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Articles of Interest

 

Articles previously published in the Waybill, available with your Division Membership.

Available articles: 

Washington State Grain Train

Using O Gauge Outdoors: Some Do's and Don'ts

Product Review: MTH Z4 2-8-8-2

The Trip of a Lifetime

Tourist Museums and Train Rides of the West

Microsoft Train Simulator: A Review

 

 

The Washington State Grain Train

 

By Bruce Fowler

 

Photos by Bruce Fowler unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

 

Model vs. Real!The 1999 Lionel Catalogue Volume 3 has a bright yellow covered hopper car with the words "Grain Train at Work for Washington State" proudly displayed on the side panels. Since I live in the Pacific Northwest, I had to order one for my layout. In all my travels between Seattle, Portland and Spokane, I have never seen a prototype car with this paint scheme. I wanted to know where Lionel found the prototype cars and what railroad used BLMR as their reporting marks.    

 

 

I wrote to the Washington State Department of Transportation and received a 30 page publication titled "An Economic Evaluation of the Performance of the Washington Grain Train Project." Washington State's Department of Transportation purchased twenty nine used covered hopper cars in 1994 for a pilot project to reduce truck damageLionel Grain Train Covered Hopper. to the roads, to reduce oil consumption, and to keep light density rail lines in the state from being scrapped. The twenty nine cars were leased to the Blue Mountain Railroad (reporting marks BLMR) for grain shipments between Dayton and Wallula, WA and between Pullman and Hooper Junction, WA. Blue Mountain Railroad was formed in 1992 to operate the two separate segments of former Union Pacific trackage in Southeastern Washington state. 

 

Grain Train Car with Palouse River & Coulee City Railroad reporting marks, part of the second WSDOT purchase.Washington's Class 1 railroads do not have enough grain hoppers to satisfy the needs of the small grain elevators. BNSF and UP railroads use their available cars for the long haul market where revenue to the railroads is higher, leaving the short haul markets of Wallula, Portland, Vancouver, Tacoma, and Seattle to suffer from equipment shortages. The DOT program eliminates these shortages, taking "grain train" cars and loading them at the various elevators within the Blue Mountain Railroad. The cars are then assembled into twenty five car blocks to take advantage of the unit train rates when they are interchanged to the Union Pacific at Wallula or Hooper Junction. 

 

I wanted photographs of these grain cars so that I could compare the Lionel graphics to the prototype, so in May 2000, I packed up my camera and headed over the Cascade Mountains for Southeastern Washington hoping that I could find at least one of these cars. I chose the Blue Mountain Railroad/Union Pacific interchange at Hooper Junction for my first stop, hoping for the possibility of locating a car. There they were! Twenty three brightly23 grain cars from the second WSDOT purchase at Hooper Junction, May 2000. painted "grain train" cars, all in a line ready for my camera under brilliant sunlight. Since I had my Lionel grain car with, it was convenient to compare them: the Lionel yellow color is very close to the fresh paint on these prototype cars. The reporting marks are PCC (not BLMR) and the words "Emergency Saver" is now "highway saver" with a port of Walla Walla herald added to the graphics. When I drove east to Colfax, WA, I again located additional grain train cars that also had the PCC reporting marks rather than Lionel's BLMR markings. Why the discrepancy? Upon further study, I was informed that the WSDOT purchased  a second group of used hopper cars, repainted them in January 2000, and assigned them to the Palouse River and Coulee City Railroad (PCC reporting marks). 

 

Representative of the first WSDOT purchase block, now assigned to Columbia Basin Railroad. Photo by Gary Trapp.Pacific Northwest Division TTOS member Gary Trapp saw a long string of WSDOT grain cars in Seattle in August 2000. Along with the expected graffiti,  the original reporting marks had been painted over and they were now marked CBRW for Columbia Basin Railroad. Columbia Basin Railroad is a short line operation over former Northern Pacific and Milwaukee Railroad trackage between Connell and Moses Lake, WA.

 

The Lionel grain train car is a very good representation of the first group of cars that were assigned to the Blue Mountain Railroad. Lionel had to selectively compress the lettering and the grain graphics so that everything on the 50' long prototype would fit on their 42' model of a three bay covered hopper, with excellent results. Thanks to Lionel for producing the grain car that is unique to the Pacific Northwest!

