Here's the list alphabetically with a couple of (personal) comments for each. In my opinion,
3rdPlanIt, CADRail, and XTrkCAD are the strongest, but specific people with particular needs may find one of the others a
3D Railroad Concept And Design
Windows. I found this an idiosyncratic little program, although it was a little easier for me to make 3d
features work than with some of the others. (The original developer, Abracadata, seems to have gone out of business and the
link above leads to a self-described software "liquidator").
User-supported site (designs, tips, downloads)
Windows. As noted, I like this one the best, but I don't make much use of the terrain or 3d features. There
are quirks and the documentation lags product development at times. This is somewhat compensated for by an active user group
on Yahoo that is pretty helpful. New in 2007 is a support site run by the developer.
Good selection of track libraries and a lot of additional libraries, buildings, and rolling stock have been
placed in the public domain by users. Software to provide standards-based CAD file export (.dxf and .dwg) is an extra
cost item (about ten bucks), although .jpg exports are included with the base program.
With the recent release of Version 8, the developer has shown a lot of responsiveness to user issues
and in my opinion this bodes well for 3rd PlanIt.
Windows. In some ways, this seems the most sophisticated to me, but the user interface always strikes
me as quirky. I have not given it a close look since v6 and it's now on v9, so my comments should be taken with a grain of
salt. Perhaps the largest active user base, so good opportunities for exchanging plans with others. Many users seem satisfied
with CADRail, though the learning curve is high as with all full-featured layout CAD programs.
If one is comfortable with the user interface, CADRail is also an excellent choice, in my opinion.
YahooGroups site (though it appears not to be active)
Macintosh. I love my Mac, but features-wise this offering does not compare well with the best. Some of the
other programs claim to work on a Virtual PC on the Mac, but I have not made them work successfully on my G3. Still, if you
only have a Mac and you want layout design software, it's worth checking out the demo. (And RailModeller, below). I have ended
up relegating my Layout Design work to the PC, but those even more loyal to the Mac than I may want to try Empire Express.
User group bulletin boards sponsored on RailModeller's site:
Macintosh. I have not yet had a chance to demo this software, but since it appears to be the only full-featured MRR CAD
software for the Mac, I am including it in this list. I expect to demo the software soon and will add more comments at that
No specific groups, although topics are discussed on the Atlas forums
Windows. This program is free to download from atlas. Free has its own virtues, but I find this program
to be very underpowered compared to CADRail and 3rdPlanIt. For most people, the time they spend to learn the program is by
far the biggest investment in CAD, so despite the fact that this one is free, I think most people will find the fact that
it supports only Atlas track too limiting. In addition, I find the method of manipulating flextrack especially difficult vs.
the more fully-featured programs. This product is based on the commercial Winrail software. I have not evaluated WInrail per se, it seems to offer a good selection of Märklin libraries that some other programs
Unoffical users Yahoo group
Windows and LINUX. XTrkCAD has a strong set of features and the platform flexibility of LINUX, but does
not seem to have the promotional strength (relative) of 3rd PlanIt and CADRail. XTrkCAD has moved to an open source model.
What this means in terms of support and future enhancements is not clear from the information on the website, but may be interesting
for those working in a LINUX environment. I do think that anyone who is serious about model RR CAD should definitely look
at XTrkCAD along with the better-known choices, with the caveat that product updates and enhancements may not be forthcoming
in the future.
A final thought when considering any program
Many of these packages are written, sold and supported by vary
small companies or individuals. The risk of some of these small developers going out of business is real. Good advice is to
save versions of your trackplan to standard file formats such as .jpg, .dxf, and .dwg. And back-up your files to CD or other
media often. (You do make back-ups, right?)
Another risk to consider is that developers may change file formats and
in the process obsolete track plan files developed in earlier versions. Even if you are happy with the program you have chosen,
it pays to check in with their users groups or official website occasionally so you'll be aware of any such changes.