A New Year resolution – back to layout building and blogging

The last blog post was in February 2015 and the last one to do with any progress on the layout is over a year old. 2014 was really a year of no modelling whatsoever. Stevenson Road is still sitting with electrics and track complete but very little else, and the Rede Valley line didn’t run a train for over 12 months. Such was the state of the Rede Valley Layout that when I tried to switch things on during the Christmas holidays nothing worked. This was simply due to an accumulation of dirt on wheels and track. A whole day was spent just to get something moving unreliably.

2015 is going to be a different state of affairs:

Firstly the blog is getting a makeover and I’m going to start posting regularly. I’ve never been happy about the quality of some of the photos on the blog so at the end of last year I took a blog photography course. This gave me lots of new tools and techniques to get better results from both my DSLR and my iPhone! The course is running again, starting Monday 19 January and I’d highly recommend it to anyone wanting to improve their photography. The 28 day blog photo bootcamp is run by Emma Davies, and for me the selling point is its English and not American and produced to a very high standard. Emma specialises in flower photography, but so many of the techniques are transferrable to model railway photography. Indoor lighting, strong composition, and getting the background right.

If you want to check it out follow this link Its really worthwhile.

I’m biting the bullet and rebuilding most of the Rede Valley. I want something that works reliably and can be running as soon as I walk into the railway room. All the turnouts need to be converted for DCC use so I’m not relying on the blades for electrical connectivity. Block detection gets included for some automatic running and hidden sidings move behind the back scenes. There are even 3 new engines, including P2 Cock of the North with Twin Track Sound sitting in their boxes never run. The new reliable layout is needed urgently.

More about this in future posts, I have a design, and a box of new turnouts has arrived from Hattons……

Stephenson Road is going to get finished too. Whether it ever gets exhibited is another matter. Actually finishing a layout will be a rarity for me. Usually I get new ideas and start these instead of completing existing projects. Work stopped half way through building a row of railway arches, so finishing those will be the first task.

Waverley Route to reopen to Carlisle?

This morning’s Scotsman carries interesting coverage of comments by Alex Salmond suggesting that the Borders Rail project may be extended beyond Galashiels all the way to Carlisle:

The First Minister said he expected the return of trains to the Edinburgh-Tweedbank section next year would be “one of the most enormous tourist line successes we have ever seen” and act as a catalyst for restoring the rest of the historic route.

He said the success of the 30-mile stretch to just south of Galashiels would “calibrate” a feasibility study into rebuilding the remaining 70 miles.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman confirmed yesterday: “We will look at the possibility of commissioning a feasibility study into extending the line beyond the route agreed, if it emerges there is scope and demand to do so.

“For the moment, our priority remains completing the line from Edinburgh to Tweedbank.

“Once that opens to passengers in September next year, we will begin to see the benefits and to determine the need for a further extension.”

Mr Salmond’s enthusiasm for the Waverley route follows one of Network Rail’s most senior officials in Scotland predicting it would be fully reopened in the coming decades. Alex Sharkey, the track firm’s director for east Scotland, last year invoked the Hollywood blockbuster Field of Dreams in paraphrasing Kevin Costner’s words: “Build it and they will come.”

Rail campaigners and opposition politicians called for a greater commitment from the First Minister to the restoration of the line, which was one of the most notorious of the Beeching cuts 45 years ago.

The Campaign for Borders Rail said it was unfair the future of the rest of the route depended on the success of the first section. Chairman Simon Walton said: “The Borders communities deserve their economic regeneration as soon as possible, and the railway would be a direct, tangible and effective means of doing so.”

South of Scotland Liberal Democrat MSP Jim Hume said: “We have always argued the Waverley line should be reopened beyond Tweedbank to go through Hawick and on to Carlisle. It is disappointing the SNP government continues to refuse to put forward any plans to get this project moving.”

Labour was more cautious because of delays to the first section and its £350 million cost. Transport spokesman Mark Griffin said: “Hopefully, the line will open next year and then future expansion can be looked at, but Alex Salmond needs to ensure the economic case stacks up before he gets the hopes up of more communities who may potentially be let down by the poorperformance of the national transport agency.”

I for one would love to see this happen. It’s a tragedy that the line ever closed in the first place, and while the Waverley Route Heritage Association, (of which I’m proud to be a member) are doing some great work at Whitrope, that will only lead to less than a mile of operational track.

