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What Virtual Model Railroading is

By John Keenan

Originally published in Woodbridge's Train Simulation Craftsman Volume 1, Holiday Issue, Fourth Quarter 2002. --Ed

Virtual Model Railroading, VMR for short, is a term that is just now coming into its own as a viable addition to the wonderful hobby of model railroading. This facet of the hobby is growing in leaps and bounds as more and more of us who love trains and modeling them, discover this fascinating aspect of the hobby. 

VMR allows us to accomplish all of this without regard to space, modeling talent, carpentering ability, finances, and the long list of other necessities model railroading requires. It can ALL be done on your PC with a bit of practice and with the purchase of just the software program of your choice and a personal computer with a bit more than average computing power. Because all truly excellent VMR software is so graphically stunning, a fairly powerful PC is certainly needed for decent performance. I plan to discuss the perfect PC for VMR in a future article.

OK, this all sounds great! But let's take a minute to look at what VMR is not! 

I have been involved in VMR since the earliest days of its availability. I look back on some of the crude (by today's standards) VMR pplications that were available a few years ago with nostalgic amusement. But Henry Ford did not invent the Thunderbird in the beginning; the Model T came first! VMR has now evolved beyond its early beginnings of rude graphics, little real operation, and limited capabilities. 

VMR today is graphically stunning, operation oriented (for those who desire it), and gives us the ability to truly recreate our favorite prototypes or model railroads. Have you ever looked at a track plan in your favorite model railroad magazine and then dreamed for hours or even days about building that layout? If you are like me, you have done this many times, and the "dreaming" is part of the fun of this wonderful hobby! But now those dreams can come true with VMR!

Before going on, I would like to state that I use Trainz railroad simulation software by Auran exclusively. The observations and conclusions stated in this article are based upon my expertise and knowledge of this product. There are other train simulation products available and you will have to decide which is best for you. I am not attempting to promote Trainz over any other simulator, but am simply stating that I do not have the expertise or information available on other products to make comparisons, and that is not the focus ofthis article or any other future article I submit.

OK, now that all that is out of the way, let's take a look at what VMR is! VMR is a tool. And with this tool you can go wherever your imagination takes you. Do you want to model an entire division of a prototype railroad? Do you want to recreate that favorite track planout of a model railroad publication? Do you have your dream layout on paper or in your head and want to finally build it? With VMR you can do all of the above!

VMR allows you to lay track, build terrain, and add buildings, factories, houses, vehicles, animals, people, trees, and a myriad of other details to your project. You can add working signals to your creation. Then you can RUN on the world that you have created. Not only that, you can OPERATE this railroad. Switching industries and yards is a facet of model railroading that many, like me, enjoy the most. You can do that with VMR! Run locals, passenger trains, hot shot intermodals. It's all up to you!

VMR is not a replacement for good old "hands-on" model railroading for those who have model railroad layouts or are planning them. I still have my wonderful HO scale layout in the basement and continue to enjoy it almost every day. VMR does not allow you to put a fine craftsman kit together, or to walk beside a model you have built with your own hands as you follow it around the layout. For many of us, the joys of "hands-on" will always be part of us. 

I see VMR as an addition to this part of the hobby, not a replacement for it. In a
previous article I stated, "Basements have walls, Trainz doesn't." I mean by this that I can only represent so much real estate by the confines of my basement, but with VMR I can expand that to almost infinite size if I so desire. Having said that, I still thoroughly enjoy running those HO scale trains and the other facets of "hands-on" modeling that VMR cannot provide.

VMR is also not a "shake it out of the box" and run it type of program. It is not a game that you can learn in five minutes, play for a day, and then put it on a shelf because it is now "boring" because you have "beaten" it! There is no score in VMR! Well, that's not quite true as we now have scoreable scenarios in Trainz, but that's a very minor part of the entire VMR experience.

To fully enjoy the experience of VMR, you must spend some time learning the "how to" of creating the world you wish to emulate or build. Again, speaking only from my experience with Trainz, it is possible and not difficult to build that dream world, but you have tolearn to do it correctly to make it look and run like the masterpiece you want it to be.
Just like the "hands-on" hobby, you have to do a bit of learning to get it right!

With Trainz, you will be laying track and slapping on scenery in just a few minutes! But there is much more to creating a masterpiece route or layout! Subtle blending of textures to produce realistic scenery is a must, correctly laying track that is not kinked or lumpy must be accomplished, making sure turnouts are not "jerky" or kinked, getting water to look realistic, placing buildings and other objects in a realistic manner, making sure the "end of the world" doesn't show, and a long list of other tasks must be practiced and mastered to make a VMR layout or route look and run like you want it to. 

Future articles by others at TrainzProRoutes as well as me will cover all aspects of "getting it right."

Don't let the above dissuade you for one second! Jump in, the water is fine! With practice, and assistance from the ever-growing community enjoying VMR you will be creating those masterpieces in short order.VMR is here to stay, and will only get better. It is a fascinating and fun part of our great hobby of model railroading.

Try it, you'll like it!

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