View Poll Results: Do you use a model railroad CAD application?

Voters
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  • 3rd PlanIt

    17 6.07%
  • Atlas RTS

    23 8.21%
  • CadRail

    9 3.21%
  • XTrkCad

    131 46.79%
  • Other

    47 16.79%
  • None

    53 18.93%
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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Location
    Lilburn, GA
    Age
    48
    Posts
    1,457

    Drawing a Track Plan with XTrkCad

    I have found several threads seeking advice on using model railroad CAD applications to draw track plans. Since I am starting to refine my rough track plan using "real" layout dimensions and I am in the process of learning XTrkCad, I thought it would be useful to post a running thread of my progress.

    I am currently designing a multi-level N-scale layout that fully occupies a 19x9' room. To this point, my track plan has been roughed-in using Micrsosoft Visio. However, I have now completed all of the benchwork and am ready to start installing roadbed and laying track. To do this, I want to have an actual precise track plan designed in a real model railroad CAD application so I can be sure that all of the track arrangements are correctly laid out complete with correctly engineered design elements such as easements.

    Over the years, I have used several model railroad CAD applications (CADRail, 3rd Plan-it, XTRkCad, etc.). However, I really was just playing around and never did any serious track planning. I have chosen XTrkCad this time around for two reasons: (1) the price is right (FREE!) and (2) I have seen several great track plans that were created using it. Since this thread represents my "learn as I go" experience, please feel free to offer corrections or improvements to my process where needed.

    I could go on and on but instead I'm just going to jump in and get started. Hope this thread proves to be helpful to others!

    Jamie

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Location
    Lilburn, GA
    Age
    48
    Posts
    1,457

    Part 1: Downloading XTrkCad

    Before getting started with XTrkCad, you will need to download the application and install it on your computer. As previously mentioned, XTrkCad is a free to download. There are two downloads that I found available: one for Windows and one for Linux. I downloaded the most recent version (4.0.2) of the Windows application. This is the version that I will be using for this thread. As of January 25, 2009, these can both be found on the upper right corner of the following web page:

    http://www.xtrkcad.org/Wikka/HomePage

    It should also be noted that there are a few tutorials available at the above URL. I completed all of them, but several sections are blank. Remember this a a free application and the content for these tutorials is provided by the community of users. When I have completed my track plan, I will check to see if there are any missing areas in the online tutorial that I can contribute to. There are also a complete set of demos within the actual application. I found these to be very helpful and they are the basis for how I will build my track plan.

    Jamie

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Location
    Lilburn, GA
    Age
    48
    Posts
    1,457

    Part 2: Saving a New Track Plan

    The first thing to do after installing XTrkCad is to create a new track plan matching the dimensions of the layout being designed. To do this, select the Layout > Options... menu item and complete the Layout Options dialog box. Here you specify the layout dimensions, a name & description of the layout, and the scale of the layout. Here is what this dialog looks like for my layout:



    Note that the layout dimensions are in inches (there is also support for metric units); my layout is 18'-2' x 9'-2", which comes out to 218" x 110".

    This track plan is then saved so that it can be reopened during the next work session. To save an XTrkCad track plan, select the File > Save menu item and complete the dialog box:



    After setting up the layout options and saving the track plan, here is what my blank layout worspace looks like in the XTrkCad application window:



    Jamie

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Location
    Lilburn, GA
    Age
    48
    Posts
    1,457

    Part 3: Layers

    The first thing I want to do when drawing a track plan is to draw the edges of the benchwork so I can see where everything needs to go. Before starting, it occurred to me that it would be nice to have the benchwork and the track in separate layers. This way, I could draw all of the benchwork in one layer, lock it down, then draw all the track in the next layer up. This would allow me to draw track without disturbing the benchwork and also insure that the track objects always came out "on top" of the benchwork.

    Most drawing applications support multiple layers and I was not surprised to find that XTrkCad does as well. They are very intuitive to use and after a few minutes of experimentation, I had my two layers setup and ready to go.

    To setup my Benchwork and Track layers, I used the Manage > Layers menu item to display the Layers dialog box. I setup layer #1 as the Benchwork layer by selecting layer #1 in the dropdown list, changing the name, and selecting orange as the color (this just seemed like a good color for my benchwork):



    Next, I did the same thing to make layer #2 the Track layer. Then I clicked the Done button to accept the changes and slected the File > Save menu item to save my changes.

