Question about "CAD" design...

Discussion in 'FAQs' started by Chesticus, Sep 14, 2008.

  1. Chesticus

    Chesticus New Member

    I am down to two...

    CADRAIL or 3rd Planit

    which one do you like and why? Disadvantages good points etc...

    PS. I already have "RR Track" it's really good for sectional, but not what for what I am designing.

    Thanks (great place for opinions and solutions everyone).

  2. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    Unless you are one of those who really does build exactly what he plans, paying the kind of $$ CadRail or 3rd Planit costs is overkill to me.

    Since I look at a track design package as a way to 1) verify the plan in my head might fit the space I have in mind, and 2) easily share a plan with others, the freebie packages - RTS and XtrkCad - are sufficient for my needs. Actually, a pencil, compass, graph paper, and ruler, coupled with a scanner work pretty well, too. Drawing in structure footprints (to scale) or scenic features is actually easier than with software. But the software has the advantage of not letting me "cheat" either intentionally or unintentionally on track alignment and joints at turnouts and curves. At the same time, you have to input custom turnouts into the software in places where you anticipate cutting or modifying commercial turnouts, or perhaps even laying your own.

    For all these reasons, I find a layout plan, no matter how precise on paper or in software, seldom represents the layout as built very closely. So I don't want to waste a lot of time or money getting a precise plan when close approximations lead to the same result.

    The hard part of design is evaluating and modifying a plan. Software packages are really very little help here. Yes, you can run trains with some packages (including XtrkCad) and check siding and spur lengths. But I believe you should have your train length in mind before you start the design process. Prototype cars in my era average out to about 5" (32ft) long in HO. Most were actually around 28-30 ft. But if I keep 5" per car in mind, plus 9" per engine when I design, I won't go very far wrong. Similarly, keeping track centers at least 2" from the benchwork edge, and leaving a horizontal distance between 2 sort of parallel tracks equal to 2" plus the difference in elevation keeps the scenery reasonable. Keeping the requirements for a yard in mind - arrival/departure track at one train length, drill track not fouling main at least 1/2 train length, run-arounds long enough, etc., - are all products of experience at analyzing and actually building layouts. Software generally isn't sophisticated enough to do this analysis.

    These are my thoughts, and reasons. Others really get into software layout design - almost as a hobby within a hobby. But in both my professional life (as a project planner) and hobby life, I find it all too easy to get wrapped up in planning, and never getting started. My end goal in model railroading is the journey of constructing and later operating a layout by myself.

    my thoughts, your choices
  3. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    Fred makes some good points. Unless you're into the "planning" phase as a hobby within the hobby of model railroading, in my opinion, these computer programmes are overkill. (Of course, that's coming from someone who probably wouldn't be able to competently use the software. :rolleyes:;):-D ) I used a pencil and paper to make a to-scale drawing of my layout room, then used that to determine where my pre-determined minimum radius of 30" would fit. I had already set my minimum turnout size at #6, and decided that aisle width was an important factor in any around-the-room design. Because the layout was intended to be partially double-decked, I used another sheet of paper to calculate grade lengths and percentages, which in turn decided layout heights for the different areas. From there on in, I just built the benchwork, and added the roadbed where it would fit. There was no trackplan per se. Along the way, I improvised a wye when it became obvious that one would enhance operations, but in the process was forced to break my rule of using #6 turnouts as minimum - it turned out to be an acceptable compromise.
    The only alteration that I've made after construction (the second level is yet to be built) is to remove a pair of turnouts that provided a crossover between two adjacent main lines, and that was only because the crossover was redundant.
    My advice is to plan only to the degree that you feel is necessary, lest you fall into the trap of second guessing too many things, leading to hestitancy to actual do anything. The "best-layed plans" often become nothing more than that....;):-D

  4. Chesticus

    Chesticus New Member

    I have actually looked and used RR Track software and I have used the CADRAIL demo to see what the program is about. I am not real intimidated by the learning curve of these systems. Further, I think that having the ability to print everything out to scale is a big plus to these software design systems. And like you guys have already stated "they keep you honest.

