Migrating MSTS

In the time I spend on the TrainSim.com forums, I’ve noticed a repeating “theme” of forum members and MSTS users — new and old — discussing the (sometimes daunting) task of migrating an MSTS installation to a new computer or through the process of upgrading the operating system on an existing one. Re-installing MSTS doesn’t have to be the only way to do it; in fact, it’s often far simpler to move or backup/restore MSTS to a new location without re-installing everything from scratch. It does take a bit of careful work and attention to detail, but with some preparation it can be done with a minimum of fuss.

First off, you may be putting off migrating or moving your MSTS installation if you’ve got a complex installation with many routes and add-ons, especially if you’ve customized them in any way. Re-installing would mean more than just installing MSTS; it would mean re-installing countless add-ons and re-doing any customizations. Not to worry — migrating does not require a full re-install of everything. In fact, migrating relies on copying your existing installation, so you will keep all your customizations intact.

If you’ve read my introduction, you may have noted that I’ve had MSTS installed on multiple computers over time, and re-done the installation again and again until I could finally have a computer that wasn’t shared with other people that could hold a stable, complete MSTS installation. I’ve learned quite a bit about installing MSTS along the way, enough to say that without a doubt, you don’t have to re-install it unless you really want to build up from ground zero. There are certain advantages to that — when I finally got my own Windows XP installation to hold a permanent MSTS installation, I chose intentionally to build up from a fresh install. That way, I would clear out any clutter and customizations I didn’t want and embark on building a carefully put-together MSTS installation that would be clean and up-to-date. If your MSTS installation you have now is satisfactory, there’s no need to build from a fresh install, though.

My permanent MSTS installation was built on Windows XP, and as Windows 7 came on the horizon, I chose to re-work my MSTS installation within XP in preparation of eventually changing over to Windows 7 on the same computer — which requires everything from Windows XP to be re-installed. MSTS would be backed up and restored to Windows 7 with no trouble at all. From these reconfigurations, backups, and moves I’ve learned and will pass on some tips on how to make migrating a large MSTS installation virtually trouble-free.

The number one item to remember: MSTS directory location matters. In the world of modern Windows versions — Vista and later — you should never, ever, have MSTS installed in a “Program Files” folder. Well, technically since MSTS is a 32-bit application, it will be put by default into “Program Files(x86)”, but Windows XP and earlier only have “Program Files.” No matter what, this default location where the MSTS installer wants to put it, is not going to work. If you’re using Windows XP it’s even useful to get MSTS out of “Program Files” and start running it out of it’s own folder instead. It makes managing MSTS easier. It keeps the special security restrictions of modern Windows from interfering, and it gets you in good working habits if you plan to move MSTS from XP to newer versions of Windows. The one thing you will have to learn and remember is that any time you run an add-on installer, you need to check where the installer thinks MSTS is located. Some installers read the MSTS Registry entry and can find the correct place. Others just assume it’s in “C:\Program Files” or “C:\Program Files(x86)” and you’ll have to point the installer to the right place manually. It’s just a fact of life when dealing with older installers and modern Windows.

Item number two to remember: Directory location matters for utility programs, too. Most utilities for managing and extending MSTS follow the same rules of programming that MSTS does. And they directly modify the contents of the MSTS folder, as well as create and operate on temporary files in their own folders — these are the things that the modern rules of “Program Files(x86)” folder prohibit. Moving MSTS and the related utilities to their own separate folders stops this problem and cures many “mystery” problems under Windows Vista and later versions.

With those two factors in mind, it’s important to configure MSTS according to the step-by-step instructions in the tutorial at steam4me.net for installing MSTS on Windows Vista and later versions. We’ll use that as the starting basis for the rest of this tutorial.

Now, decide what kind of a migration you’re doing. Are you moving MSTS to another computer? Or are you going to upgrade your current computer (Probably Windows XP) with a newer one (Most likely Windows 7 or 8)?