    When you draw an object in XTrkCad, it gets created in the current layer. The current layer can be viewed and changed by using the dropdown list in the toolbar at the top left of the application window:



    The current layer displays in the dropdown list. To change the current layer, just pick a new selection. The buttons to the right of the dropdown list toggle which layers are visible or hidden. For example, to view my track without the benchwork, I could just click the orange 1 button (the color of the button matches the color you chose for the layer) to hide layer #1, then click it again to make it visible. Note that you can not hide the current layer.

    Finally, to get objects we draw on a layer to actually display using the colors we selected for each layer, you must select the Options > Display... menu item to display the Display Options dialog. Be sure to select the Color Layers - Other checkbox:



    This will cause any non-track objects drawn on a layer to be displayed in the color we selected for the layer. For now, I am not going to select the Track checkbox because drawing the track in the default color (black) is fine.

    Now, when I draw the first line on the benchwork layer, it will display in the color chosen for the layer (orange):



    Jamie

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Location
    Hunter Valley. Australia.
    Age
    46
    Posts
    1,857

    Thumbs up

    Well done Jamie,glad you went ahead & started the thread for XTrkCad.
    Its great to read about it in detail,thanks!
    My photo album
    Proud RailImages Supporter

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Location
    Sedona, AZ
    Age
    38
    Posts
    1,519
    Jamie, awesome, I'll follow along with your tutorial and try it with my layout. I've never tried any track planning software, I'm more a pencil and paper guy, but I'll give it a try anyhow.

    -Mike

  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2005
    Location
    Antioch, TN
    Age
    38
    Posts
    93
    Here's an XtrkCad tip that is not obvious (at least it wasn't for me). When placing track, you can rotate the track so that it connects up like you want it by holding down shift and right clicking. For example, if you want to connect a turnout to and existing line, grab the turnout and drag it down to the end of the track you are laying. Before you hit enter or space bar to place the track, hold down the shift button and click on the track one time and it will rotate so that a different end will be attached to the track. Do it again if you want to rotate to another connecting point. Once you have it lines up, hit the space bar or enter to finalize the track. This little tip will make placing turnouts and other sectional track a breeze.
    Last edited by deadgoon; January 28th, 2009 at 06:30 PM. Reason: corrected a small error
    http://josephbales.com/category/trains/ - My railroad related blog posts.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Location
    Lilburn, GA
    Age
    48
    Posts
    1,457

    Part 4: Table Edges

    XTrkCad has a special drawing tool called Table Edges that allows you to define the edges of your benchwork. Please note that while XTrkCad will allow you to draw all of the actual members of your benchwork (L-girders, joists, etc.), I am only going to draw the actual edges of the surface of the benchwork so I can see what space is available for track, structures and scenery.

    To select the Table Edges tool, you need to click the dropdown list next to the Line tool on the toolbar...



    ...and choose the Draw table edge item from the menu that appears. This will select the Table Edges tool and the toolbar will change accordingly:



    A table edge is a line with special properties: (1) it draws as a thicker line by default so it is easy to see the edges of your benchwork/table and (2) the endpoints of the lines are sticky; that is they tend to automatically attach to the ends of other table edges as you draw them. This latter feature is handy since it allows you to establish a few precisely placed table edges, then you can fill in any remaining edges by having the new lines automatically attach to the precicely placed ones. I will show how this works in the upcoming steps.

    For now, I am just going to put down the first table edge for my layout. With the Table Edges tool selected, I click with the left mouse button where I want the line to start. I then drag the mouse to the point where I want the line to end and release the mouse button. Here is the first table edge line:



    You will notice a few things right away. First, the line draws in the color orange because that is the color we selected for the Benchwork layer and that is the layer that was selected before I drew the line (you can see the selected layer in the dropdown list in the toolbar at the upper left sie of the application window).

    Second, you can see that I have just sort of slapped this line into place without any real care. This is OK, since the next step will show how to position this line precisely where I want it. With XTrkCad, it is possible to draw precise lines using the X and Y coordinates displayed at the bottom of the screen, although I have found it much easier (and quicker) to roughly position an element and then come back and move it to its exact position. Feedback on this technique would be appreciated!

    Jamie

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Mar 2000
    Location
    Fort Jones, State of Jefferson
    Age
    77
    Posts
    4,075
    Great information! I had considered trying XTrkCad in the past, but like Mike I have always been a pencil & paper guy. I'm inspired now so maybe I'll download the software and give it a try just to see if I can understand it. Thanks for starting this thread.
    Bill
    Trainboard member #13
    Get Goosed on the Yreka Western

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    Alabama
    Posts
    38
    I've hated every track planning software I've tried to use. I'm just not patient enough and computers hate me.
    CSXT

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