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Author Previous Topic: How to draw turnouts to scale? Topic Next Topic: Minimum radius turns  

RichBeau
Fireman



Posted - 09/13/2005 :  11:54:44 AM  Show Profile
I posted this over on the Free-mo group and thought it might be of interest to the members here....

I've got a bit of experience in CAD software as I worked with DEC in the late 60's on some of the earliest CAD programs available. Technically I went to school as a Mechanical Engineer having attended UMass, Boston University and MIT. I've run mechanical design groups at various companies and have used many of the high end CAD programs out there before finally moving into management (and then out the door ).

Any and all CAD software will require some time and experimentation especially if you’ve never used a CAD program. All software has a learning curve and the same holds true here. If you have any experience with CAD or graphics software, you'll be that much further along in being able to learn layout software...but not much because they tend to throw out some of the common CAD thinking when it comes to MRR layout design software. Any of the CAD programs have a substantial learning curve and for most people, the time they spend to learn the program will be by far the biggest investment they will make (and I think that's why they so vociferously say the one they're using is the best).

Here's some thumbnail reviews of each PC MR CAD program. I didn't look at Mac programs because I'm not a Mac user so someone else will have to review those. Remember these are my personal opinions only and your mileage may vary!


3rd PlanIt
www.trackplanning.com
$85-$100

3rd PlanIt is a 3d design program that includes topography modeling and benchwork construction. It is probably the most powerful MRR layout design program available. It will do just about anything you want including running simulated trains around your layout.

There are many quirks. The documentation appears to be fairly old and in need of an update. Luckily there's an active user group on Yahoo Groups (groups.yahoo.com/group/3rdPlanIt) that is pretty helpful. I spent many hours reading through past messages to find answers. Good selection of track libraries and a lot of additional libraries, buildings, and rolling stock have been placed in the public domain by users at the 3pi.info site.

Its such a complicated program it is really only useful for someone continually designing layouts otherwise the learning curve is so steep as to make it totally useless. Why spend my time learning this? I want to play with my trains not live on my computer. For most MMR'ers this program is overkill. Most don't want to spent their lives drawing a layout on a computer.

I bought this program because I'm the kind of guy that wants the most I can get. It was a disappointment - anti-intuitive.


Cadrail
www.sandiasoftware.com
$60-$100

The godfather of 3d layout design but has been eclipsed in popularity by 3rd PlanIt. A sophisticated program but the user interface is a bit quirky. Cadrail has a large active user base and an active user group (groups.yahoo.com/group/cr-users/), so good opportunities for exchanging ideas and plans with others.

Cadrail is very powerful and has a very steep learning curve. It's design is closer to an engineers point of view. I'd only consider this if you are constantly designing layouts. Many of my issues with 3rd PlanIt are also in this program. Personally I'm not interested in spending my hobby time on my computer.


XtrkCad
www.sillub.com
Free

XtrkCAD is really a 2D layout design package. It is not quite as snazzy as the ones you pay for perhaps but has a strong set of features. It does have a way to calculate grades and elevations. Printing plans from this program at 1:1 (full size) is very accurate (almost flawless). There is an active unofficial users group at groups.yahoo.com/group/XTrkCad/

This program one bears a definite look and is not as demanding as previous two plus the price is right.


Atlas
www.atlasrr.com/righttrack.htm
Free

One of the most popular layout planning programs because of it's price. Right Track Software is probably the easiest to learn and cheapest program out there. It can be cranky, is limited to Atlas track, and the size of the layout has limitations. It is not very robust and very underpowered when compared to the other full fledge CAD programs but the learning curve is a lot shorter.

There's a no specific use group for this program, though topics are discussed on the Atlas forums (forum.atlasrr.com).

As a side note this product is based on the commercial European snap-track design program Winrail (www.winrail.com). I have not evaluated Winrail. I'll leave that for our European counterparts to comment on.

I've used Right Track to rip off some pretty neat plans in a short amount of time (even when I was using Peco track).


3D Railroad Master AND 3D Railroad Concept & Design
www.theliquidateher.com
$50-$70

Formerly marketed by Abracadata now owned by The Liquid Ate Her (yeah that's right). An idiosyncratic program, though it's a bit easier to make the 3d features work than with some of the other programs.

