Sunday, 11 July 2021

Loctern Quay featured in BRM

Loctern Quay is featured in the August issue of British Railway Modelling magazine.

My little 009 layout gets 8 pages, with lots of photographs including a double-page spread, and a little "thumbnail" on the cover.

I spent an afternoon in the garden taking a selection of photos in good light, and they have come out really well, so it is nice to see so many of them used. I think the BRM team have done a great job setting out the article. 


Saturday, 10 July 2021

Amberley Railway Gala - a step towards normality

The Amberley Railway Gala is a regular in the calendar of the Sussex Downs 009 Group, we always provide a 009 Society stand with the showcase and demonstrations, and often layouts too. Of course last year there was no Gala, but this year the event went ahead, albeit a little different to normal, and I went along today to help with our group stand. The exhibition was smaller than previous Galas, although the large railway shed allowed plenty of space for social distances and large doors for ventilation. With our group only recently having started meeting in person again after months of Zoom meetings, it was great to have the first railway event since March last year.

Our stand had more tables than usual to allow social distancing. As well as the showcase and demo layout, Simon brought a small "pizza" layout. It looks like he is wishing it had more operational interest!

Tim also brought a small layout, "The Old Quarry", which features a passing loop and some attractive scenery. Despite very tight curves the running was excellent. 

There were a few other layouts, mostly small like this O-16.5 shunting layout, although there was a larger modular American On30 layout too. 

Outside there was steam courtesy of Polar Bear, though the other steam loco Peter is undergoing overhaul. There were no visiting locos, miniature railways or traction engines though. 

Even so, the usual Gala intensive service was operated with the larger diesels helping with passenger trains, and the smaller i/c and battery locos running demonstration goods trains. The trains seemed reasonably well patronised, although it definitely seemed quieter than previous Gala weekends. 

The usual afternoon loco parade took place, and I'm sure the volunteers enjoyed getting all the toys out as much as the socially distanced crowd enjoyed seeing them all. 

There's a great collection of NG locos at Amberley, but it is nice to see a new restoration. This little Brush battery-electric was built for ammunition factory use in 1917. It's cute and delightfully simple, though the ancient motor (which fills all the space under the seat) is not very powerful, and I can report that the cab is more cramped than it looks!

So life may not be back to normal quite yet, but it this was an encouraging step along the way. 

Thursday, 8 July 2021

The East Kent Railway

The sub-title of this book on The East Kent Railway by John Scott-Morgan is The Line That Ran To Nowhere. That might explain why it is one of the lesser known Colonel Stephens lines, even though it possessed the key characteristics that give those railways such character - a eclectic collection of elderly locomotives and carriages, minimal station facilities and track layouts, and short trains with few passengers running through rather empty countryside. Indeed, the cover picture on the jacket of this hardback book beautifully captures that atmosphere.

This begs the question of why the railway was built? Well, the book opens with a short description of the Kent coalfield which was the justification for the railway, yet in the end delivered relatively little. There is then a brief history of the railway, which is sufficient to give a good background and context to the book, and includes a useful map of the surprisingly convoluted route. The line evolved from Shepherdswell to meet the developing coal mines nearby in the run up to the Great War, and during that war had a very light extension to Richborough Port constructed. However, most of the mines had little output (and one never opened), so the area didn't develop, leaving the line with sparse passenger and goods traffic, but enough coal traffic to keep it going until nationalisation, and a section operating to serve the biggest mine until 1961. The book also describes the current preservation project operating that last section of the line today.

It will probably be obvious from the landscape format of the book that the focus is on photographs rather than text though, and indeed the majority of the 200 pages are dedicated to a photo each. This allows for well-sized and consistently good reproduction photos, each with a detailed and informative caption. In this way the story of the line and its locos and stock is provided. This makes a change from the typical book about a minor railway line, and there are no drawings or track plans, while the brief history does not contain details of the railway's construction or operation. However, the format works very well as an introduction to this lesser known line, and inspiration to modellers. 