 

For More Information:

Washington State Rail Information

Ask Washington State DOT a question about the Grain Train

DOT Report on Grain Train Ownership

Washington State Rail Lines

 

 

Using O Gauge Outdoors: Some Do’s and Don’ts

by Doug Gray

 

Perhaps you have toyed with the outdoor railroad ideas, but dismissed them having heard somewhere that only G Scale can be used outdoors. And, since many of us have collections of O Gauge trains, the added expense of starting a new G Gauge collection deters you from outdoor railroading. The solution? Use your O gauge outdoors! A great advantage is that you can finally have the long right of ways that you have no room for indoors. Based upon my decade of experience, it does work, but there are some precautions to observe.

First, let us start with the track system. Gargraves, and other manufacturers, make track designed for outdoors, utilizing stainless steel rails and UV treated plastic ties. Ordinary sectional indoor track will last about a week before rust takes over. It will first appear on the rail surfaces, and soon the pins will rust and there will be no electrical conductivity. The cardboard insulators of the center rail will also rot, and shorts will occur when the insulators get soaking wet. Forget it! Stainless is the only way to go, or in the case of HO, nickel silver will do. In our northwest climate, sun will take longer to make the plastic ties brittle (unless they are UV treated), but it will happen. Painting the ties will help.

One advantage of Gargraves outdoor track is that the rails use nickel silver pins and there is good conductivity for years. Forget about the usual advice given to new G scalers to use track jumpers and frequent leads-this is not necessary with Gargraves, unless you have very long rights of way and noticeable voltage drops.

With G scale, track may be free floated in loose ballast. However, O gauge track is not as strong, and should be fastened to treated wood roadbed or glued with silicone glue to concrete blocks or bricks. Ballast can then be added for cosmetic purposes.

Ballast should be brushed below the level of the top of the ties, and mother nature will then compact it if you use chicken grit or other fine crushed rock. I do not recommend mixing the ballast with cement due to the fact it will destroy your track sections if you later want to pull them up.

Another of the main reasons for not free floating the track is that even with plastic buried beneath the track, grass blades will find a way and come up between the ties. Since O gauge trains often have exposed gears designed for indoor running, tangled grass (or ballast) in the gears is messy to extract. Though tweezers are a help in the extraction process, it is something to be avoided. Fortunately, the engine will come to a stop before any serious damage can be done.

Electrical safety is critical. Use an outlet with a ground fault interrupter, and do not get your power pack wet. Use a relatively inexpensive pack with a plastic case.

There is a myth that the sun will warp trains not made for outdoor use. It may be due to our climate, but this has not happened on my layout. I highly recommend that your rolling stock have metal wheels-with stainless steel track, and metal wheels, there is practically never a need to clean the track.

Another hint, from personal experience, is that if you are over fifty, build your outdoor layout on a beam or shelf at or above waist height. Your back will thank you!

 

 

Product Review: MTH Z4 2-8-8-2

by Gary Trapp

Photos by Gary Trapp

 

The Camas Prairie Northern (CPN) was shopping for additional motive power for a newly signed coal hauling contract. After much hair pulling and loud moaning and groaning by CPN officials about the high cost of new engines and the present state of the operating budget, one of the CPN’s parent companies came to the rescue. A newly shopped articulated Z-4 steam engine that had been relegated to inactive status by new diesel power, could be transferred out west. The N P Z-4 was just what the Camas Prairie Northern was looking for, at a price that was within the budget.

Here is a short description/review of the MTH Z-4, USRA, articulated, 2-8-8-2, RailKing engine that came on the market in August of 2000. Actually this is probably way more than you ever really wanted to know about N P Z-4s or the MTH engine, but anyway…

The engine comes lettered for the Pennsylvania RR or the Northern Pacific (N P) RR. Each engine comes equipped with either a QSI manufactured Proto-Sounds Digital Sounds system or a QSI DCRU and whistle only. I opted for the N P version with the QSI DCRU and whistle. Other than the locomotive paint schemes, the features listed here can apply to any of the four engine versions.

The engine and tender is 25 3/8 inches long (see photo #1) and weighs 174.45 ounces (the engine alone weighs 125.60 ounces and the tender weighs 48.85 ounces). There is a wealth of detail cast into the die cast boiler and tender. Boiler pipes, rivet detail, handrails, the unequal size of the high and low pressure cylinders, the drive rods and complex linkage apparatus, crisp lettering, and the detailed cab interior all contribute to a very good looking engine. Two flywheel equipped DC can motors, controlled by the QSI Electronics Reverse Unit (or Proto-Sound Digital Unit) in the tender, power the two engine assemblies with traction tires on the rear set of axles on each engine (a spare set of traction tires are included for each engine). The protosmoke system is similar to other MTH steam engines, in that it smokes up a storm and can quickly fill up your train room with a smoky haze. MTH did a good job in designing the attachment of the drive wheel assemblies to the frame. The Z-4 had no trouble negotiating 031 curves and it does so with no extreme overhang of the boiler over the lead engine assembly.

Whether the engine is “coming or going” (see photos), it has the appearance of being able to pull a long string of loads, whether they be coal or any other freight your layout might offer.

Digging out some measuring equipment, I came up with the following:

Engine length; 15.5 in. or 62 scale feet. Drawings in the 1927 locomotive encyclopedia show N P USRA’s to be 66 ft 11 7/8 in. long).

Drive wheel diameter; 1.070 inches or approximately 50 scale inches. The prototype had driver diameters of 62 inches.

Tractive effort; 48.4 to 56.3 ounces (the 56.3 ounces was with both engines just barely starting to slip, track voltage at 10.86 VAC and current draw at 4.18 Amperes. 50 ounces of pull represents about 130 RailKing sized coal hoppers, with coal loads, on straight and level track.

Z-4 engine and tender only voltage-current draw versus approximate speed:

5.8VAC/0.92 Amp. = 10 feet in 30 seconds OR 9-10 MPH
8.0VAC/1.19 Amp. = 10 feet in 13 seconds OR 22-25 MPH
12VAC/1.38 Amp. = 10 feet in 4.86 seconds OR 60-62 MPH

This engine runs very well in the 5.8 to 8 VAC range, which is close to what the prototype speed range was.

I only found a couple of minor faults with the Z-4: The whistle tends to blow sporadically, without pushing the whistle button, when operating in the 6 - 8 VAC range (at least with the ZW & KW transformers I used) Also I thought the steam piping to the rear high pressure cylinders could have been cast so that it appears to reach the cylinders (there is a gap between the end of the pipe and the top of the cylinder of 0.2 -0.25 inches). Lastly, I don’t know why the gear box between the motor and the drive wheels couldn’t have been designed for a lower engine speed capability. The prototype of this engine was designed for slow speed operation. It would be nice for the model to also have a speed range in the 5 to 30 MPH, instead of the 10-15 to over 80 MPH range.

All in all, the MTH Z-4 is a great motive power addition to the Camas Prairie Northern’s engine roster. It’s enjoyable watching it pull long coal load consists and occasional freight consists on the layout.

 

 

The Trip of a Lifetime

by Bill Weed

Photos by Bill Weed

 

Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to see Seattle’s Great Northern roundhouse up close. I would study it from the curbside, take my eyes off the road to glance at it from the Dravus Street bridge and even drive the long way home, via Fisherman’s Wharf, in hopes of seeing activity around the structure. But the closest view I could get of it was through photos in GN historical books.

Then last spring I joined the Great Northern Historical Society, which was holding their Year 2000 Convention in Seattle. Included in the July convention activities was a tour of various rail facilities; one of these was the Interbay roundhouse. So I took the day off from work to fulfill a simple lifetime dream.

As our convention group got off the tour bus behind the roundhouse, we were issued hard-hats and safety glasses. Then we split up into four groups of about ten each and BNSF employees lead us through a one hour railfan’s paradise. We came in through the north entrance, which is the newer part, completed in 1929. It has a “modern” two layer floor system, with a large lowered work area to access running gear and a second floor mezzanine to access engines and cabs. Pallet loads of machined and prepped diesel cylinders were everywhere, ready to “drop in” to the EMD power houses that sit in various states of undress. Almost all the liveries were cascade green, but we did see a red, white and black Washington Central SW switcher undergoing maintenance work.

