Layout CAD Programs

Discussion in 'Getting Started' started by Mountain Man, Apr 6, 2009.

  1. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Active Member

    Is there a layout CAd program designed for use by idiots? If so, where do I find it?
  2. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    The simplest and easiest to use software track planning package I have used is RTS 8.0, available as a free download from Atlas. The drawback is that only Atlas track is featured in the library, and there is no easy way to add other brands of track.

    But my question back would be: how do you intend to use the software?

    I use RTS and XtrkCad (much steeper learning curve than RTS) for basic planning and seeing what will fit. No package will design a great layout plan unless you already know what a great plan is. I don't expect to print out a full-size paper template and have everything fit exactly as planned. And many times, a compass, ruler, graph paper, and a big eraser, along with a critical eye, will be just as fast and produce just as good a result. The last point is why I can't be bothered to pay for a software planning package.

    Spending an hour working through the tutorials that come with the software (including RTS) actually speed up the learning curve. Warning: the more complex packages such as XtrkCad take more than an hour to learn.

    my thoughts, your choices
  3. Squidbait

    Squidbait Recovering ALCO-holic

    :agree1: I use XtrkCad because it has the two qualities I most admire in software - it's effective, and it's free! RTS is OK for smaller layouts with only Atlas track, but it's a place to start.
  4. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Active Member

    I have tried both of those programs, and I find them a) confusing to learn as the controls are not intuitive in any way, and b) useless for "pencil planning", the process we all use to simply doodle possible arrangements. I disagree that a plan cannot be drawn until the plan is already known - drawing it out and changing it as we go is how it gets created in the first pladce. Show me someone who only needed to draw a final plan because he already knew exactly how he was going to build his layout and I'll show you someone who never needed a plan in the first place.

    I have, in fact, been through the XTRkCad self-tutorial at least three times and the program remains clunky and almost impossible to obtain worthwhile results with. I have also been through RTS twice - same poor results. All I really want is to get a sense of layout trackage and spacing in scale with a simple set of boundaries that represent the layout edges.

    Frankly, passing through medical school was a breeze compared to trying to usefully master either of the programs mentions. Obviously it's me and not the programs, since others use these easily enough all the time, but I am frustrated and it's holding back implementation of my layout.

    I take it from the replies thus far that I'm stuck with doing it in real time, trial and error and the Devil with track plan.

    So be it. I'll probably get much better results anyway. I just won't be able to post anything fo commentary and crititique by others.

  5. Squidbait

    Squidbait Recovering ALCO-holic

    If you find RTS confusing, then you are not likely to find anything else that's going to be much easier for you to use. I don't think there's a "Layout CAD for Luddites" out there yet. :p

    I don't think anyone's saying you have to know the plan before you can draw it, but that you need to have a good idea of what you want from a plan before you put pencil to paper (or mouse to mousepad, for those of us not CAD-impaired :p ). Do you want a roundy-round? Or a point-to-point? Do you want lots of mainline or lots of switching? Or both? Is scenery important, or do you want to jam in as much track as you can? Are you trying to model a specific scene/line/railroad, or do you just want a nice little layout to run your trains and shuffle cars? Without having that in mind beforehand, you can kill a lot of trees with random doodles.

    Really? You must be a Mac user :p sign1
    It's not hard to draw the table edges..., choose the Line tool, click where you want the line to start, and drag to where you want it to stop.

    Well, to be fair, when you did med school, you really only needed to know about the four humours, and that a course of leeches would cure most of what ailed you. :p :mrgreen:

    If you're stuck with Pencil V1.0, you should read John Armstrong's articles on doodling by the squares. It's a useful tool for back-of-the-stone-tablet sketching of tracks in available space. I believe he discusses the method in Track Planning For Realistic Operation and Creative Layout Design.
  6. platypus1217

    platypus1217 Member

    RTS is probably about as straight forward as you are going to get, but again it is only useful if you are using only Atlas sectional track.

