Multiple commercial brands of model railroad software are available and can be used in helping to plan your layout. These are basically of 2 types:
• Model railroad track planning software
• Computer simulation programs
Which type of model railroad software you choose may depend on how much you like to spend time on your computer and what your ultimate goals are. There is a certain fascination in developing your plans on the computer and being very organized in your track planning even to the point of knowing exactly what materials you will need and how much they will cost. Many of these model railroad software programs will allow you to run virtual trains on your computerized layout so you can get an idea of how your railroad will operate when you actually build it.
Perhaps you don’t have the time or space to actually start building a model railroad yet. Using the planning software can provide you with the fun of at least developing your basic plan and design until you have the capability of going ahead with physically building the layout.
Some of the model railroad software is relatively simple and fairly easy to use after a few hours. Other programs are very powerful, but complicated, with high learning curves; but once you master them, you could have a fantastic virtual railroad on your computer that has very detailed graphics and may be a lot of fun to build and operate without ever having to lay your hands on a section of model track.
One of the easier model railroad software programs to master that doesn’t cost much (It’s free), is the Track Planning Software available for download from the atlasrr.com website as freeware and works fairly well for simple layout designs.
Another program reported to be very easy to use with a short learning curve is Anyrail (http://www.anyrail.com/index_en.html). It requires Windows Vista, XP or 2000.
XTrkCAD is a free program available for download for Windows or Linux. (http://www.xtrkcad.org/Wikka/HomePage)
Railmodeller (http://www.railmodeller.com/) is an excellent program for the Mac that I found relatively easy to use within just a few hours. The track plans drawn on the track planning page of this web site were all created using this software.
RR Track for Windows is an excellent program for sectional track users and is easy to use. You can view the layout as a track plan or just the terrain or both together. It has 3D views as well.
Cadrail (http://cadrail.com/) is a more complicated program with lots of bells and whistles and may be more familiar to those who have had some training in computer assisted design. A companion program containing information about the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad can be purchased on their website as well.
Trainz by Auran (http://www.auran.com/trainz/) has lots of detail and lots of graphics that you can use for either simulated railroad operations, (including learning how to drive trains around on a virtual railroad), or for layout planning to the nth degree. This simulator is now available for PC and Mac. There is even a version for iPad!
Microsoft Train Simulator - another simulator program with lots of bells and whistles. Multiple add-ons are available for running many types of trains through different locales and scenery.
Other notable model train software programs include 3rD Plan-It by Eldorado (http://www.trackplanning.com/), and 3D Railroad: Concept and Design by Abracadata. Another one worth mentioning is called Train Player (http://www.trainplayer.com/) within which you can obtain over 100 predesigned track plans that you could use or modify for your own railroad.
Most of these programs have demo versions that you can download and practice with before you buy. I would highly recommend doing this. You may find out that pencil and paper are more to your liking albeit less technologically advanced.
If you decide to purchase one of these high-end programs like Trainz Simulator 2010, Engineers Edition Deluxe, be sure your computer has the strength for it. (Make sure you look at the system requirements for the particular program you wish to purchase and be sure your computer has all of those requirements and preferably more.) Also note that some are available only for PC’s and not for Mac’s. I know Railmodeler and Trainz are available for the Mac. 3D Railroad Concept and Design is only available for PC and the Classic version of Mac OX-10, not for Leopard. All of them have PC versions. Cadrail is PC only.
Model Train Graphics
This is another type of model railroad software that you will almost certainly find useful for your train layout not so much for planning purposes, but more for creation of signs, decals, old classic advertisements for your buildings or billboards, simulation of brick or stone walls, stained glass, window treatments, wallpaper, etc. Most of these are produced by Evans Designs.
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3d Overview of Cadrail-built layout with photo backdrop