Then we continued south to the older stalls, dating back to the 1890’s, with their traditional shallow troughs between the rails so mechanics could crawl underneath steaming, dripping, fire breathing monsters to test their nuts and bolts with ball peen hammers. (Those were the days!) A few of the stalls still had drop tables for removing drive wheels from steamers. Parts of the beamed ceiling were whitewashed, but most of the timbers looked like they had been painted black. We learned that the black was firebox soot from the first part of the century. (How marvelous--original soot!)

On the extreme southeast side of the building is a large rectangular extension which had been added for major steam loco rebuilding. It now holds racks and racks of pallets containing those cylinder kits and other prime mover parts.

Currently this is the only point on the division performing locomotive inspections, and does any work not requiring the facilities of a major back shop. However, many roundhouse stalls have been diverted from loco storage to other uses such as pipe work, carpentry shop, material department storage, track department, radio shop, crew lockers and a wash-up area. The building now has a loco storage capacity of sixteen stalls.

Just as we were about to leave, the hostler unknowingly obliged us by spinning a pumpkin orange six axle engine on the 110 foot turntable. We all left with smiles on our faces and continued the bus ride to the next stop, a tour of the restoration work on the historic King Street station. But that’s another story...

Bill Weed rides off into the sunset to find his next train adventure...

Tourist Museums and Train Rides of the West

by Adelita Balsalobre

Aaah, Spring. Freshly mowed grass, tulips, convertibles and........train rides!! For those who may be planning their visits to the first International TTOS Convention in Vancouver this August, consider a side trip to a railroad museum or a train trip through the beautiful surroundings of British Columbia. And for those who may be planning trips elsewhere in the West, here is some useful information to assist  in planning a tourist railroad visit. Have a great summer!!

 

British Columbia

Washington 

Oregon

Idaho

Montana

Wyoming

Nevada

Colorado

Alaska

Arizona

New Mexico

 
British Columbia

 

 Name

Address1 Phone

Season2

Admission3 E-Mail Website Description
Canadian Museum of Rail Travel 1 Van Horn Street, Cranbrook (250) 489-3918 Varies, see website. Varies, see website.

Standard gauge museum.
British Columbia Forest Discovery Centre 2892 Drinkwater Rd., Duncan (250) 715-1170 May-Labor Day $8

N/A Narrow gauge train ride and museum.
BC Rail 1311 W. 1st St., Vancouver (800) 663-8238 May-October Varies with train. Standard gauge train ride, dinner train (Pacific Starlight, Royal Hudson, Cariboo Prospector).
Alberni Pacific Railway 3100 Kingsway Ave., Port Alberni (250) 723-1376 May-October $11 Standard gauge train ride and museum.
Revelstoke Railway Museum 719 Track St. W., Revelstoke (877) 837-6060 Year round $6 Standard gauge museum. Lots of Canadian history.
West Coast Railway Historical Park 39645 Government Rd., Squamish (604) 898-9336 Year round $6 Standard gauge train ride, museum, display, layout.
Kettle Valley Steam Railway Society 18404 Bathville Rd., Summerland (877) 494-8424 May-October $14 Standard gauge train ride.
Bear Creek Park Train 13750 88th Ave., Surrey (604) 501-1658 January-November $2.50 N/A 15" gauge train ride.
Rocky Mountain Railtours 1150 Station St., Vancouver (800) 665-7245

April-October

Varies with train Regional travel train.
Downtown Railway 1601 Ontario St,, Vancouver (604) 665-3903 May-October $2 Standard gauge trolley train rides.

Okanagan Valley Wine Train

600 Recreation Ave., Kelowna (888) 674-8725

See website for information

See website for information

Standard gauge train ride, dinner train.

