How to Make Good Scenery

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Trainz aficionados are a diverse group with varied interests in one or more of the multiple aspects of this game. Developing the scenery that surrounds the tracks is one such aspect, but one that only a few have really mastered. This How-To page will introduce those interested in improving the look of their route to techniques they can learn and apply. Although scenery objects (assets) are important and will be discussed, the focus here is on the landscape itself: the use of the Topology (sic) and Paint tools in Surveyor Mode. Although applicable to any version of Trainz, the text is based on the tools and renderings available in TRS2019.

For every route builder, the first consideration is achieving a scenery consistent with the landscape they are mimicking. Choice of objects, particularly vegetation (types of trees, for example.), is perhaps primary but topography—creating the terrain of hills, mountains, gullies, etc.—is of equal importance and should be the starting point for a new route or expansion of an existing route. Another rule requiring consideration is the "decrease detail with distance" rule. The computer will attempt to render everything you have added within a scene, a scene that is constantly moving with the train being operated. Great detail may be called for close to the track, but not at distances far from the track; details should decrease with distance on the premise that no one is really going to notice them, no matter how much fun they might be to create, and rendering them places a cost on performance.



The first thing to understand about layout of a Route is the ground type. From TS2009 onward, Trainz releases have included two ground types:

  • classic, 10-m grid - the original Trainz ground type and the default;
  • classic, 5-m grid - ground type using the classic texturing technique, but storing four times the number of sample points.

The 5-m grid is great for fine detail close to the track but, as always, with an increase in detail comes a potential impact on performance. A mix of 10- and 5-m grids can be utilized: the 5-m grid used near the track where high detail is desirable, the 10-m grid in all other places. Implementing grid type is discussed elsewhere (see Ground Types) but realize that the grid type is set independently for each baseboard and not some portion of a baseboard. Only the Paint and Topology tools are impacted by the grid size setting.

With respect to the layout of a Route or Map, Trainz users tend to follow one of two models: the Linear model or the Area model. Placement of baseboards end to end allows the Linear model to develop long track runs with minimal effort. An excellent example is "Belarusian woodland" by Oleg Khim. The Area model (a large map of many baseboard squares) takes more effort but can better render distant scenery. Excellent examples of this style are "Sebino Lake, Italy (1980s)" by jango and "Bodmin & Wenford Railway TRS2019" by marky7890. The two layouts styles are sometimes combined: area style layouts used for places of cities, dense industries, and complex train yards connected by long runs of linear style layouts. An example approaching this mixed style is "Coal Country" by Scratchy and "Rodnye Prostory - SND" by TrainzLagutin 1995. Note that layout choice is independent of prototypical vs. imaginary route design. However, scenery choices will be influenced by the model you choose to employ.

With the Linear model, the edge of the baseboard is always a short distance away from the track, dictating specific scenery choices to obscure this fact from the view of the train. The Area model is especially suitable to creating mountainous country, such as depicted in "TRS19 Canadian Rocky Mountains - Viktor Lake to Ross Peak & Glacier" by RoysTrainz. Mountains that rise high above the track elevation require space to gain that elevation without displaying unreal slopes and "TRS2019 Canadian Rocky Mountains Ottertail to Castle Jct" by RoysTrainz shows just how big a map is needed to provide massive mountain peaks. The Area model can also be used to compress a lot of track in a small baseboard set by separating track areas with tall features (hills or backdrops). This layout "folds" a Linear track into an Area layout following techniques used by model railroad builders/designers.

Edge of World

No matter the size of the layout developed, the reality is your world map will have an edge. If a square or rectangular configuration of baseboards is maintained with expansion, this edge will simply appear as the end of the world so long as your viewpoint remains on the map. However, with the Linear style especially, maintaining a rectangular or square map is not possible for routes of any size. On flat terrain, the view from close to the tracks can show the sides of baseboards at the margins in what has been dubbed the "world edge effect". Fortunately, this problem can be reduced or avoided in a number of different ways. Here, we list the following aids to hide the "world edge":

  • behind scenery objects;
  • behind backdrops or a "double rise" (topography);
  • behind higher elevation topography (hills or mountains);
  • by extending water (ocean or large lake) to the "horizon".

Each is discussed below under the appropriate subject.

