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Review: Cajon Pass: High Desert Rails Edition
Developer: 3D Train Stuff, Publisher: 3D Train Stuff
Reviewed By Matthew Peddlesden
Date: 27 August 2002


While the UK can hold claim to being the nation that brought the world Railways in the first place, I don't think anyone will disagree that it is our American friends who took those railways and scaled them up big time. Solving the massive problems that the landscape of America presented, not the least of which was just the sheer size of the country, forced a great deal of innovation.

This new add-on from 3DTrainStuff captures some of those problems and offers them to you in a modern setting.

Cajon Pass: High Desert Rails Edition features a massive 240 mile route in the Californian Desert. There are three companies that operate the route, BNSF, Union Pacific and Amtrak.

In the past, 3DTrainStuff have tended to offer add-ons that required some user interaction to make a useful end-product. For example, Tehachapi Pass was (for the most part) just a route and you'd need to make up some activities to actually get around it and enjoy it. This is fine if you are familiar with those utilities but if you are just an 'end user' who wants to drive trains this can leave you feeling a bit cold at worst and just simply not getting the full benefit of the add-on at best. I am happy to say that 3DTrainStuff have been listening to the community and produced a complete, well rounded add-on that you can just install and drive.

What's on the disc

There is of course the route itself, a 240 mile desert route that not only has a large number of industries but also a passenger element.

You will also find an extremely large amount of stock included, perhaps one of the most comprehensive selections i've yet seen in a commercial add-on, but I'll get to the stock list in the next section.

Finally there are also 33 activities that will keep you busy for many hours performing yard switching / shunting, long haul freight runs, assistance to other trains, passenger trains and much more.

Stock

The list of stock is quite impressive and while it consists of quite a lot of repaints there is enough variety in the base models. The repaints allow the stock list to properly represent all of the railroads that travel on the three lines that make up the Cajon Pass route.

Union Pacific
GP20
SD70M

BNSF
Also makes use of the Dash 9 included with Train Sim
SD75M
Old Dash 9

Southern Pacific
SD70M
GP20
F7A and F7B (From 3DTrains)

Santa Fe
GP20

Cargill (Private Owner)
GP9

ATSF
F7A and F7B (From 3DTrains)

Amtrak
Dash 9

Along with the various types of loco you will also see various liveries and quite a few alternate numberings.

To pull behind the loco's you have a 'shed load' (pun intended) of wagons including hoppers, containers, intermodals and tankers. You also have the excellent passenger set to go behind the F-unit's that makes up the Super Chief or El Capitan trains.

The F-units and their passenger stock come courtesy of Marc Nelson and 3DTrains, two names already well respected in the US add-on community.

Most (if not, all - I must admit to not checking each loco individually!) of the loco's have had specular lighting applied so they look particularly stunning in the sunlight as it reflects off the bodywork.

Transparent windows and interiors also come as standard as do such effects as working wipers so they have all the basics covered nicely.

Polygon count on the stock is generally quite good, with freight weighing in around 1,000 to 1,500 and loco's anywhere from 3,000 to nearly 8,000. Some of the more heavy weight units have got Level of Detail ('LoD') so that when they are further away they won't have the same hit on your frame rate however this wasn't present on too many loco's that I checked.

Overall quality of the loco's and stock is very high indeed, the textures are all very clean and neatly finished and the 3D Models themselves look the part.

My only criticism is that it would have been nice if there were some dirty ones included, I guess it's possible that these railroads always kept their loco's in pristine condition but to me a dirty loco looks like a well used one. This criticism is not solely aimed at 3DTrainStuff however, very few people produce anything but shiny new units fresh from the shop.

Cab's are also included for all of the stock and include the F unit cab view that you will recognise if you have the LTV Erie Mining Company pack. The cab view for the GP20's is particularly excellent though the view seems a bit cramped but is good enough to get the job done.

The Route

I have to say that I wasn't sure what to expect. It's the desert, it's a long 240 mile route and it's mostly dealing with freight. It's not exactly confidence boosting that there's going to be lots of scenery on it. How wrong could I be!

I have to say that I think 3DTrainStuff must have in their midst some of the best wizards as regards terraforming for Train Simulator. The route is just gorgeous to look at with the mountains, valleys, hills and anything-but-flat terrain that you'll be travelling over. I've tried to capture as much of this as possible in the screenshots I have taken.