There would be some fairly big challenges to overcome to reinstate the line going south; Whitrope Tunnel collapsed in 2002 and will need significant work; The trackbed through Melrose to St Boswells now has a road built on top of it, and the bridge over the Teviot in Hawick that used to carry part of the station has long since been demolished to be replaced by a leisure centre and supermarket either side of the river. Alex Salmond will have a real challenge to make the economic case; the population in the southern portion of the line is low and the build cost of the southern 70 miles must surely outweigh the £350m of thee much shorter northern section.

Those interested in the battle to save and then reopen the Waverley route are recommended to take a look at David Spaven’s excellent book on the subject

Mallard 75 The Great Goodbye

Mallard 75 has brought together the 6 remaining LNER A4 pacific locomotives. With two of these set to depart to North America, all 6 are very unlikely to be seen together again and over the last week (15-23 February 2014) The Shildon Annexe of the National Railway Museum has hosted the Great Goodbye. I took the opportunity to visit this historic assembly of locomotives this afternoon, before Dominion of Canada and Dwight D Eisenhower recross the Atlantic.



The star of the display was 60009 Union of South Africa, steaming back and forth along a short siding hauling several brake vans filled with excited enthusiasts

60009 Union of South Africa

60009 Union of South Africa

Union of South Africa is restored in the condition she ran in for British railways when allocated to Edinburgh Haymarket shed in the 1960s.

The two north american visitors were present, but not in steam. Since arriving in the UK in early 2013, Dominion of Canada has been cosmetically restored to the condition she appeared in for LNER in 1936.

LNER No 4489 Dominion of Canada

LNER No 4489 Dominion of Canada

Dominion was the engine that hauled the inaugural Coronation streamlined train and has been finished with the chrome LNER lettering that was special to the 5 empire named engines that initially hauled these trains. The engine is the only one of these 6 engines with a single chimney as originally fitted to the class.

LNER 4489 Dominion of Canada

LNER 4489 Dominion of Canada with brass bell and whistle clearly visible

Dominion of Canada is easily identified by the steam operated Canadian Pacific Railway bell fitted in front of the chimney. Behind the bell is the Canadian Pacific Railway issue whistle which was fitted on 15 July 1937 for the unveiling and naming.

Both Dominion of Canada and Bittern ended their operational days in Scotland on the Three Hour ex Expresses between Aberdeen and Glasgow. Ive always had a liking for Bittern, having worked at ICI plc Wilton petrochemicals complex at the time Bittern was being restored in the ICI workshops.

LNER A4 Pacific Bittern

LNER A4 Pacific Bittern

The A4 named after its designer, Sir Nigel Gresley was on display in early BR blue. While the whole event celebrates Mallard’s world record of 75 years ago, its worth remembering that Sir Nigel holds the post war steam speed record at 112 mph.

LNER A4 Sir Nigel Gresley in steam at the Great Goodbye

LNER A4 Sir Nigel Gresley in steam at the Great Goodbye

60008 Dwight D Eisenhower, like Union of South Africa is turned out in British Railways brunswick green, and has had some cosmetic restoration while in the UK for the Great Gathering. Its a real shame that the north american based engines have suffered so much neglect compared to their English based sisters over recent years


All in all it was a very enjoyable afternoon, and I returned home with a copy of Tony Wright’s book Modelling Options: the Book of the LNER Pacifics.

LNER Pacifics Modelling Options

As historic events go, this was one to remember. My last visit to Shildon was 1975 for the steam cavalcade at Stockton and Darlington railway 150 celebrations, another one off event of historical greatness. I hope I don’t have to wait until 2025 for the next great steam spectacle at Shildon.

As a postscript I’ve just found a lovely video on YouTube:

Stephenson Road is born

Every model railway needs a back story, whether it is a real location or a fictitious one. My micro layout has simply been known as the 300 inch challenge up to now. It really needs a name by which it can become known and a location with some historical story it can become part of.

I’ve come up with the name Stephenson Road, no coincidence linking a very North East England layout with the great engineer of the early railway age.

