Train Sim World

Train Sim World 2 - Rush Hour - Creating 24 Hour Timetables

We welcome back Joe Burgess and Michael Alexander, Associate Designers here at Dovetail, who have previously taken part in articles focusing on Rush Hour: Building Riesa – Dresden, Hamburg – Lubeck: Creating Services and Hauling Freight.

Today we talk to them about how they create 24-hour timetables.

Why are timetables important for the upcoming Rush Hour expansion?

Joe: Timetables in general are what’s required for trains to move, it’s how we tell the simulation to get the trains moving.
Without a timetable we wouldn’t have any scenarios and we wouldn't even have a train sitting at the station, the timetable tells them exactly where to be and where to go.
With the timetable, everything is there. You can pick and go – all of the AI is there and it runs 24 hours so you don’t have to go back to the menu if you don’t want to. You can finish, get out of the train, go somewhere else or stick with a particular train all day like a real driver would.
Joe: Boston Station is between multiple lines, not just the NEC. Using the timetables, additional AI traffic around the Boston Station area is being added to represent traffic from all lines that the NEC meets up with before entering the main station.
Michael: We have extra rail vehicles added to Riesa-Dresden. This has allowed us to implement more services without having to enable multiple dependencies on other DLCs.
Joe: And for London to Brighton, this is traditionally a busy route. On most other railways, the service frequency increases during the peak hours to cope with the extra demand. London to Brighton is different. The line runs at maximum capacity all day, meaning it should be busy throughout the day, not just at rush hour.
I am currently working on this timetable and exploring ways to represent how they cope with this demand during Rush Hour.

How long does it typically take to create a timetable for our routes?

Michael: It depends on how many locos we are providing with the pack and how much traffic there is going to be. For a route like Glasgow that took us 3 weeks, it was a relatively straightforward service pattern. If we compare to London – Brighton this has required nearly 3 months of time which is significantly longer than normal, this is because of the volume of services but also these services are more complex.
Joe: A four carriage train will connect to another one to make 8 carriages, they decide to split them half way through the day and make them go and connect with other trains. To work that out in the game and in planning took a lot of time.
Michael: Another example is the number of locos we have for Riesa Dresden which means there are a lot of services to include into the base game. We have had to accumulate all of the services and find out where all of the trains are going all the time.
Sometimes it can be very straightforward where other times it can be incredibly complex.

What is your favourite thing about authoring the timetables?

Michael: My favourite bit is after you’ve spent so long simulating the timetable and you have your fingers crossed that everything works. Seeing that there are no failures or late trains there’s sort of “Yes! I’ve finally done it” feeling. And it’s all coming together.
Joe: My favourite bit is watching the play back tool, which is like a top down map. Just watching all of the services move around, I love that. I like seeing it all busy and actually moving. It’s so cool because we spend weeks researching an implementing and we don’t really see much. When we see it at the end, all that work has led up to it and it’s so much fun to see.
(The simulation program output log after a successful simulation. Showing all services completing but with a few services running late. We will use this log to fix the late running trains.)

What does authoring a timetable look like? Is it in a spreadsheet or something else?

Michael: Both, all planning is done in a spreadsheet, we take the data that’s from the source we use which could be from the train operator's website for example. We get all of the data into the spreadsheets so we can see it visually and we can track where all of the trains are going.
Authoring, we use UE4’s visual scripting which looks a bit like a flow chart. If we were using a different engine, you would see piles and piles of code, which would make me nervous when I look at that. UE4’s visual scripting is really useful. We’ve built service patterns as if we were building a flow chart.
Joe: I’m a very visual learner and it makes it perfect for me. It makes it much less daunting. It’s so easy as we can click and drag one node to another. It really helps to speed up our process.

Do you work from real timetables? And are the timetables you create similar?

Michael: We try to be as authentic as possible. During the planning stage we collect our information and try to make is as accurate as possible. If there are gaps that we need to fill in, such as depo moves or light loco moves, we will try to put them in as reasonably as possible.
Joe: As it’s a simulation we do have a couple of limitations, the main one is it’s 24 hours, it’s not a whole day it’s a looping 24 hours. At the end of the day, we have to make sure everything is back in the same place. We also can’t go past midnight, I’ve tried, the game gets very confused.
Michael: I remember the first time I worked on a timetable and I remember my boss at the time telling me, every timetable has a Cinderella effect in that everything we have placed on that route at midnight has to be there at the end of the day.

Which do you enjoy most, researching the service patterns or putting them into the game?

Michael: I like researching the timetables, mostly because other routes we’ve done previously I’ve had little knowledge about before starting the project. I’m learning new things almost every day about all of these different places.
Some of the logistics of how their timetables work are regionalized. I know a lot of timetables in the US where each company will have slightly different ways with how they go about moving their stock around.
Joe: I like putting them into the game, I like seeing the number of services going up. I always get a smile on my face when we compile the timetable and it goes into the hundreds, I love seeing busy timetables. I’ve always loved busy routes.
I am having so much fun with Rush Hour because this is the perfect add-on for me. We are both looking forward to the end product and seeing it all running.

How do you enter train times and what do they do to the train?

Michael: Each formation assigned, so the locos, wagons, multiple units etc.. Is then assigned a service. If we take Dresden as an example, you have your formation which is the train which then runs a service (which is S1) You then build up each station stop and load/unload task for each of it’s stations. It then carries on until the end, which is your service pattern done.
The start time for those services is authored by us, so we put them in manually going from what the spreadsheet says.
We then run a simulation that runs the game faster than we can play it. This simulation works out the timings for each of the stops for us in between the start time of the service it starts and the following one.
Joe: For London to Brighton I’ve had to do each intermediate station time myself based on the actual timetable, that is because of all of the coupling and uncoupling on Gatwick Express.
If a train goes to Brighton and couples up to a train that’s running ahead of it (which they do) I’ve got to make sure the first train gets there first, and then the second train arrives to couple up. I have to keep the times very accurate to achieve this.

You’ve mentioned how you have seen the community playing what you have created, what does it feel like seeing people enjoy your work?

Michael & Joe: It’s amazing.
Joe: Both of us watch streamers playing in our free time, and seeing people enjoy the game is great. I like to see how other people play to help pinpoint what people enjoy most and where we can improve. We take on board community feedback and make changes for the better where we can. We are making the game for them after all.
Once again, we thank Joe and Michael for their time and insight. Don’t forget to stay updated with the stream schedule and look out for Michael joining the Railfan TV team soon, where he will be going more in depth and demonstrating how timetables are made for Train Sim World 2.
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Train Sim World
Train Sim World 2 - Rush Hour - Creating 24 Hour Timetables