Track design computer programs


New to this great hobby. What is a good and easy to understand computer program to design and print out a layout. I'm trying to
Design a layout in N scale.


Simple Computer Aided Model Railway Design... The most intuitive and easy to use I've found....and free to boot! IMO this is the only program out there that has a truly simple to use flex track tool!


wp8thsub's picture

Too Soon?

Software is a good way to turn a design into a scale drawing.  It can be problematic when attempting to use it as a substitute for a thorough design process.  See the "CAD too soon syndrome" topic on Byron Henderson's site .  As Byron says:

Ending the heartbreak of CTSS

So let's stop sending every Newbee down the path to the tragedy of CAD-Too-Soon Syndrome. Instead, let's encourage them to spend a little more time in learning, visualizing, and planning before they leap into the rendering stage. And for the true Newbee who's anxious to just build something, maybe it isn't such a bad idea to recommend a quality published plan. That would probably lead to better results and more long-term satisfaction.

Just some food for thought before we pile on the software recommendations

Rob Spangler  MRH Blog

rtw3rd's picture

Great advice!

Rob offers great advice. Unless you are a fast learner and like learning new software programs you may want to delay using CAD for your first "rough" design. I used good old pencil and paper to make a VERY rough track plan. As it turns out we have a couple of people in our operating group that are skilled with 3Rd Planit model railroad planning software. One of them used the software to create a CAD version of my rough plan. I didn't have to purchase or learn the software but ended up with a CAD plan.



The Richlawn Railroad Website - Featuring the L&N in HO  / MRH Blog  /  

Byrons site

I can't argue with Robs advice either. I think it's best to do a lot of research and probably a good bit of doodling with old fashioned pencil and paper before using design software but I do really like SCARM though as far as the intuitiveness and ease of the learning curve for a beginner.

Speaking of Byron's site, it is a great resource.  His thoughts on layout design and operation are very helpful. IMO his comments about conventional 4X8 layouts should be required reading for anyone who wants to build a model railroad and the layout design gallery is a wonderful place for inspiration.  Be sure and check it out.


DKRickman's picture

Just to be contrary

I'm afraid I have to disagree somewhat.  I have seen too many hand drawn track plans that, if converted into a layout as drawn, would have impossibly sharp curves, #2 or #3 turnouts, and all sorts of other technical fouls.  This is especially true of novice track planners, who are more often than not unfamiliar with some of the older techniques developed to keep a hand drawn plan legit.  The computer forces you to follow whatever rules you set for yourself.  It also allows a lot more flexibility when it comes to changing things, whereas changing a paper drawing is not always easy.

I like and use XtrkCAD, and I find that it is a very powerful tool for layout design.  it is NOT a layout simulator, like some, but for the price (free) it is a darn good drafting program.  Like any CAD package, it takes a little time to learn, and the quality of the finished plan is somewhat dependent on the skill of the user.  It also allows you to run trains on a plan, which is handy for figuring out if a given track plan will really work as intended, or whether there is a hidden bottleneck in the design.

One thing I will agree with, though, is that there is no substitute for taking the time to learn about effective track planning.  Whether you're working on paper or the computer, if you don't know what you're doing you're not likely to have superb results.

Ken Rickman

Danville & Western HO modeler and web historian

rtw3rd's picture

I said "rough", but not enough....

When my friend with the CAD skills looked at my rough hand drawn plan he had to make MANY changes including turnout and curve radiuses. I didn't say that he translated my plan line per line. What my hand drawn drawing did was QUICKLY give him a rough visual of what I wanted. I still think that a CAD drawing is best, but not necessarily as the 1st drawing.



The Richlawn Railroad Website - Featuring the L&N in HO  / MRH Blog  /  


Thanks for all the input on this subject. I think I will do a hand drawing then transfer it over to a CAD program.

Crusty Old Shellback's picture


I started with pencil and paper designing my layout. I went thru a lot of paper making changes and such. Then someone on here turned me on to XtrakCAD and I'm glad he did.

Now I can make changes as I need to and not go thru a bunch of paper. Plus it makes it a lot easier to post my design on here for inputs and criticism. That's kind of hard to do with paper. Also as others said, using a CAD program allows you to use the proper angles for turnouts and such. It didn't take long to learn how to use it. Plus it comes with a help menu that's good as well. 

Just my .02 cents, YMMV.

Modeling in N Scale the transition era of the late 1930's/ early 40's Texas & Pacific RR (T&P) and the Missouri, Kansas, Texas RR (KATY) centered around Fort Worth, Texas.

Mike Maisonneuve's picture

Free and Easy

As I'm modeling in N scale and using atlas code 55 components on a single deck I've never used anything but the Atlas "Right Track" software.

Free, relatively easy to use and it does a good job on the flex track end of things. As stated above, it helps keep the geometry right... especially with curved turnouts. I've transferred the plan to real life on 4 sections of my layout and the software is bang on. If you're not using Atlas components it would still be a very useful tool IMO.

What it doesn't do well is 3D and it has no running options... but for the price it does what I need it to do... keep my geometry right and show how things will fit.

Mike Maisonneuve

Modeling Northern Alberta Railways' Peace River Subdivision in N Scale

Over on, XTrkCAD seems to be very popular. We also have some sample track plans if you want some other ideas.

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