Train Driving Simulators

There are two train driving simulator programs able to be run on a PC, which are readily available for download to try out and then buy if you are suitably impressed. Both are different in their approach, and I believe both are due great credit.

I have actually purchased both after evaluating them in their "shareware" versions... that is not to say that they do not have limitations... in fact all programs fail to deliver in one way or another.

Until recently, I spent a number of years evaluating Computer Aided Design (CAD) software for a monthly magazine, and the approach I always took was to look at the good side of each. Only twice in seven years did I completely slam a product... in one case it was an application produced as an experiment in coding by someone who had no idea how it would be used. In the other case it was a "sawn-off" version of a multi-thousand dollar product promoted through the commercial viewpoint of a company complacently assuming it was still market leader with a lousy entry level product, and an over-priced main product.

The two Train Driving Simulators I have selected here are both quality programs in their simulation of kinetic energy, momentum, mass, velocity, tractive effort, and the other characteristics which make up the dynamic movement of a particular "train", and "engine(s)" (as defined in the program) and the "route" over which it travels (as defined in the program). The 'feel' you get driving both of these programs corresponds well with what you would feel actually seated in real life.

 

TrainMaster was the first I looked at. I was led there completely accidentally by a button on a website promoting "Train Despatcher", which I discovered was purely an application which simulated a CTC panel operator's task. This was not of much interest to me personally, so I took the link, and discovered a DOS application with marvellous sound, and an impressive control panel reminiscent of a rearranged EMD second generation driver's control stand, and a pictorial view of the train sideways on, climbing a profile chart occupying the half of the screen.

I actually was hesitant in taking the link, wondering if the product was a simulation of the Fairbanks-Morse first generation diesels of the 1950s/60s in the US, in which I had little interest. The Fairbanks-Morse "TrainMaster" was a (at that time) high powered hood locomotive which did not see very much service compared with the EMC/EMD and Alco products of the same era. The Fairbanks-Morse locomotives used a tried and proved marine diesel engine, designed for US Navy submarines for WW2 service.

Around the same time as I heard about TrainMaster (at the end of 1998), I saw a photocopied ad in a model train shop window in Adelaide, promoting "Australian tracks" for a German driving simulator, called RailSim. I made a note in the back of my diary and looked up the url given and found another DOS program, but this time with less in the way of beautiful instruments, without any sound. However, it did have through the front window graphics which moved as you ran the selected train along the selected route. I still preferred TrainMaster because, I suppose, of its software engineering appearing to having had more attention.

I showed these both programs to our nine-year old grandson, who tried them both and surprised me by favouring the through the window view of RailSim.

In discussion with him, I realised that the very simple DOS graphics actually were very realistic, particularly when you consider that you are more interested in seeing if the aspect of the signal round the next bend is red, rather than whether the trees in the cutting you are in are in the right place, and have the right shape.

The authors of both programs had been promoting the fact throughout 1999 that windows versions were in preparation, but without definite release dates at that stage. TrainMaster also advised that their windows version would incorporate through the driver's window route graphics as well, but that was a twelve month wait-and-see situation.

 

I tried to follow up on the "Australian tracks for RailSim" and drew a blank at every turn. So I set about constructing a route myself for the Adelaide to Tailem Bend "Main South Line" of the old South Australian Railways. Section length is limited to 100 miles in the American version of RailSim... I opted for this because of two important things.

Adelaide to Tailem Bend is 75 miles, approximately, and climbs a 1 in 40 (2- 1/2 percent) ruling grade in both directions to the summit near Mount Lofty over about half its route. The line is also nearly continuous reverse curves of 10 chains (220yards) radius over the same distance. These two factors make it an challenging route to drive in real life. This route is now virtually complete as a set of RailSim files, with several variations in progress.

The registered version of RailSim comes with a track editor. There is an inexpensive third-party application which comes with a locomotive editor, from which I was able to construct many of the Australian variants of overseas off-the-shelf locomotives by Alco, English Electric and GM. This same add-on also comes with a far more versatile track editor, but due to file format, does not work with the US version of RailSim which is a great pity.

 

TrainMaster, unfortunately, does not come with a create-your-own-tracks facility. Perhaps this is because of the different approach their design team took.

The new version of TrainMaster 4, which runs in windows 95/98/2000 and Millenium, as a windows application which needs the full focus of the operating system, has been released in its commercial version.I was fortunate to beta-test it. It certainly has through the window graphics as well as sound. You can even also use two of the function keys to rotate your view through 360 degrees if you wish!

TrainMaster can be reached at their website at www.trainmaster.com

The shortcut keys used in the DOS version 3 TrainMaster to control dynamic, automatic and independant brake, throttle, horn and bell still all work; this means if you have constructed a control stand that simulates the keypresses of these functions, you are in clover. It is a magnificent program, and well worth acquiring. I have tested the Beta version. The full version 4 product is now available, but be warned, it needs a massive amount of memory, and video card to match.

 

There is a link you can take further down, to go and look at a series of pages I have written about the Australian RailSim project I have embarked upon, hoping that the windows version of RailSim, when it comes, will be able to utilise RailSim-US format tracks. The support I have had from what I call "real railwaymen" in getting hold of the data needed to construct the Australian routes currently planned has been really wonderful.

 

I am working on a commercially viable driver's control stand project that could be made to work with either TrainMaster or RailSim (but not both... the shortcut keys are different). Details are currently able to be seen on my Australian RailSim page, which has now relocated to its own exclusive website at http://railsim-australian.freeservers.com.

It is likely that two control stand variants will be available... firstly a modern desktop control type, and secondly a similar unit to the second generation EMD Roller switch controller. Watch this space!

 

It is my belief that while these two applications are still imperfect, they show enough potential to be able to build on the groundwork each has laid, and to grow the already enthusiastic user base each has.

I unreservedly recommend both products (which of course are different in the way they work) as being fine products which take little extra imagination to become virtual reality; I believe they are worth their relatively small cost, particularly when compared with that of Micro$oft's programs - and M$'s inherently lower reliability and greater hunger for system resources than those produced by real program developers.

RailSim comes from program author Jens Schubert.
Critiques about this product appear to have vanished, as have the ones about TrainMaster 4, also published at www.vernsrailpages.org.uk which appears to have closed down. TrainMaster has since been sold to the owners of RailDriver.

 

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Updated on 1st July 2006