Fort Steele Railway Fort Steele Heritage Town, Ft. Steele (250) 426-7352 June-Labor Day $5 Standard gauge train ride.
Washington Remlinger Farms Railroad 32610 NE 32nd, Carnation (425) 333-4135 June-October $5 N/A N/A Steam train rides on a working farm.
Chehalis-Centralia Railroad Association 1100 Sylvenus St., Chehalis (360) 748-9593 May-September $8 Standard gauge train ride, dinner train.
Dayton Historical Depot Society 222 Commercial St., Dayton (509) 382-2026 Year round $2 N/A N/A Museum (oldest depot in WA).
Spirit of Washington Dinner Train Downtown Renton (800) 876-RAIL Year round Varies N/A Standard gauge dinner train, winery trips and tours.
Waterfront Streetcar 3001 Alaskan Way, Seattle (206) 684-1838 Year round $1 N/A N/A Restored Australian streetcars, now part of the Metro Transit System.
Northwest Railway Museum 38625 SE King St., Snoqualmie (425) 888-3030 May-October $8 Standard gauge train rides, museum, display.
Northern Pacific Railway Museum 10 Asotin Ave., Toppenish (509) 865-1911 May-November $2 N/A N/A Standard gauge dinner train, museum.
Yakima Valley Railway Museum 306 W. Pine, Yakima (800) 995-4836 May-October $4 N/A N/A Standard gauge electric train ride, museum.
Oregon

Canby Railroad Depot Museum 888 NE 4th Ave., Canby (503) 266-6712 Call Donation N/A Museum.
Phoenix & Holly Railway 2512 N. Holly St., Canby (503) 263-4027 May-October $3 Narrow gauge train ride.
Mt. Hood Railroad and Dinner Train 110 Railroad Ave., Hood River (800) Train-61 April-December Varies Standard gauge train ride and dinner train.
Oregon Electric Railway Historical Society Lake Oswego (503) 222-2226 June-August $7 Standard gauge trolley ride.
Washington Park and Zoo Railway 4001 SW Canyon Rd., Portland (503) 226-1561 May-September $2.75 N/A 30" gauge train ride.
Crooked River Dinner Train 4075 NE O-Neil Rd., Redmond (541) 548-8630 Year round Varies Dinner train.
Sumpter Valley Railroad Dredge Loop Road, Sumpter Valley (541) 894-2268 May-September $9 N/A 36" gauge train ride, museum.
Samtrak 8825 SE 11th St., Portland (503) 653-2380 July-Labor Day $5 N/A N/A Standard gauge train ride.
Idaho Thunder Mountain Line Railroad Horseshoe Bend (877) IDA-RAIL Year round $24 Standard gauge train ride.
Lewiston Excursion Dinner Train 5th & Railroad, Lewiston (888) RR-DINER Year round $75 N/A Standard gauge dinner train.
Northern Pacific Depot Railroad Museum 219 6th St., Wallace (208) 752-0111 Varies $2 N/A N/A Museum.
Montana Izaak Walton Inn 290 Izaak Walton Inn Rd., Essex (406) 888-5700 Year round Varies Historic RR Inn.
Montana Rockies Rail Tours 1055 Baldy Park Ave., Sandpoint (800) 519-7245 July-September Varies Standard gauge train ride.
Montana Heritage Commission Nevada City (406) 843-5247 May-September Varies N/A 30" gauge train ride, museum, display.
Wyoming Roundhouse Restoration 1200 Main St., Evanston (307) 783-6319 Varies Free N/A Museum, display.
Nevada Nevada State Railroad Museum 2180 S. Carson St., Carson City (775) 687-6953 Varies $2 N/A Standard and narrow gauge museum.
Nevada Northern Railway Museum 1100 Ave. A., East Ely (775) 289-6284 May-September N/A Standard gauge train ride, museum, dinner train, display.
Eureka & Palisade Railway N/A (702) 383-3327 Varies Varies N/A N/A 36" gauge train ride.
Virginia & Truckee Railroad Washington & F St., Virginia City (775) 847-0380 May-October $5.25 N/A N/A Standard gauge train ride.
