Minecraft Rail Plans

Quite a while back I had a post about my Great Northern Road project on our Minecraft server.  I wanted to lay down a horse compatible path… meaning any tunnel had to be at least two blocks wide and three blocks tall… from our populated area around the spawn point for our world up to the Mesa biome that had been discovered quite a ways north of us.

The whole thing involved digging tunnels, burning forests, leveling terrain, and building three bridges to cross some wide stretches of water along the way.

Mesa Biome Channel Bridge

Mesa Biome Channel Bridge

They “why” of it all can only be answered with “because,” as we already had a nether portal up in the Mesa biome which provided a considerably shorter path for those wanting to collect hardened clay of various colors for construction projects.  The “why” of Minecraft itself only has the answer “because” when it comes down to it.

Having built it, I decided to create some attractions along the road.  One of them developed into a base that I started living out of most of the time, with a town nearby.  Of course, traveling up and down the road to build things became a chore, so I started laying rails.  Then I linked those rails up to my base at the southern end of the road.  With that done, I started pushing the rails north to the Mesa biome.

That ended up being quite a stretch of rails, which used up a lot of my stored up iron.  Of all the things we have automated, iron collection turns out to be the one I use the least and is the one I need the most.  I have gold in excess, enough redstone to build a castle out of redstone blocks, and I use diamond tools to avoid wasting iron.  Still, I had enough to finish that and then start building south.

Riding the rails on one of my bridges

Riding the rails on one of my bridges

South was a bit easier.  I put up a rail line from my base at the south end of the road to hook up to my previous base.  That base already had a rail line that ran out to the spawn point, so I was able to hook those up.  And, at the south side of the spawn point was another rail line that ran down to Skronk and Enaldi’s Firenze, which I also hooked into the line.

Once complete, you could get in a minecart at the Mesa biome terminus…

Mesa biome

Mesa biome

…travel south down the line past my then current base…

Where I build up my supplies

Where I build up my supplies

…down the line past Aaron and Xydd’s bases…

You can see Aaron's charged creeper grid...

You can see Aaron’s charged creeper grid

…past the spawn point and down south through Skronkholm and into the station under Firenze.

Firenze continues to grow

Firenze continues to grow

The run ended up being just about 10km in game and takes a full day/night cycle to complete.

In order to accommodate travel between points along the line, I decided I needed to build stations along the way.  I looked into a few different designs, but opted for simplicity.  If somebody wants a more complicated station at their stop, they can build it.  Mine just stops the minecart at each point and sends you on your way with the push of a button.

Simple station

Simple station

I also put an override switch on most of the stations so that they could be flagged to simply pass people through.  That became useful when moving between distant stations regularly.

So there we had it, the Great Northern Road turned into the Great Northern Railroad.  I finished that up a couple of months back, at which point I was out of iron and most other supplies and ready for a bit of a break.  I meant to do a post about it back then, but never quite got around to it.

I didn’t stop playing Minecraft, but I spent a while pottering around, improving things, building small things, and moving the server to a new host.

As an aside, for general performance, Minecraft Realms has been a big improvement over MC Pro Hosting.  The downside is lack of ability to tweak some server settings I was able to previously and the idle timeout, which means no more over night automated harvesting for some of us.

As I did that, I also started building up my supplies again, especially iron.

Even with automation, I still mine a lot in Minecraft.  There is a certain peacefulness to it, a regularity in driving a shaft down to level 12, setting up a central open area, and then mining off of it at every third block, and digging to see what you will find.  I can do that and listen to podcasts or audio books and relax.

As my iron supplies built up again, I started building more track.  I also started seeking out abandoned mine shafts underground to strip them of all the track they contained.  I had found quite a few of them previously, but now went back to strip them bare.  I decided that I was not yet done with my rail project.

I had noticed on the map… as I mentioned in a previous post, I occasionally create a map of our world using a utility called Minecraft Overviewer, which takes the world data and renders it into Google Maps format… that on the western side of our explored world there were a few nether portals hanging about on their own.  They were left over from some early explorations done by Xydd, where he would go to some point in the nether and build a portal just to see where it came up.

