Railway Simulation

Extending Open Rails to the limit

When the best rail simulator is not enough

July 10, 2016 Always in progress!

In the 1980s was possible to tour all of Europe on long and comfortable long-distance trains. With the cheapening of air transport and the proliferation of high-speed trains, night express services fell into disuse and most of them were even supressed.

One of those ancient trains

In the other face, nowadays, nostalgic travelers can still cruise the tracks aboard luxury trains that, like cruise ships, have changed their purpose, which is no longer transporting people, but to make them enjoy their trip. Unfortunately, these trains are prohibitively expensive, only operate in high season and are not available for several routes. Taking into account that putting a whole luxury train in circulation is too expensive, how to recreate the same experience as accurately as possible?…

I found the answer almost by chance. It’s called Open Rails and it’s the best open source rail simulator ever. Open Rails is based on the classic Microsoft Train Simulator with which is 100% compatible. But the best thing about Open Rails is that its programmers have released their incredible source code allowing everyone to evolve or adapt it to their specific needs. Combining what was learned to develop the home automation area with regard to PLC controllers with the railway simulation itself, I found a way to go a step further.

It’s not a dream. It’s real.

Taking into account that putting a whole luxury train in circulation is too expensive, how to recreate the same experience as accurately as possible?…


MSTS was a very popular simulator because of its expansion possibilities and its route editing tools and mobile material. In the years 2000 there was a real fever of vocational developers who recreated with vectors and textures all kind of wagons, classic locomotives and former routes. There are so many contributions that it would be very difficult to list them all. However, the most valuable masterpieces of all were the long distance routes. Actual sceneries, set in the present or in some glorious past, in which it’s possible to travel along many hundreds of kilometers. Fortunately one of these works, called VallarizaSoria, covers several of the lines that I could travel in the best years of the railway. The first time I surfed one of these lines I felt a mixture of sensations very difficult to express because everything I saw seemed real although my mind knew that it was only a simulation.

View from another great long distance route for this simulator

Building a real life train

I left the simulator momentary and went to the DIY to design an environment in wich to enjoy better of my new virtual trains. The wagons-lits compartments were so small that there was barely room to stand up. The limitation of size supossed a great advantage for me because if I could recreate the interior of one of those rooms and replaced the view outside the window with the simulator’s screen, it would be possible to recreate the feeling of actually being on board a real train. I set to work and designed a custom-built room, inspired by the shapes of the actual compartments, but without imitating a concrete model. I did not take too long to translate what I had in mind…

CAD of the train compartment prototype

As important as the reconstruction of the compartment’s interior was the electrical part. The same computer managing the simulation is dedicated to manage the lighting, three fans, two telephones, a control panel, an analogic speedometer and several other devices. On the outer wall of the compartment there is a control panel identical to that on real coaches whose lights and controls react realistically according to the simulated environment. The fans simulate the air conditioning operation.

Partial view of the compartment interior

All three are dual speed. One of them brings cold air from outside, another brings hot air and the third one sucks the air inside. Depending on simulated speed, presence in tunnels, virtual train power supply and air conditioning settings, the processor controls all three fans simulating the actual airflow and the sound it produces when passing through the ducts. the telephones are controlled by a minicomputer and serve to warn the traveler of the proximity of his destination station in nocturnal routes. Absolutely all the details have been taken in account, up tho the emergency brake lever that causes the actual stop of the simulated train when it is switched! Finally an internal control panel allows to know the situation of the train, the simulated meteorology and also accepts orders on the modes of the train’s operations.

Simulated converter on the exterior wall
Interior control panel made from a refurbished former railway equipment. Also features an ERTMS speedometer.

Tracking the tracks on board

When entering the compartment it’s inevitable to re-experience some feelings seemed forgotten. The bustle on the platforms, the rumor of the locomotive engine in the distance, the peace that remains when closing the window…

Ready to begin another great trip

And suddenly the train starts it’s voyage. The rail joints sound under the wheels, all the train tilts slightly and acquires speed. The little depots, the houses, the trees pass by. There is no trace of graffiti or traffic jams on the roads over us. It’s a return to the past, to the rhythm of the squeaks, the mountain’s wind blowing across the hills… I settle into my bed. I do not feel like reading. Just to enjoy myself contemplating that which surrounds me, just like when I was a child. And is that in the background, this new room does not serve to travel through space, but for time.

Amazing. And now what?

All right. There are really many things to be done. The simulation works… but it is not perfect. I need to combine the generation of BrainTrain schedules with the simulator to generate traffic. It’s important to be able to alter the meteo in real time, especially for these long routes. I’ll keep you informed of any progress that may be made.

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