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(How) Do You Test Your Layout Design?

Started by Tom Springer, August 16, 2017, 05:51:53 AM

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Tom Springer

At various times in the forum, I've talked about using TrainPlayer to test out designs. I was asked why one should do this. Here's my response in context of why I think using TrainPlayer to see if one's design actually works is worthwhile.

When I started years ago to use AnyRail to build layout designs I wondered how I'd be able to test things before I actually built any of them. My basic question was: how do I know this design will work as I think it does? As a software developer for over 30 years, I was used to having various testing systems to see if what we wrote actually worked as we were sure it did. And for new platforms, we built simulators of the new platform architecture to test with before the actual hardware was created. Now that I was creating AnyRail layout designs in my retirement years, how was I going to test them before actually building them. "Looks good on paper" ... yea, been there ...

Then I read about TrainPlayer in one of the other entries in this forum, and found out that AnyRail layouts can be used with TrainPlayer.

Was my need for a means to test my layout design found? Turns out the answer, for me, was Yes.

TrainPlayer allows me to create trains with the locomotives and actual cars I want, with the 'correct' lengths for each of them - depending on the type of scale coupler I want to use, I can adjust the TrainPlayer-provided car's length to be exactly what I want for the actual car I'd operate on the physical layout; I could make it "longer" than standard if I wanted - margin for error and such.

Now I could actually verify that trains on passing sidings wouldn't foul switch points or interfere with any passing trains (no collisions is a good thing). I could actually operate my yard design and see if it worked as I thought it did. I could verify that my industries could be serviced as I thought they would be. And I was often ... wrong. Thankfully I found these things out before I actually laid any track. Even though TrainPlayer doesn't have all the cars for my railroad of choice - the DRGW - it does have similar cars drawn (painted and logo'ed) for other roads that I could use, especially in the Chris Pedersen collection. And it let me copy whatever cars I want into my own personal collections. I now have quite a collection of cars for my DRGW road. And they all say DRGW, because TrainPlayer also allowed me to build my own car images. I could build a car from scratch as I did for the Troop Sleepers that the DRGW used/converted for their MOW service. I could also "borrow" an existing TrainPlayer car from one of the collections and using an image editor, I "repainted" the car in the color scheme I wanted - one of the DRGW schemes was my choice. I then created a whole set of DRGW engines, each individually numbered, so I could build realistic consists as I needed them and when I looked at them, the road numbers "were correct" - especially useful to me when I moved parts of an incoming train around a yard or service area; having consists with different engines, differing lengths, I wanted to check that storage tracks, service tracks, even turntable leads were right across different locomotive types.

In TrainPlayer, I found the test simulator I was looking for.

Granted, this is not what TrainPlayer was created for - it is intended to be "virtual railroad operations" for people who don't have their own model railroad, and it provides a large number of layouts one can choose to use or one can build their own in TrainPlayer. Those won't be as good IMHO as AnyRail layouts, but the 2 worlds are different.

Thankfully, TrainPlayer DOES allow AnyRail layouts to be used - export from AnyRail and import into TrainPlayer and you are ready to begin testing - that's what I found out awhile back and now I couldn't live without it.

So I wonder ...

When designing your layout, how do you test it to see if it works as designed? Do the sidings you have actually hold the right number of cars you want? Do the yard tracks work as you want? Do the yards operate as you want? Can you make up or break apart your trains in your yard? If you have an engine service area, how does it actually operate, not as you think it should, but when trains are actually in place, does everything work as you want? Do your industries function as you think they should when you place cars on the tracks?

I thought my designs did these things correctly. I often was wrong. But after testing, I got them fixed ... and I didn't have to lay track and test and rip it up and re-design or start all over ... at some unexpected but not insignificant expense.

Measure twice, cut once ... for a layout design, to me, that's testing it virtually before building it ... the same principle.

That's my answer to the question I was asked ... answered publicly instead of privately in case anyone else wondered why  I periodically recommend testing layouts via TrainPlayer. It saved me many times. I've become an advocate for using it to test AnyRail designs.

(And, btw, before you ask ... I don't have any financial interest in TrainPlayer... I pay for it like everyone else. And I'm not a "paid spokesman" ... these are all my own words.)
Tom Springer

(Unintentional Pyromaniac)

Bob Bryce

Modified 8/16/17:

I cannot say enough about how much Train Player has helped finding and resolving problems with my layout. 

I have Train Player, Track Layer and the Pedersen cars.  I highly recommend spending the little extra money and getting Track Layer instead of just Train Player.  With Train Player, you can import your layout, build trains and run them.  With Track Layer, you can improve your layout, make updates and resolve issues without importing the layout everytime you make a change.   

I can export my layout from Anyrail, import into Train Player, create all the trains I have engines and rolling stock for and test both running operations and clearances.   I can actually build each of my trains using the exact car sizes that I have, the exact engines that I have and see how it runs on my tracks.  I can (and have) found issues with clearances between tracks, especially in parallel turns, found that my passing sidings were not long enough for my actual train lengths and even found that my yards would not work as I wanted them, all before I built the layout.

An interesting thing I found was that when I export my layout, it imports the layout in a JPG image and lays track where the Anyrail track is found.  There are no trains at this point.

As you build trains, you can label the cars and locos and run them on the tracks just as you would, like your layout shows.  But, then you make a change to your layout.  When you export the new layout from Anyrail and import it into Train Player, all of your trains are gone, and you need to start over.

