This layout was started in 2000 and was dismantled in 2005 when we moved house. As it was fitted into the loft it had to be completely broken up although many parts were re-used in other layouts. The layout lives on via this website!
The layout was not set in any particular timezone although it was very much modern image. I initially started modelling the late 80’s and early 90’s, but I diversified quite a long way from that, inspired by some of the excellent models then becoming available. There was one main station with 6 platform faces (Southlands Junction) and one branch station (Martinsbridge). The track plan was basically a double track loop but with a branch line and plenty of storage capacity both hidden and visible. The main aim of the layout was to be able to run and display my collection of trains.
The layout consisted of a double track main line with a branch line that re-enters the main loop. The main station had 6 platforms, one of which was for the branchline. The branchline also had a small station. The plan is shown below, the image being taken from the computer mimic panel.
There was a set of storage sidings next to the main station that could be reached from a junction on the main line (to the right of the plan). This junction made use of a double slip. There was also a single slip at the other (left) end of the main station. An engine shed area with 10 roads could be reached via a turntable from the storage sidings – not the best layout for operations but this area was mainly used to show off locos and was a later addition.
The branchline had two sidings with a headshunt (bottom centre of plan in orange) Behind the branchline area was a fiddle yard (bottom left of plan, yellow for up, red for down) with 7 through tracks (3 up and 4 down) and 4 terminus tracks (up). Another double slip was used at the end of the fiddle yard due to the restricted length between it and the double track viaduct (not shown on plan but in the bottom right hand corner). This was made out of 4 Hornby 3 arch viaducts joined together.
The entrances to the fiddle yard were via tunnel mouths and part of the fiddle yard along with the entrance to the branch line (on the left side of the plan) was hidden under the park area.
Track & Baseboards
The layout was built in a loft and a wooden framework was constructed with a top surface made of insulation board. This was definitely a mistake as the extreme temperatures in the loft caused this to warp in certain places. Later additions such as the engine shed area used MDF. (Learning from this all layouts since have used marine ply). The area under the baseboards was used to house the spare stock and of course all the other junk that lives in a loft. It was hidden away behind some curtains that extend all around the layout. The loft hatch opens into the middle of the layout and in this area the floor is carpeted. The fact that the hatch opened into the main bedroom limited operating times especially when visitors were invited to help with operating!
All the track was Peco code 100 with insulfrog pointwork. All the points were motorised, mainly with SEEP motors, but I also used some Peco motors. Ballasting was done in the usual way using a mix of ballasts which was then sprayed with track dirt paint. The turntable was a Peco kit, motorised using a Maplins gear-reduction motor kit.
The mainline through station was at a lower level than the town it serves. A long retaining wall runs the length of the station. This was made from pre-formed foam sections available from my local model shop. The station building itself was a Hornby waiting room kit that is placed on a approach road that crosses the tracks and the platforms are reached by a footbridge construction form two modified Heljan kits. The high street above the retaining wall had shops from Metalfe and Superquick whilst the church is a Hornby kit.
From the main station the tracks ran past the engine shed and heritage centre which were built from Peco and Modern Structures in Miniature kits. The main line then runs over a viaduct near where the loft hatch (the baseboard is narrower here and at a lower level). The water was faller plastic sheet over a gravel base. The tracks then disappeared into a tunnel mouth that gave access to the fiddle yard which was behind the branch line area.
I made extensive use of the Woodland scenics range and near the branch station there was a hillside to hide the fiddle yard area made of modroc over a polystyrene block base. Access to the branch station was only via a level crossing – perhaps a little contrived but it did make the best use of the space. The branch station was a Peco kit and the branch signalbox a Scenix cast model. The houses in the branch area were by Hornby and Dapol and the pub near the canal is a Hornby kit. The canal water was by Woodland Scenics. This area was probably the most successful on the layout in terms of scenery.
The figures and small details were from a mixture of ranges and cars were mainly by Cararama. The backscenes were fairly basic, using Peco sky papers.
The collection has transferred over to new layouts and is predominantly modern image, especially from the BR blue era which is the period during which I first started being interested in railways. However, I tend to run what I like and added some of the superb steam engines from Hornby and Bachmann which began to emerge in the early 2000s – the heritage centre in the engine shed gave a perfect excuse for this! Locos are mainly a mixture of Bachmann, Hornby and Lima with a couple of Heljan class 47s. I found that the Lima models don’t run very well under DCC and so they are gradually being replaced or fitted with extra pickups and ultrascale wheels which does improve their running.
