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                                       XTrackCAD and Templot
     
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1st message | this message only posted: 26 Feb 2018 17:34
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from:
Adam Richards
 

 

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Hi Martin,

As you may know I am a maintainer of xtrkcad and my steely eye has fallen on the turnout parameter builder and the hand laid turnout creator.

These are not a patch on templot, of course, and never will be.  But they could be better about describing pre-made track than they are and there is also the idea of potentially importing templot templates or vice versus (no idea how feasible).

I recall that you had a very useful page about prototype practice with an enumeration of the turnout parts in your old companion (which seems to be down) and the pointer to the prototype information in the new companion also seems to have an issue....

Any chance of a copy?

It would be great to at least have a more sophisticated view than a frog point, a frog angle, and the lengths and offsets which is what we have to go on today. These don’t seem to cope with the externalities of curved versus straight closure, curved main and/or diverging ends, etc.

Remember our aim is to get the end of the turnouts correct and so the rest of the track, leaving fine detail of the prototypical internals to those who use templot. In that sense, the ability to exchange info between pictograms would enable the quick an easy part of xtrkcad to marry up to the righteous and precise templot.

Regards,

Adam
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2nd message | this message only posted: 26 Feb 2018 17:50
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Martin Wynne
West Of The Severn, United Kingdom



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Hi Adam,

Welcome to Templot Club. :)

Details of how to import a DXF file from XTrackCAD into Templot as a background guide are at:

 http://85a.co.uk/forum/view_topic.php?id=3049&forum_id=1

Which is probably the best way for an XTrackCAD user to get a custom turnout design. It could then be exported from Templot as a DXF file and imported back into XTrackCAD, or inserted as a bitmap image.

regards,

Martin.

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3rd message | this message only posted: 27 Feb 2018 14:07
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from:
Adam Richards
 

 

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Martin,Well, your proposal would involve at least one enhancement to XTrackCAD over its current state which is that we don't have an image capability for an object yet - all our objects are drawn vectors today. It is something that I have been working towards adding once we have migrated to a recent level of GTK (as a cross-platform program we have to make sure portability is maintained as job #1). That said, it is probably the only way to have an accurate representation of the superior trackwork, so it has to be part of the solution.

However, "merely" a graphical representation and exchange doesn't really satisfy on two levels - 
  1. It doesn't allow the joining of elements correctly inside the program - that is the object being entered into XTrackCAD should have end points that are correct as to position, angle and radius and center of curvature (the later two being determined by the piece of track entering into the end point). That way a piece of track joined to that trackwork will correctly align and have a compatible easement - it would be too bad to have a fantastic bit of hand-built Templot let down by a poor attachment to the mundane track work elsewhere. 
  2. One would not be able to simulate even to a simplistic extent a train running across the new Templot trackwork (including all its switching possibilities). This is a mode that our users exploit to investigate the operability of an entire layout before committing to buy/build. 
Now the internals from an operating point of view only matter from a XTrackCAD pov, and for the the internal look of the track work Templot is the master so we can assume that we have some adapted form of drawing tool that can draw over a graphic and produce a set of what are called track segments and paths in XTrackCAD in a (complex) compound turnout. We can then draw the imported graphic rather than the track segments but have the train mode move the cars over the (hidden) paths and segments. 

My limited understanding of Templot is that your equivalent of end points would be to establish "pegs" on import from XTrackCAD that would be correctly positioned wrt to the graphics from DXF for the centers of connected track and but I don't know about angle (a second peg?) and radius/center (a third perhaps?). We could definitely import a set of dimensions along with the graphic to establish those correctly back again because we are using knots (an internal set of pegs) for edge conditions to drive our cornu easement generator already. 

So what I have in mind in in our tool is a compound of the trackwork graphic from Templot with the running characteristics of XTrackCAD that can be correctly joined at its edges. That becomes an bespoke element in XTrackCAD. If desirable, we could refer to the Templot definition file in our definition so that round-tripping might become possible once the initial design is complete. 

My hope is that we can get a blend of the best of both worlds with a limited amount of effort both for the user and for us! 

