How To: Google Maps and 3rdPlanIt

The availability of digital satellite photos through services like Google Maps and Bing have yielded a wealth of information for the modern age modeler. One of the challenges though is how to leverage satellite photos inside powerful layout design tools like 3rdPlanIt. I’ve been working through this over the past few days and feel I’ve arrived at a good efficient process.

Let’s see how this works in practice. I’ve selected the Ingredion siding (formerly CASCO) in Port Colborne, Ontario on the Trillium Railway as an example. The Google Map is available here.

The first step is to get a screen capture from Google Maps of the area you want to model. It almost always pays to make the screen capture as big as possible. I use the Snipping Tool that comes with Windows with the Window Snip option to get the whole browser window. Go to Google Maps in satellite mode and zoom into the area you want to capture. I try to get down to a consistent zoom level which makes the next steps a little easier. The most important thing to remember is to get the little scale that Google puts on every map into the screen capture (using the Window Snip option should ensure this happens). On the screen capture below, the scale shows 20 meters since I did the screen capture in Europe:

Step 1: Get Screen Capture from Google Click to Enlarge
Step 1: Get a Screen Capture from Google
Click to Enlarge

Using the Save option in the Windows Snipping Tool, save the screen capture as a jpg and note the size of the jpg; on my system, the size of my monitor gives 1920 x 1168 pixel screen captures.

Next, open 3rdPlanIt and start with a fresh file working in feet and inches. The 20’x20′ default room is a good one to start with. It is also good practice to add a new layer to hold the aerial photograph:

Step 2: Set up an Aerial Photo Layer Click to Enlarge
Step 2: Set up an Aerial Photo Layer
Click to Enlarge

The next step is to convert the dimensions in the 3rdPlanIt file to model scale units. There is a checkbox on the File/Settings/Units that you must click. This converts the dimensions in the 3rdPlanIt file to real-world units. For an HO scale drawing, every dimension gets multiplied by 87.

Step 3 Convert to Model Scale Click to Enlarge
Step 3 Convert to Model Scale
Click to Enlarge

Now with the Aerial Photo layer active, select the “Place Image” tool. Starting at the (0,0) corner (the lower left), click and drag your cursor until the size of the photo is about 19200″ by 11680″. This is the proportion of the jpg file multiplied by 10 and should just about fill the 20′ dimension. It is critical to keep the proportion of the jpg when drawing the object; once the image is placed in the right proportion, we can drag the upper right corner to bring the image to the final dimensions. Working in HO scale here and with the level of zoom I typically work, I find that I need to make the jpg image about 22 feet wide:

Step 4 Resize Photo Click to Enlarge
Step 4 Resize Photo
Click to Enlarge

Once I’m at this point, I switch the units to meters to align with the Google Map scale and switch the layer to the Main Layer. Now, zoom into the Google scale section and the bottom right. Select the Draw Track and draw a piece of track from one end of the scale to the either. Now check the length of this track segment in the track detail box in the top right. If the two are close (say 21 meters compared to Google Maps’ 20 meter scale), then you are done. If they are significantly different, select the placed image again and grabbing the same upper right corner, increase or decrease the size of the image accordingly and redraw the check track segment again:

Step 5 Check Scale Click to Enlarge
Step 5 Check Scale
Click to Enlarge

Now you can return to the Main Layer and start drawing track right over the Google map. I usually start by putting turnouts down first. Next to be drawn are the end of the various spurs. I then use the SoftTrack connect tool to tie them together. If the Google Map satellite photo has railcars on the spurs, I’ll often add a couple of them from the Rolling Stock library to confirm I’ve got the scale right:

6 Draw on the Aerial Photo Click to Enlarge
Step 6 Draw on the Aerial Photo
Click to Enlarge

From here, you can just group the trackage in the Main Layer together, copy it and paste it into your layout design file as a Layout Design Element.

What’s nice about this approach is that it gives you a good feel of the track arrangements on the prototype and how much space would be required to model things faithfully. For the Ingredion spur, the prototype would take about 12 feet to model faithfully, a luxury many of us would not have. However, from here, we can build up our strategies to selectively compress scenes like this one for modeling.

Video: Port Colborne Harbour Railway

This is another interesting video of the Trillium Railway operations circa 2012. The back story is that CP was on strike at the time, preventing Trillium from using its normal interchange at Feeder. Instead interchange was done with the CN at Merritton. The video shows that all three Trillium locomotives were called into action.

Trillium Railway Detour Interchange, Merritton, May 26, 2012

The video does show the differences in traffic between the north and south parts of the railway. The south part is dominated by tank cars and covered hoppers, while north of Merritton, boxcars and gondolas are more prevalent.

Photo Set: On TraXS 2015

I returned once again to the Dutch Railway Museum for the 2015 edition of On TraXS. This year 27 exhibition style layouts were set up throughout the museum. While the number of layouts was down slightly from last year, the number of vendors in attendance was up significantly.

Once again, there were some very well-done layouts on display. I especially liked:

  1. Pit Karges, First Snow on the high line, HOn3
  2. Collectief Chemin de Fer Forestier, Mocanita, Oe (it’s based on a real railway)
  3. Halleluja Players, Orange River & Pacific, Fn3
  4. Thomas Schmid, Île VaOù, Oe
  5. Arcamodellismo Torino, Vallescura, HO
  6. S&G hardrock mining, Leo Bettonviel, HOn3

It was interesting that HOn3 was so popular this year; in 2014, On30 was the preferred narrow gauge scale. And while it is not a traditional model railway, the execution of Peter Dillen’s IJsselstein module, with its use of perspective, was stunning to see in person:

IJsselstein by Peter Dillen
IJsselstein by Peter Dillen

As always, I’ve made a photo set available on Flickr.