Stephenson Road in the Heaton area of Newcastle was a real street that disappeared in 1960s. It had a parade of shops and a masonic temple, all of which were upgraded to a pile of rubble when the Coast Road from Newcastle to North Shields was turned into a dual carriageway. The location sits between two ancient collieries; Heaton Main Pit, and Heaton High Pit, both of which closed in the early 1800’s and were never served by a railway. The colliery sites are unrecognisable today, one is in the middle of a housing estate, the other is a cricket field. There is of course an interesting “what if” around these collieries if they had stayed open longer and were served by an early wagonway that was upgraded to a reasonable standard as the railway infrastructure was developed in the 19th century.

So, the model Stephenson Road sits on a fictitious line between these two old pits, both long since closed, but the line still serves some industrial sidings and a commuter line into Newcastle. This might give the excuse to put a tyneside electric on the top level at some point in the future.

Upper Level Baseboard Completed

The 300 inch challenge micro layout now has its top level baseboard (or benchwork for our American cousins) in place. Unfortunately this happened with only a week to go to the Bassetlaw (North Notts) Railway Society annual exhibition the layout wasn’t part of the 300 inch competition. lets hope it makes it in time for next year.

For those interested in the detail I used the cardboard mockup as a basis for cutting out the real thing. This is described in a previous article Mocking things up is really useful, and allows an amount of trial and error before things become permanently attached. I’d recommend the use of old cardboard boxes to anyone for this purpose!

Using the cardboard mockup to mark out the plywood top

Using the cardboard mockup to mark out the plywood top

The cardboard mockup allowed a few early decisions to be made:

  • The height of the top board, based on the height of the arches in the scalescenes kit
  • The positioning of bridge portals for tracks to disappear off scene
  • The gap between arches to allow for the signal box
  • The best line for the top level track, and therefore the position of the edge of the top level board

I then selected suitable timbers to support the board, and set about cutting to size and fixing together. By pure coincidence the 9mm ply attached to the same timber as I used for the lower level frames gave exactly the right elevation for the top section.

2013-10-02 16.10.21

Plywood cut to shape and ready to fit

The top board is screwed into place on the frames. The outside frames fit directly on top of the frames for the lower level, so these are glued to the lower level board, and for extra strength I’ve added some supports in the middle that can be screwed from top and bottom.

2013-10-02 17.05.31

Once again the final surface is completed using cork sheet glued with PVA to the plywood and weighted down. When cork has been rolled up for some time it really doesn’t want to lie flat by itself.

2013-10-27 11.56.23

Once the whole assembly has been given 24 hours to dry the top track is pinned into place. At this stage the outcrop for the signal box is still over size, that can be adjusted later with a cutting disc on the Dremel. Its much easier to leave it too big and cut away later than have it too small and try sticking bits back on.

Top track in place and layout almost operational

Top track in place and layout almost operational

So the new layout is finally emerging and at last work can start on some scenery to make it look like a real railway. Now we need a name and a location so that there is purpose behind all the features that are added. A sense of location is one of the most important things in a convincing layout. Every railway company had different practices and every locale its own architecture and industries, these all go together to give the viewer a true feel of place and time.

Designing the upper level

My micro layout is intended to have two levels. The upper level will allow a single carriage and tank engine emerge from behind a back scene to service a platform and then return to where it started. This could be automated so that the service runs while shunting takes place in the yard below.


Cardboard mockup of upper layer

Cardboard mockup of upper layer

I really like high level tracks running across railway arches, and this is the intention. Around Newcastle a good amount of sandstone was used for this type of architecture in preference to brick. Scalescenes make some download and print arches in a number of finishes and the ashlar stone is about right to capture the correct effect, though I’m worried the stone looks a little too clean!

The point where the train emerges from the back scene will be half way along the layout, and will need disguising. A Tall signal box can be used as a focal point to draw attention. This can protrude out from the line of arches, so that its foundations are in the lower yard. The idea is simple enough, but fitting it into a restricted space needs careful planning. The best way is to mock it up using scrap card to see if it works.

The picture above illustrates the issues of working in tight space. I’ve printed off a couple of sheets of arches and positioned them on a simple cardboard framework. One of the sidings on the shunting puzzle disappears into an archway, and the headshunt emerges from something that will be ultimately disguised with a girder bridge.  This gives the impression that the scene is part of something much bigger and a line passes through on a curve to serve a pair of short factory sidings.

The mockup needed to show the exact position of the arches and work out where the signal box might be placed. The photograph shows the gap in the run of arches, and this will be built out to accommodate the box.

