Drawing a Track Plan with XTrkCad

Discussion in 'Layout Design Discussion' started by CSXDixieLine, Jan 25, 2009.


Do you use a model railroad CAD application?

  1. 3rd PlanIt

    17 vote(s)
  2. Atlas RTS

    23 vote(s)
  3. CadRail

    9 vote(s)
  4. XTrkCad

    131 vote(s)
  5. Other

    47 vote(s)
  6. None

    52 vote(s)
  1. CSXDixieLine

    CSXDixieLine Passed Away January 27, 2013 In Memoriam

    I have found several threads seeking advice on using model railroad CAD applications to draw track plans. Since I am starting to refine my rough track plan using "real" layout dimensions and I am in the process of learning XTrkCad, I thought it would be useful to post a running thread of my progress.

    I am currently designing a multi-level N-scale layout that fully occupies a 19x9' room. To this point, my track plan has been roughed-in using Micrsosoft Visio. However, I have now completed all of the benchwork and am ready to start installing roadbed and laying track. To do this, I want to have an actual precise track plan designed in a real model railroad CAD application so I can be sure that all of the track arrangements are correctly laid out complete with correctly engineered design elements such as easements.

    Over the years, I have used several model railroad CAD applications (CADRail, 3rd Plan-it, XTRkCad, etc.). However, I really was just playing around and never did any serious track planning. I have chosen XTrkCad this time around for two reasons: (1) the price is right (FREE!) and (2) I have seen several great track plans that were created using it. Since this thread represents my "learn as I go" experience, please feel free to offer corrections or improvements to my process where needed.

    I could go on and on but instead I'm just going to jump in and get started. Hope this thread proves to be helpful to others!

  2. CSXDixieLine

    CSXDixieLine Passed Away January 27, 2013 In Memoriam

    Part 1: Downloading XTrkCad

    Before getting started with XTrkCad, you will need to download the application and install it on your computer. As previously mentioned, XTrkCad is a free to download. There are two downloads that I found available: one for Windows and one for Linux. I downloaded the most recent version (4.0.2) of the Windows application. This is the version that I will be using for this thread. As of January 25, 2009, these can both be found on the upper right corner of the following web page:


    It should also be noted that there are a few tutorials available at the above URL. I completed all of them, but several sections are blank. Remember this a a free application and the content for these tutorials is provided by the community of users. When I have completed my track plan, I will check to see if there are any missing areas in the online tutorial that I can contribute to. There are also a complete set of demos within the actual application. I found these to be very helpful and they are the basis for how I will build my track plan.

  3. CSXDixieLine

    CSXDixieLine Passed Away January 27, 2013 In Memoriam

    Part 2: Saving a New Track Plan

    The first thing to do after installing XTrkCad is to create a new track plan matching the dimensions of the layout being designed. To do this, select the Layout > Options... menu item and complete the Layout Options dialog box. Here you specify the layout dimensions, a name & description of the layout, and the scale of the layout. Here is what this dialog looks like for my layout:


    Note that the layout dimensions are in inches (there is also support for metric units); my layout is 18'-2' x 9'-2", which comes out to 218" x 110".

    This track plan is then saved so that it can be reopened during the next work session. To save an XTrkCad track plan, select the File > Save menu item and complete the dialog box:


    After setting up the layout options and saving the track plan, here is what my blank layout worspace looks like in the XTrkCad application window:


  4. CSXDixieLine

    CSXDixieLine Passed Away January 27, 2013 In Memoriam

    Part 3: Layers

    The first thing I want to do when drawing a track plan is to draw the edges of the benchwork so I can see where everything needs to go. Before starting, it occurred to me that it would be nice to have the benchwork and the track in separate layers. This way, I could draw all of the benchwork in one layer, lock it down, then draw all the track in the next layer up. This would allow me to draw track without disturbing the benchwork and also insure that the track objects always came out "on top" of the benchwork.

    Most drawing applications support multiple layers and I was not surprised to find that XTrkCad does as well. They are very intuitive to use and after a few minutes of experimentation, I had my two layers setup and ready to go.

    To setup my Benchwork and Track layers, I used the Manage > Layers menu item to display the Layers dialog box. I setup layer #1 as the Benchwork layer by selecting layer #1 in the dropdown list, changing the name, and selecting orange as the color (this just seemed like a good color for my benchwork):


    Next, I did the same thing to make layer #2 the Track layer. Then I clicked the Done button to accept the changes and slected the File > Save menu item to save my changes.

    When you draw an object in XTrkCad, it gets created in the current layer. The current layer can be viewed and changed by using the dropdown list in the toolbar at the top left of the application window:


    The current layer displays in the dropdown list. To change the current layer, just pick a new selection. The buttons to the right of the dropdown list toggle which layers are visible or hidden. For example, to view my track without the benchwork, I could just click the orange 1 button (the color of the button matches the color you chose for the layer) to hide layer #1, then click it again to make it visible. Note that you can not hide the current layer.

