Set in the 1990s, Niddertalbahn: Bad Vilbel–Stockheim is a 19 mile-long (31km) mostly single-track rural branch line route, and features the DB BR 628.2 DMU and the DB BR 365 shunter. This is the first route developed for TSW3 by TSG (Train Sim Germany), a small group who have earned an excellent reputation by developing content for Train Simulator, TSW3's older but ever-evolving PC-only sister game.
The BR 628.2 DMU is the route's only passenger train and runs in 2 and 4-car sets. The DB BR 365 Shunter pops its nose in for 8 services, moving trucks that carried the local sugar beet crops at the time and even a rescue mission.
I might be imagining it, but I'd swear there's some totally new flora on this route… Anyway, it looks beautiful–very green, leafy and varied, with wetlands, pastures, cropland and miles of dense woodland. From my vague recollection of the German language (it’s been a while) I think Niddertalbahn means "Nidder Valley Railway," and it's a truly lovely setting. There are thousands of trees and bushes–there's even a scenario where you have to stop the train and turn back because of a fallen tree! The route features both lights and old-fashioned semaphore signals, which are incredibly detailed–you can even operate them by hand. There's a whimsical scenario that hints at the electric revolution to come, and many would say that it's a shame things didn't remain as they were…
The 628.2 is a pleasure to drive, with strong but accurate brakes. It's relatively slow (the route has a 60kph speed limit) but gets the job done–it's built to do a specific job, and other than possibly the British Class 101 this is the closest thing to a "bus on rails" that I've driven.
The BR 365 is a strange one for me. When I first drove the practically identical 363 on the Therandter Rampe and Dresden routes, I hated its snatchy braking system and seeming lack of power, but having driven it a lot more on Ruhr Sieg Nord in both TSW2 and TSW3 I learned how to operate the brakes correctly, and have kind of fallen in love with its quirky nature. Driving the 365 around this quiet and beautiful branch line hasn't changed that.
While it's not a thing I would have made a priority, TSG designed a new accelerometer for the HUD (a gauge that shows you whether you’re accelerating or braking), which is a vast improvement on the standard one, and much easier to read whether you're playing in 4K or not. Hopefully Dovetail will adopt it in all future DLC–it's that much better than the original.
In one scenario ("Manual Labour") occasional level crossing failures add to the rustic, rural feel of the route and mean you have to hop out and operate them manually so you can safely proceed. This was a great idea, but why not make random failures possible in every service?
Downers? Well the route is understandably quiet when compared to some of the mainline routes, it put me in mind of a German West Somerset Railway! The pop-up and LoD (Level of Detail) problems, that have plagued TSW from the start, are present, and not even TSG's generous use of foliage can hide it–in fact, the LoD problem means some trees actually seem to dwindle in stature and density as you approach them, which obviously looks weird. There are also a few trees and shrubs that have been placed too close to the track, which would be fine if the tree got smacked out of the way as it should if they had physics attached, but overhanging branches will simply pass right through the cab. I also found several unachievable medal scores that have presumably been "autotested" and not driven by a human tester.
This has become one of my favourite German routes, despite its lack of big electric locomotives and rural, laid-back nature–or perhaps because of it. TSG have done a tremendous job with the modelling and have raised the TSW3 bar for how realistic and organic a route can look.