Updated: April 16, 2021
Comrades, welcome! Today, I want to tell you how to efficiently, smartly and frustration-freely transport goods from your socialist factories to and from the border customs houses, and conduct a smooth operation of profit and supply. I've already talked to you about the major concepts of commerce in my two industry guides, and now, I want to focus on the rail.
As in real life, Workers & Resources does transport thusly - trucks for short haul, trains for long haul, ships for bigass quantities. Makes sense. Trains are super useful as they combine speed and capacity. This means if you want your industries to work well, you must use them. But then, how do you do that well?
Problem 1: Limited border connections
The customs warehouses at the border of your map will usually have 1-3 rail connections - or none. This means that, if you go with the "one track one train" policy, you will only have about ~10-12 trains available to ferry goods in and out of your region. If you read my previous guides, then you will need at least one or two trains to bring in crops, three or four to export fuel and bitumen, and then a couple of more for steel and such. This means you won't have too much leeway. So you may want to go for one track, many trains. Aha.
Problem 2: Buggy signaling
This is where it all gets extra tricky. One, the train signaling in Workers & Resources is ultra-complicated, like in real-life, like in other games of this nature. For instance, I never quite figured the signaling system in OpenTTD. Two, there are no good tutorials explaining how to use the pre-signals and chain signals. Three, even if you nail it, the signaling is actually buggy. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
As the simplest of examples, I set a tram line between two stations in one of my towns. Two stations, with two platforms on one end, and then, on the other, a single platform. This means, if the platform is occupied, the second tram needs to wait before it can enter. Nothing fancy.
For several hours, this setup worked well. No problems. Then, suddenly, I found one of the trams perma-stopped at the signal, waiting to enter an empty station. For some reason, when the other tram left, the signal didn't get cleared. I have no idea why this happened, but it did.
I then tried a platform setup with trains entering from two different directions, with a combo of standard signal and chain signal. Again, for several hundred iterations, there were no issues, and the two trains would alternately wait for the other to clear the platform before entering, but then, one of the trains got stuck. Similar to the issue before. Naughty.
All of this illustrates that the best way to handle rail traffic is to have a single train on a single rail line at any given time. But this also severely limits your border connections. Thus, if you need to ferry cargo over long distances, you will have down periods in your factories (in between long resupplies). So how do you solve this?
Setup: Short external, long internal loop
We go back to what I outlined in my second industry guide. You want one train (or more) carrying cargo to and from the border to an interim station close by. This is where you buffer up on the goods. Then, you have a second train carrying the goods from the buffer to the relevant stations:
- Line 1: Border <-> near-border storage.
- Line 2: Near-border storage <-> factories.
For example, a train with a single box car carries 50t of crops during each trip to a warehouse a small distance away. It completes three trips per day, i.e. 150t. Then, the second train with three box cars goes to the warehouse, grabs 150t of cargo, and ferries that to your food industry some distance away. It does a single trip per day. This way, you have a good balance of input and output. And if the short-loop train was to ferry say 100t of crops, you gain an extra 150t surplus every day. Buffer!
This means, you could potentially put your short-loop train to multiple uses. Trip 1, crops. Trip 2, oil. Trip 3, iron ore. And so forth. A single train can do multiple tasks, it hogs a single line, but it fulfills the role of three or five internal loop trains, where you have no connection limitations. Wunderbar. Let's put this into practice.
Scenario 1: Two short-loop trains + signaling
I implemented the following as my first working method. Two low-capacity trains do the quick rounds to the border and back, ferrying several different goods. There's signaling in place, so there's no contention in which train goes to the border platform. This way, you don't have to have big short-loop trains, and you can speed up the round-robin loading of cargo.
And ... much like the signaling examples above, for several long hours of the game, the setup worked flawlessly. Then, one of the trains became stuck at the signal. I decided not to touch it, to see what gives. After about another hour, the train suddenly freed itself and resumed its journey. In essence, two trains, signals, everything is fine for 5 hours, then one train stops for an hour, and then goes back to normal. This was doubly frustrating. Because there seem to be two bugs, not one. I didn't change anything. But this is another confirmation that signaling is difficult.
Scenario 2: One short-loop train + no-signaling
In the end, the simplest works the bestest. One train has several types of box cars, so it can ferry multiple resources, and it just does a complex multi-station journey. Warehouse, border, oil depots, border, aggregate loading, border, and so forth. The train manages to buffer up quite well, and there's no shortage of imports or exports at the interim storage facilities close to the border. Most importantly, I am only using a single rail connection to the outside world. All is well what ends well.
And there you go, comrades. Here's a little train guide that should help you have more fun, and most likely more profit in your game. I believe the signaling system will be improved over the years, but if my experience with similar implementations in other games is any indication, then you're better off with simple solutions. One train, one line, no problems.
Then, you can use my internal-external loop workaround to make sure you still get all the goods your industries require, without hogging the border connections. Now, this brings in the question. What about the ships? Ain't that the really optimal way of doing things? Indeed, 'tis a very good one. Soon, soon. But before we touch on the ultimate method of cargology, we shall also briefly talk about the newly added airport and tourism feature. As I'm playing Workers & Resources like mad, another hundred hours of playing should whizz past very quickly, and I shall have more wise insights and crazy ideas for you. So stay tuned for more guides.