Hills and Valleys

Enhancing topography changes a flat baseboard into one with hills and valleys, opening up opportunities for road and railroad cuts, viaducts and bridges, and, of course, tunnels. Varied topography establishes glimpses of the wider world as a train moves down the track. Of course, a generally flat terrain is realistic for many parts of the world and certainly not a 'bad' thing. Topography on a Route is developed using the Topology tool in Surveyor mode (correct term would be "topography"). The top row in this tool menu has settings for Height up 'U', Height down 'D' and Adjust height 'A'. These settings determine what the topography tool will do when applied to the surface of the map and a selection must be made before the tool will work. However, before applying, set the radius and sensitivity of the tool with the Cursor radius '+/-' and Sensitivity '[/]' dials, respectively. The next row has additional settings, the most useful of which is on the right: the Plateau 'P' setting. The Get height 'G' setting appears to do nothing in Trainz2019. The Use height 'H' setting sets the topography tool to draw the ground at the height setting entered in the box to the left.

The process of creating a varied terrain starts by raising (and perhaps lowering) the ground surface using moderate radius and sensitivity settings. Practice using different settings for radius and sensitivity to develop skill in using this tool. Once the basic terrain has been established, the Plateau 'P' setting can be an excellent smoothing tool. Set the sensitivity high and the radius on however large an area is to be smoothed (best results are achieved using a high radius setting). The Plateau setting uses the elevation at the tool center; moving it quickly over a limited area and regularly resetting the center point will change a rough surface into a smooth slope. Again, practice is necessary to acquire this skill. Assuming your tracks are already in place, this setting (with radius set at small) allows you to bring slopes in close for realistic cuts or fills near the line.

Object and Spline Assets

Two types of assets exist in Trainz: objects and splines. In surveyor mode, scenery objects are added and manipulated using the Objects Menu reached by clicking on the Objects 'F3' tab. Tracks and objects directly related to tracks are dealt with separately under the Tracks 'F4' tab. For explanations on the various tools and settings provided see pages describing the Objects Tab and Tracks Tab.

Spline Shadows

Implementation of shadows cast by objects was one of the great steps forward made by Trainz to render a realistic GUI. Certain objects, notably spline objects with a low profile (such as roads and tracks) should not, of course, cast a shadow. To avoid this problem, the spline must be set down tight against the ground; any gap between the spline and the ground will appear as a dark line (a shadow). Spline objects conform to variations in slope as the spline is laid, but fixing the spline points (this changes the vertex from a white to a yellow rotating circle) with the Adjust spline height 'H" setting in Tracks 'F4' or Spline height 'H' in 'Spline mode 'S' for Objects 'F3') removes ground conforming between the points. Small rises now bury the spline and small dips produce a shadow. On a perfectly level board, these particular problems do not occur, although many spline objects will still cast a shadow if not height adjust. The solution is to bring the spline segments back into close conformance with the ground. Two possible approaches —adjust the spline height or adjust the ground height—may both need to be utilized wherever on a Route the shadowing is clearly observable.

A first step is to use the 'Smooth spline 'S' tool found in the Advanced section of the Spline Mode menu (same tool is Smooth spline height 'S' in the advanced tools for Tracks 'F4'). This tool corrects the terrain topography under the spline segment (section between two vertices) clicked on. The spline is smoothed and the ground brought into conformance with the spline. But this conformance may or may not eliminate a shadow, depending on the particular asset, as many are created to lie slightly above the ground. The next step is to apply the 'Spline height 'H' tool under Advanced )Adjust spline height 'H' for track splines), lowering the vertices while holding down the CTRL key (allows very fine adjustments). Using the Smooth spline height tool may not be desirable in some situations, as it has an impact over topography some distance from the spline (may level the ground too far out from the road or track). In this case, the ground will need to be raised up to the spline to eliminate the shadow. The tool used is Height up 'U' in the Topolgy menu, putting both Radius and Sensitivity on the absolute lowest settings. The Height down 'D' tool may need to be employed to make adjustments. Realize, both tools only operate if clicked on a grid vertex, having no effect if clicked away from a vertex.