There's also an awful lot of scenery present especially in the built up areas such as San Bernadino and other places where there are also passenger stops.

You can expect all custom models, there's no borrowing from the stock scenery that comes with MSTS and I am told that all scenery items have LOD in them to ensure that even a busy scene keeps your frame rate up - this certainly seemed to be the case as running through San Bernadino wasn't much slower than running through the desert before it.

There are numerous industries to keep you busy running freight between as well as the infamous 3% and 2.2% gradients that form the Cajon Pass, you'll have to keep a close eye on your controls and gauges to make sure your massive freight train doesn't turn runaway as you head down that steep 3% gradient.

I was quite surprised when I saw that there was also a passenger element, stations and the passenger trains from 3DTrains have been included and this was a very nice touch. I like freight but I also like variety and did not want this pack to be as limiting as 'Scenic Railway' was. Top marks to 3DTrainStuff for getting together with 3DTrains and getting passengers on to the route.

The route is fully signalled, has crossings for the roads and lots of scenery to add to the feel of the route. Scenery isn't limited to buildings here and there, there are white boxes down the sides of the track (power relays or something I would guess) and vehicles parked to the sides just off the roads, lorries parked in industrial areas, cars parked behind stations, tree's, walls and lots more. The scenery also isn't just in chunks, it's fairly consistent throughout the whole of the route - albeit different scenery according to where you are.

There's an absolute gold mine of scope for activites in this route just purely from the number of industries, sidings, yards and so forth that should keep the community busy taking advantage of for quite a while.

Without doubt though, the thing that sticks in my mind from this pack is the terraforming!

Activities

Rounding off the 'complete' pack are the 33 activities. These will have you working for ATSF, Union Pacific, Southern Pacific and BNSF. They'll have you switching in the various yards, working to other trains up steep inclines, running express passenger trains and much more. There's certainly a good amount of variety, my favourite word to associate to any add-on pack :)

The activities have continued the current run of insisting that the player must blow their horn at relevant places (ie. before crossings) or the activity will end. It can be a bit of a pain when you keep forgetting (ahem, but hey I was spending all my time enjoying that terraforming instead of concentrating on what I was doing :) ) but it does add to the realism and forces you to focus on the job at hand.

My only complaint about the activities is more an acknowledgement of my own ignorance of US railroad operations. On any activity that wasn't fairly straight forward (passenger ops or freight haulage runs) found myself getting quite quickly confused as to exactly what I was supposed to do.

This is probably not a big issue for the American audience for which this product is primarily intended but for those of us that aren't familiar with the standard procedures what might have been a real nice addition would have been a half dozen or so heavily messaged activities going through some basics and introducing people to the jargon used by the US railroads - once most people see something in operation they can then recognise it, put it in their own words and then they won't have any problem when it comes to doing the 'proper' activities later on.

I seemed to spend a lot of time wondering if I was going down the right track or if I should be taking that point that's coming up because it looks like it might be the right siding name but I can't quite see at this distance. I don't think it would have detracted too much from the activities to add in a couple of message boxes so that the user knows they are on the right track and when they should be manually changing points (perhaps even to the extent of having the same activities as both Easy and Medium or Hard, with Easy having help in them and Medium and Hard not having any in at all.

That issue is probably one more specific to myself but perhaps one that creators of future add-ons might want to consider given the global interest in Trains and Train Simulator that the sim has itself given rise to.

Overall

Overall I'm very impressed by this add-on. An awful lot of work has been put in to it as well as a lot of thought towards producing a well rounded add-on that requires no 'Train Sim' knowledge to operate.

I'm not sure if it's one that I will continue to use a great deal simply because I just don't know what i'm doing half the time :)

If you are interested in American railroads then this pack is just too good to miss - even more so if you are interested in freight. I can very strongly recommend this package in this instance as something you will get a lot of enjoyment out of.

If you aren't specifically interesed in American railroads and don't know much about them then you might find yourself swimming in deep water with this one, but even then this is a package that is well worth seeing as it will still keep you busy for 20 or 30 hours before you run in to things you might not understand.

I'm going to give Cajon Pass: High Desert Rails a score of:

98%

You can purchase Cajon direct from 3DTrainStuff at a cost of $34 US Dollars, including postage costs.



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