Chronicling the development of my Cambrian and Narrow Gauge 4mm scale model railway

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Imagineering the railway

Imagineering? Ok so it’s a buzz word, and I don’t really like it either. But I’m not sure what else to call it. If you model a railway you need imagination in bucket-loads. Perhaps it’s a bit easier if you are modelling an actual place but you still need to produce timetables and realistic scenes. If you’re building from scratch it’s even harder. I’ve gone half and half. Half and half you ask? Yes, I reply, because I’ve used an existing fictional location.

The brain dump that started it all

The brain dump that started it all

Here is the concept plan. If you can read my handwriting you’re doing well. The railway started out, as a single board (module 1) combining 00 and 009. However, I had always had a few other crazy ideas I wanted to accommodate.

My son, James, was given a copy of The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways. If like me you were brought up on Thomas the Tank and you are also appalled at the hideousness that the men and women in grey suits have made of it, this is a great book to get. It chronicles the history of the railways as originally thought up by the good Vicar. However prices are now ridiculous for it and perhaps it is again time to lobby Heinemann to republish it.

The Island of Sodor: Its people, history, and railways

It occurred to me that if I used Sodor’s railways, I could combine everything I wanted to do on one (large!) layout. However, I have no intention of running locos with faces on, I’m merely using the location. What follows is the history to back up the idea. If you are not familiar with the location of Sodor, I recommend you use one of these maps to follow the story below.

As you may know, following the closure of the Mid-Sodor Railway (Duke’s railway) much of the original route was taken over by the Arlesdale Railway (Bert, Mike, and Rex, et al). In my head, prior to this, in an attempt to stave off the closure of the line, it was extended (following the maxim of E.R. Calthrop IIRC) to Peel Godred from King Orry’s Bridge by descending through the streets of the town before terminating at the station, which is in the industrial part of the town (the industrial area is that covered by my original model railway now module 1 of my magnum opus). Well we know how successful business ventures formed by extending narrow gauge railways in the British Isles went don’t we?

Scroll forward to the almost present day. The managers of the railways on the island realised that with the expanding boom in tourism and heritage railways, there was a case to be made for reinstating the link between the Arlesdale Railway with Peel Godred over the hill to create a circular route of the island. As the route was built for narrow gauge, and was too long for miniature, it was decided to build the line to be as close as possible to the original. Following an acrimonious discussion, it was decided to build the line at 1’11 5/8” rather than the 2’3” of the neighbouring Skarloey Railway as this gave a greater pool of visiting locomotives to tap into. Visiting locomotives mean grockles. And grockles mean money.


Understanding that terminating the railway at the industrial quarter of Peel Godred would not be popular with passengers (now occupied by a chocolate factory and the Purple Moose Brewery’s second plant opened due to demand in 2012), it was decided to extend the short dual gauge section at the original transfer station through the single-bore standard gauge tunnel to terminate at a three-railway exchange station at Kirk Machan, home of the Culdee Fell Railway, thus finally linking the Mid-Sodor with the line it conceived. Both the standard gauge and narrow gauge continue to serve the station at Peel Godred but on the narrow gauge it is a request halt.

The standard gauge branchline from Peel Godred through Kirk Machan joins the mainline between Cronk and Kildane next to a railway research unit which was established there following privatisation of the railways on the mainland and uses the branchline for testing purposes. At this research centre is a short section of monorail line.

Sydney monorail before closure

A short distance west, just after Crosby, the mainline now follows a slight deviation due to the biggest civil engineering project ever carried out on the island.

Following discussions which started in 1895, and continued up to the present day, using funding from the EU, Sodor Government, Northern Ireland Assembly, The Republic of Ireland Government, and private investment including the mine owners on Sodor and Sir Topham Hatt, a tunnel was bored from Sodor to Ireland. Named the Tollán Sudragh-Éireann (Sudrian–Irish Tunnel) or Stollan for short, it has connected the Irish mainland by rail to the rest of the EU for the first time ever. The tunnel runs from the south-western tip of Sodor approximately north-west to the immediate south of the Isle of Man, coming up on the peninsula at Ardglass in Northern Ireland and from there running on a new standard gauge high speed line to Belfast for transfer to the wider Irish rail network. At 50 miles in length it is the world’s longest rail tunnel, and is 18.5 miles longer than the Channel Tunnel.

The longest rail tunnel in the world

The longest rail tunnel in the world

The mainline on Sodor has now been electrified from Barrow in Furness through to the tunnel and Network Rail has upgraded their line to Barrow including electrification to cope with the traffic. A daily return Paris to Belfast service has started, via the Chunnel, HS1, West Coast Main Line, North Western Railway, Stollán, and IHS1; calling at London St Pancras, Crewe, and Vicarstown.

There is now increasing pressure on Ireland to build more standard gauge lines to remove the need for transhipment although at present CAF believe they may be able to cash in with their Talgo product. It is hoped that the opening of HS2 in the UK will improve journey times.

In the next few posts I will go through each module and explain what I am going to model, and more specifically what I’m not!

(As a funny aside, just after I’d finished writing this post, and email came through on my work computer asking Are you a professional involved in the tunnel industry?. Well, that depends on how you define it….!)


