How it Happened


An Interest Reawakened

Like many people a childhood interest in model railways didn't last into adulthood, although a passion for industrial heritage meant a continued interest in "the real thing" including visiting at one time or another most of the preserved/restored railways in England. Following a friend's decision to restart his modelling I thought I should do the same. I'd had it in mind for a while to develop a true coffee table layout, however I decided the space restrictions would prevent this unless I modelled N Scale narrow-gauge (not an option given the amount of scratch building required).

Space was still restricted however, so I decided to settle on British N Gauge. My passion is largely for steam so I initially planned a model based in the 1950s. Due to the availability of models I decided to base it in and around the Forest of Dean as there is generally more GWR stock available than for the other "Big Four" companies. I started writing a backstory for the fictional railway with the intention of stopping just before the Beeching cuts - I then carried on! After a lot of thought I realised that in fact a preserved railway would best suit my thoughts and would have a lot of advantages...

    I can run any loco or stock I like;

    Historical accuracy as to running is not essential;

    Plenty of scope for realistic running;

Many people say you should model your own era with railways, well I consider the preservation era to be mine! Although I travelled on steam hauled trains I don't remember them (I was in a pram at the time), and my own rail travel was mainly AM10 EMUs on the Northampton line and HST services from Peterborough to Newcastle when I was at University - neither of which appealed to me as subjects. In the end this has proved a very good decision to match the design concepts I had in mind.

The preserved railway is not unique in modelling, although I hadn't seen another one at the time I conceived the idea (I have since). Nor are some of the design ideas unique - I've either thought of them independently or borrowed things I liked.


One big change from my previous experience of models was the introduction of DCC control. The first proprietary digital controllers were just arriving at the time I gave up the hobby so I had no experience of them. I was aware of DCC though, and it quickly became obvious that this was a "no brainer" for me. I've worked in IT for over 25 years so computer control of the layout was an absolute requirement. I investigated some possible analogue control options, but quickly decided these would only be suitable for very small scale railways (although they may get revived for a sub-miniature T gauge railway in the future).

Design Concepts

I had a few concepts in mind from the start of my serious planning, which I've tried to stick to.

The layout had to be believable, however that doesn't mean it has to slavishly follow any particular prototype plan.

It had to fit within a particular space - although this space did prove to be somewhat elastic!

It had to be all-round viewable. Although quite large it may, depending on future circumstances, still form a coffee table. That ruled out extensive fiddle yards off to one side of a simple end-to-end layout.

There had to be reasonable scope for operation, so it needs to be running more than one train, there needs to be some shunting, etc. but it also needs to be within the control capabilities.

I didn't really want a simple tail-chaser going round in a circle. They're not very realistic and there's limited scope operationally.

Given the space limitations I therefore settled for a "folded end-to-end" layout with two stations - a main terminus and a halt.

Planning Starts

Although I looked at the available computer design software I didn't find anything that would really suit my requirements. I already had CorelDraw installed on the computer so I decided to use this. I drew out the various pieces of Setrack and it then became a simple matter of plugging them together on screen.

Initially I started thinking in terms of a 1200mm x 600mm (4x2 in old money) baseboard. This would fit neatly onto the 1500x650 desk that would be the layout's first home. It quite quickly became apparent however that this simply wouldn't quite work! After coming up with a couple of design ideas, and the discussing them with others, I worked out a reasonable layout using Peco Setrack which would fit into a 1350x650 baseboard.

I laid this layout out on the desk, wired it up, and tried it. Although it worked OK there were a few things I wasn't happy about. Although you can (whatever some people will tell you) run DCC using standard insulfrog points it isn't ideal, also I wasn't happy about the lengths of some of the "features" of the layout. I really wanted to maximise the running time between the two stations and also run a train that would at least appear realistic.

During this phase I'd visited a couple of exhibitions (the N-Gauge show in Warwickshire and also Warley) and also done some shopping on Ebay. Some loco and rolling stock had been purchased so I could get some realistic measurements and calculations of the space needed.

There was also a significant problem with such a non-standard baseboard size - it would cost a disproportionate amount due to the waste ply! My carpentry skills are not the greatest, and limitations on somewhere to work, meant I'd settled on getting the baseboard built for me.

The next (and almost final) redesign was to bring the board back down to a stock 600 width (or 610 as it would probably actually be) and increase the length to 1800 - fortunately there was room for this once I'd rearranged things, moved a printer out of the way, etc. I also changed from Setrack to Code 55 - although the smallest radius points in this are slightly larger radius than the Setrack ones they are only 10 degrees instead of 12 1/2 giving a tighter spacing between the adjacent tracks.

House Move

Not that long after starting the build I moved into a new house, giving me significantly more space to work with. Bishopwood now lives in what should be the second bedroom, but is in fact a storage area, workshop and railway room. The 6x2 size is still ideal, but there is scope to extend along on a 1 foot wide shelf at some point.


My second layout was conceived from a couple of conversations on the N Gauge Forum. The folded end-to-end plan of Bishopwood suits the running I want to do, and I'm not a big fan of tail-chaser layouts anyway, but it is a problem when it comes to running in locos. As some of my stock has been sitting there a while now it all needs a good continuous run to clean contacts and wheels and generally loosen everything up. I do have a rolling road but they only help with driven wheels!

I'd still got the Peco Setrack mentioned above so I thought I'd build a simple loop. This then revived an earlier idea of a coffee table layout. I'd rejected this previously as I just didn't have space for a large enough table, and in any case I couldn't fit the layout into anything suitable. I found a table which would work, but wasn't ideal, in Ikea but I also started trawling Ebay. At the first attempt I found a pine table that's almost perfect for the job, and only 40 (plus about 20 for the diesel to fetch it).


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