a couple have
add-on thta allow ypou to "operate" your planned layout on screen. MR had a
comparative review a year or so ago; I can send you a _photocopy_ (scans of
magazine articles just don't do it for me, and I refuse to make them for
others -- my scanner is consumer quality, and that's just not good enough for
this purpose.) Drop the first w and the last n in the reply to address to
But be warned: There's a steep learning curve, especially if you have never
used a CAD program before. And perhaps even more importantly: If you cannot
draw a layout by hand, you will find it very difficult to the job with
software. The software just simplifies some of the tedium of drafting - it
does _not_ do the drafting for you. BTW, I've noticed that the people who
like these programs design layouts as a hobyy within the hobby.
I took several drafting courses in my younger days -- and I've found that for
a small layout (up to about bedroom size), paper and pencil is faster than
the computer. I Make a scale outline of the layout space, and put a grid on
it. The grid is either 1x1 foot, or in "squares" (footnote). Obstacles,
window/door locations etc are all drawn in. Then I make a bunch of
photocopies, and skecth the various ideas freehand until I have a couple or
three concepts that look good. Those I draw up with compass and ruler. The
"final" plan is photocopied again, and benchwork, etc is drawn over the
Footnote: A "square" has a side of "min radius + trackspacing + min space to
edge of layout." You can fit a quarter circle of double track in it. A layout
space subdivided into squares allows you to locate essential curves quickly
and easily, and shows you just what might fit. John Armstrong invented the
method. You should really get his book; it's essential for serious
Oh, and don't forget aisle space. 2ft is aboslute minimum, 3ft is comfortable
for a single operator, and 4ft or more is needed where two operates will be
I use Microsoft Visio to layout my track plans. It's part of the Office
product family, but not usually included in Office bundles.
It's even compatible with the AutoCAD file format.
I'd recommend it for 2 dimensional layout planning. One nice feature is
that if you draw your layout to scale, you can easily measure distances
without doing any scale conversions.
There are products out there that are more focused on Model railroading, but
this software is more versatile. You can even do blueprints for bridges,
structures, and rolling stock with it.
In fact, I used it to design a balsa wood bridge for a competition and my
bridge was able to hold 160.75 lbs even though it only weighed 24 grams!
Easily strong enough to support a G-scale train. :)
Visio was helpful because I could update the plans quickly and easily - then
when I needed a template for a part, I could easily print off templates for
gusset plates and the like. When the bridge was complete, I test-fit the
pieces together and a majority of the structure was able to stand without
glue! My tolerances were so close, everything held together with friction
This actually made it difficult to disassemble when I did have to glue it,
but it was an impressive test of the power of Visio.
I use Visio also. One of the nice things you can do with Visio is define
custom line patterns - I've defined a "track" line pattern that has ties and
two rails at scale size, makes the drawings look better, and more accurate,
because it shows the full width of the track rather than just a line.
All of these programs have some limitations, and a cosiderable learning curve
to accomplish what you are looking for in a model railroad. If you are willing
to deal with these, we prefer Cadrail from Sandia Software. In any event, it
some times remains difficult to maintain your focus, unless you are familiar
with the tools and their use, with any software design program.
A great commercial has been running on TV where a meeting is taking place
discussing all of the computer operations of the company. When it is decided
that everything was running fine, some says "Then why are we here?" The answer
is shirts. "Shirts?" "Yes, that is the business we are in."
Sometimes computers help us to lose focus :-)
Model Railroad Design
And best of all, with Visio, you can share your track templates with other
I'd like to see your custom line style Jeff, can you email it to me?
I usually just do a straight line (like the layout plans in Model
Railroader), but I am pretty utilitarian in my layout planning. :)
I have used 3rdPlanIt extensively for the last 5 years to design not
only my own 25'x50' HO layout, but also parts of my club's 50'x130' HO
layout. I find it to be an excellent track planning and drafting tool, and
a pretty good "normal" drafting program, too, especially for $100. I have
used the program to design all kinds of things with it instead of with
AutoCAD, which I also have. 3rdPlanIt prints (or plots) easier, IMHO. I
miss some of the tools from AutoCAD, but the ease of use with 3rdPlanIt
outweighs the loss for small projects.
I've tried Cadrail, and I was not impressed. The learning curve seemed
very sharp to me, and I have taken several college courses on drafting (by
hand and by AutoCAD). I just found 3rdPlanIt to be more intuitive, although
it is not perfect be any stretch of the imagination. Fortunately, updates
are constantly being released for it.
