Rails & Trains – Part 1

Railroad TracksTrains and Rails are useful for all kinds of mapping. From the humble carts on a track used in mines, to daring train heists in the Wild West, through subways and all the way to modern high-speed bullet trains. They can be used for battle maps to play out interesting encounters, as scenery in your mine maps and part of the infrastructure of your city.

In this first part I’ll be having a look at creating the basic tracks.

(I’ll also be looking at this in tomorrow’s live stream, so join the stream or watch the archived video later if you wish a video version of this)

In this article I am trying to make the tracks fit into a Dungeons of Schley map, and will pick fills and effects that are suitable for that. But you can easily adapt this to work with any style, the steps are exactly the same, but you may wish to tweak the effects differently to make it fit in.

Now, there are just two components to railroad tracks, the rails and the sleepers that support them. Let us start with the rails.

There are a couple of vital dimensions when it comes to rails and track. First we have the width of the rail itself. Well, two widths actually, the base and the head (top). There are many different standards, but they are usually between 2-3″ for the head, and 5-6″ for the base. The second vital dimension is the gauge, the width between rails. Again, there are many standards, but the most common one on the planet today is 4′ 8.5″. This is measured between the inside edges of the rails, so this actually makes the standard 5′ snap for battle maps almost perfect here.

To draw the tracks I start out by making a sheet called RAIL TRACKS. We need some effects designed for these in particular, so they should not go on the same sheet as anything else. Then it is just the matter of drawing two straight lines 0.25′ wide using the Line tool on the snap grid (We’ll stick to straight lines now. I’ll cover curves and angling the sleeper later).

For the Dungeons of Schley style I drew the lines using a light grey (color 251) [Shown darkened in the screenshot to get a better contrast]. For other styles, you may want to use different fills, for example for a more realistic style you may wish to use a metal bitmap fill as the plain color may not fit in as well there.

Now, plain lines doesn’t look very good, so we need to throw on some effects. Now, for this example I’ll be using a simple bevel to show that it is wider on the top than the bottom. I think that makes them look reasonably good, but of course it isn’t a perfect representation of the shape of a rail, so if you try to get more realistic you may need two lines overlapping instead of a single one.

For the RAIL TRACKS sheet, I then added three effects, in this order:

  • Bevel, Lighted – This gives the rail itself a 3-dimensional look
  • Outer Glow – I use this to add a black outer glow to make it more similar to Mike’s own artwork, which tends to use thick black outlines.
  • Blur – A very small blur to just soften everything up a bit, again to make it fit a bit more in with Mike’s style. I am not skilled enough to emulate him, but at least I can make it blend in a bit better.

Look at these images for my setting. Do especially notice how small my various size values are, the default values in these dialogs are not suited for these kinds of details, so if you don’t adjust them, the result is not going to look good.

Now, with these effects in place, the tracks themselves should look pretty nice.

The next step will be the sleepers. Now, these may be wooden or concrete depending on how modern your map is, but the Schley style isn’t particular modern, so let us go with wooden ones. If there was a wooden plank symbol in the style we might have been able to use it, but there isn’t, so let us make a simple sleeper ourselves.

First of all, the sleepers needs different effects from the rails, and they so we need a separate sheet for them. I like to make one called RAIL SLEEPERS and then make that the active sheet. We need a wooden fill as well, most styles has these, and here I picked Wood Wall Oak_SS4. This is a good fill because it is “solid” wood, not planks, otherwise it may end up looking like each sleeper is made of several different planks, which looks a bit odd.

Now, all that is needed is to draw a rectangle using the Box tool. I just drew it by eye, but it turned out to be about 7′ long, and 0.7′ wide. Lovely.

Now, I decided that 2.5′ is a good distance for the sleepers. This makes it easy to copy them using Copy since you can just place them on the snap points easily. Or you can do as I did, and use Rectangular Array, which is a great way of placing things in a regular pattern.

Finally, it is just adding the effects. The settings I’ve used are mostly the same as for the tracks above, except that I use a smaller bevel to give them a different apparent height, so a bevel size of 0.04 (as opposed to the 0.08 for the tracks) seems to look nice.

And, that’s basically it for the tracks themselves.Let us just use the grey dirt terrain tool to spruce up the background behind the tracks and call it a day.

There is much to handle yet, such as handling curved tracks, and of course, adding some railroad cars, but that will be the topic for my next installment.





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One Response to “Rails & Trains – Part 1”

  1. Another great article. Very useful. Thanks Remy 🙂