Reply To: Train fever on hard, … without trains

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Everyone has made interesting points. But I have just achieved the Tycoon achievement (1 Billion profit) on a large European map on Hard difficulty. My trains made at least half of my profit. And I tend to build doubletrack loops like that of the example, linking about six to ten cities. I had three such loops by 2050, with two towns having four track stations, where passengers could switch between loops. One of those loops made a big profit, running in PARALLEL with the original bus service that linked three of the towns in a chain. The bus service was STILL profitable in 2100, although it had waned to 300K (it peaked at about 1.2M before the trains arrived).

In 2100, my road business costs 12M, and makes 10M profit. My trains cost 50M to run, and achieve 25M profit. The trucks and buses are clearly more profitable as a percentage, and were critical to funding/subsidising the early days of the hideously unprofitable trains. But the trains have by far the bigger growth potential, and while I’ve done all I want to do with that map, it is by no means impossible to make massive profits with trains on Hard level. It is just, well, hard.

Fundamentally, there was nothing wrong with the original poster’s build or layout. It looks quite close to what I’d do myself. But you have to make sure that at least some towns are supplied with industrial goods, because people need jobs, and strong industry is what provides most of them. Then it takes many years, if not decades, for a train service to become profitable. You have to buy enough trains to make it attractive, but if conditions are favourable, the towns will start to grow near the stations, and people will start to travel on trains. Profits will come, eventually. And when they do, it is deeply satisfying.

But it is called “hard” difficulty for a reason. None of them unrealistic. All of them solvable with simple logic and common sense. Plus a lot of patience, a decent plan, and a healthy road business to subsidise your huge losses through the early years. Because, there are not enough people to make train services profitable from the get go. Instead, the train option encourages towns to grow, and only in time will there be enough people to use the trains and deliver profits.

Perhaps the most critical thing to realise, is that in this game there are not hoards of resources and people waiting to use whatever transport options you provide. Instead, it is only when you provide transport options, that the first passenger comes along. You just have to watch an industry that does nothing, slowly starting to produce the first log from the forest, maybe in time for the second trip by your empty delivery truck, to realise how this works. People are the same. Passengers take time to become a viable cargo in decent quantities, just like timber, or oil, or iron ore, or coal, or goods. They are just another commodity for us to ship about.



Things that worked for me, in detail:

– PATIENCE. no profits after a few years is typical. Expect to break even at best, after ten years, with your first line. You need enough profitable road services to carry you through those painful losses, while the towns grow in size and start using your trains.

– Frequency = attractiveness. You need to have ENOUGH trains to make the lines attractive. I have noticed that 6 minutes is probably NOT frequent enough to attract passengers, but is borderline good enough. Things start to take off when you get down to 4 minutes or less. This is because the train time is only part of the whole journey time. Passengers will not bother making the trip if they cannot get door to door inside 20 minutes. If they use a bus to get to the first station, then take the train, then use another bus, those transit times need to be short enough to encourage them to use the train. They will ignore your services if they are not frequent enough.

– frequency is more important than capacity. It is useless having one large train that can hold all of the waiting passengers at every stop, if it does not come by regularly enough. And since locomotives are by far the most expensive part, it’s a very tough decision to make, balancing having enough trains with enough capacity. If in doubt, scrimp on capacity, but do not scrimp on frequency. If your service is not regular enough, passengers will not use it, and it will never grow. If it is regular enough, people will use it, and the towns will grow around the stations, resulting in more passengers, and then the profits will come. You can always add more wagons later, to up capacity.

– people will want to use a good train, but it takes years, if not decades, for them to use it. Typically my towns achieve significant growth around the train station. I build it on the edge of the town, often connected to a “ring road” – an avenue that circles the town (much like the picture in the original post) – but early gains are made by running a bus line through the existing parts of town and connecting it to a bus stop at the station. You then need to run a bus service that takes less than 3 minutes. It probably won’t make a profit. But it is a “feeder” service, that brings more passengers to the train station (in addition to getting them about the town itself, too).
I made a mistake of building tram systems from the get-go, expecting towns to grow quickly. Instead, by 2150, most of those towns have yet to grow out far enough to use all of the tram stops I built, and most tramlines run at a significant loss. I lose 3M a year on unprofitable trams. But since each train loop makes more than that now, I’m not too worried. In the early days, only one tram line was close to break even. Now about 1/3 are making profits, and most of the others are getting close to break even. I have three towns with close to 2000 residents, so I clearly overestimated the requirement for trams. But it means I have massive capacity still waiting to be tapped as those towns grow bigger.

