Building a Route in Train Simulator

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Inversnecky

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I thought the discussion here really meritted its own topic.

@Darandio was helpfully giving pointers to us newbies about route building.

Perhaps a list of sources/videos/etc would be good to have as a handy reference. I'll see what I can find too and edit in.

In terms of the practicalities of planning, what would you use as a map reference source? An OS map? Google earth? One or other or both in conjunction with Quaill maps? I recall mention of a Google API - is that purely for terrain, altitude, or can that be used for location of assets too?

Starting with a terminus station, what would be the process for creating this?

In terms of buildings, etc, a route creator will need a very good knowledge of assets to pick from. Do you need to create many assets yourself? How hard is it? Are there programs that help you do it?

If you were placing trees along the lineside, do you have to "plant" every one, or are there assets comprising a 100m or so of trees you can replicate to make the process easier and quicker?
 
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Peter C

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Blimey - there's going to be a lot to talk about here: love it. :)
I've found the route-building-related videos in this playlist to be very helpful.
TrainSimTV also make an absolutely fantastic series covering the building of their Wakefield-Knottingley route; it's this which got me into route building for the most part:


I could talk for ages about this topic; purely because there's so much to talk about. I'll try and answer the questions you've posted in a coherent manner!

  • Map references. I use the Google Maps API (tutorial video here). When it works, and it does take some fiddling around with it following recent changes to the site, you can get an overlay of either Google Earth satellite view, a hybrid view showing roads etc. over the previous satellite view, or a basic view just showing roads (I think). This is vital for me when doing anything regarding making a real route - it's nigh impossible for me to get it right otherwise. Having the overlay means you can see where the tracks - and individual rails if you have a high-enough resolution - go.
  • Gradients. I know you don't mention this one specifically @Inversnecky but it's an important one for making realistic routes. The excellent www.railwaydata.co.uk has line files for every Network Rail line, which include gradient profiles. These give the length of each gradient in miles and chains, though, making them harder to use for TS route building. I've found making a Freedom of Information request to Network Rail for gradient profiles is a good way of getting easy-to-use gradient information. Search through www.whatdotheyknow.com to find some examples. The excellent https://railmap.azurewebsites.net/Public/Gradients is an easier, quicker, and less annoying (for the FOI team - I assume it can be a bit annoying getting lots of gradient profile requests?) way of getting the same information, but you have to note down the values for each gradient manually.
  • Terminus stations. If I was starting from a terminus station, I'd build from the buffers at the ends of the platforms and go along, building the entire line I wanted to make before going back and making changes and additions such as scenery. For a small terminus station, you could probably bodge different assets together to form the kind-of shapes/designs you want, but for larger stations you might need a custom asset. If you don't make these yourself, you'll probably have to pay someone else to make them - unless you can find someone to make them for free, which is quite rare as it's a lot of work - and even then you'll need all sorts of information such as dimensions, etc.
  • Assets. When making my Cotswold Line route (which I haven't added to in quite a while I realise), I went for assets from routes such as Riviera Line in the Fifties to find what I wanted as I know that quite a few of the buildings/quite a bit of the infrastructure along the line is older stuff. For things like hedges/trees/other scenery, I'd go through various routes and find what I thought looked best. It's a bit of trial and error but if you get it right, it can look really convincing. For custom buildings/crossings/stations, you'd probably want to make the assets yourself, yes - but I've never done this so I can't speak from experience on best software, etc.
  • Trees. There are different assets for singular trees, lines, and groups. The excellent Vulcan Productions site has lots of assets for trees and grass which look brilliant: https://www.vulcanproductions.co.uk/rb.html
    You can also copy and paste assets and groups of assets to speed up the process.
I hope all that has been of some use - please do let me know if you have any more questions. :)

-Peter
 

Darandio

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I'll start with some basic answers to these and mix in some history to get to where we are now.

