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.
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.
Also makes use of the Dash 9 included with Train Sim
Old Dash 9
F7A and F7B (From 3DTrains)
Cargill (Private Owner)
F7A and F7B (From 3DTrains)
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.
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
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
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
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 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
I'm going to give Cajon Pass: High Desert Rails a score of:
You can purchase Cajon direct from 3DTrainStuff at a cost of $34 US Dollars, including