Colorado Royal Gorge Route Railroad 401 Water St., Canon City (888) RAILS-4-U Varies $26.95 Standard gauge train ride.
Denver & Rio Grande US Hwy. 59, Cimarron (970) 249-1914 Ext. 23 Year round Free 36" gauge, display.
Pike's Peak Historical Street Railway Foundation 2333 Steel Dr., Colorado Springs (719) 475-9508 Year round $2 N/A Standard gauge ride, museum, display.
Cripple Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad 520 E. Carr, Cripple Creek (719) 689-2640 May-October $9 N/A Narrow gauge train ride.
Platte Valley Trolley I25, Exit 211, Denver (303) 458-6255 Varies $2 Standard gauge train ride.
The Ski Train Union Station, Denver (303) 298-8881 Varies $40 N/A Standard gauge train ride.
Galloping Goose Historical Society 421 Railroad Ave., Dolores (970) 882-2224 Year round Donation N/A 36" gauge train ride, museum.
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad 479 Main Ave., Durango (970) 259-9349 Varies Varies N/A Narrow gauge train ride and museum.
Fort Collins Municipal Railway Roosevelt, Ft. Collins May-September $1 N/A N/A Standard gauge train ride.
Georgetown Loop Railroad 1106 Rose St., Georgetown (800) 691-4FUN May-October $14.50 Narrow gauge train ride.
Colorado Railroad Museum 17155 W. 44th Ave., Golden (800) 365-6263 Varies $6 36" gauge, standard gauge museum.
Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad 327 E. 7th St., Leadville (719) 486-3936 May-September $22.50 Standard gauge train ride.
Manitou & Pike's Peak Railway 515 Ruxton Ave., Manitou Springs (719) 685-9033 May-October $23.50 Standard gauge cog railway train ride.
Tiny Town Railroad 6249 S. Turkey Creek Rd., Morrison (303) 697-6829 May-September $3 N/A N/A 15" train ride.
Pueblo Locomotive & Rail Historical Museum 200 W. B St., Pueblo (719) 250-3460 May-October Donation Standard and narrow gauge museum.
Alaska White Pass & Yukon Route 2nd & Spring St., Skagway (800) 343-7373 May-September Varies 36" gauge train ride.
Museum of Alaska Transportation & Industry 3800 W. Neuser Dr., Wasilla (907) 376-3082 Varies $5 Standard gauge museum.
Arizona Verde Canyon Railroad 300 N. Broadway, Clarkdale (520) 639-1653 Year round $54.95 Standard gauge train ride and museum.
Arizona Train Depot 755 E. McKellips Rd., Mesa (888) 207-3564 Year round N/A N/A N/A Layout, retail.
McCormick Stillman Railroad Park 7301 E. Indian Bend Rd., Scottsdale (480) 312-7001 Year round $1 N/A 15" gauge train ride, museum.
Old Pueblo Trolley 360 E. 8th St., Tuscon (520) 791-1802 Year round $1 Standard gauge trolley ride.
Grand Canyon Railway 235 N. Grand Canyon Blvd., Williams (800) THE-TRAIN Year round $54.95 Standard gauge, steam & diesel train ride.
New Mexico Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railway 500 Terrace Ave., Chama (505) 756-2151 May-October Varies 36" gauge train ride.
Clovis Depot Model Train Museum 221 W. 1st. St., Clovis (888) 762-0064 Varies Call Museum, display, layout.
Santa Fe Southern Railway 410 S. Guadaloupe St., Santa Fe (888) 989-8600 Year round Varies Standard gauge train ride, dinner train.
The Toy Train Depot 1991 N. White Sands Blvd., Alamagordo (505) 437-2855 Year round $2 16" gauge train ride, museum, display, layout.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. This is the location of the ride or museum, not necessarily the mailing address.