I decided that those portals would be good anchor points for an expansion of the rail line.  I wanted to bring the line around through the unsettled and largely unexplored western reaches of the map and then turn right at some point and link back up at the Mesa biome to create a large loop.  So I moved a bunch of supplies to Firenze and started building a roadbed and laying track west from there.

Supply is probably the biggest challenge.  Inventory management comes into play, as it always does, in that you can only carry so much stuff with you.  That means you either have to go back to your supply depot when you run out or setup a new base and start building up supplies there.  The further you get from your current supply base, the more time you spend moving back and forth between that base and where you are working.

This is exacerbated by day night cycle, which can seem both cruelly short and extremely long depending on what you are up to.  With the Minecraft 1.9 combat changes, it has become much more difficult for me to deal with the spawns at night, in part because you can no longer just swing wildly and chop all those zombies and skeletons to pieces and also because the spawn rates at night seem to have been notched up noticeably.  Creepers especially seem to boom in abundance now and have blown up a lot of my track.

While finally getting the infinity arrow enchant on a bow has been a boon… I spent a lot of time trying for that… because I can hand back and murder stuff at range, I still have to get to shelter at night to sleep and start the day fresh.  The distance between the work site at the supply base makes that take up time.  And even if I build little overnight shelters, I still end up having to travel back and forth for more supplies.  So, even if I had infinite resources, there is a bunch of work to be done.

And I did not have infinite resources.  And it isn’t just rail I run out of in the field.  If I have to bridge some gap I need cobblestone.  It my tools wear out I need fresh ones… or I need to go back and repair the ones I have.  I need torches to light the way.  And I need food.  A stack of 64 baked potatoes seems like it should last a long time, and then you get caught out at night and have to fight, then eat to keep your healing up, and then fight some more.

So at some point I get far enough down the line that I have to build a base with all the amenities.  In my quest to finish the western run of the rail line, I am on my third base.

The world map currently

The world map currently

As with most of the screen shots in this post, this one is from Minecraft Overviewer, though zoomed out to give a sense of where the rail line has run so far.  You probably need to click on it and view it full size to be able to see any of the detail.

Mesa to Firenze was the original 10km rail line.  Supply Base A was chosen because of its proximity to one of Xydd’s portals.

Supply Base A

Supply Base A

I built a mine there, sent up a bit of farming, got an auto-furnace setup to smelt, and put in a bunch of chests to hold things.  That base didn’t end up too big because it wasn’t all that far from Firenze and I was still pretty flush with supplies when I got there.  I barely mined at all, though I did find two abandoned mines in the area, which helped build up my track supply.

Supply Base B ended up being more complete.  By the time I got there I was having supply problems, not to mention being far from home.  It was also the location of another Xydd nether portal, but not one he had built a road to in the nether, so I had to mine some to get some cobblestone in order to pave a path down in the nether so I could find my way there and back if I needed to.

At this point supplies were dwindling, but both Aaron and Skronk donated to the cause and I was able to drive north to what is my current supply base.  Supply Base C is where I have sat for over a week now.

Supply Base C

Supply Base C

I stopped here because it was a town, so there was already shelter and a food supply.  I used some of my cobblestone stockpile to wall it off, built a mine, and started hording supplies.

I also went down to the nether, to our transport hub in the roof of the nether, and dug a tunnel from there to a point where I could build a portal that would come up in the town.  I miscalculated by a bit and the portal ended up on the roof of the town well.  At least it wasn’t deep under ground I suppose.

One of the advantages of this town was that a whole family of horses had spawned in the area, so I was able to tame one to use for exploration.  And I needed to explore, because the other reason I stopped here was I was beginning to reach the point where I couldn’t just head north.  I have to find a path to route the rail line to get back to the Mesa biome.

So that is where I sit, at the far end of a long rail line, scouting for a way forward and building up my supplies for my push to close the circle.

I will say that without rendered maps of the world, this would be a lot more difficult.  I could plot a route with the F3 option open so I could see coordinates to note down a possible path, but it is a lot easier to head out and explore for a while, then download the world, render it, and see what the lay of the land really is.

