Track Planning Software

I recently wanted to flesh out the track plan for the latest incarnation of my Cornish-themed layout, here’s how I got on with various track planning applications for Mac and PC.

Track planning software for Apple Mac

For much of my digital life, I use a Mac.

And for imagining, just sketching ideas for a layout I use Empire Express. This has track pieces which easily snap together when drawn near each other and a variety of drawing functions that allow me to just explore concepts.

And this is what I used for the early ideation for Pentewan.

I sketched out a rough track plan in N gauge and explored how the oval ends and rear would be hidden, as described previously, and where the river, harbour/dock, station, buildings and hills might go.

Revised model railway layout

I sketched out the track plan in Haddon Software’s Empire Express. It’s simple yet great for trying things out but is limited for UK modellers.

The problem with Empire Express, however, is that it had a limited track library for UK modellers.

There’s no OO gauge support which is a show-stopper and prevents me from using it seriously for my other layouts.

Given that Pentewan is a narrow gauge plan and uses 9mm track I could possibly use its Peco N gauge library but this wouldn’t work for the points.

Instead for accurate track planning on the Mac, I use RailModeler.

This has a far larger library of tracks available.

All major gauges and manufacturers are supported, including Z, N, TT, HOm, HO, and OO gauges and importantly for UK modellers, Hornby and Peco. And crucially for my layout planning, HOe.

Pentewan Railmodeler

My track plan created wit RailModeler which has the track library I needed in the UK.

It also features a number of buildings and trees that can be placed around the layout and some basic drawing tools for freeform shape placement although when I do this I prefer the user interface of Empire Express which feels more natural to how I work.

It also has a simple 3D view model that shows the track plan from a side-on viewpoint which is useful for working out how inclines and raised sections will work although I couldn’t get this to show buildings and trees that I’d added which is a shame as this would be a great addition and would then easily lift it above Empire Express as a visualisation tool.

But even without being able to render 3D images of my plan with buildings, its greater library of track parts means that for me, as a UK modeller, Railmodeler is my preferred Mac track planning app.

Both Empire Express and Railmodeler come in free but limited versions or full versions for around £30 via the Apple App Store.

Microsoft Windows track planning software

I use my Mac for creative work, writing posts editing photographs and videos for ModelRailwayEngineer, etc. For routine day-to-day work, however, I have a PC and for this, I tried  ‘Simple Computer Aided Railway Modeller’ or Scarm.

It has a huge library of tracks.  You can see the full range of track and gauges supported here but notably, for UK modellers, it includes Hornby OO; Peco N and Peco HOe/009.

scarm screen shot

The range of track libraries supported by Scarm is impressive.

There are also hundreds (?) of track plans created by other modellers using SCARM available that can be filtered by type, size and scale as mentioned here, and then downloaded and modified. I didn’t use these but if you don’t want to create a layout from scratch this would be a huge timesaver.

It also allows buildings, roads, trees, and other non-railway objects to be placed on the layout, the height of which can be set so they can be seen in the 3D model and this can be rotated and tilted to view from all angles. This ability to see your layout in 3D, complete with buildings, roads and hills, and rivers (created using polygons) really brings a layout to life before you’ve built it and allows you to check how my layout would look and work.

Layout in 3D

The Scarm 3D visualisation of my layout. I could view my layout from different directions and try out positioning.

For functionality and capability, I found it easily the most complete all-around package. The developer, Milen Peev, has done a wonderful job in creating a great track planning application with all the features anyone creating a track plan and layout could want.

The only downside was, that to me, the user interface seemed clunky. I just didn’t find it intuitive. To move a track piece for example you hold down Control and then move it whereas I just expected to be able to drag pieces around. Once I’d got my head around its way of working however it was fine but it did frustrate me for a while.

There’s a limited freeware version of it while the full application costs around $39 (or around £30 given exchange rates at the time of writing).

Conclusion: which track planning software

For Mac, I found Railmodeler the most suited to my UK track planning needs; while on a PC, SCARM is, without doubt, the most complete and fully featured track plan application.

> A final, personal, note: I spend a huge amount of time testing, photographing, writing and researching techniques for these articles and pay for all the running costs of MRE out of my own pocket. If you found this article useful you can support me by making a donation on my fund-raising page. Thanks and happy modelling, Andy.


Founder of ModelRailwayEngineer, Andy Leaning

Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.

Afflliate disclosure:The links on this page may take you to carefully selected businesses, such as Hornby, Amazon, eBay and Scale Model Scenery, where you can purchase the product under affiliate programmes. This means I receive a small commission on any orders placed although the price you pay does not change. You can read my full affiliate policy here. I also sell my my own ready to use, pre-made and painted buildings and terrain features. browse the range.
  1. Thanks Andy, in fact I think I solved it by simply taking a track plan (in pdf) of the prototype and then overlaying it (using SketchUp) on a couple of 4′ x 2′ boards drawn to actual size. It was quite easy and seems to fit quite well.

  2. Is there a planning program that I can scan in an image of a prototype track plan and then convert that to OO scale..?

    • Hi Simon, not that I’ve come across. If you can get an accurate map of the area, use the scale of the map to get the size of the prototype and then divide it by 76:2. That’ll give you the equivalent in OO Scale.

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