In terms of the practicalities of planning, what would you use as a map reference source? An OS map? Google earth? One or other or both in conjunction with Quaill maps? I recall mention of a Google API - is that purely for terrain, altitude, or can that be used for location of assets too?

Back in Rail Simulator days routes were created simply by either plotting the track co-ordinates with pins or drawing lines in Google Earth and exporting them as an .xml file, with some jiggery pokery these could then be seen in Rail Simulator. You could lay track based on these and then reference Google Earth and other mapping sources to place scenery. It was very difficult, time consuming and not very accurate.

When Railworks arrived a very clever chap called Jim created a program called RWDecal. This program worked with Google Earth and took snapshots of the area you had chosen. These could then be exported and placed in the route editor allowing you to add tracks and scenery directly over them, if you will it was a long winded pre-cursor to the system we have in place now.

Now Google Maps are implemented into the editor itself which makes life so much easier, at least for routes that are still in existence. It does require a Google account and billing information but don't be alarmed about this. Google automatically give you a $200 free monthly credit which is equivalent to 28,000 requests by your API key per month. Using me as an example as somebody who uses it for hours on end, i've never ever exceeded 250 requests in a day. Basically it's impossible to exceed their limit and billing is more concerned with commercial entities who pull hundreds of thousands of requests per month.

Dovetail have a good article here about obtaining your API key and implementing it into Train Simulator.

You mentioned terrain, this is called Digital Elevation Model or DEM for short. Basically they are terrain files created by satellites looking down on earth and it provides a topographic dataset for the whole planet. These files can be downloaded (by region or area) and placed in a specific folder in your Train Simulator install, it can then read these and implement the terrain for your chosen route. Be aware that they aren't completely accurate and some manipulation is required. Note that you also want to make a decision about whether you are going to use real world terrain before starting a route, it's a tough ask if you want to add it to a route you've already built!

Matt has an excellent video about this here.

In terms of buildings, etc, a route creator will need a very good knowledge of assets to pick from. Do you need to create many assets yourself? How hard is it? Are there programs that help you do it?

Research, research, research. Decide which route you are building and study the routes you own to see what best matches what you want. This includes things like the terrain texture set you want to use on your route, track type, platform type etc. Think about where you are going to release the route if that is your plan. Want to release on the workshop? Don't use any requirements that aren't available from Steam.

Creating your own assets is entirely up to you, it isn't explicitly required to create and release a route and even if the exact bridge or building that you want isn't available from the requirements you are building from, things can be resized moved around and placed together to make a decent enough representation. Probably the most common assets people create for themselves are simple objects such as station signs. There are modelling programs out there that can do this and Blender is a free example, but bear in mind whilst a station sign is a basic object in modelling terms, it's not as straightforward to create textures and export before creating a blueprint to make it usable in Train Simulator.

If you were placing trees along the lineside, do you have to "plant" every one, or are there assets comprising a 100m or so of trees you can replicate to make the process easier and quicker?

Depends how accurate you want to be! If you are creating a real life route on a Google Map overlay you will place trees one at a time in some cases. In other cases there are lines of trees which can be placed lineside and there are groups too. In some cases these are also what was termed as 'flexirow' meaning you can place them and they will hug the terrain elevation.

There are also asset blocks which are particularly useful for creating more distant scenery such as tree rows and forests but these should only ever be used for 2D assets and not the 3D stuff you often see lineside. These blocks can be placed in all shapes and sizes to follow vegetation areas on the overlay and then populated with a few clicks, it's fairly easy to do large swathes of distant trees in minutes.

I'd also highly recommend this tutorial. In the early days we only had very minimal 'hotkeys' to perform different functions as well as a limited set of buttons in the editor to perform different functions. That tutorial pretty much sums up every advancement made in the editor and provides loads of great information on the route editor itself.
 

