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Characteristics of a Good Trainz Route

Updated on July 1, 2015

One of the best things about the Trainz series of computer games is that they give you the chance to design your own routes, which you can then run trains on. Whichever series you own – I started playing the game with Trainz 2004, and have since purchased Trainz 2009, 2010, and 2012 – they have a content creation feature that allows you to design and build a railroad that can be anything you want.


Many of these routes end up on the Trainz Download Station, as their often justifiably proud creators want to share them with others. I have sampled some of these available routes, and built a few myself, and I can say that there are some excellent ones, but just as many bad ones.

What makes a route bad, and what makes a route good?

I think there are several things to consider: the purpose of the route, the arrangement of tracks, scenery, speed limits and signals, and the suitability of commercially published plans for use in Trainz route construction.

Purpose

The first difference between a bad route and a good one is that, too often, a bad route has no purpose. Real railroads go somewhere and do something. Generally their ultimate purpose is to deliver the customer’s merchandise. They might be a switching railroad or a line-haul railroad, but they all run trains for that one reason. Any train movement will somehow facilitate the delivery of the customer’s merchandise.

Good Trainz routes will reflect the idea that real railroads do have a purpose, and will take that into consideration from the start.

The overall framework of a purpose still allows for a great deal of variety. For example, a particular route could be a Maine two-foot gauge railroad, a Colorado three-foot gauge railroad, a mountain coal-hauling route, an interurban railroad, an electric commuter railroad, or any of several other possible railroads. (All my suggestions for building good routes will be based on American practices, and will discuss American prototypes if any specific examples are necessry, as I am American and therefore most familiar with American railroading. I suspect much of what I say here applies to railroad in much of the rest of the world, however.)

A route can also be based on a real route, or it can be freelanced. Popular railroads for modeling purposes include the Santa Fe railroad over Tehachapi Pass and the Milwaukee Road over the Stampede Pass, but these are not the only choices – a group of Trainz fans, for example, are recreating as completely as possible the White Pass & Yukon Railroad in Alaska and Canada. Other choices include the Pennsylvania railroad, the New York Central’s Water Level Route, the Union Pacific, and the Southern Pacific.

Track Arrangement

A bad route will, more often than not, be a simple loop of track. Frequently, the track will be connected at sharp angles. A train will chase its tail around this loop, careering unrealistically around curves so sharp even the smallest four-axle locomotive, something that could turn on a dime, would derail if it even comes near it.

No real railroad would ever look like that, and neither will a good Trainz route.

Real railroads, as I hinted in my previous section, go places. They run from one terminal to another. They may pass through one or more towns and cities en route. Model railroaders call a plan based on these parameters “point to point.”

At the terminal, you may find one or more yards where single cars and cuts of cars are switched into trains.

As a railroad passes through a town or city, it may serve one or more industries in each. Each industry will served by a spur, a stretch of track that allows the railroad to place cars for delivery.

An industry may shared its spur with other industries, or it may have its own. It may even have several spurs. A large enough industry – an automotive plant, a grain elevator, or a brewery, for example – may have a small complex of rails to serve its needs. Such a complex may have its own locomotive to sort out and deliver cars within the limits of the plant.

Another possible industry is an interchanges or junctions with other another railroad. This is a stretch of track that connects two railroads, over which they trade cars destined for the other railroad.

Locomotives will be stored and serviced between runs at an engine terminal. Not every yard or town will have one, as railroads prefer to keep as many locomotives as possible based at major cities. The engines will be kept in a diesel shed or a roundhouse. Roundhouses were more common in the steam era, although some survive today, and are still in use, such as that belonging to the Minnesota Commercial Railroad in Saint Paul.

An engine terminal will also have the equipment necessary to fuel and maintain a locomotive. This can include a coaling tower and a water tower in the days of steam, a fuel pumping station for modern diesel locomotives, and sanding facilities for both. Engine terminals will require deliveries of coal or diesel fuel or both, plus sand. In the days of steam engines, railroads allocated cars to remove ash.

This is a screenshot from a route I abandoned long ago. It shows many of the factors that make a route bad: flat, with no variety in textures, and half the board not even covered with textures.
This is a screenshot from a route I abandoned long ago. It shows many of the factors that make a route bad: flat, with no variety in textures, and half the board not even covered with textures.