So, this isn't trying to be a definitive work on the history of this fascinating railway, but rather provide a good overview through well presented and informatively captioned pictures, and it does that very well. It's an easy book to read or just flick through, enjoying the photos and learning about the quaint and minimalist railway that once ran through a quiet corner of Kent. 

Tuesday, 6 July 2021

A bogie wagon coupling challenge

I've struggled to get into the modelling vibe recently, and a good way to get going again is to pick a simple short project - like a wagon kit. I had in the pile of unbuilt kits a Hudson Steel Dropside Bogie Open Wagon by Dundas; these were ex RAF wagons that have ended up being used on preserved railways for ballast duties, so this would be a good addition to a permanent-way train for Hexworthy.

Now there's a reason the kit has stayed in the pile - couplings. Sometimes my choice of Microtrains couplings poses a challenge when fitting them to stock, and stock with small bogies where the couplings cannot be fitted to the body (as with this wagon) are particularly difficult as there is nowhere to accommodate the relatively large draft box.

However, when I looked closely at the kit I found these bogies have a raised outer end giving more depth, and it already had a recess for a Bemo coupling. The recess needed to be widened, carefully as only about 0.5mm of plastic was left either side of the coupling. It was also too shallow and low, so I had to cut away the upper layer forming the raised end. This meant adding a new "top" layer to the raised end covering the couplings, from 20 thou black plasticard, shaped to match I think this will be barely noticeable once painted. Another piece of plasticard across the bottom of the recess formed a box into which the couplings would slide, and a hole drilled through top and bottom allowed a shortened Microtrains screw to self-tap through for a secure and relatively neat mounting. 

This only worked because a search of the modelling cupboard turned up some "underslung" couplers (type 2004). These have a slightly slimmer draft-box which is offset lower relative to the coupling (seen right) compared to a standard 1015/1016 coupling (seen left); this allows the coupling to be mounted lower than a standard coupling while matching the knuckle height. 

I had remembered to check the back-to-back measurements of the wheelsets before assembly, which you would think isn't necessary but all the kits I have had with Dundas wheels have the back-to-backs too tight to run reliably through Peco points. The rest of the wagon fell together in the way that excellent Dundas kits generally do, the wagon floor is a fraction of a mm too short (which I ignored) but otherwise fit is faultless I've attached a piece of lead under the floor for improved running, and the bogie retaining nuts will be fixed with a spot of glue after painting.

The completed wagon, shown here after a coat of primer (I struggle to get paint to cover plastic evenly without primer) being tested on Loctern Quay. I was worried about the slightly raised ends of the bogies fouling the body on tight corners, but with them filed to the profile of the bogie ends there seems to be plenty of space for the bogies to swing over 12" radius points. The coupling fitment was worked out rather neatly, although I will admit working out how to fit them and modifying the bogies took longer than assembling the rest of the kit! 

While it looks OK in primer grey I will have to paint it properly, I just need to decide on a colour scheme for my PW train. I had thought of grey with yellow ends - as applied to the digger wagons (below) - but I am wondering about something more interesting. Blue, perhaps? 

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

The Liverpool and Manchester Railway - An Operating History

Having enjoyed the Locomotives of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway book I thought I should read the other book on the line by Anthony Dawson - The Liverpool and Manchester Railway - An Operating History.

As the title suggests this book details how the first public railway worked - organisation, carrying passengers,  goods, timetabling, controlling the trains, and safety matters. These are all activities for which there was no existing model and many of the practices adopted became established as the normal for other railways (and indeed some are today), while others were quickly evolved or changed. The railway was, of course, a success, with facilities such as stations and goods facilities as well as the trains having to be developed to cope with the traffic, especially after other railways were built and connected to the L&M. 

Contrary to my expectation, cotton was not a major traffic (and there were problems with the locos setting light to it!), but coal and livestock as well as general merchandise were, however it was the passenger service that was most profitable. These early passenger services were very much aimed at the higher social classes in keeping the the society of the day, and were split into express (mail and first class) and stopping (second class) services, although fares were too high for working class passengers. 