If you’re upgrading on the same computer, you need to back up your entire MSTS installation before doing anything else. Don’t use the Windows built-in backup utility; it’s more complicated than what’s needed here. Just copy the entire “Train Simulator” folder and all its contents. For speed, you can copy it onto another hard drive directly. To save space, use an archive utility like 7-Zip (Free, open-source), or popular commercial ones like WinZip or WinRar. Windows, since XP, has a built-in ZIP capability but I’ve never personally liked it to do much “heavy lifting.” No matter what, you need to make a safe backup because an upgrade from XP to newer Windows versions will require you to reinstall software and an in-place upgrade with Windows Vista and later might require re-installation of applications if you choose a clean install.

If you are moving MSTS to another computer, doing a backup won’t hurt, but you have the option of keeping your old hard drive from which you can simply copy files. It’s easy to put the old hard drive in a new PC as an additional drive or you can put it in a portable USB drive enclosure. Either way, file transfer is as simple as copying folders in Windows. Personally, I like to make a backup “just in case.”

If you use Train Store — Be sure to use the “Unstore Everything” option before you back up or copy data. If you don’t, not everything will be where it belongs when you back up or copy. Don’t forget! Also, see the “Train Store Note” further on for a way to keep your Train Store configuration as much as possible. For now, think about backing up the  “TSDATA” folder that Train Store makes — it can be handy later. (This is the Train Store data folder, not the “/J A Formoso/Train Store/” application folder.)

OK, so you’ve made your backup and/or you have your old hard drive handy to copy files from, and your new PC configuration is up and running. Now we’re ready to lay the groundwork for migration by installing MSTS from CD’s. Wait a minute — wasn’t this supposed to be a way to migrate MSTS without installing? Well, yes, it is — you will not have to re-do your entire installation, add-ons and all. In fact, this installation from CD’s is a sacrificial installation. It’s going to get over-written. The reason we do this is to create the correct Registry entries in Windows and to lay down the basic directory structure that your “real” MSTS will be copied into.

But what if I’m not putting MSTS back where it was originally installed? That’s OK. The Registry entries for MSTS are created once, during installation. The sacrificial installation we’re doing here will create them. The rest of MSTS and everything you’ve added over the years relies on the entries created at installation. So we use a clean, bare-bones installation to create the “new home” for your MSTS installation to live in, and then we move it in. That’s what makes the migration work.

So, start by following the instructions in the steam4me.net tutorial. If you haven’t already, I would advise you use the suggestion in the tutorial to install a utility to manage UAC (User Account Control) in Windows. Once in a while, MSTS and utilities for it may aggravate modern Windows security behavior. Being able to suppress some UAC prompts can keep UAC from interfering. Install MSTS from the CD’s as instructed in the tutorial. The main thing is to install MSTS to a folder that you specify, and NOT a “Program Files” folder. I use “C:\MSTS”; others use “C:\1MSTS” so that the numeral “1” causes it to pop to the top of directory lists — choose whatever you want, but it’s handy to stay just one folder off from the root level of the drive.

Let the MSTS CD installation run, and when it’s complete, go ahead and run the standard Microsoft updates to MSTS as well. Again, we’re laying the groundwork for a clean, basic installation.

Now, there’s a choice. You can stop here and begin the process to bring over your “real” MSTS installation. Or, you can continue through the rest of the steps in the steam4me tutorial, including installing MSTS-BIN, XTracks and New Roads. The advantage to following everything through to completion is that you can then make a backup copy (possibly a ZIP archive) of just a barebones MSTS install plus BIN and the commonly required track and road sections used by many other routes. This makes a great starting point for testing routes and making mini-routes. It’s up to you.

However you decide, take a moment to run MPROFILE.EXE which is located inside the Train Simulator folder. It will make some settings adjustments in the MSTS Registry entries based on your video driver.

Then, launch MSTS and go through the settings. Make sure “Simple Controls” are off — that’s a known issue that pops up when installing in Windows 7 and 8 sometimes. Set your sound and video options the way you want. Then run one of the default routes to check that everything works. If you’re satisfied, it’s time to move on to the rest of the migration.