    XTrkCad has more flexibility with the type of track and is much better at handling flex track. But it is difficult to learn. I am normally pretty quick to pick things up on the computer but I had to go through the tutorials several times before I really got up to speed.

    I don't think it is a replacement for paper and pencil, but it does let you verify that design on drew on the back of the napkin actually fits in the space that you think it does. This was one of the my frustrations when I first started using CAD. Things that I drew on paper wouldn't connect correctly on the computer because it was requiring the tracks to be lined up correctly. When you draw it out by hand you can get away with things that didn't actually connect perfectly.
  7. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    I agree with you about XtrkCad being pretty useless for quick doodling - at least at my stage of lack of mastery.

    The newest version of RTS - version 8 - does have quick benchwork templates for a quick doodle. And I can use RTS to fairly quickly place the critical check-for-fit items - 180 degree curves, crossings, and turnouts that are fairly close together - as long as I'm willing to use Snap Track curve radii. I don't bother with the small filler pieces of Snap Track. I use the flex track tool to tie curves, turnouts, turnout groups, and crossings together. The sliders on the flex track tool allow me to quickly shape the connecting flex to the desired shape while watching to see that I don't violate my minimum radius.

    But my real use of RTS 8 is as a fit check, not as a detailed planner. I have a sketch on paper or in my mind that I lay out with RTS to see if it will fit in the space I have in mind. Often, I won't even bother connecting up all the critical track groups that would be linked with straight or slightly curved track.

    I've used RTS to add an HOn3 branch, knowing that there are no Atlas HOn3 track pieces. But I know that if it fits in RTS, I can build it with handlaid or Shinohara turnouts in less space than RTS forces me to allow. The extra space just helps ensure the uncrowded narrow gauge look I want.

    Actually, hand drawn sketches or scale drawings can be uploaded very nicely after being scanned in a scanner. Obviously, darker lines or high contrast drawings scan better. Drawings done with software have to be exported to a format that the web site can accept and browsers can view - and that is not the native format of any track planning software I know of.

    I do as much with pencil, graph paper, and compass (and a big eraser) as I do with software - and its often faster.

    my thoughts, your choices
  8. Squidbait

    Squidbait Recovering ALCO-holic

    Of course it may be a good thing you are having difficulty using the CAD programs.... you might catch a nasty dose of CTSS (CAD Too Soon Syndrome)
  9. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Active Member

    I have several of Armstrong's books, and others as well. "Stone tablets", eh? Hmmm...where did I leave that human-into-toad spell?
  10. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Active Member

    Yes...but that requires actually having a scanner...:cool:
  11. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Active Member

  12. Squidbait

    Squidbait Recovering ALCO-holic


    I just stepped through the demos in XtrkCad and it led me to wonder which version do you have? Because I found the demos to be very thorough, and quite informative. I had thought of doing some of my own, but I don't think I could do anything more instructive then they have done in version 4.0.1 (the one I use).

    How were you going about doodling? When I'm starting out on a plan but with no specific goals, I usually go through these steps:

    1. Define the space - how big is it? Any obstacles (doors, windows, pillars)?
    2. Place some circles of my minimum mainline radius where I think the "corners" or "blobs" of my mainline are going to be.
    3. Join the circles to form a rough idea of where the main is going to run.
    4. Figure out where I can fit passing sidings
    5. Experiment with yard placement.
    6. Fiddle with siding placement.

    Usually once I've done 1., I spend quite a bit of time fiddling with 2. and 3. to get an idea of how much main I can fit in, where it's going to go, how much of an aisle clearance I can manage, that sort of thing. Once I've got a suitable main run, then I worry about fitting sidings and yards and such.

    I've been using XtrkCad for so long, I find it hard to identify with someone who's never used it (or any CAD or graphics program to create stuff), so I'm not sure how you're finding it "clunky".