On the top level I’ve included the yard of track on a slight diagonal (I hate too many tracks that run parallel with the front edge of the baseboard) and for the moment started to experiment with making the scenery behind the track even higher. At this stage I’m not sure whether it works or not. Like all mockups, its only a first impression. What is actually built may well evolve into something quite different.


More Thoughts on Sound

Recently I wrote about the idea of hiding an MP3 player within a building to supply a micro layout with sound. While technically this is a great solution it does raise one very obvious question. Where do I actually get the sound effects from? Fortunately I think there is quite an easy solution to this. While browsing the ontracks store I found a whole range of sound effect CDs. These seem to cover a whole range of sounds:

  • Mainline steam railway station
  • Mainline diesel railway station
  • Steam trains in the countryside
  • Dockside sounds
  • Corn mill
  • Victorian Street
  • World war 2 dogfight
  • Birdsong
  • Farm animals
  • Tractor Ploughing
  • Carpenters shop
  • Blacksmith’s shop
  • And quite a few other useful ones besides this but the list is already too long!

This is a comprehensive set of recordings and this is only a small selection. There are a good number of others, such as underwater sounds and a world war 1 trench, where I struggle to see the railway modelling use.

Follow this link to view OnTracks – Sound CDs

Quoting the On Tracks website:

Taliesin Studios Sound Effect CD’s will play on normal CD machines, PCs etc. You can also copy the material to a portable media device such as iPhone for personal use or non profit public use – such as Model Railway Club Layouts appearing at Exhibitions. Please contact us if you wish to use the material for all other public, professional or commercial use as a further licence may be required. Each disc typically contains a continuous file of approx. 60 minutes. Originally records by Michael Anthony, these records are once again available via OnTracks. If the sound effect you want is not listed please contact our office as we hold the entire library of 140 CD sound effects.

Using an audio editing app on a PC, such as audacity, it should be quite easy to capture and mix sounds from the CDs into MP3 files that suit the scene being modelled and these can then be copied to the microSD card in the MP3 player.

There’s plenty food for thought here and lots of scope to extend layout sound beyond a DCC chip in the locomotive.

(DCC?) Sound for the 300 inch challenge

One of my initial objectives for my micro layout was to incorporate sound. The intention is to operate with small tank engines and this gives the issue of very little room to install DCC sound decoders in the loco. My initial idea was to install a speaker somewhere under the layout and connect it up to the PC and use the audio functionality in JMRI Panel Pro to effectively create a virtual sound decoder.

However, I’ve just come across an interesting video on youtube that really has captured my imagination with a cheap way of incorporating some sound without necessarily incorporating sound decoders or using a PC connection all the time. Mike Ware is delivering sound to his Mountfield Parkway layout using a very inexpensive MP3 device and a MicroSD card.

The gadget that Mike uses is readily available on Amazon, and I’m about to order one to experiment with. The advantage seems to be that it will connect to a whole range of devices including laptop and raspberry-pi, so my original JMRI panelpro idea would still be covered but I’d have additional flexibility too.

Bootlace Ferrules

What is a bootlace ferrule? Answer, it’s a very convenient fitting to attach to the end of a wire that will then fit very snugly into a screw terminal. The DCC world is full of equipment that is supplied with rows of screw terminals. I find that connecting bare wire into these a very hit and miss affair, and the ferrule is a very cheap way of getting a reliable connection every time. Bootlace ferrules are sometimes referred to as cord end ferrules or cord end terminals.

Bootlace Ferrules are available in a variety of sizes and colours and are great for DCC wiring

Bootlace Ferrules are available in a variety of sizes and colours and are great for DCC wiring

Bootlace ferrules are supplied in a range of sizes, some of the smallest will take the very thin wires normally found on locomotive decoders, while the biggest cater for cables way bigger than those used on the heaviest duty DCC power bus.
Fitting the Bootlace Ferrule is fast and straightforward. The wire is stripped in the usual way, but instead of twisting the multi strand wire together and then inserting in the terminal, the bare wire is pushed into the ferrule and this is then crimped in place with a special crimping tool. The ferrule then provides a single robust pin on the cable end that can be attached much more reliably in a screw terminal than the bare wire.

