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TrainPlayer 5.1

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TrainPlayer is a two-dimensional model railroad simulation system based on track plans and maps. The user starts with a plan (or a blank tabletop), draws track and scenery using custom tools, then introduces rolling stock and trains and runs them using a simulated control panel. Libraries of track plans, locomotives, rolling stock, scenery, sounds, and other components are included. Special features include an operations system for generating industries, switchlists, and waybills (consignment notes); a scripting language for automating train operations; and a new mechanism for virtually building and running modular club layouts.

We first saw TrainPlayer on Model Rail Forum when our good American friend Dennis David recommended it back in 2005. Since then many aspects have changed.

With the latest release from TrainPlayer Software (version 5.1), the British model railway enthusiast with a Windows computer can run simulated British locomotives and rolling stock on track plans and rail yards from around the U.K. It is virtual railway modelling, British style.

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British rolling stock. Version 5.1 brings you over 600 new types of British and European railway wagons, coaches and locomotives - old British steam engines, modern diesels and electrics, compact freight cars, Thomas the Tank Engine cars, models from Hornby and Bachmann - all rendered in detail in miniature.

Here for example is a sampling from the new UK Steam collection:

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British Layouts. The British collection comprises six folders with over 120 new UK-flavoured layouts - plans from Railway Modeller magazine and, original designs by C. J. Freezer, contributions from British users, satellite-photo layouts of well-known British rail stations and rail-heavy industrial areas all over the U.K. - all equipped with track and industries, prepared for ops, and ready to run.

Here are some samples. Click picture for larger image:
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Arrival at Midsomer SojournCJ Freezer's Minories - TP adaptation
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Compton St. GilbertEast Linden Station
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Train Meet at Baddlesmere StationShunting in Stowhurst

Also see the latest featured layout: the Buckingham Great Central, a busy English railway centre of early last century, designed and built by the Rev. P. B. Denny. We thank Railway Modeller for permission to use this and other layouts from their archives.

Automatic Download. All the new British data is on the web, available to all licensed users. A small subset of it is delivered with the installer. If you choose UK settings at install time, then the first time the program starts it makes you a convenient offer: with one click it will download the entire set of British layouts, rolling stock, scenery, and sounds. One ten-minute download gets you the whole set, installed locally and readily available.

Here, below left, is the main screen showing the cab controller being used on the Turtle Creek Central layout. Below right, modular planning and operations made easy (ideal for clubs to plan ahead). Click picture for larger image:

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Having a go and getting to grips with the software. I was keen to upload my home layout and see how locos and trains could be modelled on TrainPlayer 5.1. I was surprised at how simple it was to get started. In no time I had my mainline working with a little goods train running along.

So this is the basic plan I used of my layout in its current state (less the one return loop - more on that later). I uploaded a hi-resolution version of it which helped with detailed track-laying.

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Track construction. Building the track up is very easy with the TrackLayer/Builder version of the software - a simple matter of following the track on your plan using a collection of drawing tools (straight, curved, turntable etc.). When one line of track intersects another a set of points is automatically created or if you cross an existing line, a crossing or even a double slip can be defined. Track connects easily as as soon as you have laid a section, you can have a loco running on it - the software does the rest.

Sightly more complex is defining hidden areas and tunnels, but it is really not hard once you have mastered the technique.

The built-in help is quite good and you can even email the development team and arrange for phone support. If you do try it out, ask questions here too as I know a few forum members use the software.

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In the image above, you see a train leaving a tunnel on the mainline. The tunnel is not shown on the plan, but it is there on the layout (see here). In the image on the lower right, another train is exiting a tunnel that brings the track from one of the return loops. When in the hidden areas, the trains are shown as an outline. For the moment, I'm leaving the narrow gauge line (in orange) alone.

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Points (switches) are shown by three coloured squares: by default green for the lead rail and a green and red on the exit rails with the green being the rail that the points is set to. When you hover your mouse pointer over the set of points, a blue square appears in the middle of the set of points and when you click on the blue square, the points are thrown.

Playing with trains. One may initially wonder what the point of it all is. Why simulate a model railroad when you can go out and play with your layout in the shed. As some of you may know, I have a layout that is about 6 years old and it is not finished. I hope I never finish it as when that day comes I may just have to trash it and start again, but I have had immense fun building it and adding slowly to the layout over the years. But it is not fully compete - according to my plan. My East section and the 2nd return loop is not complete. I have always wondered how exactly will it all run when it is all built and this software now allows me to test just that. It has got me so excited about finishing off that loop that this week I have made arrangements to do just that.

So the TrainPlayer software can help you design a layout. Sure it is not a track design tool, but once you have your rough plan (and it can be drawn on the back of a napkin) - you can simulate operations and see how things work. If it is not quite right or not how you desire, you can easily make changes and adjust your plan, perhaps avoiding costly mishaps on the real layout. I had to remove some track a few years ago when I realised that what I had just wouldn't work. If I had had this software, I could have found the problem before laying track.

Is it a sim? Is it a game? Is it a tool to help you design or run your layout? In my opinion, the software can be used a building tool and also used just for fun. Explore some of the old C. J. Freezer plans and see how models would run on them before building them. Figure out if a particular shelf layout is the right one for you and your room. Or determine if you would rather change scale and the whole model world you build before you commit to something and get halfway though before quitting. It is also fun as you can spend time just playing. And it does simulate your layout operations - so all three of my questions are answered in the affirmative.

This software isn't there for you to create havoc, crash trains and concoct disasters - as much as some may like. Trains in the software by default don't derail, trains on a collision course gently rebound and when a line goes off the plan, the train comes quietly back. As with the hobby, the aim is not to destroy and break things, but to enjoy the running of trains. When the operation goes smoothly, plenty of satisfaction is to be had just from getting the shunting right, keeping the mainline trains running and getting wagons from one point to another. You can actually set trains to crash. When they do, they stop and derail until dragged a little whereupon the train is magically put together again on the rails.

Note that this is American software. It is not a "British Version" but rather it is "U.S. Version with British Content". So there are still some U.S. terms in the software that you may or may not be familiar with. What we on this side of the pond call "rolling stock" or "railway vehicle" (including wagons and coaches, the Americans sum up as "cars" (freight cars, passenger cars etc.) so don't get too confused.

Here below, a video of the trains running on my layout plan. Remember the whole process can be as simple or as complex as you make it (I am not sure if I would have 4 trains all running at once on my mainline, but this shows that it can be done):

TrainPlayer 5.1 is available in two packages: TrainPlayer/Operator, the basic system for driving trains with scripting and ops ($59 = £36 = €46); and TrackLayer/Builder, which adds track and scenery tools plus additional layouts and content ($99 = £61 = €77). Products can be purchased online from the company website using Visa, Mastercard, or Paypal, to be delivered by immediate download or on DVD for an additional $10 shipping charge. TrainPlayer runs on Windows Vista or 7, requires an internet connection or DVD drive to obtain full content. A free full-featured demo of the system is available by download for a 30-day trial period. See for full details.

DFT - October 2012
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