It just takes a bit to do that some time.  Our world is now over 1GB in size in its raw form, it takes about 45 minutes to render, and the output is about 12GB in size.

7 thoughts on “Minecraft Rail Plans

  1. Isey

    That was my favourite part of Minecraft, and I bought in pretty early in the beta. I once hollowed out a mountain, just because. I don’t really play anymore but a persistent server with friends could probably change that. Fun to read what you guys have done on yours. =)

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  2. Fenjay

    Woo, a Minecraft post!

    After you are done with the rail line, looks like you have a huge central area to explore/generate too.

    I was thinking while reading: can you use chest minecarts to transport materials from earlier bases to the current forward base? That might help with your inventory management issues. I know they travel slower but if you were pushing them by riding in a minecart behind it, that might help. I have not actually done this though, so I am just speculating here.

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  3. TheGreatYak

    For rail line work, minecarts with chests. You can push some in front of you. If you have powered rail it works quite nice (the chest carts don’t launch as far as a player occupied cart, you’ll catch up). On a co-op multiplayer server, STARTING from near the other players’ areas helps, they’ll have a shit tonne of mined out resources that they’ll push forward on the rail line for you to where you’re working, just to get rid of them.

    One of your other players should have an iron farm going by now.

    And yes, the idle time out on Realms blows for AFK farming.

    Also, I’ve become enamored of elevated rail lines (4-5 blocks up). They give an awesome view, are mob free at night, and provide a real sense of scale and distance to the travel.

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  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Fenjay – Skronk was actually working on a powered minecart delivery system to send things up the line to me from Firenze. However, one of the quirks of Minecraft is that things only happen in chunks that are loaded, and chunks only load when a player is in them and active… out to a radius of 10 chunks. (That is a server setting that I can no longer access with Minecraft Realms, so we get the default of 10.) So the cart would leave Firenze and get past the 10 chunk radius and just stop. Then he would roll down the line, find it and push it along. So long as he stayed with it, things were fine, but the gap between bases means a dead zone where nothing will operate.

    And yes, the completionist in my really wants to fill in that center section of the map.

    @TheGreatYak – Yes, I was thinking about chest carts to move stuff in greater quantity, but for distance I have been using the ender chest to get stuff across the world without having to carry it all myself.

    Aaron has an iron golem farm, but it isn’t as efficient as the gold farm is. The zombie pigman farm rains gold and experience on you. Plus I have to spend my time hanging out waiting in somebody’s base. I should probably build my own just so I can let it run while I do other work. I hate to tinker with other people’s bases.

    I like the elevated rail idea, and have it done like that through some stretches, especially between ridge lines. But I haven’t been up to doing that for extremely long stretches. Sometimes I just want to lay rail and use the contour of the land.

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  5. Talarian

    I really enjoy making rail lines between bases. Playing around with customizing the aesthetics of each station to match the base’s look and feel is fun, too. So even though I have a nether hub, great rail projects still grab my time and attention. Not sure why though, but I find the process very satisfying.

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  6. TheGreatYak

    There is a bit of artistry to following the contours of the land, (do I bridge over the mouth of this bay or follow it around? Do I head partway up this extreme hills biome and weave through the peaks or just tunnel through, do I go around it all together? Did I do enough surveying beforehand?).

    For the EL, if you start working that angle, have a ton of gravel (or sand) on hand just to lay the “pilings” from the top of the section you are working on (“creep” backwards, lay cobble and then pilings). Works well at night too, you only need to worry about skellies, and only if they’re close.

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  7. .xyd

    Well it’s good to see that monstrosity with the giant eye to the north of my home is still standing. I’m also really digging that little area to the east with the caves. I don’t remember ever going there. I also don’t remember what condition the “parking lot” on the northeast side of my base was in, but I remember spending hours on it. Damn thing turned into a mob spawning nightmare with all the shade it created underneath.

    Hopefully someday I’ll find some cycles to log back in and explore. …and I wonder if Aaron’s house is close enough that my iron farm has been operational. :-)

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