Riding the Little Trains of Wales

Robin and I have just returned from two weeks in Wales where we hiked, walked around old castles and manor houses and rode four of the Great Little Trains of Wales. The four railways we rode were:

  1. the Llanberis Lake Railway
  2. the Welsh Highland Railway
  3. the Ffestiniog Railway
  4. the Talyllyn Railway

On the Llanberis Lake Railway, we rode behind “Elidir“. We used the Welsh Highland Railway to complete a hike we did from Rhyd Ddu to Beddgelert. We photographed both Garrett engines used on the WHR, numbers 138 and 143, earlier in the day when they crossed near Rhyd Ddu but rode behind no 138 back to Rhyd Ddu. On the Ffestiniog, we rode the “David Lloyd George” down from Blaneau Ffestiniog to Porthmadog and the “Earl of Merioneth” back up. Finally, on the Talyllyn, we rode behind the “Tom Rolt“.

Each trip had its own highlights, but having the opportunity to see these classic steam engines running through the Wales countryside was reward enough.

I have additional pictures from the Llanberis Lake, Welsh Highland and Talyllyn Railways on Flickr.

The Penrhyn Quarry Railway

The Penrhyn Quarry Railway was possibly the first two foot gauge railway in the world, the quarry it served the largest slate quarry in the world, the slab mill and inclines the oldest in Wales. All this makes this iconic railway of national, if not global, importance. After 167 years of service, the Penrhyn Quarry Railway was closed in June 1962, most of the locomotives finding new homes throughout the world.

Several good websites document the history and current status of the PQR. The Penrhyn Quarry Railway Society supports the rebuilding of the railway and actively acquires historical artifacts and photographs of the railway and quarry. The Penrhyn Quarry Railway provides support for the Penrhyn Railway Project at Felin Fawr, Bethesda. Support includes funding small projects and promoting the railway and its heritage.

To give you a feel about the PQR near the last days of its operations, the following Youtube video shows some vintage footage from the 1950’s:

Sixty years later, here are some of the preserved engines and rolling stock of the PQR running on the Llanberis Lake Railway.

Photo Set: On TraXS 2014

I returned today to the Dutch Railway Museum for the 2014 edition of On TraXS. This year another 30 exhibition style layouts were set up.

Once again, there were some very well-done layouts on display. I especially liked:

  1. Team Mitropa Leden, Oosterbeek-Hoog, HO – NL
  2. Christopher Payne, Pynton Tramway Co, 1:45 – UK
  3. Alexander Lösch, Harbour Street Yard, HO – USA
  4. René Paul, Herbert’s Crossing, On3 – USA
  5. Martin Welberg, Mara Harbour, On30 – USA

I’ve made a photo set available on Flickr.

Back Story on the Marchlyn Quarry Railway

Marchlyn Quarry Engine - Oakshaak
Marchlyn Quarry Engine – Oakshaak
After reviewing my last few posts here at Trains @ Station Studios, I realized that while I talked a lot about engines and rolling stock, I have not done a good job of explaining the back story of the Marchlyn Quarry Railway. So let’s fix that now.

I first ran across the narrow gauge slate railways of Wales back in 1988. I lived in London, England for three years in the late 1980’s and my cousins from Canada visited for a couple of weeks. While we spent a lot of time seeing the sights in London, we rented a car and drove to Wales for a week. We started in the south of Wales in the Brecon Beacons area and made our way north. When I learned that there was a narrow gauge railway running down from the hills at Blaenau Ffestiniog to the seaside at Porthmadog, I convinced the others that we had to go for a ride on it. It was a memorable experience.

After I returned to Canada, my modelling interests moved onto other things like the PM&TCo. But as I started to get more and more interested in garden and live steam railways when we lived in Texas, it was not long before I was coming across the Great Little Trains of Wales and the myriad of opportunities to use them as a theme for my next garden railway. My purchase of a 7/8″ scale live steam engine and three slate cars back in 2011 sealed the deal.

I thought about going pretty much fully freelance in the design but have always liked basing my model railroads closely on real prototypes. So I started to investigate the various slate railways that ran into the 1950’s. Fundamentally, there were four:

  1. the Ffestiniog Railway
  2. the Talyllyn Railway
  3. the Padarn Railway
  4. the Penrhyn Quarry Railway

I made the following Google Map to show where each of these railways where and the slate quarries each of them served (you can expand the map to full screen and zoom in to see the details more closely):

There is much to recommend to use any of the four as a basis for a garden railway, but in the end I think the Penrhyn Quarry Railway had the most interesting combination of operations, engines, rolling stock and buildings. To give myself some room to take inspiration from the other three railways, I chose not to use the Penrhyn Quarry name. Instead during my research I found that there was a short-lived slate quarrying operation lying just to the south of the main Penrhyn quarry. It was named the Marchlyn Quarry and so I chose to use it as the name of my 7/8″ scale railway.

So there you go: the back story to the Marchlyn Quarry Railway. There are several good online resources on the Penrhyn Quarry Railway which I’ll share in the next few weeks.