    I've played a bit with Anyrail, and while it looks slick, it seems to be geared towards construction with sectional track. I can't seem to figure out how to convince it to lay flex track more than 3' at a time. I'd rather be able to lay my main in a long continuous run by joining point A to point B like I can in XtrkCAD. I think that, more than anything, is key to ease of "doodling" a layout.
  13. Squidbait

    Squidbait Recovering ALCO-holic

    OK, so there's a new version of XtrkCAD (4.02) with apparently improved demos. I haven't noticed a huge difference, but what I did notice is that you mentioned the XtrkCAD tutorials.

    Do you mean the tutorials they have on the website? They're good, as far as they go, but I think the live-action demos found under the Help menu are much more informative. If you haven't yet, check those out. I think you'll see XtrkCAD's maybe not as tough as you think it is.
  14. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Active Member

    I follow pretty much the same steps you do. My real problem these days is "layout block" due to recent events. nothing I put down seems to be what I really want, but I find myself unable to define what that is. I've suddenly got a fair amount of space, but I just can't seem to derive any meaningful way to use it.

    Another problem I'm having is that I am trying to avoid the "blobs", or at least make them pretty much invisible without the usual layout cliches.

    As for XTrakCad, my version is 4.02 - I guess I should take a look at the on-board tutorials as you suggested. Thanks for the tip.

    The AnyRailEN program is pretty easy, but the demo limits me to 50 "articles" and the "key" that unlocks the entire program is $55 dollars. Like that's going to happen any time soon.
  15. spinwing

    spinwing New Member

    I have been playing with XtrkCad for a while and find it fairly straight forward. Mind you I used an architectural CAD program to design our home. The building plans have to be done by a licenced designer so I emailed him my file and voilá – house plan for building permit.

    SQUIDBAIT has described the process pretty well. One has to run through the tutorials, probably a couple of times.

    One should also look at the user group -
    You can also ‘cheat’ by downloading a basic plan that you like and the stretching or squeezing it as you like to fit your space.

    Having got the basic trackplan to fit your space – dogbone, twice around, etc. try drawing some circles where you think you might want industry, yard, town, etc. then fill in the appropriate track work. Again, you can cut and past a yard, roundhouse layout from the user group.

    I find the proprietary programs too restrictive.

    There will be a short pause of about six months while I paint on the anti-fouling this week and enjoy sailing for the summer. :cool:

    Enjoy. Hope this helps.
  16. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Active Member

    What we have here is a failure to communicate.

    Someone who used a CAD program to design a house is hardly in the same XTrkCad user group that I am.

    That's like me wondering why other people have to see a doctor when they are sick, since I understand exactly what is going on with me after 30 years of practicing medicine.

    I'll do it with pencil and paper.

    Squidbait - since Flextrack is sold in 3' sections to begin with, it's probably not unreasonable to program it into the AnyRail system for installation in the same fashion.
  17. Squidbait

    Squidbait Recovering ALCO-holic

    Not really. When you're drawing your curves (with a French Curve or a compass) do you lay them out 3' at a time? Or do you run your curve from here to there at one go?

    Having to drop each section of flex track and set the radius for each section is clunky! Being able to join point A to point B, and adjust the radius until it's where I like it, plus have easements automatically added is slick!
  18. Ronson2k3

    Ronson2k3 Member

    I'm enjoying the discussion. I'm currently planning a layout myself. I think probably what is missing is the visualisation part. Looking at a track plan isn't just the track it's the structures and scenery as well. Sort of like painting a picture starting out from a line drawing.

    I think when starting out you need the minimum requirements. These will constrict your design to make what ever you do workable. Just like an architect you have limits as to what you can do. This is based on not just the equipment you are going to run but what you want the layout to look like.

    - For me the difficulty is in separation. Giving enough space between towns/stops to give the illusion of distance. There is that tendency to want to cram track where ever you can even if it's not required. In that you see the empty space and go why is that empty? Wouldn't it be good if it had some track?

