East Kentucky Project - EK1 and EK2

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The East Kentucky Project


For many years I have harboured a desire to build a really big 'N' scale model railway in the American tradition.  Something like Allan McLelland's famed V&O or the wonderful Alleghany Midland built by Tony Koester.  Actually I did quite a lot of work planning an extensive line based around the freelance Norfolk Appalachian Trunk Line Railway.  Plans and timetables were prepared and over many years quite a few models were bought and painted, but the line always remained a 'maybe one day' dream.  In the real world matters like space, time and money take precedence over 'dreams'...

But then along came cyber-trains with the release of Microsoft's Railroad Simulator and Auran's fabulous Trainz®...

With either of these products it is possible to build truly enormous 'model railways' complete with virtually endless baseboards (or should that be 'endless virtual baseboards'?), limitless rolling stock and mess-free scenery.  Trains can be automated so no other operators are required, the 'owner' can simply take over wherever interest seems highest.

Is it really modelling?  In the traditional sense no, it isn't.  But it IS challenging, satisfying, and fulfilling, and that'll do me!


The EK Project is a DEM based portrayal of the L&N/CSX line through Eastern Kentucky.  All towns, railroad yards, and coal loadouts are located where they should be and have the correct names.  The yards and loadouts are built to function as correctly as possible, but they are NOT scale reproductions of the real thing.  I set out to build the Sim EK much as I would have a 'proper' model railway.  Everything is compromised downwards in size.  Running large yards and numerous trains takes an enormous toll on computer resources and nothing looks sillier to my eye than a huge railroad yard empty but for a couple of trains.  There is more than enough yard space on cope with operational requirements for the user's train plus allow some eye-candy cuts to lie around and still allow occasional AI controlled trains to pass through.  That's gotta be enough for anybody!

The Project:

The East Kentucky Project is a huge undertaking which will be released in 5 stages:

Each section will be released as a separate self-contained route, but since the Master Route is a single unit the sections should merge virtually seamlessly to form one large route.  Successive releases will also be offered in pre-merged form.

EK1 includes over ten miles of main line running from a couple of miles East of Dent Junction to the Glomawr Passing loop roughly a mile beyond the western yard limit at Jeff Junction.  The Carr's Fork and associated minor branches are modelled in full, adding about 6 miles to Vicco KY plus the four minor branches that radiated from there.  The mile long Buckeye Branch from Jeff is also included.  The Leatherwood Branch will be a truncated stub served by a portal to generate and receive traffic.  The East and West ends of the Main will also be Portals.  Released Christmas '05, see Downloads Page. 

EK2 will be the 10 mile long Leatherwood Branch which left the main at Dent Junction towards the Eastern end of EK1.  This branch meanders generally southwards and serves a large number of coal tipples.  Released Christmas '06, see Downloads Page. 

EK3 will extend the EK1 Main line westwards to just beyond the major yard at Hazard KY.  This will add roughly another 10 miles to the main and the yard will add lots of operating potential.  This stage will also include the Lott's Creek Branch and associated minor branches and spurs.  This section is started, but is on hold while I tackle a couple of other projects - see the 'Update' below.

EK4 will extend the Main westwards roughly 10 miles beyond Hazard and....

EK5 will extend the Main eastwards from Dent to Blackey KY and beyond.

October 2007 Update:

EK3 is on hold.  Not a lot of it is done but it WILL get finished :)  Trying to get the town of Hazard plus a fair-sized railroad yard plus a couple hundred trees into a narrow valley and retain any kind of framerate at all is a bit of an ask!  I have a couple of ideas to try and re-do it.  Getting EK3 out is the next project on my list after I finish the BNSF Clovis Sub....

December 2009 Update:

EK3 is back on as a current project.  I am sharing my time between Clovis and East Kentucky, so it won't get dome fast but it will get done.  the East Kentucky 3 project is now on its own page - click here.

EK1 Screenshots - The Main Line:

One of the earliest screenshots taken near the eastern end of Dent Yard.  Dent was used for breaking down unit coal trains before sending the m down the Leatherwood branch for loading.  Leatherwood is the subject of EK2. 

The western end of Dent yard with a short L&N way freight passing the maintenance depot.

South Eastern Coal ran its own trains over the line - a pair of SECX Gps lead a string of hoppers through a sylvan setting

A trio of F7's growl past the depot at Viper with eastbound coal empties.

The final approaches to the yard at Jeff Junction provide a couple of excellent rail-fanning spots.  Jeff Junction serves as a sorting yard for the short Buckeye Branch and also the far longer Carrs Fork Branch.

Another sylvan spot along the line.  A pair of Conrail GP 40-2's head west with a train of SECX empties.

EK1 Screenshots - Carrs Fork Branch:

Not really Carrs Fork, but the town of Jeff on the main line just east of the junction.  The depot is just visible through the trees on the left.

Just east of Jeff Junction a trio of Appalachia South Eastern units ease into the yard with a long drag of coal from the branch.

I always liked this shot - my kind of railroading!  the bridge is since replaced with a very sexy thru truss from Ronin13.

I have always liked the way the Auran 'Jet' graphics engine draws perspective.  It certainly works here.

Vicco, the town at the end of the Carrs Fork Branch.  Four lines diverge from this town top serve mines and loadouts in the surrounding hills.

A couple of RIP hoppers lie out beyond Vicco, right at the end of the line.

One of my all-time favourite Trainz shotz!

EK2 Screenshots - Leatherwood Branch:

Actually this shot is from the truncated part of the Leatherwood Branch which appeared on EK1 and does not form a part of EK2.

Daisy Tipple on the branch between Dent and Beech Fork.

Daisy Tipple again

The only tunnel on the East Kentucky is just south of Daisy - this Norfolk Appalachian northbound is just about to plunge into its depths as it leaves the rolling hills of the Leatherwood Valley in its wake.

The disused depot and small yard at Slemp.

Beech Fork yard is the location of a large tipple and the point where the branch divides, one leg going on to Leatherwood, the other follows the Blair Fork spur to Tilford.

A view from beyond the Leatherwood tipple.

Back North of Beech Fork - a trio of L&N locos head south with empties on a glorious spring day.

As the sun peeks over the horizon another day starts on the Leatherwood branch...

EK3 Screenshots - Caution, Hazard Ahead!

Westboumd empties have just left the western end of EK2 and are passing the Eastern outskirts of Hazard Ky.

The Davidson Spur departs the EK main at the small community of Lothair, just east of Hazard.  The present track arrangement is a simple spur into a single large mine complex which empty trains access by being pushed backwards from Hazard Yard, a trip of about two miles which requires a caboose on the 'front' on account of a couple of road crossings.  The Tiger data however shows a more complex arrangement with a second mine complex a mile or so farther downstream accessed by a wye located below a long road bridge.  Satellite images clearly show that a mine is (or was) in the area, so I have let my imagination run riot and come up with this complex but visually pleasing arrangement.  There were originally three Tipples on the western end of Davidson Spur, Bluegrass #3 and #4 and Starfire, so I have tentatively named the tipple on the eastern end of Davidson Spur Starfire #2.  Does anybody know the facts?  In keeping with the 'early' time period, a pair of L&N RS3s arrive from Hazard while a pair of S2s wait to get to work on the empties.

Joe's new GP38 'Spirit of Conrail' (available only from leads a pair of GP35s through East Kentucky on a beautiful spring morning.

Seems I only fire this route up to test new rolling stock!  New SD40-2s from Sp_or_bust deep in the hollers at Starfire #2 loadout.


EK3 has taken on an entirely new momentum - new screenshots will be posted here...

Download East Kentucky 2 from

Putting it all together - 

This screenie is included here because it shows almost the entire virtual model railway (or train sim) creation process.  The location is irrelevant, but in this case it is just East of the town of Defiance Ky, deep in the Carr's Fork Branch.

The picture shows the transition from:

Raw HOG terrain baseboards rear right;

Tiger lines showing road (red), rail (light blue) and river (dark blue) in the foreground.  These Tiger lines are used as a guide only, note that the location of the main road (just above the locos) is adjusted slightly to allow the terrain to 'flow' down to the river and the rail bridge has been moved very slightly to a spot where it had less impact on the smoothness of the curve.

Initial track placement is as shown to the right of the bridge.  Track is laid 'on the ground' then smoothed vertically using the 'Apply Height' and/or 'Apply Gradient' Tools.  Bridges and grade crossings are then added.  Curves are smoothed  by adding/deleting and manipulating spline points and altering bridge/crossing placement and alignment till everything looks right.  Several long trains are run in both directions at this stage and viewed from many angles watching for any vertical or horizontal 'lumpy' bits.  At this stage the terrain is still in its 'raw' state.  Where track is below ground level (cuttings), the trains simply run 'thru' the terrain.

Only then is the 'Smooth Spline' tool used to bring the terrain level up (or down) to the tracks as on the far side of the bridge.

River Placement is not shown, but the next step in the process is to rough in the river location using a minimum radius 'Apply Height' surveyor tool run along the line of the river.  I aim for a water level about 1 meter below the prevailing ground level and a water depth of about 1.5 meters, so the tool is set to a level 2.5 meters below the local datum.  Then water is added and the banks tidied up and smoothed by invariably manipulating every single terrain block corner. This system gives a nicely varied river bank, sometimes quite steep and deep gradually changing to more level as the local terrain height varies.

A neutral texture is then applied over all the Tiger lines to kill the chance of any of the bright fluorescent colours showing through the final texturing - this is the sandy texture just beyond the road end on the extreme right.  This also provides river bottom colouring and a basis for 'gravel beach' river banks

Buildings are placed next, bedding them into the terrain where necessary using the 'Plateau' tool.

Texturing is next.  I use a minimalist palette of about ten textures, but try to have at least three and preferably four in any given area.  They are applied over each other and blended carefully.  I rotate textures regularly but do not 'spin' them as they are applied.  The colour is 'washed out' by spinning and 'spun' textures seem to place a greater load on the processor.

Trees are placed next.  In the interests of 'lo poly' I use as few different trees as possible (only a dozen all up) and place them in clumps.  There are a LOT of trees on the route, but nowhere near enough.  I doubt if there is a computer alive that could cope with the required number.  Without a doubt the greatest visual compromise on the route is the texture-only approach to distant hillsides.

Final Detail is next - a process that can go on for ever and requires a fair amount of discipline to stop!  The two houses above the locos will get front fences, driveways and maybe a parked car and some people   because they are right up at the tracks in a 'busy' section of the route.  The turnout just beyond the grade crossing leads to a major coal tipple which requires a kick-back move to enter, so this area will be seen a lot!  The houses along the gravel road on the other hand will receive no detail other than a few trees.

That's it!  I work through the entire route in this manner.  Track gets laid about a mile at a time - any less makes alignment problematic and longer stretches get boring, therefore sloppy.  Then I work along the route from any convenient 'prominent' location to the next, trying to bring it up to final detail before moving on to the next, then the next, then the next, then.......

Feedback is always welcome - please email any comments queries or criticisms here.

© Andrew Turnbull 2005/6/7/8/9