The original Manchester terminus of the line still exists, now incorporated into the Manchester Museum of Science & Industry. It is a surprisingly simple and unassuming structure but inside had the key features of railway stations until recent times - a booking hall and waiting rooms. Here's a photo from my visit in 2015.

I thought the section on rules and regulations particularly interesting despite the dull sounding title, as it covers how the safety practices developed. Trains were simply dispatched at time intervals with nothing other than a few men with flags or lamps to stop them crashing into each other - of course this wasn't altogether successful (especially given their lack of effective brakes) and accidents are listed. Accidents were also caused by mechanical failure, and indeed by passengers and public on the lines or alighting from moving trains, perhaps not realising the dangers of such large and fast moving vehicles. The rules and regulations developed became the basis of those of other railways although they were soon overtaken by signalling and other safety improvements; and all company employees had to carry a copy on them at all times even though some of them could not read!

As I had expected when reading the book about the locomotives, these two books are complimentary. While that book had little context about the line, this book provides most of that context. As well as the detail of the organisation and operation of the railway there is a map of the line, a number of contemporary engravings showing the railway's facilities, and a few modern photos too; these are contained within a 16-page glossy section of illustrations and are sharply reproduced. 

This is an excellent high quality book with lots detail, well researched and referenced. As you'd expect it's not a light read, I'm sure it will be a useful reference for researches, but it isn't a difficult read either being well written and clearly laid out. There is some assumption of basic railway knowledge around terminology and general operating practice but this is reasonable for the expected audience. It will appeal to anyone who has an interest in the development of the railways in general, as well as those interested in the L&M in particular or seeking to understand local history. 

Friday, 4 June 2021


I came across Fair Price Models who have a small but interesting range of laser-cut wood building kits. What struck me is this low-relief stables/workshop kit (available in 4mm and 7mm scales)...

It looks familiar, because back in 2011 I built a remarkably similar building in 7mm scale for my O14  Landswood Park Farm box-file layout:

OK the height of the loft store is different, but otherwise the proportions and details are spot on, even the windows and doors. 

Now that layout was inspired by a visit to Tatton Park Farm, but this building was not based on a prototype but "freelanced" in a similar style to fit the scene, and the outline was evolved during planning. If there is a real building that looks like this I've not seen it, though I wouldn't be surprised as it was meant to look plausible.

So, coincidence or inspired? 

Friday, 28 May 2021

Health and safety

I am very considerate of my 1:76 scale railway employee's safety, and so I have added safety railings to the ground frames. Well, actually I thought it would add a subtle modern twist to the traditional looking station, reflecting the preservation era it is set in. 

At the station throat the 4-lever ground frame has a railing to protect the operator from passing railway vehicles. The railing is 1mm brass rod bent using round-nose pliers and given a waft of primer before being painted health-and-safety yellow, with a little dry-brushed rust and dirt. This was then glued into a couple of holes in the baseboard. 

 At the loco release point by the yard the railings are on the yard side to protect them and the rodding from road vehicles. I'm hoping they offer some real-life protection too, the plastic levers are vulnerable to knocks. With hindsight I should have fitted the levers after completing the scenery...

Friday, 21 May 2021

Britain's Railway Disasters

This book, Britain's Railway Disasters by Michael Foley, is a bit different to others I'd read recently, and not just because I got this one in e-book format for a change. As the title says, it recounts fatal railway accidents from the dawn of public railways to modern times - ending with the Potters Bar accident of 2002. I've no idea if it is comprehensive, but it certainly lists an awful lot, and gives a picture of how rail safety has improved over the years. In the early years there were many incidents of trains running into each other or meeting on the same tracks, as well as mechanical failures, although the numbers of fatalities were often surprisingly low. As trains got faster the accidents were more severe, with wooden coaches telescoping into each other and gas lighting causing fires, so while signalling improvements reduced their frequency the death toll could be far higher. In more modern times safety procedures are much improved and trains are stronger so fatalities are rare, though serious accidents have occurred. 