    Having said all of the above, I agree with you that it becomes "a hobby with in a hobby." I can also see the point that you might get caught up so much in the design aspect of the program you might never start a layout. I really do not think this will be a problem for me. I would just like a good sense of what I am going to have, in an accurate manner before I get started.

    As far as the cost of these programs, I think they are only about $100 or so. I don't think that this will break my budget.

    Thanks for the input everyone.

  5. seanm

    seanm Member

    I always had trouble with paper and pencil... Now I have a computer to do the figuring and spelling, so XtrkCAD was great for me. It keeps me honest as has been mentioned above and allows for lots of what if time. I would never design a layout with out it now. You DO have to be sure you decide when you are done... and that can be tricky sometimes. I "fnished" my CAD design several times before I started building and I am still modifying it. (smile)
  6. Fluesheet

    Fluesheet Member

    I use CadRail 8.0 and have had it installed so long that I don't even recall what it cost. Given that amortization, it's been worth it from a monetary standpoint.

    Regarding using design programs in general, I like them for exactly the reasons stated above: keeping curves and grades honest. I've also found that having a to-scale drawing has been tremendously useful for other projects that require space planning; again to keep me honest.

    My father is an architect, and my brother is a graphic designer (I'm in IT), so they of course point at me and laugh regarding using a CAD program for my rough layout planning. While CAD is becoming very common in architecture, dad is one of the last guys in our area that does almost all of his work by actually drawing and can put a knock out a conceptual drawing in - literally - minutes. Being that both are railfans, they are able to sketch out decent track plans in no time flat, and if this were their layout, I'm sure their process would be much closer to what DoctorWayne and Fred describe. I however need the hand holding that a CAD program provides. We as a team have come to terms with this - the sketch, then I draw up a couple "master" cad drawings to use for the next iteration of planning.

    To your question. I've been using CadRail since at least 2000, and once the basic tools are located and mastered, the work is very pretty straight forward and quick. That said, selecting said tools can be kind of clumsy, requiring a lot of mouse movement to accomplish. For example, drawing a curve or line requires two buttons and the drawing action itself to draw freehand. To do the same to place the same item at a given elevation, grade and radius requires three tool (button) selections, a dialog setting for the radius, the drawing action itself, selecting the item, then clicking two more buttons to access the edit tool to adjust elevation and grade. It gets very quick after a while, but is a busy process nonetheless.

    Sizing (zooming in and out), and scrolling around the plan is also somewhat clumsy. Not hard, just old-fashioned feeling in this day and age of scroll wheels, dragging images around with the pointer, etc.

    The usability issues may be better in version 9, but I haven't looked very closely at the release notes or tried it out, so cannot comment on that. I'm happy enough to use v8 for what it is, since the program and I now understand one another. But if I were to start again, I wouldn't hesitate to give the all the freebies a try. Just beware that all will require a learning curve to get comfortable with, then another curve to become productive, and a third (optional) curve to use all the bells and whistles - but it sounds like you're cool with that.

    Full disclosure: (to Fred and Waynes comments) I've been planning my next layout for 6 years, though that isn't due to any particular love of CAD...

  7. Squidbait

    Squidbait Recovering ALCO-holic

    Unless you're really set on the 3D visualization (gimmick, IMHO), XtrkCAD is powerful enough, and flexible enough for most applications. And it's free. You can run trains on your plan to check clearances and capacities, and test operating possibilities, and you can rough in structures and scenery.

    And it's free.

    What more could you want?
  8. Fluesheet

    Fluesheet Member

    Squidbait: I was curious about it (XtrkCAD) as well after chiming in on this thread this past Saturday. I've only played with it briefly.

    re: 3D rendering, I think there is some value, if for no other reason than it makes it easy to spot track sections that have not had a elevation set correctly. Your whole layout floats in space - except that one section that is laying on the floor... :)

  9. Squidbait

    Squidbait Recovering ALCO-holic


    That's true, to a point. XtrkCAD does let you set elevations for your track sections, and will generate a grade profile, so you can see what separations are, and whether your grades are too steep.
  10. Fluesheet

    Fluesheet Member

    Well, that would work for me.

    Chesticus, try XtrkCAD first! I'm already invested, so it's too late for me...

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