As with most hobbies today, Model Railroading has entered the 21st century complete with computer technology. While the model train past time has been around for over a century, recent technology improvements have allowed it to continue to grow. For the enthusiast who is interested in such things, track planning software, Digital Command and Control (DCC), switch list generators, and even train inventory software is now available with a quick search on the internet.
So why would you need software for a hobby that is based on technology from the turn of the century? Well the answer is you don’t, but you still might want it. You can enjoy model railroading quite nicely without even owning a computer processor. After all, enthusiasts have been doing it for decades. But just like many things, once you try it, you may wonder how you ever survived without it (think cell phones)!!
Track planning software may be the most prevalent and easily attainable software out there today. You can plan your track layout and even see it in 3D with some of the software. Are you a Mac user? No problem, there are plenty of Mac versions of track layout software available and some of them even have a free demo version just like most software products these days.
DCC is another hot word you will hear over and over in the model railroading circles. It stands for Digital Command and Control and it is basically software and hardware combined that help you control your trains and layouts doing such things as track switching, turning lights on and off, raising and lowering drawbridges, and scheduling your trains. This is just a smaller version of the system that full size trains use these days, although I would venture to say that they model train variety may be even more sophisticated.
Once you have been in the hobby for a while, you may have so many train cars and locomotives that you have a hard time keeping them straight. That is where inventory software can come in handy. Sure, you could get by with lists on paper or in a notebook, but with a software program, you can more easily search for what you are looking for and find it quicker. Sort the data by scale, manufacturer, gauge, or many other categories depending on the software product.
One other software that may be unique to the model train industry is “fast clock” software. As the name implies, a fast clock is a clock that runs faster than real time so that you can scale time just like you scale your train!
Of course you will need a computer to run all of this software and you will probably want one that is dedicated to your layout. It does not have to be a super powerful processor or a computer with a huge hard drive. As mentioned before, either a Mac or a PC will work depending on your preferences.
So if you thought you were getting into a hobby that was mostly analog, you can continue that way, but in this day and age, model railroad software may just make your hobby even more rewarding than it already is.
Article courtesy of “The Enthusists Guide to Model Trains”