Route Creation for Newbies
This is a vast topic but I'll try to enumerate the steps involved. This could become lengthy and I may add to it from time to time. This doc is a combination of my docs on Facebook.
Route building is one of the quirkiest aspect of MSTS. Everything seems to be going along nicely and suddenly there is the famous "Send/ Don't send" error. The task is possible only with a lot of practice and patience.
First of all, read the help file about creating the route that came with MSTS. Read it fully, refer to it in case of problems and read again and again. It has answers to most of the problems. Don't go for tutorials initially.
A Basic Route
I would advise that when creating a route for the first time, start small. A small imaginary route of about 8-10 tiles. Create terrain by elevating/ depressing terrain so that in future you can create tunnels and rivers with water in them. This terra-forming should preferably done before putting the tracks and never over the tracks, route may get scrapped due to that.
Put tracks, switches, etc. Cross tracks over the rivers, create tunnels. Tunnels are a little complicated but try that. The joy of playing our route is just indescribable. DON'T PUT TRACK INTERACTIVE OBJECTS like signals and platforms.
Put roads, cross them thru the tracks but again don't put level crossings yet nor traffic. Try to put road overbridges.
When you are satisfied that enough tracks are laid and no more tracks/roads will be added later, only then start with the track interactives. Once you put these, changing the tracks is a sure recipe for disaster. Put platforms, signals, mile markers, speed limits, etc.
The initial route from template has very few objects. There is a stuffit pack available for download on train-sim. Use that and you will get a lot of objects. Decorate your route with the scenery added. Add stations, trees and what not.
I have not mentioned Xtracks and newroads. These are preferable but not a must for the basic route. Also do not use the dynamic track if you are planning to use Xtracks. Xtracks has a lot of track pieces to fit any curve and a lot of switches as well. Default tracks have only 10d switches.
So now you have created a route. Well it was not difficult at all ! Create activities and play the route. Only when you have got a hang of how things work in MSTS, go for a reality based route.
The principles are the same but you cannot put anything haphazardly. There has to be a basic plan of the route. Again start small. Think about only your city for example, say Hyderabad. Use Google Earth. It is a wonderful tool. It allows us put markers which can be imported into MSTS. When creating markers, obviously pick the tracks to place them also at places like end of stations, bifurcations, river bridge start/end, flyovers, etc. You can add more markers later. Name the markers with the height value incorporated, e.g. "platform start 202m"; "peak 400m", etc.
Create tiles for that region from RGE (Geometry Extractor). Import markers by Route Riter (RR). RR is an absolute requirement for MSTS. Take pains to install the dotnets and javas but install RR. It will help you immensely as you go deeper into Route building. And it's free!
Create terrain first. If you area has mountains and rivers, then you will have to create them first as per the markers.
Demex is a tool which exactly creates terrain as per the Digital data. The freeware works well. Learning to use it is a little cumbersome and takes some effort on your part. If you are able to do it, nothing like it. Otherwise you can manually raise/ lower terrain. The time to use demex is BEFORE putting anything on the tiles. More about Demex is given below.
So back to the route. Put tracks according to the markers by trial and error. Creating the exact replica is not sometimes possible but try to get as close to the reality as possible. You will find Xtracks almost indispensable now because of the sheer number of track pieces to choose from. SR tracks look good but there are lesser track pieces there. Choose anything you want. There is one more alternative of DB tracks. These are to be used as a replacement of default track pieces. Many of Xtracks pieces are also available but not all. It's use is quite complicated but the results are spectacular. If you plan to use these DB tracks, you must limit the usage of track pieces as are available with DB tracks. The link is http://dbtracks.de.
Demex for MSTS
Digital elevation data is converted into MSTS terrain by this program. So you don't have to create mountains manually and they are are much smoother with this. Also the elevation values are reasonably accurate producing nice grades of tracks later. Best used with Google markers, which are almost indispensable for a new route.
This doc is just an introduction to Demex, not a tutorial. Demex is a paid license program, however a free version is also available. It is available at http://www.digital-rails.com/files
Download the newer version but old one also may have to be tried if newer doesn't work for you. The beta version will not work without license. Also download the tutorial. More information about using it can be had by Googling Demex.The Digital Elevation data
It is avaiable here http://dds.cr.usgs.gov/srtm/version2_1/SRTM3/Eurasia/.
As the name suggests, this page covers the whole Eurasia. The format for naming the zip file is by Lat and Lon values. So value for Mumbai is somewhere in " N18E072" file, Latitude for Mumbai is 18-19 North and Longitude is 72-74 East. Surrounding area files also will be needed but you can always download them later (after seeing the data in Demex).
The best way to find the lat and lon extent of your route is by extracting the route is the usual way by Route Geometry Extractor (RGE) of MSTS. As you open it in Route Editor (RE), the values are at the top in red.Actual Usage
THIS HAS TO BE USED IN THE INITIAL STAGES ONLY, NEVER WHEN YOU HAVE LAID TRACKS. So after creating a new route in RGE, the next step is Demex and only then laying tracks, etc.
Open Demex, load your route in it and open the DEM data. The route tiles will be seen in red and the data as black and white. There should be the data covering ALL the tiles, download more if needed and load it as merge data.
Now simply create the demex tiles from the menu for standard terrain. Done, you can open your route in RE and see the mountains and valleys created !Problems
As with anything in MSTS, there could be problems. The biggest of them is the lack of data at some locations. The tiles there will show deep troughs at that site. If so, you need a utility called SRTM fill which will add data in the blank points depending upon the surrounding data, not accurate 100% but OK for MSTS. The link is http://3dnature.com/srtmfill.html.