    For fans of Bob Ross (painter extrordinaire on PBS). You can't see the highlights if there are no shadows. So you can't fill the space with stuff or you will loose that. Even though the temptation is a strong one it has to be fought (for me anyway). I too have read the books on designing for operation. Including the latest ones from Tony Koester. I find his books very 'up to date' you could say and recommend them whole heartedly. He takes a visual approach to track planning. I was lucky enough to find them at the library except for the one I bought on multi-level layout design.

    Depending on the prototype or freelance you want to model I think one of the biggest things is having a way to extend the layout beyond the physical space. Staging or fiddle yards are important. So that trains aren't just starting and concluding in your given space. The layout is like a stage where the players/actors (Trains) do there thing. So they have to come from somewhere (Backstage) or staging yard. Sometimes you can fit one staging yard to act as backstage for both ends of the route. Making it a run through if you want to roll a train (express).

    So instead of the Blob I like Staging. Cross connected if possible but two staging yards if not. This frees up visual space for other things. Now you have room to add in other visual aspects that would be missed if you had a big honking yard sitting there. As well as creates a place to store equipment so you aren't seeing it all the time. Adding to diversity and visual interest when running trains. Once you have the to and from the staging yards laid out then the main line can be conceived.

    With any software you are going to get out what you put in. What I did was not start out with a cad software but a drawing program. By that I mean artistic (Paint Shop Pro) but there are many freeware ones out there of which I recommend as it will let you draw curves, lines and shapes.

    You are still going to draw your track plan the old fashioned way though. With a basic floor plan (gridded - I like 1 foot squares but it's up to you). With all the obstructions you can't move or need access to plotted. This is the important part. This is your bottom Layer. That way you are drawing on top of that your plan but not erasing your floor plan. In the next layer add in your benchwork layout. Roughly not going for a construction drawing at this stage as you just want a platform for your track. This will then let you figure your isle ways and working spaces. Then on the next layer start adding track. This isn't a cad drawing program so you will have to work with your own calculations. I find 4 pixels to the inch is good. So a foot is 48 pixels long - 30 inch radius is 120 - or 240 pixel diameter and so on. This will let you rough out your design pretty quickly. You can cut and paste as needed and erase quickly. You can add in shapes for buildings and the like as well. The operative word here is fast. With a cad program you are restricted as to it's operating limits. With the drawing program you are pretty much free from that. You can add layer upon layer till you get a plan you like using the one underneath as a template for the one above till you have it the way you like. What you gain in speed you loose in accuracy though so once you have completed the rough design then it's time to bring on the cad.

    It would be great if there was a program that was more intuitive with layout design. Knowing what you need to do and letting you plug in the parts. As I'm thinking many want to be able to do. Or one that followed a design philosophy and took you through the stages. Helping you to design instead of giving you hammer, nails and wood and saying go for it. Starting with a schematic and working forward. Finding trouble spots as mentioned in the CTSS article. Almost like making a piece of sheet music.

    So designing the route.

    - Straight line schematic (towns/Industries/Sidings/Yards)
    - Floor plan of space (obstacles/Access ways marked)
    - Benchwork plan (Isle space available)
    - Track (Staging or Blobs)
    - Structures (buildings/bridges)

    All of which can be done in an art program (ex

    Then refine the plan (make it workable) in a cad program. You can use your roughed plan as a template for your cad drawing. Laying out trackage. This will become your construction plan.

    Hope that helps..
  19. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Active Member

    Hmmm...good point. I actually do it with a long strip of fiber board or something similar. And truthfully, I have never found the presence or absence of calculated easements to be critical since I model the smaller stuff that doesn't choke on tighter curves.

    Prototype mountain railroads weren't big on calculated easements, either, since they required more grading, cutting and filling to make mountainous terrain accommodate them.

    Good point, though. :thumb:
  20. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Active Member

    So true, which is why I like mountain modeling. The presence of large masses of solid rock are more than enough reason to leave the "space empty." :cool:

    Your reasoning is sound; your logic is good - you just forgot the part where I am CAD program challenged, which is how this discussion got started. :mrgreen:

    I would undoubtedly do it your way or Squidbait's way if I could.

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