    Finally, to get objects we draw on a layer to actually display using the colors we selected for each layer, you must select the Options > Display... menu item to display the Display Options dialog. Be sure to select the Color Layers - Other checkbox:


    This will cause any non-track objects drawn on a layer to be displayed in the color we selected for the layer. For now, I am not going to select the Track checkbox because drawing the track in the default color (black) is fine.

    Now, when I draw the first line on the benchwork layer, it will display in the color chosen for the layer (orange):


  5. JASON

    JASON TrainBoard Member TrainBoard Supporter

    Well done Jamie,glad you went ahead & started the thread for XTrkCad.
    Its great to read about it in detail,thanks!
  6. pastoolio

    pastoolio TrainBoard Member

    Jamie, awesome, I'll follow along with your tutorial and try it with my layout. I've never tried any track planning software, I'm more a pencil and paper guy, but I'll give it a try anyhow. :)

  7. deadgoon

    deadgoon TrainBoard Member TrainBoard Supporter

    Here's an XtrkCad tip that is not obvious (at least it wasn't for me). When placing track, you can rotate the track so that it connects up like you want it by holding down shift and right clicking. For example, if you want to connect a turnout to and existing line, grab the turnout and drag it down to the end of the track you are laying. Before you hit enter or space bar to place the track, hold down the shift button and click on the track one time and it will rotate so that a different end will be attached to the track. Do it again if you want to rotate to another connecting point. Once you have it lines up, hit the space bar or enter to finalize the track. This little tip will make placing turnouts and other sectional track a breeze.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 28, 2009
  8. CSXDixieLine

    CSXDixieLine Passed Away January 27, 2013 In Memoriam

    Part 4: Table Edges

    XTrkCad has a special drawing tool called Table Edges that allows you to define the edges of your benchwork. Please note that while XTrkCad will allow you to draw all of the actual members of your benchwork (L-girders, joists, etc.), I am only going to draw the actual edges of the surface of the benchwork so I can see what space is available for track, structures and scenery.

    To select the Table Edges tool, you need to click the dropdown list next to the Line tool on the toolbar...


    ...and choose the Draw table edge item from the menu that appears. This will select the Table Edges tool and the toolbar will change accordingly:


    A table edge is a line with special properties: (1) it draws as a thicker line by default so it is easy to see the edges of your benchwork/table and (2) the endpoints of the lines are sticky; that is they tend to automatically attach to the ends of other table edges as you draw them. This latter feature is handy since it allows you to establish a few precisely placed table edges, then you can fill in any remaining edges by having the new lines automatically attach to the precicely placed ones. I will show how this works in the upcoming steps.

    For now, I am just going to put down the first table edge for my layout. With the Table Edges tool selected, I click with the left mouse button where I want the line to start. I then drag the mouse to the point where I want the line to end and release the mouse button. Here is the first table edge line:


    You will notice a few things right away. First, the line draws in the color orange because that is the color we selected for the Benchwork layer and that is the layer that was selected before I drew the line (you can see the selected layer in the dropdown list in the toolbar at the upper left sie of the application window).

    Second, you can see that I have just sort of slapped this line into place without any real care. This is OK, since the next step will show how to position this line precisely where I want it. With XTrkCad, it is possible to draw precise lines using the X and Y coordinates displayed at the bottom of the screen, although I have found it much easier (and quicker) to roughly position an element and then come back and move it to its exact position. Feedback on this technique would be appreciated!

  9. Ironhorseman

    Ironhorseman Staff Staff Member

    Great information! I had considered trying XTrkCad in the past, but like Mike I have always been a pencil & paper guy. I'm inspired now so maybe I'll download the software and give it a try just to see if I can understand it. Thanks for starting this thread. :)
  10. coachc

    coachc TrainBoard Member

    I've hated every track planning software I've tried to use. I'm just not patient enough and computers hate me.
  11. CSXDixieLine

    CSXDixieLine Passed Away January 27, 2013 In Memoriam

    Part 5: Describe Tool

    The describe tool allows you to view and edit details for objects that have already been drawn on an XTrkCad track plan. In the previous step I drew the first table edge line for the benchwork of my track plan. I drew this line without too much care for precise location because I use the describe tool to accurately place objects after I have drawn them.

    The describe tool can be found near the middle of the toolbar:


    To use this tool, click the button like I have done in the above image. The button will stay pressed down until you are finished with it or until you press the <ESC> key (pressing the <ESC> key cancels most actions). Next, click the object you want to describe--in this case, the table edge line I drew in the previous step. This will open a dialog box containing the details of the object:


    In the above image you can see that I have entered the exact (X,Y) coordinates for both end points of the table edge line. The first end point is at (11,11), or 11" from the left side of the layout edge and 11" from the bottom layout edge. Coordinates in XTrkCad are always measured from the bottom left corner of the layout. The other end point is at (201,11). After entering this information I click the Done button and the line is redrawn using the new data just entered:


    Notice how the line is now straight across the bottom part of the layout, 11" from the "bottom" wall. This line represents the outside edge of the 11" deep shelf that will run along the "south" wall in the train room. This shelf attaches to another 11" deep shelf along the west/left wall and a 17" deep shelf along the east/right wall, which explains why I ended the line where it does (11" from the west wall and 17" from the east wall).

