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Point-to-point Track Design

Modelers often talk about point-to-point layouts. They are more prototypical than a layout that loops around. They require hands-on operation, but some people like to just watch railroads run, so there’s a place for everyone.


There is a fundamental truth in the point-to-point mentality. In almost every situation, tracks start with a straight (or tangent) segment and end with a straight segment. Between the ends come a variety of turnouts, curves and easements (transitions from tangent to curved track). In most cases, wherever there is something that is part of the railroading, there is a tangent track nearby.


With this outlook, 3rd PlanIt changes the whole paradigm of track planning. Let’s do a quick example using this design approach.

A few buildings are positioned in places that might create an attractive bookshelf layout. We begin with our industries, then create track between them. Nothing needs to stay, but something needs to define start and end points.

Track is added by each of the buildings in locations that are visible to the operator.

A turnout is needed to switch the two tracks on the left. It was aligned to the top track, then moved right holding down the right-arrow key for a little while.

Two pieces of SoftTrak are drawing using the Draw Tool / Draw Splines / Draw SoftTrak With Easements with the Alt key held down to Select the nearest end. Click on each end to created SoftTrak between turnout and tangent track.

Similarly, SoftTrak was drawn between the turnout and the far right track. The gold ends are “grab handles” that let you flex the track while holding the layer’s minimum radius.

A turnout is needed to get to the other track on the right. The SoftTrak is moved away and a mirror image copy of the turnout is drawn and positioned.

The loose end of the SoftTrak is moved by the gold drag handle to the end of the turn, where it aligns in position and direction. A new piece of SoftTrak was drawn between turnout and tangent trak.

To access the other two buildings, a turnout was drawn adjacent to the farthest right track, then moved left by holding the keyboard arrow key. In this position, the track going to the lower-left won’t hit the building.

The existing SoftTrak is aligned to the turnout and another piece drawn between turnout and tangent track.

A piece of SoftTrak gives us an idea of where things align.

We need a turnout, so the SoftTrak is removed and a projecting line drawn from the turnout.

The command Connect / Turnout positions the new turnout so it is exactly aligned to both tracks.

A new piece of SoftTrak completes the layout. This process took 10 minutes, including time to take screen shots along the way.

This view, called Color by Object Type, shows circles (curves) in red, easements in green, and tangent in black. Look at all the geometry that was done creating the curves! 3rd PlanIt creates optimized track geometry, and all you need to do is connect the endpoints.

It’s easy to change things. The buildings, track and turnouts were moved south by selecting them, then holding the down-arrow key.

In two quick motions, then SoftTrak ends were realigned.

Near the top center, a new turnout was drawn directly into the SoftTrak.

A parallel copy of the top track was made, then SoftTrak drawn between the new turnout and tangent track.

We decide there should be more space between the tracks. Move the track south with the down-arrow key, then reconnect the SoftTrak.

Think of how long it would have taken to do the curves and easements required to make these changes? This entire presentation was made in less than 15 minutes!

Suddenly there’s an urge to move the lower-left building closer to the edge. Delete the turnout, move building and track south, then use Connect / Turnout to properly position a new turnout.

Realign the end of the SoftTrak. The difference in curvature is evident when comparing this image with the one above.

There’s a nice little bookshelf layout, made in less time than it took to read this.


Layout design will never be the same. You can have unparalleled design freedom. Lay track as quickly as you can think about it.

Click here to learn more about 3rd PlanIt!

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