Model Railway Design Software

In thinking about planning a model railway I spent some time a while ago playing around with some of the different software for designing a layout.  This was quite a surprise to me to discover there was dedicated software out there to do this, and in playing with them it became apparent that there are big differences between them.

To put this in context – I’m a big user of software such as Microsoft Visio or Powerpoint.  I’m very familiar with doing technical style drawings in them, and the standard items of selecting and manipulating items within a windows programme.

I’m going to focus mainly on the two pieces of software that I have been using this time around designing the layout, however in the past I also played with XTrackCAD, however it didn’t make a big impression on me to go back and try again.  So I’m going to stick with AnyRail and SCARM.

Standing for Simple Computer Aided Railway Modeller this software initially looked interesting.  Hosting features such as the ability to view the layout in 3D as well as being open source all sounded very positive.  It also has a good library of all the well known track types so in theory all you’ve got to do it drag and drop them together.

On actually trying to use it I discovered that it failed to use a lot of the standard windows concepts.  Basic things like selecting and moving items needed the use of a modifier key – something that you only find out by reading the manual.  On further use getting track to join was not always as obvious, flexi track just waved the free end around, and then I tried to model heights the whole thing just drove me up the wall as it behaved oddly – sometimes applying to just the piece and sometimes the whole stretch.

Having started with SCARM because I liked the 3D view, in the end I struggled to be able to model what I wanted.  So I decided to look elsewhere….

Pro’s: Cons
– Open Source / Free
– Ability to create 3D views
– Good track libraries
– Unintuitive
– Struggled with heights
– Ilogical method of working with flexi track

The second piece of sofware I used was AnyRail, which I was initially put off by the fact that it costs £35 for the full license and the free trail version is limited to 50 items at once.  It does appear to be the “defacto standard” for track layouts, as most of the websites with track plans or layout designs posted on forums appear to be in AnyRail format.

Since I’m hoping to only design the one layout then paying out for the license feels like it would take away money that I could spend on the layout.  Not that I’m saying paying for software is bad, it’s just the fact that I hoping not to have to have a need for it in the future,

In terms of actual use – this felt much more what I was expecting.  Track moved around in the way I expected, flexi-track has standard curve handles for controlling how much it bends, and all round it just feels much more usable.  I did struggle slightly with heights, but in the end since I wasn’t trying to make a 3D model as I was originally with SCARM then I ignored them.

Pro’s: Cons
– Much easier
– Follows much more standard Windows standards
– Flexi-track has control handles to manage curves
– Price for one off
– No 3D
– Didn’t get my head around 3D models, but then again didn’t need to!

Overall I actually produced the layout design I was after using AnyRail, however the cost of not buying the full version is that the layout is split across 3 files.  I have however managed to create a combined version by combining in Paint Shop Pro, however this does not allow me to use features such as list all the track elements in use.  However all in all I much preferred AnyRail and came very close to parting with the money to purchase.

For anyone looking at which to go with, my advice would be download both, use the AnyRail trail version initially, and see which one you get on with best.

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