Also rivers and lakes sometimes don't get formed correctly and toggling water is unsuccessful in creating a good river. That can be done manually by lowering the terrain in the old fashioned MSTS way.Distant Mountains
Normally std terrain is visible up to 2 kms in MSTS. The distant mountains feature enables the view of mountains from a much farther distance. However it can be done ONLY with paid version and can be added later when the route finishes. The tiles created for distant mountains are in LO_Tiles folder and are visible only in game, not in RE.
Some Helpful Utilities
I will try to enumerate some of the useful utilities for Route building.
1. AlignUtil - This is a beautiful utility to align objects in the route. The main headaches are the bridges, berms, platform shapes, etc. This will do the job perfectly even when the tracks are at an incline. A must for Route Building. Search train-sim file library for "MSTS Object Alignment Utility" zip name "alignu.zip"
2. MSTS TK_Utils, zip file name "tk_utils.zip". This has 4 utilities grouped together. The Zipper does the job of compressing/ uncompressing shape files without ffedit given by MSTS which can be sometimes bothersome to use because of command line interface. Archibald is still better, it opens compressed files as such and will save them compressed after you make alterations in the file. Mapper creates a map of the route as you seee in Activity Editor. Horace is meant for dynamic tracks if tsection is not modified properly. All these however require dotnet.
3. Route Riter as mentioned earlier is too good to miss. It does so many things that it will be a separate document to explain about them.
There are many more, I'll add them later as need arises.
Now lets see what your newly created route has and what you can do to modify them. The main folders are SHAPES and TEXTURES.
Adding Custom Objects
The route when created anew has only a few objects as mentioned. There are literally thousands of more objects you can add to your route. To add an object, the shape and shape description files (xx.s and xx.sd) are to be copied to the Shapes folder of your route. The xxx.ace files of textures will go to the Textures folder. Doing this only is not enough but you have to add the reference in the Route.ref file. This can be opened with notepad or any text editor. Here you will see the names of the shape files with their description in short. The easiest way to create a ref is to copy a section starting from Static to the bracket just before the next Static. Edit xx.s with name of your shape file, change other values as you like BUT MAKE SURE THAT ALL BRACKETS ARE COMPLETE, i.e. a "(" must have a corresponding ")".
Filename ( "ST.s" )
Class ( "Vehicles - Bus" )
Align ( None )
Description ( "ST" )
A section like this section in italics has to be added in the end of ref file.
This folder contains the terrain textures. Again they are just ace files in the folder, you can add any terrain file here. This does not require ref file addition. You can copy terrain.ace files from other routes to yours.
These are environment files, sunrise, sunset times, sky, water textures, etc. The best way to modify them is by KOSMOS another utility at train-sim.
Activities, Paths, Services and Traffic
These folders are meant for use in Activity Editor. Make sure that at least blank folders are present in your route folder.
These are data files on which the route works. Any mistake here is a sure recipe for MSTS crash. So these have to be handled very carefully. Enumerating them alphabetically
carspawn.dat This decides what vehicles will be seen in your route. Default route has only one red car, you can add to it by copying the line and replacing the xxx.s with the shape which you have in your route. The number in the second line denotes the no. of vehicles which are 'spawned' and has to be accurate, in doubt, count manually and confirm.
forests.dat As the name suggests this will create forests in the route. Forests are the ace files of trees placed at rt angles to create an illusion of forest. You can add to this forests.dat file also according to what trees you want to create the forests. Procedure is exactly similar to above, here also take care of the no. of entries. These forests are available as Track Objects and when placed will show a tree with 3 bright green squares. The middle sq is meant for density of the forest (rt click to see) and outer squares can be extended to the extent you want.
gantry.dat is a fantastic file. Originally meant for erecting gantries on tracks, it can be adopted to create walls along the tracks. Steam4me website has a great tutorial explaining this.
sigcfg and sigscr .dat files These decide what signals you will be able to put in your route. The procedure is reasonably complicated and deserves a separate doc for it.
speedpost.dat meant for speed limits AND mile posts. Again the shapes can be adjusted to suit Indian environment.
ssource.dat This puts sounds in your route. I've already created a doc for this. I'll try to put it in the end of this doc.
telepole.dat This is supposed to add telegraph poles to the route. I've had no use of it and am largely unsuccessful at it.
ttype.dat These are track sounds heard as the train passes. The sounds are different when in tunnel, over bridge, crossing platforms, etc. Altering this is tricky but you should be able to use them as said in the above locations. They are available in Sound Regions. When selected and put on a track they are seen as yellow triangles connected with lines. The triangles determine the direction and extent of the sound heard.
haz files These create hazards in the route, like the default deer along the tracks which jump away when you sound horn. Spotter is similar, a workman can be seen at restricted speed limits. Just eye candies and of not much use.
.mkr files These were described earlier
.trk file This has route description, not only for the player but for MSTS too. It denotes where the files are located. Any error here will crash the route.
Track and Road database files The cause of ultimate headache of MSTS. These show the track locations and their links with each other and interactive objects. tdb and rdb refer to tracks/roads and tit/rit to interactives. Tracks are entered first as you put them in a serial order of IDs. Interactives are added later and will have subsequent IDs. These are all inter-dependent. So when you change a track after putting an interactive, its ID changes and all subsequent tracks/ interactives have problem. Correcting them is almost impossible. So NEVER CHANGE TRACKS AFTER YOU HAVR PUT INTERACTIVE OBJECTS.Hope this explains at least some aspects of Route Building..