    Finally, I use the same draw/describe technique to draw the other three horizontal table edge lines on the track plan:


  12. CSXDixieLine

    CSXDixieLine Passed Away January 27, 2013 In Memoriam

    Part 6: "Sticky" Table Edges

    In this step I will show how to take advantage of the "stickyness" of table edge lines for drawing the vertical lines on my track plan. Table edge lines are "sticky"; that is, they tend to snap to the endpoint of another nearby table edge line. When I drew the horizontal lines, I drew a rough line then positioned it using the describe tool. For the vertical lines, this will not be necissary. I will just draw the vertical lines and their end points will magically stick to the adjacent horizontal lines.

    The first vertical line I drew is at the lower left of the track plan. I selected the table edge tool and clicked the mouse button at the end point of the bottom most horizontal line (the first table edge line I drew on the track plan in the previous steps). I then dragged the mouse up to the end point of the adjacent horizontal line and released the mouse button. When I released the mouse button, the new vertical line was drawn and snapped into place attaching to both adjacent horizotal lines. By using the describe tool on the new vertical line, you can see the (X,Y) coordinates match the end points of the adjacent horizontal lines:


    Using this technique, it is a "snap" to draw the remaining vertical lines (pun intended!):


  13. FatherWilliam57

    FatherWilliam57 TrainBoard Member

    Thanks for the updates! I have been debating which program to use. Guess I'll finally download this and give it a try! Gotta get something on paper so I'm ready to go when the basement is finished.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 31, 2009
  14. CSXDixieLine

    CSXDixieLine Passed Away January 27, 2013 In Memoriam

    Part 7: Beveled Corners

    The corners of my benchwork are beveled; that is, they have short boards mounted across them at 45 degree angles. I want to represent this on the track plan, so I adjusted the lengths of the table edges accordingly and connected the "gaps" with the angled corner boards.

    To do the first corner, I selected one of the horizontal lines and moved the end point over 9" to the right (I measured my corner boards and found they attach to the front boards 9" out from the corner). Here you can see where I moved the X coordinate of the first end point from 11" to 20", or 9" to the right:


    And here I have moved the bottom end point of the adjacent vertical table edge up by 9". You can see the resulting gap created by these moves:


    To close the gap, I selected the table edge tool and drew a line between the two end points that wre just opened up. Remember, the table edge lines ae sticky so it was very easy to get the beveled corner line to go right where I wanted it:


    Finally, I followed the same procedure to add the remaining beveled corners:


  15. CSXDixieLine

    CSXDixieLine Passed Away January 27, 2013 In Memoriam

    Part 8: The Gate

    On the lower level benchwork, there is a dropdown gate across the doorway to the layout room. This opening in the benchwork is 44" wide. While the gate details will not be represented on the track plan, I want to remove the 44" wide area where the gate is located so this area will appear as unusable space.

    To do this, I first shortened the edge of the layout shelf along the south wall. The gate begins 126" from the west wall, so I used the describe tool to enter this as the new X coordinate of the end point of the line:


    I then drew a short table edge line from this new end point directly to the south wall. Using the describe tool, I found that the line was drawn exactly where it needed to be:


    Finally, I used the table edge & describe tools to draw the shelf on the other side of the gate opening:


  16. NIevo

    NIevo TrainBoard Member

    Just out of curiosity, what are you using to change your images from .xtc to post online, or what hosting are you using. The way I've been doing it is a pain and I'm wondering if there's a faster way.
  17. pastoolio

    pastoolio TrainBoard Member

    I'd guess Jamie is doing the "print screen" feature, then editing it in photoshop, uploads it to his photobucket site, then links it here. Just a guess thou.

    Jamie, very helpfull my friend. Now a question. How do we make the benchwork curved instead of angled?

  18. NIevo

    NIevo TrainBoard Member

    Go to the Line Command and choose either Benchwork or Table Edge, depending on which one you are doing. Then click on the one just to the right of it and you can draw a curved line from tangent, end, center, or chord.
  19. CSXDixieLine

    CSXDixieLine Passed Away January 27, 2013 In Memoriam

    Ding ding ding...WINNER! Yes that is exactly how I am working my images. And as for your other question, I am still trying to figure that out.

    I think table edges have to be straight lines, or at least that is what I have found to this point. Of course, I am learning as I go, so I'll try to see if I can get the lines to curve. Of course, even if I can't do it with the table edge lines, I can just switch to regular lines. Or so I think :)

  20. tony22

    tony22 TrainBoard Member

    Jamie, if you have a multiple level layout are you putting all the levels on one layer or does each one get its own layer?

Share This Page