Regards,
Adam

PS - You may have overlooked my observation about the real track work page link being invalid on the site, perhaps? I want to refresh my memory of what all the parts are so that can start on the right foot. 


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4th message | this message only posted: 27 Feb 2018 18:03
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from:
Martin Wynne
West Of The Severn, United Kingdom



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Hi Adam,

I'm not entirely clear what you are asking of me?

Do you want to

a) use Templot data to create a new library of turnouts for use in XTrackCad?

As far as I can see that is already easily possible. Your Curved Turnout Designer dialog looks like this:



All the information needed there is obtained from peg positions CTRL-0, CTRL-6, CTRL-8. Just put the peg on each of those in turn, and read the peg data from the information panel. It would be easier if you shift the turnout onto the grid origin first, which you can do by resetting the notch if not already on the grid origin, and then shifting the turnout onto the notch.

or

b) allow users of XTrackCAD to import Templot data directly into their designs?

or

c) something else?

For importing Templot files into XTrackCAD I can't find any file-format information for the XTrackCAD File > Import function?

You might like to look at the similar functions available in 3rd PlanIt, via the DXF export from Templot. For example these are tracks exported from Templot, and to a limited extent trains can be run over them in 3D simulations:



More about all this, and some download files to play with, at:

 http://85a.co.uk/forum/view_topic.php?id=2297&forum_id=3#p15275

 http://85a.co.uk/forum/view_topic.php?id=2297&forum_id=3#p15298

 http://templot.com/3pi/dxf_3d_hc_3pi.htm

 http://templot.com/3pi/dxf_3d_3pi_3d_controls.htm

PS - You may have overlooked my observation about the real track work page link being invalid on the site, perhaps? You have caught me at a difficult time in the middle of a re-vamp to the web site and docs. Everything will reappear on the new Templot Companion site over the next few weeks/months. All the old stuff was on the web for the best part of 20 years, so there was plenty of opportunity for everyone to read and copy it if wanted. You can probably find it on the Wayback Machine. Bear in mind that a lot of it was very out-of-date, which is why it needs a re-vamp. Sorry about that. :(

cheers,

Martin.

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5th message | this message only posted: 28 Feb 2018 08:31
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from:
Adam Richards
 

 

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Martin,Thanks for the info and I found the page in the wayback machine.  Great info and glad that it wont be lost for ever, I have not found anything else as erudite and comprehensive on the subject.  

I see now that the main missing function on our side is an DXF import to complement the export we have now as importing a vector diagram and using that would be far superior to a bitmap or image approach. 

But to respond directly to your question I first need to set out the things that are motivating change on our side - sorry about the length! 

There are definitely problems with the Turnout Designer in your screenshot as a tool today that need to be addressed (by us).  These are -
  1. The designer currently expects that all turnouts end with straight track (even the curved ones). You'll notice there are no settings for radius or center of curvature at the end points (although one can infer a center line by knowing the end angle, you can't infer a radius).  That's because all the turnout template ends always start with a straight piece of track today. This throws off the whole drawing, of course, but also means that track joined to the end of the turnout is not correct unless it is in fact straight. This was of less consequence when we were less finicky about easements (which were formerly a fixed easement section at a rate of change selected by the user that also assumed a start from a straight section "engineered" into a solution between two end points). So now that easements are being correctly calculated we need the end conditions to be defined correctly.  
  2. Another problem is the computed (rather than defined) tie-rod position which causes an issue in the positioning of holes for turnout motors if it is wrong. Remember that we should be able to know this for all RTR track. Some of our users are building bespoke track foundations using laser cutting and other machines driven by the DXF export files including marking center lines and positions for these motors. 
As I look at what is needed for fixing this particular tool, I want to bear in mind making the solution design able to also able to incorporate much more complex track work as an object in the future and make a decent enough internal version to allow trains to run - such as the ones your program produces. This seems akin to what the 3d program you pointed at does - I would aim at fully operational switch functionality though.

