Cab Ride at Home
Train Simulation Software Overview

By Adrian Cybriwsky

Until recently, the closest most of us could come to driving a train in Japan was to stand at the forward observation window and point at speed restriction signals, hoping that our helpfulness would be seen by the engineer by a reflection off the windscreen. Traditionally, this has been less than satisfactory, what with the odd looks from fellow passengers and the occasional run-in with the railroad police.

Fortunately, we're now in a renaissance of sorts, with technology and interest converging at a point where there is a new abundance of quality train simulation software, much of it modeling Japanese prototypes. Just as we enthusiasts have different motivations and interests, the various software packages available have different strengths-no one stands head-and-shoulders above the rest overall. In the following, I will describe the major programs that would be of interest to JRS readers and hopefully make a case that railroad simulators can be an excellent companion or alternative to the space, time, and cost commitments required of model railroads.

Train Simulator and other "Movie" based Programs
Some of the earliest graphical attempts to simulate train driving operations on personal computers were "movie based", and often arose from companies that had previously specialized in ride videos. The Train Simulator series ( is perhaps the best known example of this. There are also a few such sims branded under the Tomix name.

What the creators of such sims have done is to take video out of the front of a train and digitize it. They then typically combine this with a front-end program that plays the video at a speed corresponding to that of the simulated train, calculates braking pressure and momentum physics, enforces virtual speed restrictions, plays sounds and announcements, and so forth.

Such software is great in the sense that what you are seeing in front of you is the real-world. Additionally, because, from a technical standpoint, there's not much more to making a second version of such software, such companies have been able to produce titles covering a wide range of lines and operations, presumably just as fast as their lawyers can secure the rights with the railroads. Also, because much of the software is QuickTime based, much of it can work both on PCs and Macs.

Unfortunately, such software's strength that it is based on video of the real thing is also its primary weakness. Digital video, even when highly compressed, takes up considerable space, and is necessarily frame-based. At slow speeds, you will notice significant "stutter", as in moving one meter, the screen might only advance by one movie frame. Additionally, the pixel-size of the movies, in order to save space on the CD-ROM, is often small, meaning that you'll be viewing a relatively tiny movie on your large monitor.

Video-based software is improving however. Some new titles are being released on DVD, which will mean an increase in quality and the number of frames available for those with DVD drives in their computers. However, even this doesn't address issues such that because it is video-based, the other traffic you see, the time of day and weather conditions, and so forth are the same every time you run the program.

If you're interested in this sort of sim, check out RealRailway at, where you will find free, downloadable video-based programs. The quality isn't as good as video-based sims available on CD, but it will give you a general sort of feel as to what to expect from such titles. The RealRailway people rotate the downloads they have available at any given time, though usually it is a ride to a station or two of a western-Tokyo private line. Getting CD-based video sims outside of Japan is difficult, though you may have some luck with web-based merchants such as that at

Densha de Go
The Densha de Go (Let's Go by Train) series of software has been wildly popular in Japan. Developed by Taito initially as a full-size arcade game, versions have been produced for the Sony Playstation and other home gaming devices, as well as for the PC.

As of this writing, the following titles are available: DDG (original), DDG 2, DDG Nagoya Tetsudo (Railway), DDG2 - 3000 / DDG - Professional (both of which are combinations of 1 and 2 with some additional features), Kisha de Go (which features steam locomotives), and the very recently released Densha de Go 3 (for Playstation2).

The Densha series is the current champion in terms of interesting graphics, sounds, and overall recreating the "feel" of being on Japanese trains. When one plays a Densha game, one can not help but marvel at the thousands of hours of attention to detail that have been spent reproducing stations, buildings, trains, and the like by obviously very skilled artists.

A wide range of routes is available. DDG Nagoya Tetsudo allows you to ride the routes of the Nagoya Meitetsu private railroad company (including express trains, a railbus, and even a zoo monorail!), and the other titles focus on JR lines-everything from the Akita shinkansen and the Yamanote line to backcountry single-track DMUs are modeled, though in many cases the distance between stations has been artificially shortened to enhance gameplay. Individual trains handle differently based on size and weight, and it takes considerable timing and skill to successfully brake in rainy or snowy conditions.

For many, however, gameplay is the major downside to the Densha series. Train simulation purists tend to call the DDGs "games" rather than "sims" because Densha seems to have largely been written for a younger, action-oriented audience. They're largely games of keeping within speed restrictions and attempting to stop at station markers within one meter and within one second (!) of the scheduled time. If you're late or stop incorrectly or do any of a dozen possible other incorrect things, your points total goes down. Lose too many points, and you'll have to start the level/route again. It's hard work, even for this experienced gamer. Don't get me wrong-this isn't Pac-Man-but it's not an industrial teaching simulator by any means.

With the new versions of Densha, Taito has recognized that some people just want to drive the trains freely without playing the game, as it were. DDG - Professional and DDG3 have a completely free-running, "family" mode.