2. Seasons vary, please contact the facility directly to confirm their dates.

3. Adult price listed. Most have additional prices for seniors, children, etc..

Important Note: the information listed above can change at any time. The information listed may not reflect recent changes of operating times, dates, or admission prices. Use this information as a reference only, but contact the facility you plan to visit directly to confirm your plans. TTOS PNWD is not responsible for any errors or omissions in the above listed information.

Microsoft's Train Simulator Game: A Review

by Adelita Balsalobre

Microsoft has considerable experience with flight simulator computer games, yet they have refrained from expanding their expertise to other transportation modes. Until now. The October release of Train Simulator heralds a new standard in rail games, which until now, have remained primitive and restricted by DOS-like graphics. But the new game has many of the advance graphics features that have been thrilling computer users in the aircraft simulation field for years now: this game takes practice, skill, and patience. Oh, and a very, very large hard drive.

Microsoft is not known for its tight code. They don’t have to be, since their goal is presumably to encourage computer upgrades to keep up with ever expanding programs. Yet, even with that, it seems pretty shocking that the installation of this game will merrily eat nearly two gigabytes of your machine’s hard drive. Shocking, but railfans are a hard core bunch, and willing to sacrifice other programs to squeeze just one good train sim program onto our machines. Providing the program is worth it’s weight in electrons….

The first thing you need to understand is that this is a complicated game. And a hoggy game. Microsoft’s installation requirements state that you’ll need 4 MB of video RAM and 32 MB of system RAM, along with 500 MB installation space and a Pentium II at 266 MHz. Sure, maybe in a perfect world. I’m not sure what these Microsoft guys have been smokin’ in game land, but there is no way that this game will operate at the stated Microsoft minimums!

Full installation of the game, as mentioned before, will take about 1.8 Gigs. My system has 256 RAM, with a 32 Meg video card, and there are points where the game seems to have to pause and think, as if it still does not have enough memory. The most crucial element to successfully running the game seems to be your video card and video RAM. Tom Regelein installed the game a system that had a Diamond Viper 770 video card with 32 megs of RAM, and found that the frame rate was limited to 3-5 frames per second (fps), clearly insufficient to run the game. Tom then updated his video drivers, to no avail, and wound up purchasing a new video card (NVidea256) and the game now works. Other system details: AMD K6-450 with 128 Megs of RAM and running Windows 98.

Gary Trapp’s installation went a bit better, but he had a newer system running a Pentium II at 600 MHz and 40 Gig HD. Though the program did lock up once, Gary states that “The graphics on mine are pretty good” but he has “a small amount of ‘shimmer’ as the scene moves along.” This shimmer is similar to the glitches that I have seen when running the program, and is likely to be a memory related issue. Gary continues with “the sound on mine is excellent. I had a good sound system put into this
system as…” his daughter “likes to play and Copy CDs on it”...and continues to describe letting a “dash 9 run to the end of a siding” to see how realistic a simulated derail event was, and happily reports that the “subsequent snake like crash of the diesels plowing through the tie barrier and into DIRT with the cars still pushing for 20 to 30 seconds was pretty realistic.”

Another member, Gary Klein, reports that his installation also went well on a machine running Windows 98 first edition (I suggest that anyone running the first edition upgrade to Win 98 SE just to be safe, it includes some driver upgrades). He, too, was surprised at the amount of space the program took, but has been enjoying it since installation with few problems.

Some additional complaints have surfaced about the fact that the program comes with an electronic manual, not a printed one. Printing out the manual will cost you 90 pages, but from what I hear the manual is invaluable for troubleshooting and learning how to play the game. If your eyes are good, try a print setting that allows you to print out two manual pages for every electronic page...that’ll hold it down to 45 pages.

And the name of the game is playing. Launching the game will likely knock you off your chair, as the engine sounds realistically vibrate and throb with enough depth to fool you into thinking you are actually inside the engine. The game comes with steam and diesel engines along with various routes and terrains to run on. Additionally, Microsoft allows you to pick terrain details such as season, weather, and time of day to vary your operating conditions. Operating the different trains will take practice and skill, and settings are available to allow you to pick the a training run or the full fledged game which scores you on your operating prowess and ability to complete tasks as they are issued on your trainorders. The graphics are pretty good, though this is extremely dependent on your system capabilities. The game allows you to view your train from the cab as well as numerous exterior vantage points along the train’s length-alternate views are supplied with accurate sounds for that specific location. In an hilarious demonstration of budget programming, Tom Regelein discovered that exiting the train into the forests of Marias Pass will transport you to an amazing land of flat trees (the programmers did not think we would view the trees from behind, so they left them as two dimensional objects)!

Other complaints relate to the fact that there seem to be few people along the routes, and none in the engines. This is true for the most part, but can be slightly altered by adjusting some program settings. Additional engines are now available for downloading at many web sites, but installation of these non-supported engines can be tricky at best. The game also comes with advanced features that allow you to edit routes and trainsets, but so far these have proven pretty difficult for the average user to master.

Should you buy it? Yes, for under $50, it is great fun! But first: upgrade your video drivers or replace your video card and install as much RAM as you can afford. Then highball!

 

Screenshots from: Microsoft's Train Sim Site

Train Simulation Discussion Group: Trainorders, MSN, FunnelFans Train Site

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