3. Introduction

3.1. What is Open Rails?

Open Rails software (OR) is a community developed and maintained project from openrails.org. Its objective is to create a new transport simulator platform that is first, compatible with routes, activities, consists, locomotives, and rolling stock created for Microsoft Train Simulator (MSTS); and secondly, a platform for future content creation freed of the constraints of MSTS (in this manual MSTS means MSTS with MSTS Bin extensions, if not explicitly stated in a different way).

Our goal is to enhance the railroad simulation hobby through a community-designed and supported platform built to serve as a lasting foundation for an accurate and immersive simulation experience. By making the source code of the platform freely available under the GPL license, we ensure that OR software will continually evolve to meet the technical, operational, graphical, and content building needs of the community. Open architecture ensures that our considerable investment in building accurate representations of routes and rolling stock will not become obsolete. Access to the source code eliminates the frustration of undocumented behavior and simplifies understanding the internal operation of the simulator without the time-consuming trial and error-prone experimentation typically needed today.

Open Rails software is just what the name implies – a railroad simulation platform that’s open for inspection, open for continuous improvement, open to third parties and commercial enterprises, open to the community and, best of all, an open door to the future.

3.2. About Open Rails

To take advantage of almost a decade of content developed by the train simulation community, Open Rails software is an independent game platform that has backward compatibility with MSTS content. By leveraging the community’s knowledge base on how to develop content for MSTS, Open Rails software provides a rich environment for both community and payware contributors.

The primary objective of the Open Rails project is to create a railroad simulator that will provide true to life operational experience. The Open Rails software is aimed at the serious train simulation hobbyist; someone who cares about locomotive physics, train handling, signals, AI behavior, dispatching, and most of all running trains in a realistic, prototypical manner. While the project team will strive to deliver an unparalleled graphical experience, eye candy is not the primary objective of Open Rails software.

By developing a completely new railroad simulator, Open Rails software offers the potential to better utilize current and next generation computer resources, like graphics processing units (GPUs), multi-core CPUs, advanced APIs such as PhysX, and widescreen monitors, among many others. The software is published so that the user community can understand how the software functions to facilitate feedback and to improve the capabilities of Open Rails software.

Open Rails is published under the GPL license which is “copyleft”[1] to ensure that the source code always remains publicly available.

3.3. Does Open Rails Require You to Have MSTS Installed?

No, it is not required by the Open Rails software itself. However. a great deal of the content accessed by OR includes files originally delivered with MSTS (e.g., tracks or general sounds). These files must be obtained from a properly licensed installation of MSTS.

There are examples where no MSTS content is used (often payware) and in such cases Open Rails does not require MSTS to be installed. Read here for further detail.

In all cases, all content files (original or MSTS) must be organized in an MSTS-compatible folder structure. Such a structure is described here. In this manual such a folder structure will be called an MSTS installation for convenience, even if this wording is not completely correct.

A proof that Open Rails itself does not need an MSTS installation at all to run is this route (Burrinjuck Railway).

3.4. Community

Open Rails software is offered without technical support. Users are encouraged to use their favorite train simulation forums to get support from the community. We suggest:

For users interested in multiplayer sessions, a forum is set up for you to seek and announce hosting sessions: http://www.tsimserver.com.

3.5. Raildriver Support

Open Rails offers native support for the RailDriver Desktop Train Cab Controller. Instructions for setting up RailDriver for Open Rails are included in the Installation Manual that is included with the Open Rails Installer, or it can be downloaded separately from the Open Rails website.

3.6. Highlights of the Current Version

3.6.1. Focus on Compatibility

With Release 1.0 the published goal was reached to make as much of the existing MSTS content as possible run in Open Rails. The development team’s initial focus has been to provide a fairly complete visual replacement for MSTS that effectively builds on that content, achieving all the compatibility that is worthwhile, at the same time delivering a system which is faster and more robust than MSTS.

3.6.2. Focus on Operations

Release 1.1 cleared the way to improving on MSTS in many ways which can be summarized as moving from Foundation to Realism and eventually to Independence. That release already included features that are beyond MSTS; non-player trains can have movement orders (i.e. pickups, drop offs) based on files in MSTS format. The player can change the driven train. Multi-user operation has also been available for some time.

3.6.3. Focus on Realistic Content

The physics underlying adhesion, traction, engine components and their performance are based on a world-class simulation model that takes into account all of the major components of diesel, electric and steam traction. Release 1.2 refines elements such as braking, where braking friction now varies with speed, over-braking which now leads to skidding and wheel-slip is now modelled for steam locos too.

Existing models that do not have the upgraded Open Rails capabilities continue, of course, to perform well.

In Version 1.x releases, ancillary programs (tools) are also delivered, including:

  • Track Viewer: a complete track viewer and path editor

  • Timetable Editor: a tool for preparing Timetables