– maybe it’s the “hard” difficulty, but I noticed that running costs of trains are brutally important. I started my passenger lines using a cheap diesel train pulling three Ein…2 wagons each (60 passengers). Even with a frequency of 4 mins, with 4 trains on each loop, each of the two lines (one in each direction around a dual track loop) made a 2M loss for the first 10 years. But every year, that loss decreased, as more passengers discovered my lines, and the towns grew around the stations. And when the first green profit appeared, I cheered.
Then a nice electric train was released, and I added two of each to the existing services, to bring the transit time down to just 3mins. I upgraded all of the other trains quite quickly, and watched my 2M profit on each line turn back into a 2M loss. The trains were just as full, if not fuller. BUT the increased running costs of the new trains were killing it. At best, they just about crawled back to break even, some 15 years later. Heartbreaking.
Five years before they became obsolete (around 1985) I got rid of those expensive-to-run electric trains, and replaced them with a fleet of the original crappy diesel locomotives, which was STILL the most economical train to run. Four carriages on each (80 passengers), and the huge expense of replacing some 12 trains resulted in a 3M profit instead of a small loss. PER LINE.
I cannot emphasise how CRITICAL it is to pick the right trains, with low running costs, and appropriate speed and capacity. It is better to have people waiting at the station, unable to get into a crowded small train, than to have a huge train that gives every waiting passenger a choice of luxurious seats. You have to think like the train owner, not the passenger.

– My first train loop had no competing bus service. But the second loop connected the three towns that had been linked by buses from day one. Each bus line was earning something like 1M with a transit time of about 120seconds. The bigger service had sixteen buses running on it, and each upgrade never needed a reduction in vehicle numbers. The natural passenger growth consumed the increased capacity and speed. There seemed to be some truth that the passenger numbers grew to what the provided service could handle. (In hindsight, I believe this is a truism for this game.)
The bus line ran from city centre to city centre, whereas the train stations were built on the edge, so direct competition was not an issue. Besides, the existing bus passengers were making journeys specific to the service provided, and the way the towns had grown around the transport option. So the trains would add something new, not take away the old. I watched the bus lines carefully, ready to pull them if they started running at a loss. But there was no noticeable dip for decades, even as the train service began making profits.
Once again, the new train lines ran at a huge loss for a few years. By now, trains were expensive, but again I opted for the cheapest to run locomotive I could find, ignoring the lovely TGV, although it was a close thing. If I had sparser cities, further apart, then the higher speed would have swung the decision. In about 5 years, the initial 3M loss per line had reached break even.

– there comes a point where things stagnate. Where you have passengers waiting at a station, and the trains are mostly full or close to full. The game seems to self balance that way, growing towns to match the transport capacity provided, so long as growth conditions are favourable.
I gambled with my most profitable train lines (the original loop, now making 6M per loop), by buying more trains for it. By now I was running the awesome Dualstox, a fast train (on an upgraded high speed line) that can carry 162 passengers. They were not quite full, and most waiting passengers could get on the next train. There seemed to be no need for more trains, except that profits had flatlined at about 6M per annum, for a decade or more.
The upgrade from the old diesel meant that the service increased not just in doubled capacity per train, but also by the faster trains providing that capacity more frequently. But I still upped each service from 6 to 8 trains, just about one per station. Imagine my surprise, when profits grew from 6M to 10M in about 5 years, after an instant dip to 4M because of the increased running costs.
The important point here is that growth is a boot strapping process. Provide an attractive enough service in the beginning to attract passengers, then watch for when the service flatlines. Then add more capacity / frequency, and watch until that reaches a balanced state too. Continue ad infinitum.

– Balance. Towns can’t be just residents with nothing to do. People need jobs too. So you need to help industry by freighting raw materials and goods, providing at least some towns with strong industrial growth, demanding workers. It is quite possible that a healthy industry in one town will spring up near the railway station, drawing in passengers from a nearby town, where the people commute via your train. That should be a highly viable strategy, although I haven’t tried it deliberately. I just happened to notice that one town with the best supply of steel goods on the map grew a huge industrial sector near the new train station, and the neighbouring town, that was one of the few with no industry, saw huge residential growth near the new station. Those two train stations had double the number of waiting passengers as the other stations on the loop.