The book starts with a brief history of the railways in Britain, and an interesting observation on "the effects of rail travel on the person", a controversial topic in the early years of rail travel and shows that medical lawyers are not new. The accidents are then described chronologically. The main source seems to be newspaper reports and so the accounts have the contemporary perspective, and observations on the aspects that newspaper reports sometimes focus on. Reports by the Board of Trade or coroners are also used, but the text often doesn't detail the root causes of accidents or report findings. I guess this depends on what information is available, and avoids repeating the same causes, but there is some commentary on the general trends. 

Personally, I would have appreciated a little more background to the safety systems of the day and how they were failing - a basic description of signalling systems, how they developed, the introduction of braking systems, and other significant legislation could have been covered within the history chapter without being too technical. I think that would have highlighted this narrative to support the fragmented and incomplete story of safety improvement that comes from the descriptions. However, this isn't meant to be a technical book, and there are many other books that look at those aspects of railway safety in detail. 

There are a good number of illustrations, mainly contemporary photographs, although many don't link to the accidents detailed in the text and the reproduction quality wasn't high in my digital edition at least. However, they do show the aftermath of accidents, the destruction of wooden carriages and chaos of derailments, and adds feeling and context to the stories of the accidents. 

This could have been a difficult book to read, but it isn't. The text flows well and the human perspective provided by the contemporary newspaper reports prevents it becoming dry and repetitive. Of course there are some sad stories, but also some miraculous escapes, and the overall theme is improving safety and responsibility from the railways. This is a social history as much as it is a railway history, and tells an important story.

Monday, 26 April 2021

Locomotives of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway

Locomotives of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway by Anthony Dawson covers a fascinating time in railway, engineering, and indeed social history - the development of the steam engine from a primitive and unreliable industrial machine to a means of reliable and convenient transport. The Liverpool & Manchester Railway was of course the first public and passenger carrying steam railway - the railways that existed at that time carried only freight (usually coal or minerals), and very few (including the Stockton & Darlington) used steam locomotives. 

The story of the Rocket winning the Rainhill Trials is famous enough to have featured on a £5 note, and the father and son team behind it George and Robert Stephenson are well known for developing the steam locomotive into a practical reality. This book starts in the run up to the Rainhill trials which were actually about whether steam locomotives should be used at all, rather than to select a winning design. Strangely the book doesn't describe the trials, but continues with the development from Rocket to the engines used when the lined opened (incorporating several significant advances), and then through the early years of the railway as knowledge of steam engines increased with each new design. While the Stephensons had much influence initially, they were resisted by some and alternative designs were tried - generally it must be said with little success, although within a few years it was those running the locomotives in daily use who gained the experience to improve the designs. 

As an engineer I found the development story fascinating - the early locomotives had no effective means of controlling steam into the cylinders, no balance weights to counter the massive forces of moving motion, poor firebox designs and no smokebox, not even any brakes. The engineering ideas had run ahead of materials science, and fireboxes, boiler tubes, and cranked axles failed regularly - as did the track. The early locos had shockingly short lives - 2 to 3 years in some cases - before wearing out or becoming obsolete due to advances in technology. The familiar outline and key features of steam locomotives appeared in those first few years, rather like the development of horseless carriages into motor cars about 60 years later, in fact the advances in technology at that time can be compared to the development of the mobile phone, rise of the internet, or transition from G-Wizz to Tesla in more recent times - arguably with a greater impact on mankind. 

The book goes on to discuss the early enginemen and foremen responsible for operating the locos, their maintenance and repair, and the passenger and goods stock - this is interesting as like the locomotives there was no existing template, and early designs had their flaws. However, there were some strange omissions from the book as in many ways it fails to set the context. There is no background to the Liverpool & Manchester railway - why it came about, the key events in its history, even its geography (which has relevance to the locomotives) - nor the parallel developments in the railway world at that time. As noted above even the Rainhill trails are glossed over. I notice that the same author has written an operating history of the Liverpool and Manchester by the same publisher (which also looks interesting) and perhaps that fills some of these gaps, but properly setting the scene in brief here would help understand the subject of this book better, and could have been done in a short prologue, or even an appendix. 