Backdrops are used to create the illusion of distant terrain, enabling builders to set up landscaped horizons such as mountains and cityscapes quicker and with less impact to the frame-rate. To achieve this, a backdrop has a much greater draw distance than other scenery assets so that it is visible from far away (5 km or ~5000 yds). Backdrops are valuable with layouts based on the Linear Model, particularly where there is minimal topography (steppes and plains), obviating the need to add map squares to create a sense of distance beyond the tracks. Even in Area Model layouts backdrops can be used to great advantage, as is aptly demonstrated by Jango in "Sebino Lake, Italy (1980s)" in which distant villages are skillfully rendered by short backdrops.

Backdrops are provided as either object assets or spline assets. Because these assets are relatively easy to create and typically designed for specific purposes to match the developer's route, backdrops available on the DLS vary widely in subject and quality. Search for "backdrop" in the DLS for access to an extensive number of offerings.

A form of backdrop labeled a "double rise" is created with the Topology tool. A low hill or objects (for example trees or buildings) are used close by the tracks to obscure the land immediately beyond, which is made to slope downward, then rise up to create the illusion of far distant mountains or hills. The illusion is accomplished by using no objects or small objects to represent very distant trees on the far rise. Painting and topography also contribute by using muted colors tending to more purple shades. An example of this approach can be seen in the MSP route "Sgt_Fury4449's Epic route", where a distant snow-capped range is actually much closer to the tracks than would be possible in a narrow layout. The dip between the tracks and the far rise is obscured from view taking away from the viewer cues normally present to assess distance.

Coloring (Painting)

Coloring the landscape ("ground texturing") is accomplished with the Surveyor Paint Tool OR Paint tool. This tool opens a display of all the of the "paints" or tiles residing locally on your computer. Each combines colors and textures (in 2D) providing hundreds of possible choices for painting the ground. This tool is a paint brush with the ability, after selecting a tile, of enlarging the tile image (Texture scale 'Ctrl [/]') and changing the tile orientation Texture direction '[/]'). The diameter of the brush tool is set by the Radius '-/+' dial. A Get texture 'G' tool turns on a pointer that, when clicked on a painted location on the map, loads the tile in the brush. The loaded tile is shown in the square directly above the "Radius" dial. If you locate a tile by typing a word/name in the box above the tile display columns, the square displaying the loaded tile does not work if you then select a tile using the selection tool, even though the selected tile is likely loaded into the brush. We say "likely" because a painted area can become a combination of several different tiles, with certain tiles dominating the selection tool to the exclusion of what is displayed.

Once a selected tile is loaded, the image can be painted across the terrain.

Open up the Edit Menu (top menu bar, second from left) and pick Edit Environment from the list. This opens up a small window titled Environment - Lighting. To the right of the cloud preview window and boxes to select ambient, sun, and water color is a vertical slider. Clicking on the green dot at the bottom of the time dial turns the slider on for midday. Now adjust the slider to set a proper brightness; too bright, and your color tile selections will look washed out.

Baseboard with grid-size of 10-m

Grid Size Effect

One reason to not over utilize the 5-m grid size on a layout is the little difference selecting 5-m over 10-m makes for all but limited areas on a Route. Consider just two tiles; say ballast laid along a track cutting through grass. On a 10-m grid, the ballast tends to flare out in triangles (depending upon the track angle relative to the underlying grid) or not appearing under the track at all in other places. In the figure at left, the interaction of dry grass tiles and ballast tiles along the track in the distance shows triangles of ballast at 10-m grid setting. On a 5-m grid, this effect is much reduced, similar to that seen along the track in the foreground of the figure. The ballast is more easily constrained to the vicinity of the track and the line between grass and ballast can be made closer to an expected line parallel with the rails. In essence, a 5-m grid does permit more precision in painting the ground color/texture where multiple colors/textures are interacting. This precision appears to be the only real advantage gained at the expense of an enhanced cost to performance, suggesting careful consideration of which baseboards might really benefit from having a 5-m grid setting. In fairness, the adverse rendering of adjacent tile interaction on a 10-m grid is less noticeable at low angles and can be ameliorated somewhat by using tiles having less contrast.

Picking tile colors

The number of choices of coloring tiles is large, easily in the hundreds. Picking a suitable tile or combination of tiles is first a matter of deciding what sort of ground you wish to portray. The basic categories are going to be: vegetation, rock, bare soil, and water. Vegetation is likely to occupy the largest area of the map, except in very dry climates (e.g., deserts, dominated by bare soil) and rocky areas with thin soils. Water is discussed in more detail below under "Water Features".