– do not be afraid of early upgrading, if a more suitable vehicle is released. Use the “25%” lifetime tab, to switch to a newly released vehicle early. The important thing is, you get significant refunds by selling the not-so-old hardware, so it is not as expensive as you think. Plus, the running costs of older vehicles starts increasing as soon as it ages, so the penalty is again not as painful as it might seem. I was still running fairly youthful yet obsolete diesels when the Dualstox train became available. But when I checked its speed, the doubled capacity, the 25% greater running costs, and saw the hoards of passengers itching to get on my trains, I didn’t hang about. But I tested it by upgrading just one of my (then) four lines. Upgrading each old train cost a net outlay of only about 500K, but increased profits paid for itself within the first year. I upgraded the rest the next year, and my income jumped overnight.

– people want to be near the station. Any station provides incentive for the town to grow, on both sides of it. Make sure that potential is not halved, by building access across the lines. I typically added a road bridge or tunnel near each end of the station. How powerful is that attraction? In one of my bigger cities, where I had so many lines and two rivers nearby making access to the other side of the station difficult, the town used the national road to grow from, far beyond the city boundary, to get back to as close as it could on the far side of the obstacles. That was still almost half the town size away, yet homes and industry sprang up like wildfire, despite having no transport services at all. I went back to re-engineer some tricky bridges and tunnels to make the huge island of isolated land in the middle accessible, and the town leapt from 1300 residents to 1800 in about ten years.
So, do not ignore the “other” side of a new railway station. Add bridges and tunnels to avoid level crossings, but even level crossings will suffice. Don’t cripple your growth potential by 50% by neglecting to build crossings. The game does NOT build them by default.

– beware of the traffic jams. I got caught out, when an intercity bus service went from 500M profit to 400M loss, in a year or two. The problem? A traffic jam near the train station, where trams and cars and buses and some freight trucks all got in each other’s way, causing a permanent obstruction. All of the intercity buses were stuck in the queue of traffic. Luckily, I had built the ring road system using Avenues, and was able to upgrade them to the bigger dual carriageway (with a bus lane) with no problem. The traffic jam vanished, and all went back to normal. If money is no problem, it might make sense to build the biggest roads you can from the get go, because those narrow streets are non-upgradeable. Most avenues can expand into the bigger dual carriageway by sacrificing some sidewalk, even if the road itself cannot expand in width because of nearby buildings. So build avenues as a minimum for future town upgrades and traffic resolution.


After all of that, I need to point out: I was also aiming for the Penny-pinching achievement (and got it) in that Hard game too. That meant no additional loans. The ONLY way I managed that, was to have freight trucks and a few intercity bus services that made awesome profits in the early years, that funded the train track building and rolling stock purchase, then subsidised the unprofitable trains while the towns grew big enough to make the trains worthwhile.

Industry was critical. 90% of my road vehicles are freight. I have very few buses, and those are mostly intercity services. (But I have loss making trams ferrying people around the towns themselves) The towns that grew best, always had some industry feeding them goods. Mostly just forests to sawmills to cargo depots near the town’s industrial sector. But the biggest profit ones were steel. Iron plus coal to the steel mill, and goods to the town. Most of those lines make about 1M each. In the early days, I had 12 to 20 Opel trucks servicing them. Post 2000, typically just 3 or 4  40 ton trucks is sufficient. It’s hard work “pruning” excess capacity from modernised lines on the roads.

You might argue that road fever is the right way to go. Even in 2050, the road haulage costs about 12M to run, while bringing in 10M profit. Almost a 50% return, and “highly profitable”. Contrast that with my six train lines costing 50M to run, and also bringing in “only” 10M profit. Barely a 20% return. Not worth it, compared with those road vehicles, but far more satisfying, and a 20% return is still very good business. However, since about 2050, as the towns have grown, and the tram services are finally paying off, flooding passengers into the railway stations, the train profits have grown to almost 30M for very little extra cost, and it isn’t so clear cut anymore.

The growth potential for the passenger service feels like it can easily triple, whereas the road haulage business is already supplying as many goods as each town can take. The road haulage figures have been stable since 1950. All of my attempts to add new goods businesses have failed, racking up huge losses as the towns already have all the goods they can use.