However, if you export the layout from Anyrail, and just load it into train Player without doing the import, the image of the new layout will be shown and all of your trains will still be there.  Good, but too good to be true at this point. 

The issue is, the imported image will show your track in picture form and the Train Player software will show the track where the rails actually are.  Normally they are both in the same location.   

But when make a change to the layout in Anyrail and then you just re-load the changed image into Train Player without doing an Import, all of the trains will be there, all of the new scenery and track images will be there, but the Train Player tracks will still be in the same locations as before, and they will not be aligned with where the new tracks are shown to be in the JPG view.   

So one way you get the new images with the Train Player tracks in the correct location, but no trains, and the other you get the new image with your trains, but the Train Player tracks are in the wrong location.

This is why I recommend buying Track Layer.  You get both Train Layer and Track Layer together, so when you update the Anyrail images, you can manually correct where the Train Player tracks are located by moving the existing track, removing existing track or adding more track.  All you need to remember is to export using the same layout name, and don't import, just load the same file into Train Player.  The trains will then remain intact.

You decide which is easier.  If you only have a few cars and generic locomotives, it may be easier to import the Anyrail layout each time and re-generate the trains.  In my case, I have a double decker layout with 8 trains, 2 yards, and several industries with rolling stock.  It would take me a week to re-generate the correct trains using my specific components.  That is why I just load the JPG overlay and fix the Train Player tracks manually, using the Anyrail overlay as a guide.

As far as rolling stock goes, since I bought the Pederson collection of rolling stock, I have contacted Jim at Train Player with requests for specific items with specific road names that were not available in Train Player, and they have made them very quickly, and to exact detail and size.  So far they have made the Alaska Railroad locomotives and the McKinley Explorer and Alaska Princess passenger cars.  The passenger cars did not exist anywhere, so I could not scale them.  All it took was an email and they did it.  These people are really great.

Overall, I consider the purchase of Train Player to be one of my best moves to enhance Anyrail, and I have a far better level of comfort with my layout design BEFORE I started building it.

The Track Planner

Having designed hundreds of track plans, in all scales, shapes, and sizes. I read with interest Mr. Springer's post regarding Train Player and Mr. Bryce's product confirmation and response. Some of the questions asked later in the postings, caught my attention.
First, I use AnyRail almost exclusively. I have never used Train Player to "test" a plan. So, I cannot, confirm its advantages or disadvantages; thus, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the product.
What I would like to comment on is the questions, regarding passing siding lengths, industry sidings lengths, making and breaking up trains in yards, etc.
My clients assume, I know the answers to these questions, ahead of time, or they wouldn't be willing to spend money with me. the interesting thing is , I don't know the answers, ahead of time. They don't understand, the most important parts of the design process, has nothing to do with the track plan. Before starting the design phase, I need to know a lot more about them and what they want from the layout.

I need to know 1) the size and shape of the area, 2) what is the square footage, 3) are there any obstructions (doors, windows, support posts, stairways, etc.), 4) what scale, 5) what era, 6) is there a specific geographical area represented, 7) do they want a modern double track mainline railroad or a small branch line railroad, 8) do they want a single level or multiple levels, 9) will they be operating the layout by themselves or will they hold formal op sessions, 10) do they want staging yards, 11) do they want prototypical operations, or do they simply want to sit back and "watch" trains run? These are but a few of the questions, I ask before ever starting a plan.
Which brings me to the questions asked in the earlier postings.

Passing sidings... determining the length of a passing is dependent on numerous factors. Most important being 1) the longest train length that would "look" prototypical based on the layouts overall size, and 2) if the layout has staging yards, what is the longest staging track? The first one, is the tough one, because many clients want to run trains that are way too long for the layouts size. I tend to base passing siding lengths on the longest staging track or the length of the arrival/departure track(s), not what the client wants to run.

Making up and breaking apart trains in a yard... yard track lengths or even the number of yard tracks, again, is not the most important thing. If you want a yard to function properly, you need to design a "workable" yard, one with arrival/departure tracks, and a yard lead. On my plans, I try to design yard leads that are at least 125% to 150% longer than the arrival/departure tracks. Anything shorter and the yard can become "unworkable". The bigger mistake, is not designing arrival and departure tracks, into the yard. I see too many plans where there is no arrival/departure track and no yard lead, thus, switching the yard, ends up fouling the main, bringing traffic (on the layout) to a sudden halt.

Do industries function as you think they should... if you have an understanding of prototypical operations and how the real railroads operate, this should not be a concern. Obviously, you want your industry spurs to work correctly, based on a specific industry. If you're designing a large grain elevator complex having just one track doesn't work, but if you're designing a rural Coop elevator, one track, holding three or four cars, is all you may need.

Which brings me to my final point regarding Train Player and using it to find problems...

I do see "some value" in a program like Train Player, but personally, I feel, the modeler could better spend his time learning how the real railroad works. While, spending time, designing engines and rolling stock, specific to your model railroad, may be fun and interesting, does it really teach you, why the real railroads do certain things, in certain situations? Many of the things, Train Player "may" find wrong with your plan, could be avoided, in the first place, with a better understanding of prototypical operations.

Lastly, I tell potential clients, if you are having problems with your design, spend a little time, do a little research, and find out how the real railroads solved the problem. I highly doubt, there is a prototypical problem, you can name, that a real railroad hasn't already solved, some way some how. Bottom line... don't try and reinvent the wheel. Just my opinion!