Inversnecky

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Gradients. I know you don't mention this one specifically @Inversnecky but it's an important one for making realistic routes. The excellent www.railwaydata.co.uk has line files for every Network Rail line, which include gradient profiles. These give the length of each gradient in miles and chains, though, making them harder to use for TS route building. I've found making a Freedom of Information request to Network Rail for gradient profiles is a good way of getting easy-to-use gradient information. Search through www.whatdotheyknow.com to find some examples. The excellent https://railmap.azurewebsites.net/Public/Gradients is an easier, quicker, and less annoying (for the FOI team - I assume it can be a bit annoying getting lots of gradient profile requests?) way of getting the same information, but you have to note down the values for each gradient manually.

Thank you Peter, this is all very helpful. I'll look at the videos later.

I was thinking of gradients when I referenced altitude in the Google Maps - does that not give you a 3D lanscape map that would automatically give you the required gradients when you build over it, or does the API only give 2D coordinated (latitude and longitude)?

I guess you want to start simple and have a play around in Build before trying to recreate a real line.

Google automatically give you a $200 free monthly credit which is equivalent to 28,000 requests by your API key per month. Using me as an example as somebody who uses it for hours on end, i've never ever exceeded 250 requests in a day. Basically it's impossible to exceed their limit and billing is more concerned with commercial entities who pull hundreds of thousands of requests per month.
Thank you so much for the answers.

So with the billing information for the API, you're not charged at all unless you excess that 28k requests?

I'll need to start paying more attention to the routes I drive with a view to identifying useful pieces of scenery - but how would you know if they are part of that route or borrowed from another? I guess DTG routes are self contained?

So, when I decide to build a proper route, I should get the terrain/gradients sorted from the get go.

If you were contemplating a long route like Inverness to Aberdeen, but wanted to practice by doing a section as a test, is it easy anough to add on more terrain, or best to create a route of the whole length to begin with, even if you're starting just a part, and you can "crop" it for use?

I can only imagine the time taken to create routes of tens or hundreds of route miles.


I guess you can create the bones of a route and it's usable as a WIP, and you can continually add to it, before you conside it suitable for release?

Are routes built within the Build section of TS itself, or do you use other programs too/instead?

Is this Atlas:


different/ better than these ones?


In terms of the track layout, do you have to add in diamond crossings, or if you lay one track over another, does it do it for you automatically?

Can you recreate the full complexity of prototype lines with its panoply of points, slips, etc, or do you have to compromise by chosing from a set of "prebuilds" like a railway modeller?
 
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Domh245

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The editor is all within the game - no additional software needed

With the data available online these days, you shouldn't need to get physical books - operational data (speed limits, etc) are available through sectional appendices, and gradient data (and hence height) can be got from railwaydata. Historical routes on the other hand are trickier!

The issue I always found with route building was the scenery placing - I found it all too easy to get carried away laying tracks & signals (especially on plain track, where you can lay a mile of track with a few clicks!), drive up and down it for a bit, and then never get back to actually put scenery in place
 

Darandio

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So with the billing information for the API, you're not charged at all unless you excess that 28k requests?

Not a penny. And simply route building wouldn't get you anywhere near.

I'll need to start paying more attention to the routes I drive with a view to identifying useful pieces of scenery - but how would you know if they are part of that route or borrowed from another? I guess DTG routes are self contained?

In order to research what you want to use it would be better just to look at something like a DTG or later JT route where everything is indeed self contained. One way to do this would be to set up a simple test route in the editor, tick a route so the assets are listed and start placing objects to see what type of stuff is included.

So, when I decide to build a proper route, I should get the terrain/gradients sorted from the get go.

To build a real route yes, you would want terrain imported before adding track and then scenery. You would lay the track using gradients data from your book.online source.

If you were contemplating a long route like Inverness to Aberdeen, but wanted to practice by doing a section as a test, is it easy anough to add on more terrain, or best to create a route of the whole length to begin with, even if you're starting just a part, and you can "crop" it for use?

You could add all of the terrain in one go or add it as you go but beware that adding more terrain tiles than you need dramatically swells the size of your route folder. If you decided to add it as you go, just make sure you don't import new tiles very close to where you have already built scenery and manipulated terrain because it will simply reset the terrain as per the data. In short, always have the terrain imported a few tiles ahead of where you are actually building.

I guess you can create the bones of a route and it's usable as a WIP, and you can continually add to it, before you conside it suitable for release?

Yes, you can continue to add to it as much as you want.

Are routes built within the Build section of TS itself, or do you use other programs too/instead?

As answered above, all route building is done within TS. Remember to press F2 regularly to save and make regular backups of your project!

In terms of the track layout, do you have to add in diamond crossings, or if you lay one track over another, does it do it for you automatically?

Can you recreate the full complexity of prototype lines with its panoply of points, slips, etc, or do you have to compromise by chosing from a set of "prebuilds" like a railway modeller?

Track laying is completely freehand. In terms of a diamond crossing you would just lay the two tracks over each other in different directions then use the weld tool which would render the diamond for you. Sometimes these don't render correctly and the track has to be split and re-welded, lots of tutorials cover this in detail.

You can create a complex prototype, in fact any layout is theoretically possible but it isn't easy and i'd certainly recommend trying something much simpler first!
 

Peter C

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Thank you Peter, this is all very helpful. I'll look at the videos later.

I was thinking of gradients ehn I referenced altitude in the Google Maps - does that not give you a 3D lanscape map that would automatically give you the required gradients when you build over it, or does the API only give 2D coordinated (latitude and longitude)?
Oh OK - apologies. The Google Maps API doesn't give you a 3D landscape by itself; that requires you to import terrain files which then make the terrain on the route. It's never going to be 100% perfect but it's a good staring point. If you used the terrain data to do the gradients, the track would be all over the shop and really bouncy. The API works as an overlay you can build track onto - much like a Hornby track mat.

To be able to work out what gradients will be on the route, you need the following information for each change in gradient:
  • Gradient value (i.e. 1:230)
  • Gradient start point (this is only useful if you're starting building a route from, say, halfway along and know mileage data for said route)
  • Gradient end point (see above)
  • Gradient length (i.e. 200m)
Any other information would be useful for something I expect, but I've not found a use for it in my own route building.

I guess you want to start simple and have a play around in Build before trying to recreate a real line.
Definitely. Make a blank route and play around with tracklaying and scenery building; practice is the best way of learning in this case.

I can't recommend more the TrainSimTV videos I linked to above - they really show how routes are made in TS.

-Peter :)
 

Inversnecky

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Thanks for the replies - I'll watch all the videos in due course and have a bash playing around with building some test tracks to get to know the tools.
 

Jacob Didcote

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Hello,
I'm currently building a route, I use the google overlay alongside data from the Electronic Sectional Appendix which can be obtained from the Network Rail website (this includes speed restrictions, platform lengths, etc.). I also use data from the railwaydata.co.uk for gradients!

Hope this helps.
-Jake

Blimey - there's going to be a lot to talk about here: love it. :)
I've found the route-building-related videos in this playlist to be very helpful.
TrainSimTV also make an absolutely fantastic series covering the building of their Wakefield-Knottingley route; it's this which got me into route building for the most part:


I could talk for ages about this topic; purely because there's so much to talk about. I'll try and answer the questions you've posted in a coherent manner!

