Review and Strategy: Railway Empire

I have much enjoyed playing Railroad Tycoon II and Railroad Tycoon 3. In a way I prefer the quite refined 2D graphics of RTII to the quite crude 3D-graphics of RT3 but RT3 has an economic model that is more interesting (although far from perfect). Over the years I have waited for Railroad Tycoon 4 and instead I have found games like:

  • Cities in motion
  • Transport Fever
  • Sid Meiers Railroads

They all have their charm and qualities but none of them aspire to be the successor of Railroad Tycoon.

Railway Empire
Then came Railway Empire. I have played it during closed beta and as I write it is still in beta. Railway Empire is a candidate to be the defacto successor of Railroad Tycoon so I will write about different aspects of it.

The graphics is nice. It is cartoonish rather than realistic – Railroad Tycoon (esp II) had a more serious look – but its ok with me. The ride-along-mode is quite nice.

I understand Railway Empire is designed not only for computers but also for gaming consoles. For this reason things are large and quite simplified. You don’t get large tables of facts and statistics and it is more about clicking, sometimes a click or two more than what you want. I think it works well.

Time and speed
This kind of game needs to deal with time. On one hand a train on a line could do several roundtrips on a single day, based on a realistic time table. On the other hand the game should progress day by day or month by month while the trains beautifully cross the landscape. I think Railway Empire gets this quite right. The trains accelerate quite fast and it does not take too many days for them to reach their destination. If I remember correctly, in Transport Fever it takes annoyingly long time to arrive. I have not started up RTII/RT3 to compare, but I think in Railway Empire trains typically return in weeks rather than months (as in RTII/RT3).

A much debated thing is the tactical pause. As it is now the game has three modes:

  • Trainiac: no pause (with a few exceptions): +20% score
  • Normal: game paused when building
  • Manual: can pause whenever you want: -20% score

I personally prefer the Manual mode. I start up a new scenario, listen to the introduction, read the tasks and investigate the map before I start building anything. I don’t want this to take 6 months when the first tasks are to be accomplished in 2 years. Of course I can study the map, take notes, make a game plan and then restart the game but to me that just adds the feeling of cheating. I play Railway empire to relax, not to be stressed.

Nevertheless I can see that the absense of pause makes the game more challenging. Perhaps when I replay the same scenario in the future I can try one of the faster modes.

So I think the three modes are fine.

Rail network mode
There is a simplified mode where several trains can run on a single track. I am not interested in that and I have used the realistic mode that requires signals, where you can get deadlocks and trains can block each other.

Laying tracks is enormously improved since RT3. Without going into detail you can place several segments and see the cost and the inclines. Then you can adjust the curves and height, creating new cuttings, viaducts and tunnels and get a new price in real time. If you are happy you can click $ and you are done. No need to build, delete and start over (or even make tactical saves as in RT3).

Each station can have up to 4 through tracks and each town can have 2 stations. Then there can be (any number of) warehouses also with 4 tracks. So a large city with one warehouse may have 24 outgoing tracks. This works quite well. You can build viaducts and tunnels and the game is quite forgiving. The station itself is just the platforms and you need to extend it far out in the surrounding landscape with parallell tracks for incoming and outgoing trains to avoid queues and deadlocks.

When you have many parallell tracks the switches and curves take more space than would be optimal. There are no crossings. It wouldn’t surprise me if these things get improved before the final version.

In conclusion you can do things you only dreamt of in RT3.

Routing and signalling
One of the most significant changes from RTII/RT3 is the signalling system (not very different from Transport Fever). The important thing to understand is that every train has one exact route that it will not divert from ever (unless you change it), meaning:

  • There is no such thing as available platform (train will wait for its assigned platform to be free)
  • There are no train priorities (in most cases it would have no relevance)
  • The train will take the shortest route (which may not be what you want)

The signalling system is not trivial. I would not be able to explain how it would work in every situation but I  have come up with ways to use it that works for me. The trains pass a signal if the section (until next signal) is free unless it is entering a single track that already have another train coming in the opposite direction. But it is possible to produce deadlocks.

