• The Colton and Northern - It's Not Just a Route!

    Review: The Colton and Northern - It's Not Just a Route!

    By Thomas Pallen
    4 May 2009

    MSTS devotees know Richard Garber's name thanks to Canton, Cumberland, Ohio Rail, and East Metro: routes that provided entertainment as well as many hours of great railroad simulation. Fans who also enjoyed Rail Simulator waited and wondered whether Garber would ever convert his MSTS work to the new program on the block. Rather than repeat himself, however, Garber began creating brand new routes and scenarios for RS, the first a somewhat tentative but intriguing entry called the Rascal & Cottonwood.

       

    Now there's the Colton & Northern. Like the R & C, this route resembles a multi-layered pretzel on RS's 2D map, but C & N represents a considerable leap ahead. R & C featured a lot of detail, most of it new to the RS community; C & N ascends to a higher level (although foliage still follows that X-form MSTS style), with lots of industries, three working turntables, numerous freight yards, large and small, and what seems, at least, millions of trees. Just about the only thing missing is road traffic, but since we do not have to watch cars and trucks appear and vanish at RR crossings or in the middle of traffic, its absence becomes a blessing in disguise. The route comes with a package of 22 scenarios, far more than the paltry number that accompany RS's original routes. Their quality varies, but nearly all are interesting for diverse reasons. The first ten resemble the tutorial runs found in Garber's MSTS routes and are intended to teach the operating procedures of this fictional railroad. Some players may find these scenarios tedious, if they even bother to follow the instructions, which include numerous stops (in addition to typically named tracks, the C&N includes a lot of numbered "Destinations", mostly located near switches). The stops, however, do have a purpose, or at least so it seems to me. They simulate the need to stop before and after switches as someone hops off the train, throws a switch, and gets back on. They also establish a rhythm quite different from that of almost all previous RS scenarios, which typically allow the player to dash along, accelerating and braking hard, with little regard for the "reality" that the same players claim to be absent from this simulator. Scenario 7 provides a little more complication, but true puzzles have to be solved beginning with Scenario 11. This one and the next five require thought and reasoning from the player-driver; the Pause and 9 keys become good friends! Standard running returns for the final set of scenarios, including some long runs along the line that I found rather uninteresting after the puzzles of the middle set.

       

    So much for the route itself, but that is only part of the overall picture. Within weeks of the R&C's initial release, its scope began to expand. First, Dick Cowan, whose freeware and payware reskinning kits for three diesel engines had already hit the RS market before the C&N and which feature a fictional "Family Lines Central" livery similar to one that had appeared in the rolling stock that accompanied Garber's MSTS routes, came out very quietly with a payware package that deserves a lot more attention than it has so far received. Cowan's "FLC Pack" includes specially prepared versions of his GP9 and SW1200 diesel engines in FLC colors, each sporting an added C&N emblem. The SW1200 switcher is in and of itself very welcome in the RS world, and the hearty rumble of the GP9 shakes everything within range. In addition, the package contains a full fleet of new rolling stock: five 40-foot boxcars; three tank cars; two 40-foot refrigerator cars in two versions each (hatches open and closed), one from a root-beer company for another reminder of Garber's MSTS routes; a hopper car in empty, coal, and lime versions; loaded and empty versions of a gondola; a flatcar available either empty or in four different loads (one of which will be very familiar to fans of the MSTS scenarios); and a caboose. Thus, a total of 14 different freight cars and two diesel engines, all highly detailed. The hopper, gondola, and flat cars cannot be loaded and unloaded, which while disappointing is suitable to the route, which does not feature any loading-unloading points.

    The third C&N prize is Kevin Wilson-Smith's Colton & Northern Schematic Pack, an extensive guide to the route. MSTS users are accustomed to downloadable track plans, but they are thus far very rare in the RS community. This guide goes well beyond anything I have ever seen published for any railroad simulator. The first two sections deal with "Track Schematics". More than just plans, these diagrams include symbols for all of the routes many industries and maintenance facilities. The thoroughness of these plans, with all symbols explained in a separate Notes section, goes far beyond anything I have ever seen for a railroad simulator. The 23 pages show every track of the route and all of the labels that appear in the game, plus additional labels useful to scenario designers. They are joined, in the manual's next section, by thorough indices of track names and of industries and "facilities where goods may be delivered or collected by rail". The next two sections are, to the best of my knowledge, unique in railroad simulation: a "Goods Flow Chart" that indicates in detail the types of goods suitable for delivery and pickup at each industry or facility and a chart of "Goods and Rolling Stock Combinations" showing the various types of freight cars that might be picked up or dropped off at each industry or facility. As Wilson-Smith writes in his introduction to this valuable manual, "The inclusion of the Industry Index and Goods Flow Chart is aimed straight at scenario developers - hopefully these will encourage and assist developers, as well as provide the basis for a whole lot more varied and realistic activities based on the features of the Colton & Northern." This very valuable manual is nicely illustrated with sepia-tone screen shots from the C&N route.

       

    Additional scenarios for the C & N have already started to appear on the Train-Sim site and more will surely follow as enthusiasts discover the complex possibilities of this route.

    The Colton & Northern Route can be purchased from AllAboard Rails for $17.00 through PayPal or $22.00 via SWREG (http://www.allaboardrails.com/colt1.htm). It requires the RSDL Foliage Pack (http://www.railsimulator.com/en/shopscenery $6.00), as well as the free or payware versions of Rural Landscapes and Scale Roads from 3DTrains (http://www.3dtrains.com/). The FLC Pack can be bought from Cowen Enterprises (http://dickyjim.com/page21a.html) for $9.00. The Colton & Northern Schematic Pack can be downloaded free of charge from Rail Sim America's File Library page (http://railsimamerica.com/f-l.html). All prices are in U.S. dollars.

    Thomas A. Pallen
    [email protected]

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