Rail Route

Rail Route

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Timetable maps - The "C"s of level design
By SteR
A basic guide explaining some general level theory you should keep in mind when building a timetable level.
Introduction - What even is this?
In May 2021, I personally made four "cards" for people to use as tips on how to make a fun timetable map. These tips were general ideas that helped guide new players at the time to make good levels.

However, it's been MONTHS since I made those. People can't easily find them in the discord server, and there's still no real guides for mapmakers out there.
They're a bit lost to time... However, I've gotten better at level-making since then, and I've also recently gotten access to a better image-editing software. Now, I can completely remake all the cards, and add anything new to them that was missing the first time around!

These are some basic tips on things you should think about when creating a map. Are they hard-wired ideas that you should ALWAYS follow? No. Are they things you should generally keep in mind to help improve your levels? Absolutely.
The Complete Collection
These are new, refined, updated... well, they're no longer "cards". Whatever this is, it's got a better look to it. You don't need to use this link whatsoever, but this simple, single page covers everything covered here in a fancier style. It can't be uploaded to Steam directly due to its size sadly (27.2mb, nearly 14 times too large), but you can still view it here.


Don't trust puush? No problem. The entire article is still available to read here on Steam.

There is one notable difference - The image only looks at one level, WES, in greater detail. This guide will instead look at several levels that have been published to the Steam Workshop.

(And for those of you wondering, yes, I made WES. That's why it's the solo example in the full-page picture.)
Creativity in Location
Nobody likes rows of stations - Junctions are where it’s at. The more of a straight line your map is, the less likely people are to enjoy it.

What makes your map stand out from the rest? It doesn’t need to be something unique - just something interesting. Got an idea for a cool junction? Have you thought of some weird switchback operation? Maybe you got an interesting idea for trains that run a certain route?

You might be able to get away with a straight line, but it’s not always the best idea. The more your level visually (and operationally) stands out, the better!


Carlisle has a unique central area, with and odd "loop" connecting Currock to the main line, two parallel tunnels that lead to different places, and a short triple-track area on the main line.

Visually, there's a lot going on, and mechanically, there's some surprisingly restricted routes in the area. The main line is pretty straightforward (quite literally), but the branch is a bit of a mess!

Isle of Wight has its fair share of unique locations, from the simple yet odd Newport Junction to the depot at Havenstreet. There's a lot to talk about here, honestly.

Single-track routes are pretty easy to make unique track layouts out of, since there's only one track to connect to. The more tracks you have to connect, the harder it is to finish a junction.

What sort of inspiration do you have? Don't keep it in the back of your mind. Build it! Once the idea is out of your head, no matter how good or bad it is, you have something you can modify and perfect.
Capacity and trackwork
You have your tracks… Now where are your trains?

It’s time to start planning routes to make your map feel alive. You need to find a good balance - To little and the level gets boring, but too many and the level gets overwhelming.

For each route you have, do you think you’ve added enough trains to it? Not every station needs a tight schedule, nor does every route need constant trains, but if your four-track mainline has nothing going on… maybe you don’t need it.


Manai Transit could have easily had more tracks at its namesake town, but at its busiest, the station only ever has three platforms full. While a six-platform station would look cool, even a four-platform station is only at 75% capacity at its best.

London St. Pancras isn't any better, topping out at just 66% of its tracks filled at most. These aren't bad numbers, but once you start dipping below 2 out of 3 platforms filled at its peak... maybe it's time to reconsider how many tracks that station really needs?
Consistency in routes
It’s good to give your player some familiar trains as they play - it gives a nice sense of routine and security when a schedule they already know how to do appears.

However, too much routine turns into repetition, which just makes a level boring. You need to find the right balance, where certain contracts are consistent enough that the player can get used to the basic flow of the level, but you also need to add unique trains to throw a wrench in the works.

Freight trains are great examples of this, as you can send them to semi-random locations easily, making them unique and giving a new challenge in an otherwise familiar area. But that doesn’t mean freights are the only way to do this; You can also add rarer InterCity services, or Commuter trains that wind up reversing at a station they normally wouldn’t, or maybe there’s a Maintainence of Way train to handle?


Tower City has its fair share of identical routes, with four separate routes trains can take, each represented an approximately equal amount. Despite this, the blend of trains going through the station and ones reversing at it keep the routine from ever getting stale, and the short level length means the pattern never overstays its welcome.

Oss Central has strong routine from its Commuter and InterCity services, but it never gets too stale because of the occasional freight train running through the heart of the map that breaks up the routine.
Conflict in scheduling
Without a challenge, what’s the point of a level? Well, in most cases, it’s hard to make a true challenge - the route a train is supposed to take is straightforward.
But that doesn’t mean the route is clear.

Multiple trains can easily go into conflict by needing to use the same space at the same time, or by having “close calls” where the sequence of trains makes them come physically close to each other, even if there’s no real danger.

As long as there’s less than a minute between when one train is somewhere and the next wants to be there, you’ve got conflict.


Summit of the Stars uses one of the most classic variants of conflict - the single-track route. At multiple points throughout the level, trains need to wait for one another at passing tracks, forcing the player to make a decision about which train to send through first.

Hostivice has a unique take on this, with OS551 needing to wait for OS533 to clear the platform before it can enter, but OS551 needs to clear the main line for multiple other trains to pass through. It's a pretty clever little challenge to solve, and a great way to cause some conflict - especially considering OS551 arrives beforeOS553! Clever little trick.

That's all for now. Hopefully this helps guide you at least somewhat when building a level in the future!