Don’t get rid of the shortcuts placed by the new installation — you may want to edit them with additional parameters for memory and other BIN-enabled features, but they’re already conveniently set up to the new path to MSTS you just created.

To migrate, just over-write the Train Simulator folder with your backup. You can unzip your archive to it, if that’s how you backed up. You can copy your old installation files over from your old hard drive. Either way, just over-write everything. This means that your whole original installation, including the BIN patch, all your additional routes, stock, activities, scenery objects — everything will be deposited in place.

Once the copying is done, make sure to check the “Properties” on the Train.exe file and Launcher.exe files to make sure the “Always run as Administrator” option is set. It may also help to go to the “Properties” dialog for the new MSTS directory you created and make sure that the “Full Control” security option is set for the “Administrators” user group in Windows. Typically, this will be OK already, but it never hurts to check.

Edit your MSTS shortcuts before you try to launch. The shortcuts made during the basic install that created the pre-migration Registry and folders have the right path, but none of the extra command-line settings that enable BIN memory management and other features. The shortcuts from your old MSTS installation have the right command-line settings, but they may be pointing to the wrong path to Train.exe — you’ll have to compare and edit as you see fit.

If your MSTS installation isn’t so huge that it can run without storing some routes in Train Store, go ahead and launch MSTS and check that everything is working. If so, you’re nearly done. If there are issues, stop and sort them out. Don’t forget that you may need to edit your MSTS shortcuts, if you haven’t already.

If MSTS is working, now it’s time to add back your utilities like Train Store, Route Riter, Shape Viewer and such. There’s no way around it — these will have to be installed individually as if they were new. But it’s a whole lot easier than installing all your routes from scratch. Just as with your MSTS installation, don’t install them in a “Program Files” folder. Instead, create a folder just for them all. I created “C:\MSTS Utilities” and then let each utility install in its own sub-folder there.

Train Store note: If you use Train Store, here’s a useful trick. Install Train Store fresh to your new folder for MSTS utilities. When you do, make a note of where Train Store is keeping the Train Store data folder. Typically, “C:\Train Store” is a good choice. Remember when I said backing up the TSDATA folder is handy? If you did so you may want over-write the new TSDATA folder with your backup, then start Train Store. It will now have all your settings from your old installation. As long as you keep all your relative locations the same (like where you keep alternate TSECTION.DAT files and Train Store scenario files) it will work. Normally, Train Store’s installer will be able to correctly locate your migrated MSTS installation regardless, but be aware that in migrations or re-installs, Train Store may need a little help finding everything. You may need to edit a few settings, or you may want to start from scratch anyway. It can be useful in some instances, though, to pull as much through the migration process by backing up its configuration.

About migrating mini-routes: If you use mini-routes in MSTS, migrating couldn’t be easier. Just back up and/or copy each mini-route’s entire folder. Mini-routes are self contained, but the MSTS executable in each one looks to your master MSTS Registry entry for settings. So once you have a functional MSTS installation, mini-routes just work.

About “Leftovers” from installers and Start Menu items: Many MSTS add-ons, from routes to individual locomotives and rolling stock may have been set up with installers. These installers often add entries to your Add/Remove Programs options, and may make entries in the Start Menu. Migrating MSTS according to this tutorial will make all these “Leftovers” from installers disappear. Usually, that’s a good thing. I really don’t want a cluttered Start Menu or Add/Remove menu. About the only useful bits might be shortcuts to documentation files. But, routes and stock will put their documentation in their own folders in your ROUTES or TRAINSET folders. You can look them up and you’ll find their documentation. Just make new shortcuts somewhere convenient.

An MSTS migration done this way will cleanly set up the MSTS environment defined in the computer’s Registry, and then your “real” MSTS installation files will simply function under this environment. It still takes some time to do, but it eliminates the headache of re-installing possibly hundreds of individual add-ons and their updates one-by-one.