  • Map references. I use the Google Maps API (tutorial video here). When it works, and it does take some fiddling around with it following recent changes to the site, you can get an overlay of either Google Earth satellite view, a hybrid view showing roads etc. over the previous satellite view, or a basic view just showing roads (I think). This is vital for me when doing anything regarding making a real route - it's nigh impossible for me to get it right otherwise. Having the overlay means you can see where the tracks - and individual rails if you have a high-enough resolution - go.
  • Gradients. I know you don't mention this one specifically @Inversnecky but it's an important one for making realistic routes. The excellent www.railwaydata.co.uk has line files for every Network Rail line, which include gradient profiles. These give the length of each gradient in miles and chains, though, making them harder to use for TS route building. I've found making a Freedom of Information request to Network Rail for gradient profiles is a good way of getting easy-to-use gradient information. Search through www.whatdotheyknow.com to find some examples. The excellent https://railmap.azurewebsites.net/Public/Gradients is an easier, quicker, and less annoying (for the FOI team - I assume it can be a bit annoying getting lots of gradient profile requests?) way of getting the same information, but you have to note down the values for each gradient manually.
  • Terminus stations. If I was starting from a terminus station, I'd build from the buffers at the ends of the platforms and go along, building the entire line I wanted to make before going back and making changes and additions such as scenery. For a small terminus station, you could probably bodge different assets together to form the kind-of shapes/designs you want, but for larger stations you might need a custom asset. If you don't make these yourself, you'll probably have to pay someone else to make them - unless you can find someone to make them for free, which is quite rare as it's a lot of work - and even then you'll need all sorts of information such as dimensions, etc.
  • Assets. When making my Cotswold Line route (which I haven't added to in quite a while I realise), I went for assets from routes such as Riviera Line in the Fifties to find what I wanted as I know that quite a few of the buildings/quite a bit of the infrastructure along the line is older stuff. For things like hedges/trees/other scenery, I'd go through various routes and find what I thought looked best. It's a bit of trial and error but if you get it right, it can look really convincing. For custom buildings/crossings/stations, you'd probably want to make the assets yourself, yes - but I've never done this so I can't speak from experience on best software, etc.
  • Trees. There are different assets for singular trees, lines, and groups. The excellent Vulcan Productions site has lots of assets for trees and grass which look brilliant: https://www.vulcanproductions.co.uk/rb.html
    You can also copy and paste assets and groups of assets to speed up the process.
I hope all that has been of some use - please do let me know if you have any more questions. :)

-Peter
I will definitely give that railmap website. Looks much more user friendly...now need to redo the many miles i've already laid!! o_O:'(
 
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Peter C

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I will definitely give that railmap website. Looks much more user friendly...now need to redo the many miles i've already laid!! o_O:'(
It really is excellent. I was told about it by someone else on the forums when asking for things about another route I was planning to make, and it took around 20 minutes to get all of the data I needed as opposed to >20 days using FOI requests!

-Peter
 
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Hopefully it's alright to post this in here, but feel free to remove if not.

I had a request from someone who builds train simulator routes, to include a bit more (and different) detail in the RailwayData gradient profiles. Miles, Km, chains, yards, gradient percent and "1in" gradients are now in the Line File pages.

Hopefully these will be a bit easier to use and will be of use to someone. As always, suggestions welcome.
 

Peter C

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Hopefully it's alright to post this in here, but feel free to remove if not.

I had a request from someone who builds train simulator routes, to include a bit more (and different) detail in the RailwayData gradient profiles. Miles, Km, chains, yards, gradient percent and "1in" gradients are now in the Line File pages.

Hopefully these will be a bit easier to use and will be of use to someone. As always, suggestions welcome.
Just had a look and definitely a useful change in my eyes. A potential way of improving the gradients bit (i.e. where you can get it to just show gradients) might be to add the length of the gradients? I know that providing the point at which the gradients change in yards allows you to calculate the length of a gradient, but when route building it's ideal if you have the lengths of the gradients written down as well as their value, if that makes sense. Apologies if this is a stupid/really difficult addition!

