The Maldon Station environment includes the workshops and stables for the ‘iron horses’ as well as carriages undergoing restoration. This is a time consuming activity requiring skill and dedication, much the same as when making a virtual world.
In most of regional Australia, there is no publicly available Digital Elevation Data at the accuracy level we require. There is no GIS data for this area either. Fortunately, there are a couple of permanent survey markers in close proximity to the station, which we can use as starting points to manually survey the line to get accurate positions and gradients. With two survey points to be marked at every 50 metres of track along the 16 km route, we only have to gather a minimum of 640 data points!
These points will be used as references for aerial image alignment, which can then be used to generate accurate digital elevation data for the track and surrounding area. This will be done at a later date.
Meanwhile, back at the station, collaboration with the people with expertise in rolling stock and locomotives is underway. Let’s hope nobody throws a bucket of cold water on me as I collect photographic resources! My camera is not water resistant!
The track survey is the next thing to do for the first route planned. To do this we need to find data on exactly where the track is in 3D space. Where is it located relative to the objects in the environment around it? What are the gradients along the track?
Then there are the art assets, such as the dimensions of the track and sleepers and textural qualities of metal and wood, along with track ballast, dirt and other rocks nearby. The vegetation, animals, people and buildings can be added in later.
Locomotives and rolling stock are an essential part of early development, for a track without something to run on it is not much fun. So more data has to be gathered for the virtual construction of real objects. Engineering is engineering and a realistic experience in the virtual world depends on accurate recording of detail in the real world.
So here we go, with the 5% inspiration and the 95% perspiration just starting. Yet the work is only one part of it, for any project of this nature depends on good luck as well as good management. The good will and assistance of the larger community will determine the outcome of this project.
The proposed first virtual train route to be made is from Maldon to Castlemaine, passing through Muckleford station. Although this is a short journey of about 16 kilometers, it is of 45 minutes duration when traversed by a steam locomotive with passenger carriages.
This route passes through a variety of terrains, from farmland and natural bush land to the outskirts of a large country town with modern, free standing housing and factories. There are railway cuttings, bridges and road crossings to provide further interest.
At Castlemaine station the Goldfields Railway track runs parallel to the platforms with the main line to Bendigo and beyond, where the regional Vlocity passenger trains made by Bombardier Transportation, Dandenong, travel. Freight trains also use this line to collect and deliver grain and other goods to the Port of Melbourne.
Maldon, the First Notable Town in Australia, is where the train route terminates. A turntable and workshops are located here, along with a beautifully restored station and freestanding cottages along the street outside.
Historically there was a branch line that diverged on the outskirts of Maldon to go to Shelbourne, to the north. This track passed what is now a gold mining enterprise operated by Octagonal Mining, in what was once a significant mining town. There are tall mullock heaps to one side of the track but these are mostly concealed by trees in between the track and the piles of rock.
On this train route there are many features to be modeled, which means a lot of work but it will never be boring. The challenge is to develop workflow procedures to maximize efficiency.
The virtual train project is under way. After much careful thought, a review of resources and consideration of the realistic possibility of successfully completing the project, we approached the people who run the Victorian Goldfields Railway at Maldon and Castlemaine. What a wonderful group of people we found there! Their enthusiasm is contagious. So with camera in hand, Floss started collecting visual information in order to compile an overall view of what needs to be done and in what sequence.
The basic components required are of the physical experience, that’s the easy part because riding on the trains is fun; and the processing of collected information into a format that is reproducible in the virtual world of computers, which requires many hours of solid work. Fortunately both tasks are integrated, so we look forward to many journeys on the trains, just to make sure we are still on the right track. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself there!)
Here are a few of the first photographs taken: