One of the most essential planning & construction techniques to get problem free trackwork is the use of easements. Basically, an easement is a transition between straight track and a curve. If you use sectional track, you do not have the ability to include easements because when you join a straight piece of track to a curved piece of track, the joint represents an immediate change from straight to curve. This abrupt change can be problematic when encountered by locomotives and cars. Without easements, you can get derailments caused by the ends of longer cars wanting to swing outwards as they encounter the curve.
Real railroads have this same problem and must include easements into the engineering of their track alignments. This engineering involves lots of complex calculations to produce the appropriate track geometry. Fortunately, track planning software makes it simple for those of us without degrees in mathematics to include easements when we design our track plans. In XtrackCAD, including easements in our track plans is as simple as making a few clicks with your mouse. To begin, click the Easement button on the toolbar:
In the above image, notice that the button reads Easement None. This indicates the easements option is turned off and easements will not automatically be created when we draw our track plan. When you click this button, you are presented with the Easement dialog box:
Notice that there are four options for easements in XtrackCAD: None, Sharp, Normal and Broad. When you select one of these options other than None, the fields in the dialog box automatically change to reflect their new values. Since I have a large layout, I prefer to use broad easements so I select that option. Selecting this option yields a minimum radius of 16.5”, which is good since the minimum radius I have established for visible curves on my layout is 15”:
When you click the Done button, the button on the toolbar changes to reflect the new easements setting:
It's a good idea to check this button to make sure easements are setup correctly before you join any track.
One final word on easements with regards to my layout. As you know, I laid out my existing track before I had a track plan. So how did I design my easements? I use spline roadbed on my layout. One of the many advantages to using this type of roadbed is that you get natural easements when you lay out your roadbed. Even though I am using spline roadbed, I still want to include easements in my track plan because I may need them if I ever use a different type of roadbed such as laying my track on sheets of extruded foam. Plus, there really is no reason not to include easements unless you are building a track plan comprised entirely of sectional track.
So far we have drawn some simple circles and lines on our track plan, which is really no different that what we could have done with a pencil and paper. However, we are about to see where the magic really happens in XtrackCAD: joining tracks. After we complete this step, our basic shapes will start looking like a real well-engineered mainline.
Not surprisingly, you use the Join tool to join track:
We are going to join the straight track to the large radius turnback curve. One of the advantages of the join tool is its ability to join together different types of track, such as straight track to a circle in our example. I have zoomed in on the following screen images to make the join operation more clear.
After selecting the join tool, click one of the tracks to be joined in an area near the join. Don't worry about clicking in a precise location, since you will be able to control the precision of the join in just a moment. When you do this, a red circle is drawn on the track to show that the join action has been initiated:
Next, click the other track in the approximate area of the join and keep the mouse button held down. When you do this, the application will draw a new track between the two tracks being joined:
You can then drag the mouse and the track join will change as you drag; this allows great flexibility in joining track exactly as you want. When you are happy with the join, release the mouse button and the two tracks are joined:
A few things to notice in the above image: First, we ended up with two sections of track between our original tracks. These two sections represent the easement (the shorter track joined to the straight track) and the actual curve of the join. Second, notice that the two sections of track we joined were trimmed appropriately to give us our desired outcome. In other words, the straight track was trimmed and now transitions nicely into the curve with an easement, and the circle of track is no longer a circle but instead is our turnback curve that we wanted.
These next three images show how I used the same join operation described in the previous post to join the straight track to the circle track on the helix base:
Finally, here is an overview of the entire lower level track plan so far:
With just some simple pointing and clicking, we have established a nicely flowing mainline complete with easements at all transitions from straight track to curves. Not bad, but the best is yet to come!
So far we have learned how to draw circle tracks, straight tracks, and how to join tracks together with easements. Using these same simple techniques, I finished the mainline through the Emerson scene of the layout.
First, I drew three straight sections of track:
I have selected these new sections of track so they are highlighted in red and can be easily seen. Notice how I have drawn these tracks longer than they actually are. This makes it easier to join the tracks together. Plus, XtrackCAD will automatically trim excess track as needed so always make the tracks as long as you like to simplify the joining process.
In this next image, I have performed the three joins just as I did in the previous post. The tracks now have a nice smooth flow just like on the actual layout:
The final image shows the overall track plan so far with the mainline completed through Emerson:
We have completed drawing the existing mainline through the Emerson scene of the layout. There is also a long passing siding in Emerson, and we need to draw this as well. Here is a view of the track arrangement in Emerson looking down the aisle from the helix:
The turnout at the south end of the passing siding can be seen to the right ahead of the Conrail locomotive sitting on the passing siding; the north turnout can be seen at the left just ahead of the CSX locomotive. We will first add the south turnout to the track plan.
On my layout, all of my turnouts are of the Atlas N-scale code 55 variety. XTrackCAD comes with several predefined track libraries for just about every line of commercial track available on the market (including Atlas code 55 in N scale). Before you can use any of these track libraries, you must first add them to the application. This is done by selecting the File > Parameter Files... menu item, which displays the Parameter Files dialog box:
In the above image, you can see I have selected the Atlas N-Scale Code55 entry in the list of available parameter files. When the application was first installed, there were no parameter files selected. I had to open the Parameter Files dialog box and use the Browse... button to select the appropriate parameter file. On my Windows 7 system, XTrackCAD installed all of the parameter files in the following folder:
C:\Program Files (x86)\XTrkCAD 4.0.3a\share\xtrkcad\params
I navigated to this folder and selected the atlasn55.xtp file, which was then added to the list of parameter files. I then checked the box next to the parameter file and clicked the OK button, making the track library available to me in XTrackCAD. Afterward, the various sections of track available in the Atlas N-Scale code 55 product line are displayed in the selection bar at the top of the application window:
Once we have made the appropriate track library available in XTrackCAD as described in the previous post, we can begin to use sections of track in the track plan. The first thing we will add is the left hand turnout at the south end of the Emerson passing siding. All of my mainline turnouts have #10 frogs, so we want to select the appropriate turnout from the selection of track at the top of the application window:
Once the correct piece of track has been selected, I click the section of straight track where I want the turnout to be added and continue to hold the mouse button down. By dragging along the track, you can control where you want the turnout to be inserted. By dragging on either side of the track, you can control the orientation of the turnout: the diverging leg of the turnout will always go to the opposite side of the track where you drag the mouse. The proposed turnout position changes as you drag the mouse and does not get created until you release the mouse button and press the <ENTER> key. For example, in the image below, I clicked the mouse on the mainline where I wanted the turnout to be inserted, the dragged the mouse above the mainline so the diverging leg of the turnout would go below the mainline:
While the turnout is being positioned, it is drawn in blue, indicating it can still be moved around. Finally, after releasing the mouse and pressing the <ENTER> key, the turnout is inserted right where I wanted it and in the correct orientation:
In the previous post we added the first turnout to the mainline. When we did this, we not only got the turnout but also some text to go along with it. This text is the part number of the turnout we added as well as the lengths of the adjacent sections of track. I have no particular interest in this information and find that it clutters the track plan. Thankfully, it is possible to suppress this information by selecting the Options > Display... menu item to display the Display Options dialog box:
To hide the unwanted labels, uncheck the options for Track Descriptions and Length and click the OK button. The track plan will be redrawn without the labels:
XTrackCAD has a lot of tools that do really cool things. For example, we have already seen how the Join tool magically connects two sections of track using smooth transition curves called easements. Another nifty tool that I use often is the Parallel Track tool:
As its name implies, this tool is useful for quickly adding a new track that runs parallel to an existing section of track. We will use this tool to draw the start of the south end of the Emerson passing siding that will be connected to the diverging leg of the turnout we added in a recent post.
When you click the toolbar button for the Parallel Track tool, the Separation field appears in the status bar at the bottom of the application window:
The value entered in this field controls the distance between the existing track and the new section of parallel track. On my layout, I use track centers spaced 1.5” apart, so I have entered that value in the Separation field as shown in the above screen image.
Once you have entered the separation value, all you need to do is click the existing track section where you would like to create the new parallel track. In our lesson, we want to click the section of track immediately to the left (railroad north) of the turnout we placed in a recent post. When you click this section of track, XTrackCAD draws a new parallel track based on the position of your mouse. By holding down the mouse button, you can drag to either side of the existing section of track to determine where the new track will be placed. In this screen image, the track has been drawn above the existing section of track because I had the mouse slightly above the existing track when I clicked:
I then dragged the mouse below the existing track so the new track would be placed in the correct location. Releasing the mouse button drops the new track right where I want it:
Once again, click-type-click-done! Perfectly placed parallel siding, no ruler required.
For the next part of the tutorial we will continue working north from the south end of the Emerson passing siding. This siding runs adjacent to the existing mainline, with track centers spaced 1.5” apart. We have already covered all of the required steps in detail, so I will just skim over the next steps until we get to something new.
First, I drew a track circle for the turnback curve at the end of the aisle. Since the mainline circle is centered at (26”, 26”) and has a radius of 22”, the new circle has the same center but has a radius of 20.5” (22” minus the 1.5” difference in track centers). Here is the circle:
Next, we use the Join tool to connect the parallel track (drawn in the previous post) to the diverging leg of the turnout. Here is how the track looks after the join:
We do one more join to connect the parallel track to the new track circle. Immediately following the join we have this:
Next, we zoom out to see how everything looks overall so far: