Friday, February 27, 2009

Never Waste a Crisis

"Never waste a crisis." I didn't just make that up. I heard it on a cable news show recently. Its origins are probably ancient China. The obvious point is well known: a crisis brings change. It's often an opportunity, especially if we look for the opportunity with an open mind and act accordingly. Our global economic meltdown is one such crisis. I expect many things will change; most far more important than train simulation.

However, since this blog is about train simulation, the opportunity I'm speaking about is train simulation, especially for those who are not yet involved. If you need any economic reasons to look into train simulation as a "railroading fix," just have a look at the Walthers flyer that just arrived in my mailbox today. Walthers is the number one US supplier of everything model railroad and model railroad related. Their monthly flyer contains specially priced items for quick sale. Just quickly scanning the pages, I see in HO scale cabooses for $37.95 each, covered hopper cars for $21.98 each, and an EMD F3 diesel A-B set for $299.98. A 4-car set of NYCTA subway cars goes for $219.98. There's much less available in the smaller N scale where prices are somewhat lower. A standard 40 ft boxcar costs $15.98 and an RS-2 diesel switcher goes for $69.98. To be fair, you can find cheaper items as well as more expensive items at Walthers and in your local hobby shop. But generally speaking, you pay for what you get. So if you want quality appearance and performance, chances are the lowest priced items will not suffice (I DO have exceptions to this in my own collection, but not many).

If you want to build a model railroad, you will also need track, power control, buildings, scenery, vehicles and so on. (Did I mention space? Yes, there are clever things you can do in a shoebox.) Still, you could easily be in for $1000 before you had anything of consequence (unless you built a shoebox trolley layout, for example). By comparison, my year-old bottom of the line Dell laptop cost me under $500. On it I can run Microsoft Train Simulator ($7.50 at my VR Pro Shop), Trainz TRS2006 ($10 at my VR Pro Shop), and BVE versions 2 and 4 (both free). That's my total outlay. I have hundreds upon hundreds of add-on cars, locomotives layouts and so forth that I've downloaded for free. I've also contributed a lot of freeware myself, so it's not all take and no give.

Remember the 4-car subway set for just under $220? I have on Microsoft Train Simulator 3 great subway and elevated layouts - very nearly like the NYCTA prototypes, both in appearance and size - and a host of highly detailed and beautifully operating NYCTA/MTA rapid transit cars, including IND R10 in4 different paint schemes, IND R4 and R9 cars, IRT Gibbs cars, IRT Hedley cars, IRT Low-V cars, R15 cars in 2 paint schemes, R17 cars in 2 paint schemes, R22 cars, and R142A cars. Oh yes, I almost forgot the open end platform Third Avenue Elevated cars and the 19th century Manhattan Elevated tank locos. You couldn't physically build this much in layouts, let alone afford the rolling stock.

On Trainz I run Maine 2-footers and 30-inch gauge equipment. On BVE I run trains on routes from all around the world. My favorites are the London Underground routes and trains.

If you want to know more about train simulation, just visit my Virtual Railroader and V-Scaler websites. Both are loaded with articles covering all types of train/railroad sims. You will even find downloadable items and links to other sources of related interest.

If you have ever wondered about getting involved in train simulation, now is a great time. Don't let this economic crisis go to waste.

-- Al

Sunday, February 15, 2009

What’s My Favorite Train Sim?

Not that anyone has asked, but my favorite train sim is the one I'm using at any given moment - and generally I use five: Trainz Railroad Simulator 2006 (TRS2006), Locomotion, Microsoft Train Simulator (MSTS), BVE Train Simulator 2 (BVE2) and BVE Train Simulator 4 (BVE4). I've listed them in the order in which I want to talk about them.

TRS2006. Like all versions of Trainz, except the limited Driver Edition, which is really a demo, TRS2006 is known for its ease of building layouts. I LOVE building layouts, and the Trainz graphical approach fits me to a tee. If I didn't have TRS2006, I would pick its earlier sibling TRS2004. I haven't listed the newer versions, Trainz Classics and Trainz World Builder, because both place too high a demand on my PC's system resources.

Trainz has a few other things that I like: the ability to operate more than one train at a time and its dynamic industries, interactive passengers, and train emitting/receiving portals.

Locomotion. Since I'm on the subject of layout building, I might as well continue with Locomotion. Technically this is a corporate strategy game, but I use it to build empires based on a single theme - rapid transit or trolleys or buses or interurbans. I usually set the game up so that I have enough money - sometimes I challenge myself there - and no competition.