Initially, decide on a suitable "theme" color best representative of the location and type of terrain you intend to emphasize (say, dry grassland) and paint broad areas with this theme color. The purpose here is to unify your rout's overall look. Of course, you might have more than one theme color if patches are typical or hills look different than valleys or plains.

Tile basics

Coloring the map surface is done by spreading small tiles over the map grid. We call these "tiles" because each is a usually six-sided pattern that is repeated ad infinitum as it is laid down (painted). On the 10-m grid, the tool places a tile diagonally (NW to SE or NE to SW) only centered on the yellow grid intersections. You can control the area covered by the tool (Radius "-/+") and the pattern size (Texture scale "Ctrl [/]")—this is not the area covered, but an enlargement of the actual pattern. Available tiles range from plain color to complex patterns mimicking ground textures of all sorts. Many of these are very good and others, not so good. Because the painting involves laying tiles one after the other, secondary patterns are almost inevitable. The better texture tiles avoid this. If a created tile is even a little darker in one part than elsewhere, a secondary pattern will appear. How troublesome these secondary patterns are depends upon the viewed distance. Viewed from the cab, chase, or lineside cameras, secondary patterning is not a huge problem.

Water Features

Of all the various landforms one can create, water features hold the greatest potential for enhancing scenery along a Route. And water is superbly rendered using the water tools found in Surveyor Topology - Get height. Three tools are provided: Add water 'W', Adjust height 'E', and Remove water 'Q'. An input box for setting water surface height is provided. The Add water tool paints a surface in the same manner as coloring, described above. However, the water surface has unique properties, the most significant being it is transparent and reflective. Improvements in rendering of these properties with each successive Trainz version has certainly been a major contribution to making a realistic CGI.

Painting water establishes a level surface at the setting in the water surface height box. Expanding this surface always maintains the same height as long as you begin painting from the existing surface (no need to adjust the setting). The Adjust height 'E' tool adjust the entire connected surface all at once, but does not change any other water surfaces on the map not connected to the one being adjusted. Thus, you can create a series of lakes at different elevations so long as the water surfaces of each are not connected. Determine this independence by selecting Wireframe View in the Display Menu (or pressing F9). This displays the baseboard in white and the water surface(s) in grey, removing all the painted surfaces. Use the Remove water 'Q' tool to disconnect close-by water surfaces that you wish to set to different heights. Working upstream of a long river, you can progressively raise the surface of segments at points with rapids, waterfalls, or dams. Just be sure the water surface is broken at these points. An oddity built into the Adjust height tool is that if you hold down the Shift-Key while raising or lowering the water surface, the surface becomes bendy, going up or down within a limited area, no longer representing a level surface. If you bend it too much, it snaps back to a level surface at some new height. There must be a use for this?

Water Color

Because the water surface is transparent, the color of the water feature and/or the nature of the bottom can be established by coloring the underlaying board surface. Creating muddy water or an algae-colored pond then becomes a matter of selecting an underlying color producing the desired result. The intensity of these underwater paints is controlled NOT by the distance between the water surface and the baseboard (water depth), but by distance from a shore. Over a baseboard without coloring, water has a color based on settings as described in the next paragraph; the board grid shows through for a distance up to about 40 m (130 ft) from a shore. Beyond that, the bottom fades away (no matter how colored) and water color darkens. This property is one of the great improvements made between TRS2012 and TRS2019 versions. Essentially, realistic deep water is built in and need not be rendered by painting the bottom with progressively darker color or physically lowering the surface (which never worked anyway). Thus, the offshore bottom need not be any deeper than the nearshore shoaling. Ocean depths are not rendered by grid depth or coloring; you can bother to color or not color deep water bottom. See "ocean and large lakes" below to learn how to tweak the color of deep water on your route.