Generally more trains mean more waiting. If you get to the point where you have deadlocks you probably have far too many trains. A lot of the time you increase capacity by making sure the trains you have already deployed easily can get to their destinations rather than deploying more trains on already busy tracks.

In conclusion the signalling system works beatifully but you need to practice a bit before you master it. When I have read other guides it seems other players use the signalling systems in ways I dont.

Town Growth
Each town has demands. Small towns demand small quantities of basic goods (such as wheat). Larger towns also demand more delicate goods (such as vegetables) or manufactured goods (such as furniture).

This means that when you supply a small town with everything it needs it will quickly grow. But then it will start demanding things you are not transporting there and it will stop growing.

Industries transform goods (like wheat) into other goods (like beer). Industries are located in towns and adds to the towns demand. What they produce will be consumed locally (if demanded) and you can also transport the surplus to other towns (where demanded).

Express Goods
Passengers and Mail (express goods) are very easy to deal with. They have a final destination and they will find their way through your network changing trains in intermediate stations. What I lack from RT3 is the map that shows where most passengers are waiting and where they are going (to identify and mitigate bottlenecks).

Freight Goods
Freight is the key to growth and growth is a more important part of Railway Empire than it was to RTII/RT3. I found the freight mechanism confusing at first and it resembles both RTII and RT3 but it is also different.

Local resources (like a wheat farm) can ship limited amount of goods (like wheat) by road to closely located towns. Apart from that there is no goods moving without trains and no and market prices as in RT3.

  • Goods (like beer) produced in one town will be stored/consumed where produced but never transported elsewhere (except by train).
  • Towns that don’t manufacture a type of goods will store it for local consumption only. You can only unload what is demanded. And you cannot load what is unloaded.

Imagine a line with three stations:

  1. A wheat farm
  2. A town with a brewery (demanding wheat)
  3. A town (with demand of wheat)

If you make a simple train go 1-2-3-2(-1) most likely no wheat will ever make it to town 3. Not until you have completely filled up the storage capacity of wheat in town 2 any wheat will make it to town 3.

There are several ways to deal with this like warehouses and manual freight mode (where you configure a train to load/unload exactly what you want). However the best solution is often to simply run a dedicated train directly from 1 to 3 (and combine with other duties if possible/needed).

Eventually you will end up with congestion: several trains waiting in line to access the same platform. At this point, adding more trains will do more harm than good.

The obvious solution is to add more platforms and send the trains to different platforms (largers stations also serve trains faster).

But you also need to consider how efficiently you use your platforms. In a busy station the following scenarios are listed from worst to best:

  1. A train arriving, delivering nothing, getting serviced, loading nothing
  2. A train delivering and loading a few wagons
  3. A train passing through
  4. A train unloading all wagons, leaving empty
  5. A train unloading all wagons and loading a full train

This is why manual freight mode is subotimal: arriving with 8 wagons, delivering two loads, loading two wagons and leaving is wasteful utilization of platform capacity. For the same reason, long express (or mixed) goods lines calling at every station is not very optimal if most passangers or goods just go through.

Mostly the cause of congestion and your bottlenecks are your stations not your lines.

A warehouse has 4 tracks and can store goods but it does not belong to a town. In theory if you set things up in a good way you can have full freight trains going from a warehouse into a town with what the town demands and then return fully loaded with manufactured goods to the warehouse where the train gets serviced (maximizing platform utilization in the town itself). You can think of the warehouse as 4 extra tracks that occupy just on track in the town-station itself. In practice this is not very easy.

I have tried to set up warehouses that I fill with basic goods (wheat, corn, lumber, vegetables, fruits, milk). The problem is that wheat is demanded first. So trains will leave the warehouse for large cities that demand all the goods stored fully loaded with wheat only (until the town has reached maximum wheat stocks). This will leave the large city somewhat unsatisfied. Worse, your warehouse will perhaps run out of wheat and your smaller towns will get nothing (because they dont even demand vegetables, fruits and milk which the warehouse is full of).