Some of the stock was weathered using dry brushing and a dirty paint mix, with application of track dirt colour on the underframe. I also added extra details such as electrification warning transfers to the older coaches and wagons. A couple of the locos have been completely repainted – such as a Lima class 20, 20209 shown below. This particular loco has now been de-motored and put in a pair with a new Bachmann class 20.
DCC & Control
A short while after starting the layout I decided to convert it to DCC and I started with a Lenz Compact with an additional Lenz LH30 handheld controller. All the track was rewired to the DCC track power bus, although I could still isolate the tracks in the engine shed – useful for holding non-DCC locos. I then upgraded to a Lenz set 100 with two controllers, which transferred over to Tedford when this layout was broken up. This system is simply fantastic. The main reason for changing was that I was having problems remembering loco numbers with the 2 digit limitation imposed by the Compact. I now use the first 2 and last 2 digit of the cabside number which is much easier to remember. The set 100 is also much more capable at handling multiple trains running. I fitted a PC interface as I wanted to develop the interaction from the PC. The decoders at the time were a mixture of Lenz and ZTC. The DCC system really opens up operating possibilities such as changing locos, shunting, banking and being able to make full use of the track layout. The track bus was wired with fairly chunky automotive cabling with dropper cables from nearly every section of track joined to the bus via 30 amp chocolate blocks. On the re-laid areas of the layout all the track was also soldered together. I didn’t take droppers directly to points but these were soldered at all exits to the adjacent track and worked reliably enough.
All the point motors were linked back to non-latching two way switches on a panel (ex BBC Bush House) and were manually driven. This is shown above along with a Lenz ccontroller, the switch panel for the layout lighting and its ammeter, and the DCC emergency stop button. The point switches were also linked up to Heathcote Electronics point indicator modules which fed the status of all the points into an industrial digital I/O card fitted in a PC. I developed special software in Visual Basic which read the state of all the points every second and displayed this on a mimic panel. In normal operation the routes that had been set were shown in solid with the other tracks dotted. The software indicated any conflicting settings. Plans to drive the signals and set routes didn’t get completed but were achieved on Tedford. Signalling control was limited to two lower quadrant signals that protected the branch leaving the main station and these were driven from the computer using Embedded Controls servo motor drivers.
Apart from the DCC track power, all wiring was done with solid multicore wiring as used in telecoms. This was all terminated on to ex-BT krone blocks under the layout and connections were then made as required between the blocks – as is standard telecoms practice – see the picture below. Krone blocks are the standard telecom connector as found in green roadside cabinets and telephone exchanges etc and are basically 20-way connectors on which up to 4 cables can be terminated on each ‘way’. In normal telecoms use they are arranged as 10 pairs (or phone lines) per block. I’ve not seen them used on model railways before but they work very well and are able to handle the high currents required for point motors. When I first installed the Heathcote indicator modules, I had problems with spurious indications, and this was due to the fact that I had used a common single return wire for multiple point motors. I uprated this return path to thicker cable and connected all the returns to earth and this fixed the problem.
Lights & Signals
Working lights were fitted on both stations, the sidings and engine shed areas and also along the raised high street to the rear of the layout. These came from a variety of sources including Patronics for the station lights and Eckon for the yard lights. All are powered from a 12v supply and can be switched off. Colour light signals are by Eckon and Berco and the plan is that eventually these will be driven from the computer control system. Of course, with DCC it is simple to have lights on locos and in coaches, and this is very effective.
The church in the corner of the layout is fitted with stained glass windows and had an internal light bulb which made these shine out. The layout had spot lights over it but by turning these and the main loft lights out and leaving just the model lights on it was possible to achieve some interesting ‘night time’ photographs.
There was also a level crossing with working flashing warning lights and two lower quadrant semaphore signals (for no other reason than I like this type of signal) where the branch leaves the main station.
The turntable was a standard Peco kit with 1 entrance road and 7 exit roads which ran in to the engine shed area. The kit was built as normal and then painted and weathered – the metalwork was painted with Humbrol metalcote gun metal colour which was polished up. The pit was painted to represent concrete and the edge was lined with a tipex pen – an easy way to get a fine white line which will immediately looks slightly weathered. A suitable hole was cut in the baseboard which in this area of the layout was still the original insulation board, so additional wooden braces were required under the turntable, linked to the main wooden supports. The turntable was motorised using a variable-reduction gear kit from Maplins. This was mounted onto one of the wooden braces and drove the turntable via a spur wheel. The shaft from the turntable was mecanno, as the Peco kit is designed to take this diameter. The shaft cog needed its centre hole to be opened out to accept this. The end of the shaft was held in place by a bent metal bracket. The motor was connected to a ZTC 215 DCC decoder which is powered from the track and set to address 99. The turntable track feed is connected without any modification.