Also, some of the technological developments were not well explained, such as the advantage of a blast pipe, or how a good firebox and boiler work so as to understand the primitive versions then being developed. One diagram shows Buddicom's valve gear with the comment "from which the Stephenson-Howe link valve gear was an obvious evolution" - except that without an explanation of Stephenson-Howe link valve gear it is not obvious at all. As an engineer and railway enthusiast I generally had little difficulty in understanding the technologies described, but if it wasn't always clear to me it then won't be to all readers. Given the object of the book is to "chart the development" of these locomotives a few extra words or diagrams to explain some of these ideas would help many readers. 

That said, there are some excellent illustrations from contemporary drawings (both technical and illustrative) and engravings - of course there were no photographs at that time, although a few of modern replicas are included. The text is well written and easy to read, and is clearly well researched. I found it a fascinating read, and anyone with an interest in steam engines, engineering, or history of the industrial revolution will enjoy it too. 

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Turning sand into gravel

Obviously the sand surface needs to be painted if it is to look like anything other than sand. These are large areas, and the sand has a large surface area as well as being abrasive. I use cheap acrylic paints and a cheap, stiff paintbrush - the stuff sold for kids is fine for this job. Colours are mixed from white, black, red, green, and yellow - I can't say I find mixing colours easy and I usually end up with something too dark. Also a single colour sometimes looks too flat and plain, the aim is for a finish that is not too even which I attempt with multiple washes. 

The platform got a coat of pale grey, this seems to have come out well and looks fine as well tended gravel so I left it at that. The road and car park behind got a darker coat which looked too even, so it was followed by a much thinner coat of mid brown to weather it and add shadows. However, this looked too dark, so another thinned coat of pale grey was added. The result is a mid grey that isn't too even as the thinner coats have had differing effects at different depths. 

The yard at the front had a browner shade of grey to represent a gravel, followed by a very thin mid brown wash to add depth. Again, this ended up looking too dark, so I experimented. I dabbed talcum powder over the surface with a sponge, and then vacuumed it off while working it with a stiff paintbrush. The result has worked surprisingly well, giving a pale dusty gravel look which is patchy and varied in colour. 

While the paints were out the mid brown was further diluted with added Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA) - giving a very runny wash. This was applied over all the track ballast, though perhaps more in some areas than others, which adds a slightly brown weathered look to the granite and because it collects in the gaps, adds some depth to the colour. 

So there are three areas with three different finishes from the same basic materials - sand and paint. The front yard is dusty gravel, the platforms a neat even gravel, and the rear roadway and yard a rough tarmac. I've tried to blend them to the surrounding areas such as the public road and the ballast. 

Right at the top of the station access road near the phone box the last coat of paint covered some talc overspill, which has accidentally given a very pleasing mottled look, I might use that technique on purpose in the future. 

I'd also used a little sand to make pathways across and alongside the ballast, which were given similar paint treatment to represent a grey gravel. The walkways aren't really necessary, but gravel is easier to walk on than ballast and probably cheaper too, while I'm also using it to disguise the uncoupling magnet!

Monday, 19 April 2021

Bases and surfacing

The yard at Hexworthy will be used as a "permanent way" (track) maintenance yard, and will have a grounded shipping container. These are often placed on timbers, so I made up some from plasticard, along with a rudimentary ramp up to the doors, and stuck them down before surfacing the yard.

I also added bases for a phone box - which I thought would add interest and look plausible placed by the road entrance - and the heating oil tank. These were simply made from a little DAS clay. 

At the back of the station building I added a pavement from a layer of thick card, cut to the shape of the building by drawing around it. I was going to just run the tarmac up to the back of the building but this seems neater as it means the building doesn't have to be fixed down (yet), it is a tight fit in, and allows easier access to the narrow space behind. It is made simply to represent concrete, mainly as it won't really be seen so no point in putting in a lot of effort!

All the roadways, platform and yard areas are textured with fine sand. I use play sand as sold for children's play pits, having kept a couple of jars when my kids grew out of theirs, though a large bag is very cheap. It is fine enough to be a good representation of gravel or tarmac. First I put down an even layer of PVA glue, which is slightly diluted (about 3:1 with water), and no need for washing up liquid here. 