Paul A. Cutler III
Weather Or No Go New Haven
I use Cadrail and am happy with it, although the 3D stuff and oerational too
for all I know, may be better in 3rd PlanIt. But I don't know how the 3PI
drawing tools are.
Some of the programs seem to be dedicated to sectional track of one brand or
another, which would be ultimately frustrating I would think unless you
intend t limit yourself to that. The drafting capabilities in Cadrail seem
to be pretty good - for instance one web site with multiple detail
drawings of the coal tower at Chama.
If you are interested in track planning tools for the Macintosh OS X (or 9
for that matter), Empire Express is the only tool which I know about. It
works OK, and I used it to plan the layout on my website (the "plan" shown
there was produced by Empire Express).
It seems pretty limited to me: track is a single line to only two width
choices (any color), so if you have track, benchwork, and wiring all
together, only color can distinguish them. There is no 3d stuff at all, and
if you are elevating track and would like the planner to deal with "raise
the track 4" between here and there, and calculate the slope in degrees," it
doesn't do that.
It's printouts work OK, but when doing many pages, such as a full scale
printout for transfering a track plan to your layout, the pages are NOT
numbered. YIKES: don't drop 'em.
I wound up doing my layout design in several pieces: I did the room walls
and benchwork first and saved it as benchwork. Then I copied that to a new
"project" and grouped all of it as a single object. I put the track plan
onto that piece and had the benchwork for reference. Then I could subtract
the benchwork object out and have only the track. Saved that as "track
You could do that for wiring and other stuff, too, to simulate layers. Too
cumbersome for my taste, but I'm only doing one layout every few years.
in article firstname.lastname@example.org, Steve Caple at
email@example.com wrote on 9/29/03 10:14 AM:
I haven't used Cadrail so I can't compare the them either.
3PI drawing tools seem fairly good to me. It has a sectional track
library and quite a few "special" pieces (turnouts, double crossovers,
double slips, single slips, crossings, etc ...) for most of the major
makers. Otherwise it lets you draw as if you had a huge roll of flex
track. Go to their web page and look at the 3d drawing on their main
page ... I don't know if you have to join to see that or not??
I agree with collective wisdom so far ... most of us like what we've got
because we are used to it. In my case Visio and 3rdPlanit. I've found the
same steep learning curves and brickwalls that others have mentioned.
Practice makes perfect. Start by playing with simple layout ideas. As you
want to try more complex ideas - your skills have grow as well. And it's
fun while you learn. Don't buy the software today and expect to design your
ultimate layout tomorrow. I've found in the process of learning to use the
software I've developed an interest in layout design. Take the time to get
very comfortable with whatever program you pick. It's well worth the
effort. With powerful programs like Visio and 3rdPlanit, becoming a skilled
user gives you tools that take you way beyond pen and paper.
TL> Sorry if this has been covered recently; I've been lurking on this
TL> group for a while, but haven't seen much on this subject.
TL> I'm looking to buy a track planning software package, to run on a PC.
TL> The layout will be N scale, using an open top / riser method of
TL> construction. My turnouts, switches, crossongs etc will be Peco code
TL> So far I've located these packages: RR-track, 3rd PlanIt, Cadrail, Win
TL> Rail, 3D Railroad Concept & Design, Right Track.
TL> Has anyone got any comments on any of these? Or any packages I've
TL> missed, from the pouints of view of capability, accuracy, track
TL> libraries? I can get demo packages for most of those I've mentioned,
TL> but nothing beats comments from people who've already used the
I use XTrkCAD from . Works well for me, since
there is a Linux version (I run Linux). There is a MS-Windows version,
which I presume is much the same. XTrkCAD comes with a parameter file
containing Peco's N-scale, code 55 trackwork (turnouts and such), so
you'll be all set to go.
TL> Tim Lawson
Robert Heller ||InterNet: firstname.lastname@example.org
I use WinRail.
-No- learning curve whatsover, comprehensive, accurate track
libraries. Complicated track layouts can be made up in an hour or
less. Plans can be printed out as large as you like (full size if you
have enough ink in the printer)
Any decent plannng CAD pkg will have a steep learing curve buy its
worth the effort. I use 3RDPlannit and have llearned to love it. It
wont let you fudge turniuts etc, just to make it fit. It will do
sectional track but really is meant for flex or hand laid track.
Suffer throught the learning period and it figures grades and all
Larry North Fork RR