Virtual Model Railroading



Imagine having unlimited space to build your layout, and money to buy all the locomotives and rolling stock you desire. You could model your favourite route without compromise. Don't expect all the structures and locos to be available, so we will plan to have a fully equipped modelling shop to build what we need and a team of modellers to help with the work. Selective compression would be a thing of the past. Prototype curves - no problem. Large yards - go ahead and model every switch. 100 car trains - easy. This model railroad would surely have accurate sounds - and not just for the locomotives. Why not model the sounds of trackside industries, the clickety clack of wheels passing over complicated switchwork and more. How about a camera inside the locomotive so you could see your route from the engineer's perspective. And, let's get a custom throttle built for each locomotive with controls that match those found in the prototype and accelleration, braking and momentum just like the real thing. We will model the entire route - 100 miles is no problem. It's going to take a while to build this masterpiece, so lets have one of the commercial layout builders install a layout on the second floor so we have a finished model to use while our route is under construction. We will include realistic signal systems, timetables, and lots of automated trains to provide competing traffic for added excitement and challenge. A great model like this should be shared so we will take a lot of pictures, show them on our own web site and maybe get some published in the hobby magazines.

Wow! You might be surprised to learn this is all possible with the new hobby of Virtual Model Railroading. We build our model railroad in the computer using technology taken from the special effects film industry. Using 3D modelling programs, we build computer models of our favourite prototype structures, rolling stock and scenery items. The amount of detail included depends only on available time and computer power. Early models were quite simple but now builders are constructing models that rival the best brass model locomotives available. Painted and weathered to a high degree of realism, the models often include detailed cabs and interior views for passenger coaches and cabooses. The sound effects are incredible. Everything can be included from motor sounds, to compressors, track and wheel noises as well as trackside industries. Modellers match the physical characteristics of the prototype so the operation of the locomotive will feel right with the correct power, braking and momentum effects. There are lots of opportunities for special animation. You will see accurately moving valve gear, fans, windshield wipers, pantographs and exhaust. And of course, once you have one model, its easy to duplicate them and make correctly numbered versions of all the locos or cars in the series.

If modelling isn't your thing, there are many other ways to enjoy the hobby. Numerous commercial and freeware models are available. In fact, you can easily obtain models of complete railroads to get you off and running quickly. You can set up prototype timetables on these routes and run your train with a full complement of computer controlled traffic and signals to simulate all of the activity on the line.

The Tools



Here are the main tools I used to construct the L&PS:

Microsoft Train Simulator - layout construction and operation

PovRay - model photography - see some notes here on the technique.

Paintshop Pro (JASC Inc.)- painting and weathering

3D Canvas (Amabilis Software)- building custom models of rolling stock and structures

TSTools (DCM)- forming terrain to match topographical maps

TGATool2 (MW Graphics)- viewing and working with surface textures

For more information on how to get involved in this exciting hobby, visit