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Beginners Section

Making a Start
Before you start planning your railway there are several things you should consider. Here are some of the questions you should ask yourself.
Would you like to model a particular prototype and if so are the items either available or are you capable of making them.  It is important that your aspirations match your budget.
What’s your budget. It is possible to start a garden railway for a few hundred pounds.
How much room do you have. You don’t need acres of space. There are many interesting small lines running.
Do you want live steam, electric or battery power.
Is your area more or less level.  Tracks don’t have to be level but the severity of the gradient will affect how long a train you can have. Generally 1 in 50 will not cause any major constraints and 1 in 30 should be considered a maximum gradient. Running live steam on gradients is not recommended unless you have radio control.

Choosing Equipment

Firstly you need to decide whether you want to use 32mm track if you are modelling a 2ft prototype as this is the correct measurement for the scale. Alternatively many modellers now opt for 45mm track as it tends to be more stable and is generally easier to lay. If you are modelling anything larger than a 2ft prototype you will probably choose to use 45mm track. The code refers to the height of the rail in hundredths of an inch so code 250 for example is 0.250 inches high.
The main manufacturers of track are;

  • Aristo-Craft  – 45mm Brass Track with code 332 rail
                         45mm Stainless Steel Track with code 332 rail (not so readily available)
  • AMS – 45mm Brass Track with code 332 rail
              45mm Brass Track with code 250 rail
  • LGB – 45mm Brass Track with code 332 rail
  • Piko – 45mm Brass Track with code 332 rail
  • Peco – 32mm Nickel Silver Track with code 200 rail (SM32)
              45mm Nickel Silver Track with code 250 rail (G45)

There are others but availability is not so good.
Which you choose depends on whether you want to use set track or if you want to sculptor sweeping shallow curves using flexible track. Availability of different radius points and the radius of set track curves may be another consideration. Our advice is to use the largest radius curves you can fit into the available space with a preferred minimum of 4ft. This will ensure most, but not all, commercially available locomotives will be able to run on your railway.

Track bed
There are many different ways of constructing the track bed. There is no right or wrong way to do it but some may be better than others depending on where you live.
On a full size railway the track actually floats in the ballast. This method is generally only suitable in garden railway terms if you are using set track with code 332 rail as the other tracks are too light. Dig a trench 5” to 6” deep and fill with small rubble to just below track level and top with fine ballast. Don’t use pea gravel as the stones are round and will wash away in heavy rain. Use a sharp pointed ballast which locks together. Lay the track and cover with the fine ballast which should be tamped down to hold the track in place.
Raising the track above ground level has many advantages particularly as one advances in years. Getting down is all very well but getting back up can be a protracted process. Besides the access issue railways tend to look better at eye level rather than being looked down upon. The track can be elevated on a wooded baseboard using fence posts as supports. Any timber used outdoors obviously needs to be weatherproof and marine grade ply covered in roofing felt is suitable.  Pressure treated timber such as that used for decking can also be used.
If your railway is intended to last a long time concrete foundations can also be used, the only disadvantage being that it is not very easy to change the layout.
If you must have a tunnel make sure it is either no longer than two arms length or has a lift off access cover. If the train is going to derail it will be in the middle of the tunnel (Murphy’s Law).
Planning Dimensions
Minimum track radius 2ft
Minimum recommended track radius 4ft
Minimum track spacing, measured from track centrelines 6.5” (allow more on curves)
Clearance from centre of track to structures 2.5”
Minimum height for tunnels 8.5”

Electric is perhaps the most used form of power. The main issue is one of safety and strictly speaking nothing connected to mains power should be used outdoors. At the very least an earth leakage circuit breaker should be used and mains units should not be left outside. The way around this is to keep all mains connected power units indoors and to have separate low voltage controllers which can be used outdoors.
One of the biggest problems with track power is that the track must be kept clean and the rail joints must be sound. If you do not have good conductivity through the rails running  trains will be a problem. Battery power is increasing in popularity but unfortunately there are very few commercially available battery powered locomotives. This means some element of modification is usually required.
The third option is live steam. This is closest to the real thing with most models being fired by butane gas. Most are available either with manual or radio control.

Scale & Gauges Explained
The multitude of scales and gauges that are in use for model and miniature railways can be quite confusing, particularly with the smaller sizes, so here is a list of the more common ones.

Scale is simply the proportion of the model to the full size item and gauge is nothing more than the distance between the rails. The terms are sometimes incorrectly used interchanged.

We start our list with ‘0’ gauge as this is really the smallest that is normally used outdoors. Although working steam models are built for scales/gauges smaller than ‘0’, these are not common so do not appear on this list.
•  Gauge ‘0’ (UK)
7mm:1foot scale (1:43.5) running on 32mm gauge track. Models are of standard gauge railways.
•  Gauge ‘0’ (USA)
1/4″:1foot scale (1:48) running on 32mm gauge track. Models are of standard gauge railways.
•  Gauge ‘1’ (USA)
3/8″:1 foot (1:32) running on 45mm gauge track. Models are of standard gauge railways.
•  Gauge ‘1’(UK)
10mm:1foot scale (1:30.5) running on 45mm gauge track. Models are of standard gauge railways.
NOTE although certain scales are marked as either USA or UK, this is not a strict split of usage and in practice, both versions are found all over the world. I have marked them in this way to indicate where they are more commonly used. There are also a number of different sub divisions within the gauge field, i.e. ‘finescale’ ‘standard’ ‘prototen’ etc. but these relate mainly to track and wheel standards.
•  1/2″ scale (USA)
1/2″:1 foot (1:24) running on 45mm gauge track. Models are of narrow gauge railways.
•  ‘G’ scale
13.5mm:1 foot (1:22.5) running on 45mm gauge track. Models are of narrow gauge railways. NOTE, Some models described simply as ‘G’ scale are actually built to 1:20.3 to represent 3 foot gauge equipment, LGB, Bachmann and other makes.

•  5/8″ scale (USA)
5/8″:1 foot (1:19.2) running on 45mm gauge track. Models are of narrow gauge railways.
•  SM32
16mm:1foot scale (1:19) running on 32mm gauge track. Models are of narrow gauge railways.
•  SM45
16mm:1foot scale (1:19) running on 45mm gauge track. Models are of narrow gauge railways.
•  7/8N2 (USA)
7/8″:1 foot scale (1:13.7) running on 45mm gauge track. Models are of narrow gauge railways and represent 2 foot gauge.
Garden railway scales and gauges
A little extra information is added for what are generally termed the Garden railway scales as there are several which are normally used together and can cause confusion. Although any railway laid round a garden can be called a garden railway, today the term is normally applied to Gauge 1, ‘G’ scale, SM32 and SM45.

‘G’ scale, SM32 and SM45 are normally grouped together as size compatible, despite the scales being slightly different. Though we have two different gauges, 32 and 45mm, all three represent narrow gauge models and have similar overall sizes of locomotives and stock.
Many live steam locomotives have adjustable wheels to allow them to run on either gauge or are available in two versions, one for either gauge.
Because they represent narrow gauge stock, they are capable of operating round quite tight radius curves as small as 2 foot (600mm) radius. This means that a railway can be laid in quite a small area. In the USA, the situation is a little more confusing, as they also have 1/2″ and 5/8″ scale narrow gauge using 45mm.

Gauge ‘1’, though using the same (45mm) track gauge as ‘G’ scale etc. is quite a different animal. Built to the smaller scale of 10mm to 1 foot (3/8″ to 1 foot USA) it represents standard gauge equipment and really is at its best with long sweeping curves.