Scenery

Most of the bad routes I have seen don’t even bother with scenery: the routemaker will just lay his tracks on top of a plain board and call it good. If he even bothers to put down any scenery, he will use a single color. These sorts of routebuilders also don’t bother to vary the terrain. The base board is flat, and they do nothing to add any features, instead simply leaving it flat.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that the real world is not uniform. It looks nothing like the surface of a Trainz route board: in other words, it is not completely flat and gray with gold grid marks on it.

The Earth is also not uniformly flat. Even such states as Kansas, which has a reputation as a flat state, has its share of hills, especially in the Flint Hills area. There are also river valleys, dips, depressions, and what have you. In mountains, the terrain differences are even more pronounced.

Terrain can be rolling or jagged or even smooth.

Roads tend to parallel railroad lines, at least here in the American Midwest where I live, often for considerable distances.

Another matter to consider in building a good route is buildings. The bad route will tend not to have any buildings, or, at best, might have one or two stations. By contrast, a good route won’t necessarily be crowded with buildings, in fact, should not be, but it will have its share.
Buildings found on or near railroads will fall into several classes. First, there are the railroad buildings. These include the engine sheds, roundhouses, coaling towers and water towers I described previously, as well as such buildings as storage sheds for maintenance equipment, yard offices, corporate offices and headquarters buildings, boarding houses for work crews, and, in some cases, offices for railroad police officers.

The second category of building to consider is that of industrial buildings – the warehouses, factories, and offices the railroad serves. Older factories might be made of brick and fairly tall, with the tracks running through them like a river through a canyon. Newer buildings will probably be made of metal and not quite so tall, being spread out over the ground rather than built upwards.

Either way, the railroad will have spurs and sidings to serve their customers.

The final category of building to consider when building a route is that of commercial and residential buildings. These are the houses where the people of the town live, the shops where they buy their clothes, books, food, and cars, and the diners they eat in, as well as the offices they work in that aren’t served by the railroad.

Remember that any town or city will have a reasonable concentration of these buildings, and that they will be fairly thin in between towns.

Speed Limits and Signals

Railroading, at least in the United States, is not a high-speed business in many ways. I don’t know if it is still true, but Federal law once restricted passenger trains to a maximum speed of 89 mph. And today, different classes of rail will have different speed limits.

The lowest speed limit is less than 10 mph. The fastest, which isn’t used, Class 9, sets a speed limit of 200 mph for both freight and passenger trains.

The default speed limit in Trainz is 40 mph, or roughly 64.5 kmh. When you build your own route, you can change this default speed by posting speed limit signs along your tracks. Using them is simple: you place them next to a stretch of track, and the number on the sign sets the speed limit that will prevail until you place a new speed limit sign.

On bad routes, the speed is always the default of 40. Even in yards or cities, where on a real railroad, for reasons of safety, maximum speeds are restricted to 10 mph, the speed limit will not change. It’s always 40 mph.

A good route, on the other hand, will mix up the speed limits. In towns and cities, in yards, at engine terminals, in industrial areas, 10 mph is appropriate. Outside of a town/city or yard area, the engineer can open up the throttle, perhaps even to Run 8, and get some speed. In which case, 30, 40, 50, even 60 mph will be satisfactory. The fastest practical speed for an American based route, for example, would be 79 mph.

Good routes will also have signals placed at suitable intervals to control the flow of traffic along the mainline.

Commercial Plans

Many successful Trainz routes are based on published model railroad plans. I have seen several, and I have created several myself. There is a lot to be said for this technique: published plans, typically produced by recognized model railroad layout designers such as Lance Mindheim, take most of the above factors into consideration. They will generally have a purpose, suitable scenery, a variety of buildings of all categories, and all the necessary track to allow the railroad to go somewhere and do something.

When using a published plan to build a Trainz route, you should consider whether you want to build the route as is, or expand it. A scale 4' x 8' track plan, for example, can take up an almost infinitesimal amount of space when modeled in Trainz, where each track construction board is approximately one-half mile across.

Expanding the plan can make it take up several boards. Of course, in this case, it is necessary to make sure to expand everything – fill up the boards with the proper terrain and textures, as well as track and signals, which shouldn’t be too difficult if you know what you are doing.

Contrast this photo with the first one I presented. This is from a route I designed for Trainz, and shows some of the things that make for a better route.
Contrast this photo with the first one I presented. This is from a route I designed for Trainz, and shows some of the things that make for a better route.

Final Thoughts

If you apply these ideas, then with a little practice, you should be able to create a decent route for Trainz. You will certainly be far ahead of many so-called route creators. Your route will look more like a real railroad, and less like a few bits of track on a flat board.

I know I have just scratched the surface here, but I just wanted to give you a few ideas to consider.

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