I’ve just adopted them as a standard way of wiring my layouts, and soldering has now been dispensed with apart from attaching dropper wires to the track. Terminal blocks and ferrules are now used everywhere. There are several reasons for this:

  • Reliable electrical connections — all wire strands conduct current.
  • No spreading of wire strands after a wire is clamped into a terminal block or other component.
  • No fraying of wire strands, particularly in cases where the wire is very small or is removed often from its housing for testing purposes.
  • No breaking of wire strands in cases of bending, wire stress or vibration.
  • No unwanted contacts. Ferrules eliminate the possibility that strands might accidentally touch another termination and create shorts.
  • Easy wire insertion in a terminal block clamp, particularly for smaller gauge wires.
  • Permanent crimping of two or more wires (jumper connection) before insertion in the block clamp (twin wire ferrules can be used, but  a larger sized single wire ferrule can also be used with two wires ).
  • No more soldering in difficult to access places under permanently fixed baseboards – Ive had enough of lying on my back under a baseboard while hot solder drips on me from above!
  • Oh yes, and they look great on a panel!

Watch out for the prices charged by some suppliers; buy from the right place and these little beasties are really cheap, only fractions of a penny each. My last order came from crimp terminals.co.uk, and their prices are about the lowest I’ve found. A good target price is between £5 – £6 per 1000.

Bootlace Ferrules  are colour coded according to size so that in commercial uses an electrical engineer can rapidly determine the size of cable he is working with and replace it appropriately. Just to make things complicated though, there are two different colour coding standards. I’ve included all available sizes for completeness, however its unlikely you will ever want more than 2.5mm for a model railway application.

Size French system German system
0.25mm² Violet Light blue
0.5mm² White Orange
0.75mm² Blue White
1.0mm² Red Yellow
1.5mm² Black Red
2.5mm² Grey Blue
4.0mm² Orange Grey
6.0mm² Green Black
10.0mm² Brown Ivory
16.0mm² Ivory Green
25.0mm² Black Brown
35.0mm² Red Beige

The French colour code seems to be more prevalent, but mixing types can allow for some colour coding of layout wiring

So, what size do I need?

I use 24/02 cable for my DCC bus, this generally has a wire thickness of 0.75mm, this is a perfect fit in a 0.75mm ferrule. For dropper wires from the track I generally use 7/02 cable and this fits snugly in a 0.25mm ferrule. 0.5mm ferrules can take 2 dropper cables and 1.0mm can take a dropper cable alongside a bus cable. Move up to 1.5mm to join 2 bus cables with one ferrule in a single terminal

The crimping tool is a one off purchase, I found Amazon was as good a place as any to acquire this, however I wouldn’t recommend any of the suppliers on Amazon for the ferrules themselves, they are far too expensive ( I’ve seen packs of 100 priced at the same level as you pay for 1000 if you shop around). The CK crimping tool below is a good combination of good quality and reasonable price, but there are quite a few alternatives to choose from.

C.K 430029 Medium Ferrules Ratchet Crimping Plier

New From: £37.59 GBP In Stock

Great new downloadable kits

More and more downloadable building kits are becoming available and there are now several manufacturers supplying these items. Some of the producers are quite well known, but I’ve been a fan of some of the items produced by a lesser known supplier, modelrailwayscenery.com, for some time. I particularly like the ranges of signs and some of the more unusual line side items. Just launched are some Victorian walls, I’ve downloaded these tonight and intend to use them somewhere on the 300 inch challenge. All the buildings will be constructed from downloadable kits, and I’ve got several Scalescenes items ready to go (more about these in a future blog post).

Victorian wall
Victorian wall

While on the site I came across another new release, a very interesting kit for a Victorian pub.At first glance this looks like the best kit yet from modelrailwayscenery.com. I’ve downloaded it already with a view to customising a little to make it a little more northern (the kit is based on a prototype in Cornwall). I don’t have anywhere in mind to put the completed model, it will end up somewhere on the Rede Valley Railway, it all helps the design process evolve.

Victorian Pub

Victorian Pub

Modelrailwayscenery are now making a big thing about their kits using recycled card. Funny, I’ve always used cereal boxes for this type of work. Why spend money unnecessarily when so many materials are available free if you only keep your eyes open? I look out for products in heavier card as well. The family dog is being force fed Bonios these days, they come in fantastic quality boxes!

Model Railway Scenery - OO/HO, N & O Gauge Download and print kits and brick papers