Become a Transit Mogul in Rails

I like puzzles, and I like trains, so it happens that I’m often mistaken for a seven-year-old boy or a very active octogenarian. I don’t mind, though, because sometimes I get to combine puzzles and trains, and that’s pretty cool. This isn’t Jigsaw.PuzzleStorm, though, so it’s got to be something a lot better than a 1000 piece locomotive, right?

That’s where Rails comes in, a labor of love from developer BeLight Software. Build your own rail yard and get your trains to their destination in this reboot of the DOS classic. But will the gameplay stand up after all these years? We’ll find out!

All Aboard!

Rails is a port of the old DOS game Shortline Express, and while I never played the original, from what I can tell, Rails is a faithful remake with all of the updated graphics and sound you’d expect. The best part is that with Rails, you don’t have to get to a C:\ prompt to run it.

There’s a tutorial that sets up how the mechanics of the game work, and you’re on firm footing to become the next John Galt, at least for the first few levels, with just what you learn to start. Your main goal is to get trains into stations of a matching color. Yellow is headed for yellow; red makes its way to red. Seems simple enough, but as more trains pour into the rail yard and onto the tracks, you’ll find it a lot harder to pair each train to the corresponding station.

Things start off pretty easy.

Things start off pretty easy.

You build your own tracks, but they can’t just go anywhere. As you begin dragging your cursor along the barren landscape, you’ll see the outlines of potential tracks on the ground. That’s where you can go. You can’t can’t just build anywhere, and if you want your tracks to join up or to change the direction of your trains, you’ll have to start planning ahead. There are stoplights to help you control your trains, making passing a lot easier, but building tracks seems to eat up your stoplights, leaving you with only the switches created at track intersections to prevent massive rail crashes.

Rails starts you out in 1825, and you need to make it to 2013. Reach the present day without crashing too many trains and with enough coin in your pocket, and you’ll reach the next level. There are a fair number of achievements, and some of them seem quite difficult to attain. Rails integrates with Game Center, so you can show off your fancy railroad accomplishments to all your steel magnate friends.

It may seem best to keep your tracks simple, but things may still get complicated.

It may seem best to keep your tracks simple, but things may still get complicated.

The Third Rail

Like any captain of industry worth her salt, I want to innovate, diversify and use business words like “innovate” and “diversify.” To stay on the cutting edge, I need to do more than just use business words, though; I need invest in new trains. There are about a dozen different trains in Rails, with different abilities and features ranging from useful to scary. Bumper trains just sort of bounce off of others without crashing, and inflation trains bring in extra money the longer they’re on the tracks. Nice, right? More difficult to manage trains include the aptly labeled kamikaze trains and the chameleon train, which will suddenly change color.

There's a bunch of different trains that do different stuff.

There’s a bunch of different trains that do different stuff.

Rails is ultimately a puzzle game. Though it walks and talks like a sim, there’s very little leeway to get an Objectivist enterprise going. You’re not really simulating anything here. There’s a bit of money, and you use that to buy stuff, but money was never really a problem for me in Rails. I spent 100% of my focus on keeping my trains from running into each other while trying to get them into the proper stations and creating the tracks to make it happen. Each train is a puzzle of its own, and the challenge comes from trying to solve a bunch at one time.

The game would go a lot more smoothly if I could pull up track I didn’t need anymore. It’s happened that I laid track where I didn’t need it, and an undo would be useful there. Later in the game, once you’ve added on a few more stations, you won’t necessarily need all of the train tracks you created in the beginning. I’d even pay some of my Rails cash to get rid of the old tracks, as I understand is how it worked in the original, but it’s not an option. This seems to be a big bugaboo among the reviewers in the App Store, too.

There are some achievements, which helps to set some goals beyond just moving trains around.

There are some achievements, which helps to set some goals beyond just moving trains around.

Final Thoughts

Sure, Rails isn’t a proper sim; I don’t really get to make any decisions that matter. That doesn’t mean that the puzzles aren’t good. There’s a lot of strategy involved in figuring out how and where to place your track, and you really need to be on top of your game to get two trains of different colors to pass each other safely. Just because you’re not a legitimate tycoon doesn’t mean there isn’t fun to find here in Rails.

If you were a fan of the original Shortline Express, you should absolutely take a look at Rails. Even if you’ve just been looking for a new puzzle experience, this might be a good go to. Just don’t count on it to fulfil all of your capitalist fantasies, because Rails isn’t that game.


A neat train puzzler--get the engines to the stations without any mishaps. Not to be confused with a railroad sim, though.