Driven by steam, not emotions

In the company of giants

Ok, so I’ve broken a promise and it’s only post 2. I said I’d talk about the plans in this post but I’m not. I’m going on a gentle meander off topic.

I don’t like it when emotions get in the way of the facts. Let me explain. In railways emotions tend to run high but sometimes this clouds and distracts from what would otherwise be really interesting. Here are 2 examples for you.

A locomotive in the Southern Hemisphere was under overhaul. It was discovered that the loco which is the prototype of its class actually has its frame numbered 5. Was this another Albert Hall / Rood Ashton Hall? Some members of the custodian organisation were worried that if they had to change the number of the loco it would damage its reputation and appeal.

Frankly that’s rubbish. It’s the only 1 of its type left so its appeal is there whatever. Rood Ashton Hall still has plenty of appeal despite its name change and the publicity from the name change gives it a place in preservation history that would otherwise not be there. In this case it led to a statement being put out by the custodian organisation decrying those that were investigating why it had a different frame. Which has led to the interesting truth being ignored.

Cast steel frame with integral cylinders, smokebox saddle and air brake reservoirs

Cast steel frame with integral cylinders, smokebox saddle and air brake reservoirs

So was it a masquerade? Actually no. It always had that frame. What appears to have happened is that the frame no.1 was cast just before Christmas of one year and the remaining 5 at the beginning of the next February. Why the delay? The emotionally driven custodian organisation members decided they were on holiday for a month – that is normal for places where January is summer. But the frame was cast in the USA. Where it’s winter. The drawings give the answer.

There are 2 modifications to the drawing for the frame. 1 in mid January and 1 just days before the next 5 frames were cast. Whatever the fault in the original design was, the drawing isn’t clear. However, loco 5 which it is thought got lumbered with frame 1 suffered a hydraulic incident and blew the end of its cylinder off and was never the same again. So that’s why loco 1 has frame 5.

Presumably the railway were told frame 1 was dodgy and rightly decided putting it on the prototype wouldn’t look good if it failed. Why did they get frame 1 at all? Because WWII had just started and the US were busy not being in the war but supplying the UK with all they needed and frames for steam locos in countries that weren’t war-torn came 2nd in the pecking order. That’s a presumption but it makes sense. This great story hasn’t been published before because emotion brushed it under the carpet.

City of Truro

My second example is City of Truro. Did it do 102.3 or 99mph? It raises so many emotions in people especially the GW v LNE brigade but actually it shouldn’t matter. 100mph is an arbitrary boundary decided by us humans for no reason other than it is three figures not two. I bet you couldn’t tell the difference between 99 and 102mph anyway.

What is important is to acknowledge the engineering of the time that produced a loco that was capable of getting anywhere near that speed. And whatever you think of the GWR, at the time they were streets ahead of any other company. OK so they went off the boil in the 30s and 40s and we are left with locos with no grease lubrication and 134 oiling points (Castles), no seats for the crew and right hand drive. But a Castle, as a senior driver told me on the NYMR, would pull Grosmont village up the hill to Goathland.

So City of Truro, as the photo at the top of this post depicts, shares its place of honour in the company of giants.

Do I ever let emotions get in the way? Yes of course I do. Why isn’t a loud American loco running on the Ffestiniog? Why won’t East Riding of Yorkshire council protect the Beverley-York railway line? But I try to decide what’s important based on fact not emotion.

So let’s forget the politics , keep the emotion driven claptrap in check, and enjoy the stories and marvel at the engineering brilliance that we have been fortunate enough to retain to educate our future generations.

Oh and I’ll leave liveries for another time…


A new blog and a new name

I’ve decided to start this blog as:

a) I want to record my modelling activities (railway modelling – my wife always reminds me I forget that important word “railway”…)

b) I want something to pen any thoughts I have

c) This project is so mad I suspect I’ll find other like-minded mad people out there too to exchange ideas with.

So what’s Penlowry?

Penlowry is the name for my model railway. As it is a big project and I have nowhere to put it, I have cunningly conceived a plan to build it in modules that can be put together at a later date when we own a house with a requisite sized loft to put it in. Quite frankly, a fox from Oxford University would have struggled to do any better.

I will post a diagram of the entire project soon. For the moment, let’s just say it will contain 5 gauges and will be 4mm to the foot (1:76). The gauges are 00, 0010.5, 009, 006.5, and monorail. Told you I was mad.

The name Penlowry comes from the first module which I originally was building as a stand-alone model. It has 00 and 009 tracks and is depicting the junction between the 2 in a factory setting with chocolate factory and brewery (based on the Purple Moose Brewery in Porthmadog). The industrial setting reminded me of paintings by the artist L. S. Lowry so much I looked for a name to suit.

Brewery Train, High Street, Burton by LS Lowry

Brewery Train, High Street, Burton by LS Lowry

In the completed model the upper end of the module will be a headland and so I borrowed the Welsh word Pen for head or headland (as in Penrhyndeudraeth – Headland between two beaches) and so resulted in Penlowry. I also checked to ensure Lowry or Llowry didn’t mean anything in Welsh. It doesn’t according to my friendly Welsh guide, although Llowry is a girl’s name.

So there we are. Penlowry.

In the next post I’ll scan a copy of the concept diagram and see if I can expalin a bit more about the modules.