Design Your Own Railroad. (simulation software) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Eddie Huffman
Whether you're a mild-mannered model railroad enthusiast looking for a new outlet or a Gomez Addams wannabe interested in destroying some rolling stock, Abracadata has a program that fits the bill. Design Your Own Railroad allows you to do just what the name says, from laying track to handpicking a train, car by car. And if you're so inclined, you can even smash your trains together without all the mess and expense you'd incur destroying your basement model railroad layout.
After holding your hand through a helpful demonstration, Design Your Own Railroad allows you to begin working on the railroad immediately. Unlike complex railroad simulations such as MicroProse's Railroad Tycoon, Design Your Own Railroad has you rolling down the track with minimal fuss. There are no competitors to slow you down and no geographical or historical factors to contend with. You simply pick a sample layout or create one of your own, couple up some cars, and hit the throttle.
Once you get into the program, you have the option of trying to deliver your freight and collect revenue against the clock, but it's no problem if you just want to run some trains around a track. There are a number of options available from easy-to-use pulldown menus, including maximum speed and type of crash. You can have your trains pass right through each other, ghostlike, or you can have them smash together with a loud report, scattering wreckage all around. Unfortunately, a crash sounds more like a set of glass wind chimes breaking than the genuine clash of metal.
Though a mouse isn't required to use Design Your Own Railroad, it sure does help. The track and train design features are as simple to use as any basic computer drawing program, but a mouse makes using them much easier, just as it simplifies access to the pulldown menus. When I tried the program using only my keyboard, I never could figure out a way to set the switch tracks. (And Gateway computer users beware: Abracadata says there's an interrupt conflict using Design Your Own Railroad on Gateways, a conflict Abracadata technicians say Gateway won't help resolve. I never could get the program to work on the Gateway 2000 386SX/16 I use at home.)
An index in the user's manual might have helped with the switch track trouble. The same goes for a troubleshooting section. Other than those deficiencies, however, the manual is clearly written and straightforward, including adequate illustrations. Though Design Your Own Railroad is simple enough to use employing good old trial and error, it helps to consult the manual for such diverse activities as adding switch tracks and overpasses to your layout and selecting buildings and scenery.
Design Your Own Railroad might help hardcore railfans experiment with different designs before modifying their own model railroad layouts, but don't buy the program expecting it to be a substitute for the real thing. While it gives plenty of the flavor of model railroading, from setting switches to running multiple trains, you get only a simplified overhead view as you run your trains, with cars largely indistinguishable from one another. You have access to full-screen, full-color views of your train cars and buildings, but the program's primary operating screens fail to deliver such impressive detail.
If you're looking for a way to do some home railroading without all the cost and trouble of a model railroad layout, however, or if you don't mind the cost and trouble and you want to preview some ideas for a model layout, Design Your Own Railroad should prove satisfactory. Even if you just want to smash some trains together, you'll find Design Your Own Railroad to be a solid simulator.