-Peter :)
 

christopher

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I've never understood how to actually interpret the gradient data into track laying like how do you know where the gradient change takes place etc? Silly question no doubt I know
 
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I know that providing the point at which the gradients change in yards allows you to calculate the length of a gradient, but when route building it's ideal if you have the lengths of the gradients written down as well as their value, if that makes sense. Apologies if this is a stupid/really difficult addition!
That's an excellent idea, Peter! And one that is fairly easy to implement.
Unfortunately I'm not too familiar with the process behind building simulator routes - is there a unit of measurement that would be best to show this? Miles, yards, Km, etc?
Thanks :)
 

Peter C

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That's an excellent idea, Peter! And one that is fairly easy to implement.
Unfortunately I'm not too familiar with the process behind building simulator routes - is there a unit of measurement that would be best to show this? Miles, yards, Km, etc?
Thanks :)
Oh cool - I would have assumed it would be quite difficult so that's great to hear. Train Sim takes metres as the default* unit of measurement, so that would be ideal. If you ended up with a number of metres which wasn't an integer value, for whatever reason, leaving it as-is would probably be better than rounding it as TS allows for at least one decimal place, maybe two, of precision when measuring bits of track and so having accurate length values would be even better.

-Peter :D

*there may be ways of changing this in-game, but I've not worked out how to do this (if there is such a method), and so metres is probably best.
 
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Oh cool - I would have assumed it would be quite difficult so that's great to hear. Train Sim takes metres as the default* unit of measurement, so that would be ideal. If you ended up with a number of metres which wasn't an integer value, for whatever reason, leaving it as-is would probably be better than rounding it as TS allows for at least one decimal place, maybe two, of precision when measuring bits of track and so having accurate length values would be even better.
I've just updated the gradient data to include the length in meters. Hopefully this is of use.

For completeness, there's a (very) small margin of error, as the original data supplied by Network Rail comes in miles and yards and has been converted into meters to 2 decimal places.
It’s absolutely fine @splashoutradio. Sharing the knowledge is what this forum section is all about. :)
Thanks Cowley! Always aware of potentially hijacking or taking a thread off topic :)
 

Peter C

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I've just updated the gradient data to include the length in meters. Hopefully this is of use.

For completeness, there's a (very) small margin of error, as the original data supplied by Network Rail comes in miles and yards and has been converted into meters to 2 decimal places.
I've just had a look at the OWW Line File and that's going to be really helpful - thanks! :D
Having the gradient lengths on there is going to make route-building so much easier (normally, you'd have to make a Freedom of Information request, then wait a couple of weeks for the information, before you could get working on a route). I don't think even the NR data provided in metres is going to be 100% accurate, and there's always room for error in a TS route, so I'd say the data you've provided is as perfect as it could be!

-Peter

I've never understood how to actually interpret the gradient data into track laying like how do you know where the gradient change takes place etc? Silly question no doubt I know
It's definitely not a silly question - it's a very good one in fact. I had the same question when I first tried building a route; and it turns out TS is quite helpful in this regard.
When building a route, you'll have a series of boxes around the screen - they have the various tools and things you need to make a route. One of these boxes has a bit where you can enter the gradient value for the track you're about to lay. Say if the gradient value was 1:100, you'd enter "100" into the box and then, when you put the track down, it'll go up at a 1:100 gradient. "-100" would put the track down at a negative gradient of -100.
To get the gradient lengths correct, it takes a bit more work - but not loads. Say your 1:100 gradient lasts for 100 metres, you'd lay enough track to cover 100 metres (you'd probably end up over-estimating this: TS does show you the length of the section of track you're laying as you go, but for the purposes of this, we won't use that), and then use the measuring tool in the route editor. You put the starting point of where you want to measure at the start of the gradient - TS lays track in 500m-maximum sections, with little lines showing you where each bit starts and ends - to the 100 metres where the 1:100 gradient ends. You get to 100 metres, and then, after clicking off the measuring tool, you use the cutting tool to cut the track at the right point. You can then go back and 'smooth' the gradient at the point at which it joins the previous one, if that makes sense, so your trains don't bounce all over the place.

I hope that was somewhat useful!

-Peter :)
 
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