We also have another, seldom-used, tool/widget called the "Handlaid Turnout" Tool that allows a graphical placement of crossing position, crossing angle and switch over an existing track today to make a turnout definition. But it seems highly challenged to give any desirable result that a user who actually is going to spend the time and effort to build track would want today and so I would intend to deprecate that function. But I was thinking that it could (perhaps) be reformed into a Compound Trackwork Overlay Tool - a way for a user to overlay onto an imported Templot designed trackwork section XTrackCAD track elements (including operating switches) so that trains would run just as they do with our RTR switches but over the properly drawn DXF tracks. To be very clear, I do not think it sensible to attempt anything as involved or excellent as your program with all its richness and accuracy - so this is a way to get a basic job done for a power user who is going to spend the time to design a handbuilt segment in Templot (or outsource that work, I suppose) but wants to incorporate that simply into a larger design (or upgrade part of an exiting plan).

Ultimately, using our new easements, just as we have enabled the dragging and rotating of connected objects like turnouts and turntables and the easement(s) auto-adjust, I want to allow the complex trackwork that has been designed in Templot to be able to be "nudged" as a unit without requiring reconnection and retain smooth connection.

So, with that as background, what I am interested in exploring with you further is this -
  • Whether it would help a user to have defined peg positions in the background template (I hope I got that wording right) at the boundaries for a whole new Templot design (we could pass over the edge conditions of a station throat, for example, that the Templot design is to produce a complete solution for) so that it is known the solution will "fit" once it is complete. Now I think, reading your site, that may be done today by the user placing/tracing over a DXF export file (maybe preferably just the centerlines) as a graphic - obviously the center-line would have a radius but tracing would only reliably find it a fixed radius or straight if the length was long enough. Our source file track is actually driven by a bezier curve segment now in easement cases - which was fitted onto a Cornu curve, and which in turn we are then having to down-render to a set of fixed curves solely because of DXF format restrictions. That seems like a lot of error potential compared with definitions simply stating for each end - "track position, track radius, and center of curvature".  So from that I am hoping you could at least create a peg position for the user (or maybe even a background template exit track to match the track curve also). 
  • On export, after Templot design, into XTrackCAD I want to see if you might provide the precise position, angle, and radius of all relevant peg points of the design that match the DXF file so that we can auto-build accurate and correct end points for the design into the compound object that would be a rendering of your design output inside XTrackCAD. I see that today we could approach this as the other program apparently has by requiring tracing, but a set of values for the conditions at the ends would be easier to use and more accurate, I expect. 
  • I have been reading the DXF standard and there does seem to be a defined way for applications to exchange application-defined OBJECT data within it. Perhaps these edge conditions could be such an object for optional bi-directional exchange between track planning software? 
Hope that is more understandable and apologies for where I have mangled terminology! 

Adam

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6th message | this message only posted: 2 Mar 2018 22:14
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from:
Martin Wynne
West Of The Severn, United Kingdom



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Hi Adam,

I appreciate that you have written a long and detailed post.

But unfortunately I'm none the wiser as to what you are actually asking of me? :?

I'm especially puzzled by your comments about radius and straight ends to turnouts. If two locations have the same co-ordinates and the same angle, they will align and model trains will run over them. What the radius happens to be on each side is irrelevant, at least geometrically.

Of course as far as replicating prototype practice is concerned sudden changes of radius, for example from straight to sharply curved or especially reverse curves, need to be avoided at least for running lines if not in sidings and yards. But such things are easily created and often seen in train set layouts using set-track, and obviously work for RTR models.

The DXF format used for Templot exports is an ancient text-based version. As far as the rail edges and track centre-lines are concerned there is only one object type - LINE. All curves are comprised of short line segments, so there is no radius information to be extracted. Because of the typical radii of handbuilt model track, and the limited resolution of printers, the ink dots actually end up in the same place on the paper, provided the line segments are short enough.

I suggest you export some designs from Templot in DXF format and open the file in a text editor such as Notepad++ (free from https://notepad-plus-plus.org/ ). You will then be able to see for yourself what data is available and what you might do with it in XTrackCAD.

cheers,

Martin.

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7th message | this message only posted: 3 Mar 2018 08:56
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from:
Adam Richards
 

 

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Martin,Precisely what I would like is for you to write and read some extra extended data in the DXF files. 