The nice thing about Locomotion, and similar games, is that as soon as you have some track and two destinations and some rolling stock you have a working model. It keeps working as you build it, so you are never bored and you can always take time to just watch the trains. It always looks good and complete, even though you are planning more track, etc.

There's plenty of competition in this category from Transport Tycoon Deluxe (TTD) (Locomotion's sibling predecessor), Open TTD, Railroad Tycoon (RRT), Transport Giant (TG) and several as-yet incomplete homegrown efforts. I prefer Locomotion because I like its graphics better, especially the curved track. I care less for RRT and TG because trains meeting in opposite directions pass through each other. TTD has a strong following based on its more challenging operation. I prefer the simpler mode. Both Locomotion and TTD have a large collection of freeware add-ons available.

MSTS. When I'm in the mood for rolling stock I reach for MSTS. The available collection of third-party freeware is astounding and second to none. I just love 1950s boxcars, and MSTS has many hundreds (thousands? - I really haven't counted). I also like the huge number of available Northeast items for the New Haven, the New York Central, the Pennsy, the Long Island and the other New York region and New England lines, not to mention the available rapid transit, interurban, trolley and commuter rolling stock available. I also like the graphic rendition in MSTS, which is always crisp.

MSTS is now almost eight years old, so it doesn't have some of the newer goodies that Trainz does, such as the ability to generate trains from portals and the ability to control any number of trains; but the realistic train dynamics can be a welcome (sometimes frustrating) challenge when operating a switching layout. The only bugaboo is the sometimes sticky couplers.

You might ask why I haven't listed the Kuju/EA Rail Simulator. I may someday if it ever catches up to MSTS in available rolling stock.

BVE2 and 4. These are the only freeware sims of the group. Even if I had to pay for them I would like and use them. They both offer an unparalled driving experience from the cab - realistic dynamics, sounds and graphics. Third-party developers have taken BVE4 to new heights when it comes to realistic train controls, requiring driver activity every 30 seconds or less to avoid automatic activation of emergency brakes, etc. This is partly why I often opt for BVE2, which has been developed this far and has as part of its interface an informative side panel. This panel has been sacrificed in BVE4 for full screen, higher resolution graphics. A new third-party utility now makes it possible to have high resolution viewing for BVE2 as well.

-- Al

Wayward Junction 2: The Update

New at the
VR Reading Room: "Wayward Junction 2: The Update."

The updated route is for TRS2006 with SP-1 installed. Improvements are centered around more reliable automatic train operation.


-- Al

Thursday, February 05, 2009

SUPER Rural Trolley Route for MSTS

If you like trolleys, you will LOVE this new route (just released) by Paul Charland for MSTS. It's a realistic simulation of the Springfield Terminal Street Railway in Vermont set in the early '50s. The prototype was covered in the April and May 1999 issues of Railroad Model Craftsman. You can get the route at, where you will also find a full roster of STR locos and combines.

The STR is perhaps the most famous - certainly the largest - of New England's rural interurban trolley lines. To have a true simulation of this classic is a great gift from Paul and those who contributed to his effort.


-- Al

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

MSTS 2 Postponed for Indefinite Period

It's official. TSInsider has acknowledged that the next version of MSTS is on hold indefinitely. The announcement goes on to say that MS game developments are being focused on Windows - Live, a free online gaming service.

My guess is that's the end of the road for development in any form of MSTS as we know it by Microsoft. If I were a developer - and I'm not - I would consider developing an advanced train sim that was backwardly compatible with MSTS. There are over 214,000 third-party freeware items available at alone. Then there's the British counterpart, UKTrainSim, and the many individual sites around the world. Any newcomer sim developer is going to have to offer far more than a few routes and some rolling stock to be of any interest to me. It would be a tough hill to climb without acknowledging the huge amount of investment in time and interest that's already out there. Since I don't think MSTS 2 had any promise of being backwardly compatible, it's maybe not such a bad thing that progress has stopped. It also makes me wonder of MSTS didn't already realize this when makingtheir decision to stop work.

The good news is that the old girl, MSTS, still has plenty of life left in her and those of us who aren't planning to upgrade our hardware anytime soon will not have to worry about being left out in the cold in these difficult economic times.

-- Al

Monday, February 02, 2009

Exploring the Wellsville, Addison & Galeton

It's Ground Hog Day and the sun is shining. I welcome the break from sub-zero nighttime (F) temperatures, but not the thought of 6 more weeks of winter.

Oh well. Snuggle up and do some reading at the VR Reading Room . The newest article is on an MSTS short line, the Wellsville, Addison & Galeton. MSTS fans need not be disappointed in the pending work stoppage of MSTS 2. The original still has plenty of life in it, as this route shows.

Cheers and stay warm!

-- Al