I use an old tea strainer which helps scatter the sand evenly and stops any oversize particles. Sand is added a little at a time by tapping a teaspoon onto the strainer. This gives an even finish, but I have found it best to let it dry fully and vacuum off excess before checking, and not be tempted to add more glue/sand as this gives an uneven finish. If necessary a second application can be made later, although this is rarely needed. 

I've used the sand for the yard at the front, the platform surfaces away from the paved area, and the road/yard at the rear. Although they look the same now, they will be given different finishes in painting. 

Sunday, 11 April 2021

Ballasting Hexworthy

Before ballasting I needed to glue down the platform - thus far it has not been in fixed, and was in two pieces, which was convenient for working on. However, the fixing of the slabs had caused a slight curvature to the 3mm foam-core platform pieces, so I needed to be sure it would lie flat. Gentle working between the fingers got the pieces flat before they were stuck in place with PVA. Clearances were double-checked with some larger locos to ensure the position was correct, and the larder raided for some weights to ensure it stayed fully flat while the glue set.

Ballasting isn't most people's favourite job, in fact it is rather tedious, but worth taking a little time as it covers a significant part of most layouts. I use fine granite ballast, I got a big bag many years ago and I'm still working my way through it. 

The area to be most careful is around the moving parts of the points, my approach here is to carefully apply neat PVA around the tie bar area positioning it with a screwdriver tip or something, making sure it is well clear of the tie bar, then add stones. This is left to dry before ballasting around it, the idea is the carefully positioned stones form a protective "dam" around the tie bar area.

Since the baseboard is foam-core board it was easy to cut a drainage ditch between the platform and loop roads. Because of the steep sides I applied neat PVA and stones first here too. 

The process is well established. I apply the ballast from a tea spoon, tapping it to carefully dispense it where needed, I spread it with a finger and a cheap, stiff, flat brush. Tapping the spoon on the rails helps the stones settle and shakes some off the sleepers, but there is still a need to brush off any stones that remain on the sleepers or up against the rail sides. Next is a vital step - the ballast is wetted with a fine mist of water/IPA mixture, water with washing up liquid works too but the IPA seems to work better. This allows the water to soak into the ballast without disturbing it. 

Finally the glue is added, PVA glue diluted about 50:50 with the drop of washing up liquid to reduce the surface tension. I use a plastic dropper and gently drip the glue into the ballast, which shouldn't disturb it and thanks to the prior soaking with water/IPA it is drawn right into the ballast. The tricky bit is seeing which bits have been done, as all the ballast looks wet!

So a slow process I tend to do in small areas at a time, an hour or so in one go is enough. Fortunately this is a small layout, but even so it took four or five sessions. As this will represent a preserved line the ballast needed to be fairly neat, which I've achieved. 

Wednesday, 24 March 2021


 A little while back, on the tip-off of a friend, I bought a Woodland Scenics boulders rock mould. It's a flexible rubber mould for casting boulders in plaster. Of course Woodland Scenics recommend their own casting plaster, but I still have some Linka compound left in a large tub - it must be close to 30 years old, but it still works! I expect dental plaster or similar would work too. 

I mixed up a batch without measuring - mainly because I don't know what the mixture should be - and added some acrylic paint to tint it so possible chips do not show white. When the mixture was creamy I filled the mould, which had first been misted with a fine spray of water and washing up liquid.

Amazingly I'd mixed just enough to fill the mould! I bet I couldn't do that again. After an hour or so I eased the mouldings out of the mould.

They do look like boulder rocks with a nice texture. There's a little variety in size and shape but not a lot. It is amazing how much lighter they dried compared to the colour of the mix. 

The idea is to line the river bank, though I'm not quite sure how to use them. Lined up like this looks too regular, I think a few irregularly spaced with some smaller rocks in between is what is needed. I could try casting another batch partially filling the mould? 

I also need small rocks and stones, I've seen others use cat litter but I don't have a cat...