1. Write out position, angle and radius of points at the end of each connectable track in the Templot design in a manner consistent with the format specs for DXF (see below)

2. Read in the same record and use it to establish peg positions on the reference picture. 

I completely agree that one CAN join tracks using position and angle only, but if one does so it is more likely to lead to a derailment in higher-speed tracks. XTrackCAD now has a simple way to add an easement that will do much better than "eye-balling" it - but it needs data - of position, angle and radius.

There are two scenarios - 
  1. An Templot user who wants to use XTrackCAD to draw the unexciting part (like a fiddleyard) to join to the excellent plan they have for handbuilt track. And then they want to simulate the operations. They would export the DXF and when it is imported they can simply join it to the rest of the layout because the end points were established on import.
  2. An XTrackCAD user who wants to replace a complex area (like a station throat) with better tools. They export a DXF which when imported in Templot has peg positions to give confidence that the design when finished will "fit". Once it is done, it is exported back to XTrackCAD as an object which reconnects the end points automatically.
Regards,
Adam

Possible format for extension data

1001
XTRACKCAD.ORG
1002
{
1010
10.54431 <-X   
1020
2.554 <-Y
1030
45.00  <-Angle
1040
120.00     <-Radius
1002
}
... next point(s)






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8th message | this message only posted: 3 Mar 2018 14:45
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from:
Martin Wynne
West Of The Severn, United Kingdom



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Hi Adam (or is it tynewydd962 :) ),

Thanks for that.

This is getting interesting. XTrackCAD has always been the most promising of the other track planning programs for any form of integration with Templot.

Randy Pfeiffer (3rd PlanIt) and David Hoogvorst (AnyRail) have both always been wary of any direct link with Templot, no doubt seeing it as a potential competitor to their commercial products. But Templot and XTrackCAD are both free, so neither has any reason to fear the other.

But... DXF import from Templot into 3rd PlanIt has been possible for at least 15 years. The amount of actual interest shown from 3rd PlanIt users doing that has been vanishingly small, at least as far as I am aware. Are you sure there would really be any demand from XTrackCAD users to do the same?

At present I'm quite busy with other Templot stuff. My prime interest is of course the needs of Templot users rather than XTrackCAD users (unless of course they are one and the same). So before committing to spend time on modifying the DXF import/export functions, I would like to have some feedback from Templot users about this. Do you use XTrackCAD now? Would you if there was greater integration between the two? How would you want to use XTrackCAD in conjunction with Templot?

I know several Templot users like to use AnyRail to do the initial layout design, turning to Templot later only for the detailed pointwork design. Would you want to use XTrackCAD for that instead?

Concerning import from XTrackCAD into Templot, it is already possible to do more with that than with picture shape imports from other programs. The XTrackCAD DXF can be imported into the Templot background shapes. It is possible to set the pegging notch on any background shape, so already there is a means to align Templot tracks with the XTrackCAD tracks, so that they would remain in alignment if exported back to XTrackCAD:



But at present there seems to be no means to import DXF files into XTrackCAD, or any information at all about the import file formats, so until that is available there doesn't appear to be much scope for progress?

cheers,

Martin.

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9th message | this message only posted: 3 Mar 2018 16:15
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from:
Adam Richards
 

 

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Martin,
We will see what level of interest we have at our end as well. 
I agree you can set your own pegs today - but clearly that is more prone to error (finding the center of the track, estimating the angle) than it might be. 
Secondarily, if one had the trifecta of position, angle and radius, one could initially establish a piece of "real" Templot track that ended at the peg to join onto, of course. 

Yes, as I stated earlier, we don't have an import function in XTrackCAD (yet). But through this exchange I can now add a specification of what we should have in order to do this properly.  I learnt that the import we need is DXF to produce a graphical element and that we would need to reform our hand-built turnout builder to be an overlay drawing tool so that Trains mode would work. I will add and document that in our backlog.  Now that is different from some other graphical requirements we also have like tracing over trackplans from books, or images from geomapping tools, old maps, etc. But at least it is clear.

I'll get back to you once we make some progress. 

Adam

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10th message | this message only posted: 3 Mar 2018 17:11
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from:
Martin Wynne
West Of The Severn, United Kingdom



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Hi Adam,

Here you go. Will be in Templot program update 219a shortly:



cheers,

Martin.

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