My conclusion is that as long as you can supply a town with full train loads of anything it is better to go directly from the source(s) to the town. Often you can make a line like:

  1. A-town
  2. Corn farm
  3. Wheat farm
  4. B-town

If you run a train 1-2-3-4-3-2(-1) you get decent utilization. However, you may want to leave A-town and B-town empty, and perhaps you want to load only 4 wagons in the first farms both ways (otherwise B-town will get mostly corn). Even though the above route is nice it could make more sense to do 2-1-2-4-3-1-3-4.

Buying the competition
In RT you were a major investor in your own company. You could pay out dividend and you also received a salary. This money you could invest in your own company or in the competition. Eventually you (as investor) could buy out the competition. However your company could not buy stocks.

This is different in Railway Empire. You – your character – control your company but you can not buy stocks (or receive dividends). Your company can buy stocks in the competition (and they in yours). You can not buy stocks in your own company (it simply would not make any sense to do so).

You may take over (merge with) your competitors by buying 100% of their stocks. And they can take over your company the same way.

I would have wanted to be able to take over a company and let it operate as before, just not expanding. And perhaps being able to transfer industries to my own company. However, what happens when you take over a competitor is that all their trains are sold, tracks and stations are left empty. The good thing is that it makes it reasonable straight forward to set up your own lines and name them the way you want. The bad thing is that it is a lot of work. You have the option of simply liquidating everything receiving cash instead.

Railway Empire has quite many diffent locomotives to choose from and they become available as you research them.

Growing Stations
Stations usually start out small and grow with more lines and trains. This is what I typically do.

1. A single track allowing for a single train to one other station in the east.

2. Double track to the east connected to a single platform. Notice how I already prepared the double track on the south side to continue into the station should it grow. This will allow for future through traffic. If on the other hand I know there will be no through traffic I would place the double track north instead, allowing for more room for eastbound tracks connected to new south platforms.

3. Now I have double track also to the west. No through traffic possible.

4. Now through traffic is possible, as well as trains terminating in Salina from both east and west.

5. Finally, if there is much through traffic and also traffic from the east terminating in Salina I use track #1 (westbound) and #2 (eastbound) for through traffic, and #4 for terminating traffic. Notice that the longer the yard is the less risk for congestion. If you in my example have 3 trains queueing to get to #3 there is a risk that they will block a through train, even though #1 is free.

Often two lines need to merge into one line and you can do this in different ways depending on ambition and expected traffic.

1. If you have a double track with a single track going to a station (typically a farm/resource) this works fine. However if multiple trains go to the farm one will wait in the mainline (blocking it) if the farm is busy.

2. The standard way to deal with two double tracks merging is seen below. Note that if the track to the north is the busiest this will cause waitings.

3. For practical this is often good enough (and very simple).

4. The below is an alternative when it comes to splitting the line from the east into two lines with equal priority. The extra complexity offers no advantage to #2 above.

5. This way two trains can meet either E/W or E/N with no train stopping.

6. If you are really serious about avoiding blocking/waiting you can invest in a viaduct. However it costs more and you may lose time because the track is longer and with a significant incline.

In all the above pictures only one-way signals are displayed. You need more signals to allow trains to run closely after each other. As you notice as soon as I have double track I use right hand one-way traffic.

Single Track
Although the price of double track is less than twice a single track often it makes sense to start with a single track. You then need sections were trains can pass (unless you have a single train). This is how I do it, to very easily be able to upgrade to double track later. Notice that those are the only two signals I have. I have seen other screenshots with more signals but I have experienced deadlocks.

If your single track line joins a double track main line, the passing section should be as close as possible to the main line to minimize waiting. The single track is to the north in the picture below.

Single Tracks and Stations
If you have two stations with a line between them the passing section needs to be between them. It makes no sense to have double platform stations.

If you have three stations with a line the middle station can serve as passing section as well.

However, in practice you would probably make the track longer on one side to place a supply tower.

It is generally a bad idea to have through traffic (both ways) on a single platform, especially if some trains also terminate. If you have limited traffic you can have terminating traffic from both ends. And for a rural station with limited traffic you can save money by having passing sections on both sides of a single platform. You can always start cheap and expand later:

There is so much more to discover and talk about when it comes to Railway Empire! It may not be perfect, but it is certainly much better than RTII and RT3. I think this game will give me many hours of entertainment for the coming years.

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