I still have an older version of this that I fire up occasionally but it's gotten a bit long in the tooth.


RR-Track
www.rrtrack.com
$80-$100

A 2d program for sectional track designers that's worth noting.


DPSRail
home.earthlink.net/~dpssys/SoftwareDir/software.html
Free

A quirky program designed by a model railroader.


Let me say that I find all of these MRR CAD products very cumbersome. All of the packages in the market today are very poor excuses for MR layout design tools. The interfaces are lousy and generally do not make logical sense. My belief is a MRR'er should be able to open the program and build a rudimentary plan without cracking open a huge tome. None of the full featured programs do that. It's a bit easier with the simpler programs but you'll still run into brick walls. So beware.

The bottom line if you've got to have one of the power houses download the demo and play with them awhile. And I mean, really try it out with a real-life layout that you have. You should take the time to read and follow the tutorial because you will only be frustrated if you try to wing it. There is a learning curve to these, the more you used them, the more you will discover the nuances and techniques to make them do what you want.

If you really don't need to see trains run in 3D or build mountains and trees, etc. You just want to lay out your track plan. Then you may like one of the simpler programs but again as I mentioned download the demo

If you are comfortable with a design tool such as AutoCad (or it's little sister AutoSketch) Illustrator, Corel Draw, etc. then you should save your cash and time. The downside is that you will probably need to create your own libraries of turnouts and other track components. But there is something to be said for sticking with what you know.

All of that being said, model railroading has been around since long before computer software layout programs. There's something to be said for ye olde pencil and paper - it's very intuitive, with almost no learning curve. For a one-time job you're probably better off with paper, pencil, and templates. I personally believe that paper and pencil are best in the early design stages when creativity and getting your ideas down is way more important than precision. You can always point your browser to K.I.S.S. Method Track Planning at www.kissmethodinc.com they offer some nice templates for $25.

I know I just muddied the waters for you but there's no clear answer and unfortunately you will not find a consensus. I just hope I at least placed this stuff in some sort of context so you can decide for yourself.

--Rich Beaubien
New England Free-mo Group
www.NEfree-mo.org


Edited by - RichBeau on 09/13/2005 1:37:57 PM

Country: USA | Posts: 2748

Jerry M
Fireman



Posted - 10/12/2005 :  12:17:13 AM  Show Profile
Thank's for taking the time to post these reviews Rich , I tried using the Cadrail system that a friend gave me. Not being a wizz at computers even with the directions step by step I did not have success using it. Your right, the learning curve is steep and especially if your just a person who casually uses computers. The old drafting paper and pencil still works though. I imagine someone with engineering background or who uses computers in their work would find it easy and a very neat tool. Jerry


Country: USA | Posts: 4055 Go to Top of Page

Jerry M
Fireman



Posted - 10/12/2005 :  12:17:13 AM  Show Profile
Thank's for taking the time to post these reviews Rich , I tried using the Cadrail system that a friend gave me. Not being a wizz at computers even with the directions step by step I did not have success using it. Your right, the learning curve is steep and especially if your just a person who casually uses computers. The old drafting paper and pencil still works though. I imagine someone with engineering background or who uses computers in their work would find it easy and a very neat tool. Jerry


Country: USA | Posts: 4055 Go to Top of Page

jerryglow
Engine Wiper



Posted - 10/12/2005 :  08:18:07 AM  Show Profile  Visit jerryglow's Homepage
Thanks for the reviews but I felt the conclusion is a little condensending. Sort of like the old song that no one can figure out how to program a VCR. If you expect (and excert) little, little is what you get. I am a happy user of PlanIt3D (with considerable CorelDraw experience) and didn't find it all that daunting although I did stop short of all the landscape etc type tools, preferring to get to the actual layout construction.




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jerryglow
Engine Wiper



Posted - 10/12/2005 :  08:18:07 AM  Show Profile  Visit jerryglow's Homepage
Thanks for the reviews but I felt the conclusion is a little condensending. Sort of like the old song that no one can figure out how to program a VCR. If you expect (and excert) little, little is what you get. I am a happy user of PlanIt3D (with considerable CorelDraw experience) and didn't find it all that daunting although I did stop short of all the landscape etc type tools, preferring to get to the actual layout construction.




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