Open up the Edit Menu (top menu bar, second from left) and pick Edit Environment from the list. This opens up a small window titled Environment - Lighting. Here you can set the color of your water features (one setting sets all). Make sure the time dial is pointing straight down (noon) and click on the green dot below it. Selecting any dot turns on the tools that establish the color ambiance of the Route at the time of day represented by the position of the green dot, but starting with noon is most influential for the daylight hours. The three boxes to the right of the cloud preview determine what the color dials will influence; the bottom box is water color. Selecting that box and then tweaking the red, green, and blue color dials allows setting water color over a wide range. The vertical slider to right sets the overall brightness of the scene (not just water). A well illustrated description of setting water color is found at Environment Tools - Water Colour.

Water Surface

In addition to transparency and reflectivity, the water surface in Trainz has a third unique property: that of water surface condition. Nine different "sea state" conditions are available under Edit Environment in the Edit Menu. Select Environment (sun rising icon) and note Water (2nd from bottom). Click on the text window to produce a list of available options. If your water surface is showing behind the Environment - Environment window, you will see instantly the effect of changing the water surface property from "glassy" through "rough". The setting will apply to all the water surfaces created on your route, so you may have to compromise if you have both ocean and inland lake/pond water features. Click on "X" (top right)—your selection is saved and the window closed (see also Environment Tools - Set Water Surface).

Rivers and Streams

Several options exist for rendering a river or stream on a route map. The most direct and perhaps easiest to create is a narrow, linear basin with a water surface. Painting the water surface confined by a topography of banks and detailed with appropriate bank and bottom coloring tiles produces a very satisfactory aquatic feature that can be lined with trees, shrubs, and/or grasses. Important to remember in creating the course of the feature is to develop meanders and bends, minimizing long straight segments.

In a landscape of topographic relief (mountainous), extending a linear feature with the level water surface may prove impractical, requiring that the water surface be broken up into unconnected segments that can rise step-like as the stream extends upslope. A good example of how to "connect" these segments is provided in the MPS Route, "Sgt_Fury4449's Epic route" where a wild river is depicted flowing from tributaries and lakes down to a coastal estuary.

Ocean and large lakes

Sea coasts and large lakes are extensive water features extending out to a distant horizon. Several baseboards out is sufficient, unless higher elevation views are anticipated (for example, a track laid well above the shore). Because depth does not influence the appearance of the water body (see "water color" above), the ocean or lake baseboard can be a level surface only a little below the water surface. Coloring the board is optional, except close to the shore where the map grid ("Grid (PBR)") is visible. If the "horizon"—the outermost baseboard—is kept to a line of baseboards oriented east-west or north-south, the appearance will be a natural one blending into the sky. However, if these horizon baseboards jog inward or outward, the sides of one or more baseboards (which are actually three dimensional blocks) will be seen ("World Edge" effect) from some points on the land. Pushing the horizon further out will reduce this obvious break in the horizon line to some degree, but not completely eliminate it. Placing a far shore (or another land) or an appropriate backdrop can solve this problem.

It is possible to overcome the disappearance of bottom with distance from shore and, for example, create an offshore reef or shoal or just extensive shallow water with a unique bottom type or color. Choose an area to create this and raise the bottom to just above the water surface using the Height up 'U' tool set at low sensitivity. Then lower the area (Height down 'D' tool) to just below the water surface; the grid (or bottom color) will disappear. Now, click anywhere on the baseboard with the Add Water 'W' tool. This has the effect of resetting the display relationship between the water surface and the bottom for the entire baseboard. The shoaled area, without any shore, will reappear and can be colored as sand or mud. You can expand the shoal with the Plateau 'P' tool set at high sensitivity and wide radius. Although it may appear that nothing is happening as you do this, clicking the baseboard with the Add Water 'W' tool will reveal the change you are making. Switching to Map View under the Camera Menu will show the bottom display as light blue for deep water (bottom not visible), light grey for visible but fading bottom, and dark grey (or some color if not "Grid (PBR)") for shoal bottom. Curiously, returning these areas to "deep water" will remove the shoal, but have no impact on the color scheme displayed in Map View (in Trainz Plus; could be adjusted in earlier Trainz builds).


  • .... List problems here

Using the shortcut key, cap 'S', will crash the program in the latest version of TRS2019.


The Edit Environment tool discussed above to set ambient brightness and water color lacks a "save" button. To complete your actions and presumably "save" your settings, you can only close the window. However, this action alone will NOT save your settings. Before closing surveyor you must make some other change to the map board, then save the session.

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