Most of the Densha series were made for Sony Playstation game machines that have been "regionalized" for Japan. That means that even if you could get a copy of DDG2 for Playstation in the US, it would not work with your US (or European) Playstation unless you had modified it (in a way that might not be legal everywhere.) Fortunately, there is a solution-software products like Bleem! ( allow you to play Playstation games on your Windows PC. I have found Bleem! to work wonderfully-in fact, I don't even own a Playstation and I play DDG1, DDG2, and DDG-Nagoya with no problems. As of this writing, there is no emulator available for the Playstation2, so playing DDG3 is probably out of the reach of most outside of Japan.

My copy of Densha de Go 2 - 3000 is a PC-native version. I was pleased to find that it worked fine on my US/English language copy of Windows 98.

Finding Densha games in the US or Europe may be difficult. However, there are a number of Playstation game importers on the web that may be able to help you out. I found a copy of DDG2 for only $14 in this way, and found my copy of DDG1 on eBay. As of this date, I have not been able to find DDG-Professional, which is widely considered to be the best of the bunch. If you do run a DDG on a Playstation unit that can accept Japanese games, there are two special controllers (mascon) available that look and act just like prototypical EMU controls when used with DDG titles.

DDG has spawned a number of variants and spin-offs. SL de Ikou is a steam-engine sim for Playstation similar to Kisha de Go that is published under the Tomix name-you may have seen it in the Tomix catalog. There are also a number of "Densha de Po" (Pocket) LCD games out there whose value is purely novelty and fun.

BVE: Iida Line

BVE, Iida Line,
by courtesy of BVE Iida Line author Gaku.

Boso View Express (BVE)
Since a few months ago, when some clever individuals found out how to make it work with non-Japanese versions of MS-Windows, BVE has becomes the darling of serious simulation enthusiasts. Produced by a gentleman named Mackoy, about whom very little is known, BVE can be freely downloaded from

BVE features highly realistic train physics. All of the current sims do a competent job of modeling forward and backward issues of acceleration, momentum, and braking, but BVE goes further and also models lateral and shock effects, so the trains tend to bob and weave realistically. In the cab, ATC, ATS, and related systems are faithfully reproduced as well.

What really makes BVE stand out, however, is that it is a fairly open system. Unlike with Densha or the video-based sims, users can design and share their own routes and trains. This has led to a wide variety of routes quickly becoming available, and most of the routes are of prototypical length. Branko (Barney) Spoljaric of Croatia has established a website at which functions as a clearinghouse of sorts for BVE routes that will function on English-language Windows PCs. Here, you can download many Japanese-prototype lines, including a visually stunning Iida line and a version of the Keio main line built by a Japanese enthusiast which has been "Englishified" by yours truly. Additionally, you will find a growing number of European and American prototype lines available for download, as western users are learning how to make BVE routes of their own.

BVE has two running modes-free and annoyingly picky. In free mode, one can essentially run at one's leisure (or hurry). In picky mode, a violation of even one kilometer per hour over the limit will cause an angry message to be flashed at you while the route ends and you are forced to start anew. It seems likely that Mackoy will eventually ease or modify the pickiness of BVE based on user feedback, but with free software there are, of course, no guarantees.

The Rest
Soon, possibly even by the time you read this, there will be one more major player in the Train Simulation scene-Microsoft is scheduled to release Microsoft Train Simulator in late spring, 2001. MSTS will differentiate itself from the sims previously mentioned in that it will provide a 3D environment in which the trains will run so that not only will you be able to have a traditional cab view, but you will also be able to position yourself virtually by the side of the tracks and watch the train go by. Of interest to JRS members, MSTS will feature Kyushu Railway's scenic Hisatsu line as well as Odakyu 7000-series "Romance Car" and 2000-series commuter trains between Shinjuku and Enoshima.

There are a number of other simulation programs out there that focus primarily on western / European prototypes. You can learn more about these, as well as participate in the Internet's premier discussion of train simulation software at Trainsim UK ( There, you can also get English-language help for installing BVE.

One Japanese prototype simulator that I have not covered in detail is the slightly-older, but freely downloadable, Jmechanik (and Jmechanik2) by Iskandar, based on the venerable Polish Mechanik sim. Use Trainsim UK as a starting point for downloading this sim.

It's a great time to be a Japanese train enthusiast with a computer. Using train simulation software is an excellent complement or even alternative to modeling. Additionally, by placing you in the driver's seat, you will likely learn much about Japanese trains that you might not have otherwise-signaling systems, for example.

If you're relatively new to computers, I must be frank-installing some of this software, much of it designed for non-PC systems or non-English Windows, may not be easy for you. However, the friendly community at Trainsim UK will certainly help if you ask your questions there.

You will quickly gain an appreciation for the art of train driving from such sims. But be careful-these sims can also be quite addictive. You have been warned.

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