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Review: Western Lines of Scotland
Publisher: RailSimulator.com
Reviewed By JaneRachel Whittaker
Date: 21 Mar 2013


A new home

Keith Ross has become something of a legend in train simulation circles. His West Coast Mainline North route for TS2013 is beloved by many fans. No stone was left unturned in the search for detail and realism, with an extremely long route packed with custom assets that brought a whole new dimension to desktop train simulation. Keith also created the Port Road expansion, from Dumfries to Castle Douglas and extended to Kirkudbright which rapidly gained a following from period fans.

Keith has returned to both Carlisle and the Port Road, with a whole new route, stretching from Carlisle for 107 miles via Dumfries and Castle Douglas until reaching Stranraer. The branch line from Castle Douglas to Kirkudbright has also been recreated and heavily updated, giving a shade under of 130 miles of track. Yet, that 130 miles is not all. The route features a cornucopia of freight lines, sidings and marshalling yards. This is especially evident in the Carlisle area, both with station avoiding lines and freight only lines creating a spiders web of track, spreading out across the area.

This is a very different time period to that of his WCML offering. Set in the 1960's, this is Scotland before the advent of overhead wires where the mainstay of the line was the versatile Black 5, rather than the Class 86 electrics that were to follow.

One thing that has remained unchanged is the attention to detail of the route. Whilst 130 miles of track may seem attractive, that attraction can quickly dull if the trackside environment becomes monotonous and repetitive. The good news is that Keith has spent 3 years researching and developing this route and it shows in every mile of track. You are not going to be driving past field #1 every five minutes in a blur of sameness. Look out of your cab to the world beyond and every mile is unique and recognisable. How often can we drive a route in the simulation and know where we are from the view outside? This depth of detail holds equally for rural and townscapes across the entire route. I spotted a dog being walked by its owner along the beach at Stranraer, pine forests on the Port Road, uniquely identifiable farms and communities along the track, giving way to the dirt and grime of industrial complexes on the Carlisle freight lines. The view from the cab is simply breathtaking no matter where you poke your head out to soak up the atmosphere. Rail purists will also welcome the depth of research given to the railway environment. The track, signalling and station buildings are accurate to the period, down to such details as advertising hoardings and even the opportunity to take on water, using platform facilities provided at major stops along the route. It may be bold of me to say, but I certainly consider this route to be the most visually realistic route ever created for the simulator. You don't drive the Western Lines of Scotland, you live in it!

The Motive Power

The motive power for the route is an included Black 5 steam locomotive, which is an eminently sensible choice, given that these versatile locos formed the backbone of many of the services operating on the line. Whilst the Black 5 is the only loco type that is bundled with the initial purchase of the route, more locomotive packs are in the works, including the excellent Digital Traction BR Standard 2MT (complete with some incredible scenarios created by Keith himself) and other equally exciting locomotives. I can guarantee, that as content is released, those visiting this line will be spoilt for choice in what they choose to drive. Of course, a number of existing locomotives available on Steam are equally suitable, albeit with the requirement to create your own scenarios.

The Black 5 is provided in three forms, one in pristine condition and obviously cared for by its home depot, another intermediate locomotive and others that are, to put it mildly, worn with age. A lovely feature, given the winter weather in this part of Scotland is the option to fit a snow plough to your loco, complete with particle animation of clearing snow. Whether you are driving a pristine Black 5 on a passenger service or a worn tired loco on a minor freight working the choice of locomotive ensures that as driver you will have to work to earn your keep. On a line with significant gradients that requires careful handling of your locomotive, this is a driving experience rather than sitting back and watching the world go by. Add to that scenarios that bring driving snow across beautiful countryside that turns bleak and treacherous in a blink of an eye and you will be glad of that snow plough!

The scenarios

Also included with the route are 15 scenarios, each also created by Keith. Having driven each of the scenarios a number of times I am still struck by how imaginative these scenarios are. From refuelling a locomotive at Carlisle Kingmoor (yes watering and coaling facilities are provided at this major depot that are fully functional, including an animated coal hopper and water hose), before taking empty stock to Carlisle Citadel Station, to a light passenger working on the Kirkudbright Branch to operating a milk train from the local dairy, or visiting the Ministry of Defence (MOD) establishment at Eastriggs, every single scenario is both unique and compelling. It is also clear that much thought has been put in to the scenarios to ensure that they visit all the main areas of interest. This includes the opportunity to work a train at the enormous Carlisle Kingmoor marshalling yards, to MOD facilities to delivering goods to yards off the beaten track in the industrial heart of Carlisle, to operating passenger services from Carlisle, Dumfries, Kirkudbright and my personal favourite, running along the sea wall into the beautifully detailed stations at Stranraer Harbour and Stranraer Town. The scenarios offer massive variety across the entire route length, from ten minutes in duration to marathon three hour sessions. If you want a short journey, a long journey, passenger or freight working, you are catered for in equal measure. Each scenario is so beautifully created it is hard not to fall in love with this digital slice of Scotland.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the AI traffic that accompanies each scenario. The AI traffic is simply not a matter of an occasional passing train, giving a brief impression of movement on the line. The whole route is alive with traffic, often offering considerably more complexity than simple passing services. Expect to see locos shunting in the marshalling yards, trains being assembled and a whole gamut of operations taking place around you. Yards and sidings are often filled with wagons waiting for a locomotive which may well turn up to haul them away! To take one example, I was operating a late running service in to Dumfries when I was stopped just outside the station at a signal check. I was delighted to see another Black 5 running around its train, before departing off to Dumfries shed for servicing. These moments of realism fill every corner of the route, creating a living, breathing, intricate world of operations, where you are but one cog in the great railway machine.

Being fully TS2013 compliant, the route is also quick drive compatible with all your favourite locomotives and rolling stock. The included Black 5 locomotives are fully available for your quick drives, with a huge amount of available passenger and freight consists. Even in quick drive, an enormous amount of effort has been made to make them enjoyable as possible. It can be disappointing to drive along your favourite route to be greeted by an empty wasteland of sidings and stations. With Western Lines Of Scotland this is far from the case. Akin to the scenarios, a quick drive along the route reveals coaches and wagons appropriately stabled in sidings for your entire journey.

Conclusion

Without a doubt, Keith Ross and Railsimulator.com have a masterpiece on their hands. The incredible attention to scenery detail and route accuracy, coupled to the equally impressive and incredibly intricate scenarios brings the route to life in a manner that we have never seen before. There is just so much to see and do, in both freight and passenger operations, the scope of operations are endless. This is much more than a route in a simulation, it is a world that sucks you in and will not let go, because quite simply after an hour, you find your alter ego living and working in this corner of Scotland. A world so utterly convincing that it becomes a second home. Forgive me if I curtail this review at this point, I have a locomotive waiting for a driver at Stranraer Harbour...



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