Model Railroad Track Planning Software – A Survey of How 11 Compare

It’s Not Your Father’s Pencil and Ruler

In fact, it’s not even your grandfather’s pencil and ruler! Gone are the days of spiral bound notebooks filled with sketches of layouts, painstakingly drawn with pre-80’s graphic technology (pen, ruler, French curve, turnout templates, etc.). Well, maybe not completely gone, but certainly high on the list of candidates for extinction! Today, the absence of a computer in a household is a rarity, and many hobbyists can even count on having one completely dedicated to their use.

Track planning software is not new, by any means. In fact, most packages that have been developed and improved over the past ten years have an almost bewildering array of options and features, the exploration of which could almost be a hobby in itself! The basic feature set of all the below includes a set of sectional and flexible track libraries, copy and paste sections of track plan, zoom in and out viewing, and automatic joining of track sections. Other features of individual packages also include scenic items which can be visualized and moved around when displaying the layout.

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1. Atlas Track Planning Software

Atlas came to the software game very early on. Their product was simple, easy to use, and oriented entirely around Atlas sectional track. Not long after, the ability to include flex-track was included as well as the ability to model rudimentary scenery elements. Atlas used to offer the software. Free, which made the early product very popular. Atlas still provides a limited free version, but you’ll pay $40 to get the full up license. Current version is a few years old at revision 3.26.20 and is only available for Microsoft Windows. Use the link below to download the software:

2. AnyRail Track Software

Like most of the products considered here, AnyRail offers the ability to plan a layout in all of the popular scales and provides libraries of track and
objects to suit. O, S, HO, OO, TT, N and Z are found on the menu selection, but for some reason G scale requires that you select LGB from the track vendor list rather than having its own menu button. AnyRail provides a trial version which is usable for an unlimited time. The paid version is available via PayPal and at the time of writing was $59 US, with other currency options available. Your currency can be found in the licensing area of the web page.

3. SCARM Model Railroad Software

SCARM stands for Simple Computer Aided Railway Modeler. The limited trial version offers a nice selection of track options for basic design and includes some 3D shape additions to the basic layout play. The trial version doesn’t include a library of scenic features, however the licensed version at $40US at time of researching this expands the feature set with a 3D viewing mode in which you can place and view scenic objects and print a full-sized layout plan.

4. XTrkCAD Train Software

XtrkCAD has one big advantage over the other software reviewed here. It’s totally free and available on the opensource site SourceForge. XTrkCAD current version is 5.1.2a

5. 3rd PlanIt Railroad Track Software

3rd PlanIt is another software package that has been around for some time. One great feature of this software is its curve fitting ability. You plan point to point locations, and 3rd PlanIt can create the curves, including easements, for you. A limited version is available for free, but the very full feature set would cost you $125 US at time of writing. Here’s the web site:

6. Trax Track Software

The above software programs all install on your local PC. Trax is a web-based planning tool, which means that it’s accessible to Chromebook users as well as Linux and Apple based computers. Another key feature – Trax is FREE!

7. RR-Trak Train Software

RR-Trak is another Windows specific program. Aside from non-trivial pricing, what sets RR-Trak apart is the you select which scale you wish to use, and the base priced RR-Trak is configured for that scale only. There are other options, but the price ringing in at $79 at time of writing for one scale might prompt you to look very carefully at this feature set to insure you’ll get the bang-per-buck that you desire.

8. Templot Track Software

Templot is unique among the software packages. Most of them use a library of different manufacturers track products to create a layout plan. Templot is a utility for people who lay their own rail. It creates templates that you use to underlay your rail and ties to create custom configurations that look just like the real thing. Hand-laid rail is not for the casual hobbyist, but if you are currently or thinking of hand-laying, this is a tool, a FREE tool, that you should check out. Here’s the URL:

9. Rail Modeller Pro

MacOS users are no longer left out or forced to use a PC emulation program to design layouts. Rail Modeller Pro is designed specifically for MacIntosh computers, and is available at the Mac App store. There are about 250 libraries of objects available to include in your layout plan, and you can create shopping lists of items to purchase to complete the realization of your layout design. Differing grades and levels are easily designed, and the application can print the layout to any size paper, up to and including pen plotter size.

Layout designs can be shared by uploading to a RM cloud community.

Here’s the web page URL:

10. Train Layouts for iPad

This is an application for the iPad that works with Rail Modeller. It features the display of layouts created by RM and stored in the cloud. Train Layouts for iPad is not really a design tool, it’s more of a way to have a portable display device for working on building the layout once you’ve designed it with your desktop or portable Mac. You can also display the creations of other modelers if they have stored them in the community cloud location.

11. TrainDesign Track Software

Another iPad app, Train design has all the usual features such as libraries, but is somewhat limited by the environment. The small screen size limits the layout size that can be viewed at one time. For the user with modest space and a need to keep the design on a portable device, this would be a good choice.