I’m very pleased with the new version of 3rd PlanIt. I’ve been a happy user of 3PI for many years. I have been hesitant to recommend the product to others because I was a bit worried about the many years since the last product update. However, version 8 is here and works great.

Highly recommended.

I’ve had several people write me and ask if I think they should buy 3rd PlanIt because they like the plans I was able to make with it.

3rd PlanIt (3PI) (http://www.trackplanning.com/) is a CAD system strongly optimized for drawing model railroad track plans. I’ve been using it off and on since 2000 or so. I was a semi-experienced AutoCAD user many years before that.

The Good:

  • I designed my layout and continue to maintain the plan as I build in 3PI. It has been stable and productive for me to use. I use version 7.10.006 which was released March 2, 2004.
  • I find the feature set of 3PI powerful and fun to use.
  • If 3PI was being maintained I would recommend it highly.

The Bad:

  • No updates were been released between early 2004 and early 2007.
  • 3PI is the product of one man, Randy Pfeiffer. I truly believe his work is very good (again — I’m a happy user) but it can be a problem when a company is essentially one person. Occasionally Randy gets committed to other tasks such that purchase orders sometimes do not get processed in a timely fashion.
  • NOTE: (February 2007) Version 8 has been released!! In April 2005 the next version, 8.0 was coming “soon” and Randy Pfeiffer gave a detailed view of what he had been running into as he implemented threading to 3PI. I’m a Win32 C++ developer myself and his commentary looks legitimate. See his posting at the Yahoo! Group 3rdPlanIt : 3rd PlanIt Users Group

Bottom line:

NOTE: (February 2007) Version 8 has been released!! I like the product. It took a long time for Version 8 but it looks good. I can now recommend that other people buy 3PI.

Permanent page: The Track Plan

I based my track plan on Malcolm Furlow’s 8 x 10 San Juan Central.

Click for larger view

However I made the following changes:

  • Flipped the track plan right-to-left because that fit the room I was building in better.
  • Changed the plan to HO standard gauge with 18” minimum radius curves.
  • Specified #5 turnouts.
  • Set track “zero” height at 53-1/2” above the floor.

Because HO needs more “shoulder room” than HOn3, 18” radius turns and #5’s are bigger than the 16-18” turns and #4’s of the original plan, and because the room can fit it; I increased the size of the layout one foot on the long axis so my plan is 8’ x 11’ and is fit into a 10’ x 14’ room.

As far as the schematic layout of the tracks, curve for curve, tunnel for tunnel, bridge for bridge, the only change I made was to completely redesign the tracks at Montrose, turning it into a seaport (Tiburbon on my layout) and add a wye behind Tincup leading off through a bookcase to staging tracks in the corner.

Like the Frenchman’s Axe: the handle replaced three times, the head replaced twice, but still the same axe – I consider my plan to be largely the same as Furlow’s SJC despite all my tweaks.

I used the 3rd PlanIt CAD system (http://www.trackplanning.com/3pi.htm) to draw my track plan. Once you are up the learning curve, CAD systems offer many benefits. I’ve had work related experience with CAD systems and while 3rd PlanIt is not flawless it is certainly good enough to have been a great help in planning the layout. I would recommend it to others and there are two good Yahoo! Groups that provide community support:

3piusers • 3pi CAD Users

3rdPlanIt • 3rd PlanIt Users Group

Where did the CAD system help me the most?
Drawing the initial plan of your layout feels really hard in a CAD system compared to pencil and paper – so much so that you can begin to wonder if CAD is really the way to go.

The answer (for me) is YES, and here’s why: Plans change.

The initial CAD drawing may take longer to get down the first time than a cranking out a similar pencil and paper drawing but CHANGES to your plan are where the CAD simply kicks butt.

Here’s an example. I based my first draft using Walther’s Code 83 #4 turnouts. Then I went to order them. Turns out Walthers looked like they were going to be out of stock for weeks or months on those items. I changed course and decided to use Central Valley #5’s instead.

Using pencil and paper it would have taken me many hours to redraw the layout with different turnouts. In 3rd PlanIt it took less than an hour to make the change.

The other good thing a CAD system does is add up things like total track length, number of left/right turnouts, and tallies up the amount of lumber needed. I was able to get everything I needed in one trip to the lumber yard. I only had to go back once to buy one more 10-foot 1×4 because I made an oops and forgot to leave myself a long piece.

Stop when it’s Good Enough
3rd PlanIt has fairly deep terrain generating and editing capabilities but at that point in the process I made the decision that the time-to-benefit ratio was not good enough for me to go deeply into that on my plan. I used a modeling clay model of the layout to work out the 3D aspects of the scenery (I’ll write about that in a future post). However, I did use the CAD to make the templates for the model-of-the-model.

My plan and a 3D view appear below: